Interview with Herding Group Breeder Terry Miller
Where did you grow up?
Terry Miller: My family moved several times throughout my life. I was born in Evanston, Illinois. My parents, both born and raised in the Bronx, moved the family back east for my father’s career when I was five. We lived in the Bronx with my grandparents, then moved to northern New Jersey until my father bought a business in Cleveland, Ohio, when I was almost a teenager. Off we moved to Ohio, with my mother, a dyed-in-the-wool New Yorker, kicking and screaming in protest.
My parents learned to love their life in Cleveland and it is where they stayed until they passed. After graduating from college in Philadelphia, I moved back to the Cleveland area for a dream job, where I have stayed ever since.
Do you come from a doggy family? If not, how did the interest in breeding and showing purebred dogs begin?
Terry Miller: I came from a dogless family where, after years of begging, my family finally got a Toy Poodle… just in time for me to go off to school. My father liked dogs, while my mother had little use for them. Both my siblings are dog lovers, and are married to dog lovers. I was dog and horse crazy.
Like so many dog fanciers, I collected dozens of dog and horse books, read every book I could find at our small local library, made endless drawings of dogs and horses and am still in possession of some of my most favorite books, savored, reread and drawn in from my childhood. I knew every dog and horse breed, could recite their traits, draw pictures of them and identify them on sight. I still cherish the stories by Marguerite Henry, Walter Farley, Albert Payson Terhune, Thelwell, and others.
I dreamed of a life revolving around dogs and/or horses. My college degree had nothing to do with animals. However, my first job out of college in 1976 was training dogs in Cleveland. My dream came true. So much for a college degree.
Because I had little more than dreams about dogs and shows, I had no concept of actually showing or breeding. I bought a pet Standard Poodle as my first dog after college, and then a second one a year later. It wasn’t until I started showing in obedience as a natural by-product of my job, that I realized there was a whole dog show world that overwhelmed and fascinated me. I dabbled in obedience competition with my Poodle and my boss’s Golden Retriever, got a horse that I did Combined Training with, joined a Schutzhund club and taught myself enough by watching at dog shows to show a training client’s Mastiff in conformation. She was of decent quality and finished easily with wins over specials. I was getting hooked on conformation. Next was a client’s wayward, wild Briard who, at our first show, won a four-point major under judge Dr. Don Jones. Bingo! I was ready to find my own show dog. That was in 1979 and I started the search first for the right breed, next for the right breeder.
Who were your mentors in the sport? Please elaborate on their significance.
Terry Miller: Boy was I lucky. I had extraordinary mentors who had impact on all aspects of my dog life and my personal life. It started with a house I unsuccessfully tried to buy. The sellers were retired handlers Dick and Phyllis Becker, the realtor was Chuck Herendeen. I was a starry-eyed, naive 23-year-old dog trainer. The three of them pushed me through the threshold into the dog world with hours of stories until my head was swimming. I didn’t get the house, but I got lifelong friends and mentors. I considered several breeds and then finally, after looking at Old English, Gordons, Springers and Bernese Mountain Dogs, I met Mary Lou and Art Tingley showing the Briard Ch. Phydeaux What’s Happenin’ at the Cleveland dog show. I had already had some exposure to the Briard from a few crazy ones I had trained. Maybe crazy, but the breed’s complexity intrigued me. Finally, when Mary Lou looked me in the eye and answered my doubts about the breed’s bad reputation by saying she would stand behind any dog for life, I knew I had found the breeder of my first show dog and the mentor I was looking for.
In 1982, came Phydeaux Take The Money N Run from the Tingleys. Woody finished his championship in short order, placed in a Group, later won a few Groups and was BOS at the 1983 Briard National under judge Joe Mellor. He was not the best dog I ever had, but he was a great introduction to the wonders of Briards and to showing my own dog.
