Dan Nechemias & Lois Claus from Dawa Tibetan Mastiffs, breeder interview by Allan Reznik.
Where did each of you grow up?
Lois grew up in Bedford, New York, and Dan in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Do you come from doggy families? If not how did the interest in breeding and showing purebred dogs begin?
Neither of us came from families that were involved in dogs. Dan’s family had a cockapoo, but Lois had a Golden Retriever that came down from Cummings Gold-Rush Charlie, and a Pembroke Welsh Corgi. We are not sure there was a specific epiphany, but the combination of visiting an influential breeding kennel to purchase our first Tibetan Mastiff, “Maya,” and then taking Maya to a National Specialty developed a strong desire to participate in the preservation of this ancient breed. We researched the breed and breeders for a year before acquiring Maya and it would be almost five years before we successfully bred our first litter.
Who were your mentors in the sport? Please elaborate on their influence.
We tend to be “gatherers,” so we were always trying to acquire tidbits from anyone we could in the early days. From a breed history and type perspective, Richard Eichhorn of Drakyi Tibetan Mastiffs was very influential. There were several other breeders we drew from as well, as we felt it was important to have a diversity of perspectives. There is very little consensus as to what makes a historically correct Tibetan Mastiff. We befriended and visited breeders in Europe and China as well. We just wanted to see as many dogs and puppies as possible.
With respect to the purebred dog world, and learning to navigate campaigning a dog, people, maintaining balance and perspective, Allan Reznik and Tom Bradley come to mind, as well as Dorothy Collier with regard to what it’s like to have a rare breed. Learning to keep perspective and joy is so critical to longevity, and Allan, Tom, and Dorothy certainly helped us with that. Lastly, Ed and Karen Thomason of Alpine Falls American Staffordshire Terriers were our first handlers. There were so many things they shared with us at the same time that they were growing themselves; handling skills, campaigning strategy, breeding philosophy, litter evaluation, etc.
The Dawa Tibetan Mastiffs are widely known, highly successful and well respected. What breeding philosophies do you adhere to?
Balance in everything. In Dawa Tibetan Mastiffs we tend to approach each breeding as a compensatory opportunity to advance our next generation towards our ideal. That said, we really do not strategize more than a generation at a time. As preservation hobby breeders who produce only a single rare-breed litter a year, our priorities have always been type, health, and temperament. The opening up of China in the last 20 years presented some unfortunate overbreeding, but it also created an opportunity few breeds ever have, a fresh gene pool. Given this scenario, we have never tightly linebred and have taken advantage of the genetic diversity available to us. We strongly believe that this is one reason why TMs do not face as many genetic maladies as many other breeds do, yet. Lastly, you can spend all the time and money in the world on breeding philosophies, but that planning is wasted if you cannot evaluate the litter correctly. Early on, we made every effort to see as many litters as we could, get our hands on the pups, and listen to their breeders’ thoughts.
How many dogs do you currently house? Tell us about your facilities and how the dogs are maintained.
Dawa Tibetan Mastiffs currently have 10 TMs and they split their time between our home and our kennel building. When we designed our kennel building, we tried to keep flexibility in mind, so it is a 32′ x 48′ steel pole building that is a three-horse stall design. We adapted it to have five indoor/outdoor runs, a bathing station, and two exercise yards. Our outdoor runs are covered, which is necessary as there are really only two seasons here in Oregon, wet and hot/dry. This has met our needs well and though it does not have space for more dogs, we think that’s a nice, self-limiting benefit. The dedicated grooming area is especially important as coat care is not an occasional pastime. About a year ago, we hired our first kennel assistant. In the past, we had eschewed this in favor of attending to every last detail ourselves, but it has been a tremendous help. They only work one day a week as well as taking care of the dogs when we travel.
Who were/are some of your most significant TMs, both in the whelping box and in the show ring?
Without question, our most impactful TM was Seng Khri Bartok of Dawa, “Bart.” Eleven years after his passing, he remains the record holder for Best in Show wins and for several years he also held the record for number of champions sired. Though he was only bred twice, his second breeding produced very influential sires and dams for us, including Sierras Folly Loves Fame at Dawa, ”Gaga,” and Sierras Taco Flavored Kisses at Dawa, “Lopez.” While both Gaga and Lopez have produced many AKC and international champions, their contributions of type and temperament are what is most outwardly evident when someone sees a “Dawa” TM.
Please comment positively on your breed’s present condition and what trends might bear watching.
Internationally, the TM is in a great place in terms of type. There are exceptional breeders and examples of great TMs all over the world. Opportunities for collaboration abound and the future is bright. Domestically speaking, the TM is better structurally than it was in 2006/AKC recognition. The challenge for the TM breed is keeping the balance. There is a strong tug-of-war between the hyper type of too much hair, lip, and droopy eyes, and too generic a look; too short and low, and lacking a correct head and expression.
Tibetan Mastiffs are a large and primitive breed. What are the challenges of retaining the aloof, guardy nature of the breed while still ensuring they can be amenable to showing in the AKC ring?
The answer to this is you cannot have it both ways. If we bred solely to produce TMs that were amenable to showing, we would destroy correct temperament. What we do means that sometimes the “pick” puppy from a type and structure standpoint will not have the right temperament for showing. We still keep that puppy and hope to compensate in the next generation with a more amenable disposition. That same litter likely has an extroverted pup as well that hopefully has good type, too, but that does not mean we will take an extroverted pup with insufficient type and show it just because it likes to show. Not every TM litter will produce an excellent candidate to campaign and that is part of the breed. Of course, socialization and training are key components as well.
What are your thoughts on the current state of the fancy and the declining number of breeders?
It’s important to ask questions. Why is the sport thriving in Europe, Asia, and South America? Why is dog ownership in the US at an all-time high, but the AKC registry is shrinking? The AKC has been on defense to the Animal Rights community for years and needs a proactive approach to “brand building” the purebred dog. Probably a structural reorganization is needed to change the organization from a club of clubs to a member-driven advocacy organization like the AARP. We have got to create value, both real and perceived, in purebreds and the registry.
How do we encourage newcomers to join us and remain in the sport?
With patience and kindness. Understand that there will always be generation gaps in communication and when an opportunity to be helpful presents itself, seize it. Be there for someone, even if they made an ignorant post on Facebook, got their first dog from a puppy mill, or said something that scrunched your brow. Sure, after all your hard work, it is offensive when some prospective puppy buyer just asks, “how much?”. But that is today’s Amazon marketplace and they do not know any better. Yes, 75% of those types of inquiries might not be a good home. Some of them are. Some of them might become fanciers. Some of them probably became Whatchamadoodle breeders. Treating them with ire and arrogance is not good for the sport and it represents missed opportunities, however few.
Pushing for structural change at the AKC is important as well. All of us continuing to tolerate their failures because we are too complacent to speak out or act will only perpetuate the status quo.
We really need to allow for day-of-show entries. The dog show entry rules were made decades ago when people sent entries by mail and there was no social media.
Where do you see your breeding program in the next decade or two?
Hopefully, in the capable hands of the next generation. We do our best to offer our best dogs and insight to any seekers.
Finally, tell us a little about Dan and Lois outside of dogs… your professions, your hobbies.
Dan is a partner in a small wine software company and Lois is a credit operations manager for a national bank. Dan enjoys cooking, traveling, and anything outdoors. Lois enjoys working on their property, gardening, photography, traveling, and most activities outdoors in nature as well.
Dan Nechemias & Lois Claus | Dawa Tibetan Mastiffs