To say my friendship with the Tingleys was life altering would be an understatement. Their altruistic devotion to dogs, the dog world, and the Briard was the gold standard. I learned animal husbandry, judgment, ethics, genetics, history, pedigrees, lore, work ethic and sportsmanship. The Tingleys, known for their genteel presence in anything they did and Mary Lou’s passion for teaching others, were omnipresent in my life. I was privileged to be the recipient of their undying dedication to the Briard and their true love through friendship.
There were many other mentors who have had a great impact during my time in dogs. Regina Keiter, from whom I bought my first bitch and whose daughter, also Regina, grew up to show many of my Group, National Specialty winners and Best In Show dogs, including the two record-breaking bitches, Ch. Deja Vu Purple People Eater and Ch. Deja Vu Ruffles Have Ridges PT, who each broke the all-time BIS record for bitches. Another mentor, whom I met locally, was not a Briard person, but the accomplished breeder of the Brightcut Old English Sheepdogs, Cass Moulton Arble. One of the smartest people I know, a great breeder with tremendous ethics, values, and another great sport. Cass has been a tremendous friend and mentor not only in making good judgments in breedings, but in teaching me future pedigree creations and plans with foresight. Cass is a genius about structure and movement. She infused in me irreplaceable lessons about understanding, creating and reinforcing structure and gait, which is of critical importance in an athletic Herding dog.
The Deja Vu Briards are widely known, highly successful and well respected. What breeding philosophies do you adhere to?
Terry Miller: We do mostly inbreeding and line breeding. One of my favorite dynamics is the “diagonal ladder,” for example, breeding a bitch to her sire’s brother. It has worked well for me over the years. I have used it frequently and am always on the lookout for the right phenotype to utilize it again. Many of my best dogs have been created that way. Most notably, Ch. Deja Vu Purple People Eater, Ch. Deja Vu In Like Flynn and Flynn’s great-producing brother, Ch. Deja Vu Instant Success, were all from diagonal ladder breedings. However, with the diagonal ladder, it is not merely the relationships in the pedigree; first one needs complementary traits.
Over the past 14 years, my partner Dominique Dubé (Popsakadoo) and I brought our families of dogs together which were rooted in the same foundation. We have bred together since. Dominique was already an accomplished Briard breeder in her own right with a brilliant eye and a keen mind while living in Montreal, until she came to join me in Cleveland. We both share similar visions and both breed by being governed by phenotype first. We use pedigrees to guide us about health concerns and some future potential, but primary choices are made by what our eyes see. Briards breed pretty true to type, and one can usually count on what you see, especially in inbred pedigrees.
How many dogs do you currently house? Tell us about your facilities and how the dogs are maintained.
Terry Miller: Our numbers are a bit fluid. We have our core pets, but we have dogs we share and/or co-own with other breeders. Sometimes they will come here or one of ours will travel there to whelp or be used at stud. With the self-imposed necessity of limiting dog numbers, we have figured out cooperative relationships with others in the breed. Our general numbers usually hover around ten Briards. But then there are the two Skye Terriers that we immensely enjoy and that boss the Briards around!
We are acutely aware of quality of life—ours and the dogs’. Prior to Covid-19, our dogs have participated in our lives in ways other than just dog shows. They do stuff with us…go for rides in the car, come along to the store, go for a stroll in town or at a farmer’s market, go sheep herding, come to the bank drive-through for a cookie, attend a class, walk around a shopping village. As a breed, the Briard has a high need for socialization away from home. They are enormously high maintenance for their coat care and temperament care so it is logical to keep the number of dogs manageable.
Our dogs do not live as kennel dogs. Kennel life was never our aim. Even when Dominique and I lived separately, we each managed our individual family of dogs in a similar way. Our dogs are, first and foremost, our pets. We feel that most Briards are not well-suited to a kennel life because of their herding/guarding temperament. Most Briards are happy to know only their family and pretend the rest of the world does not exist. It makes them intensely loving and devoted family members, but a challenge to raise well with the demands of a social urban setting and dog shows.
We keep our oldies and cherish them in their golden years. Currently, MBIS SBIS Ch. Deja Vu Mia Cool As A Cucumber is over 13 (at Regina’s house where he retired after his career to sleep next to her bed); we lost Bono and Buck Naked at 13 and 13-1/2 this past year; last year we lost Ten at 15-1/2; and our matriarch, Bridezilla, is now over 14.
In our old house, the bedroom was so big, that it could comfortably accommodate six or seven dogs sleeping in the room, each on their own dog bed, and still have space for a whelping box. We recently moved and the space is dispersed differently. Now it is only comfortable to have four dogs in the room at night so the others have their beds around the house. The young ones, as we have always done, sleep in their crates in the dog room off the kitchen.
We bought a house previously owned by a dog person so it was well set up for us. It has more property and is one floor! We don’t miss the three flights of stairs in the previous house. We have what we call the small dog room which was an office room that houses crates. The large dog room is big enough for me to hold small classes, exercise dogs in bad Cleveland weather, groom and train in.
All dogs are fed together with individual bowls in the large dog room all at the same time. We believe this fosters biddability amongst all and reinforces living in harmony in a big group. It is imperative that we have the kinds of temperaments that can be managed in a social environment with all the challenges and demands of a big family of dogs.
Being a dog trainer, I am careful that all dogs are maintained with clear expectations and boundaries. It reflects my own behavioral philosophies of what works best for the complexities of the breed and multiple dogs having to exist in synchronicity.
Who were/are some of your most significant Briards, both in the whelping box and in the show ring?
SIGNIFICANCE IS MEASURED DIFFERENTLY WHEN SPEAKING ABOUT REPRODUCTION VS THE SHOW RING. IN THE CASE OF BRIARDS, SINCE THEY TEND TO BREED TRUE, THE GOOD ONES TEND TO CREATE QUALITY IN THEIR GET. BUT SOME OF OUR BEST SHOW DOGS ARE NOT NECESSARILY OUR BEST PRODUCERS.
Terry Miller: My beginning was founded on three related bitches of immense importance to my current dogs, but also to the breed. I have been fortunate to continue down generations from the beginning with direct descendants. I say fortunate because I realize the potential pitfalls and surprises that every generation can bring. The three were named Tetley (Ch. Aigner Teatotaller ROMX), Tinsel (MBIS, SBIS Ch. C’est Bonheur Woodbine Tinsel HT ROMX), and Tosha (Ch. Richlen Woodbine Atosha). Tetley was purchased, and both Tinsel and Tosha were serendipitous when they came to live with me as adults. I merged their get, kept and bred from their sons and daughters and in general, got tremendously lucky for what they had to give. One or two or all three of them are behind every single Deja Vu/Popsakadoo Briard today. They all had beautiful fronts, extraordinary side movement, beautiful body substance and rib cages, wonderful tail shape and carriage, and irreplaceable, biddable temperaments. All three lived to old age and the general good health of our dogs surely can be attributed to what those three gave to us.
A dog that I have always considered to be one of my best, Ch. Deja Vu Grand Jury, was a dog about whom I would have changed nothing. Shown and co-owned by Gerard Nash and Art Tingley, Mejo’s breed type and movement were extraordinary in pretty much every way. The dog was used as a sire a few times and never really produced himself, close to himself or anything of great value. It was an early disappointment for me. We have had 16 Best in Show dogs, won Best of Breed at 13 National Specialties and had Winners or BOS at Nationals with 20 Briards. We are home to the top sire and dam of all time. We have placed in the Group at Westminster five times.
The most well known to most is Am. Can. Ch. Deja Vu In Like Flynn CD PT ROMPX. Flynn is still today, the top-winning Briard of all time as well as the top sire of all time. Shown by Davin McAteer and Larry Cornelius, Flynn won four National Specialties under such illustrious names as Jane Forsyth, Dee Hutchinson, James Reynolds, and Edeltraud Laurin. He was 11 years old when he won his last National Specialty. Flynn placed in the Group at Westminster under Anne Rogers Clark and won BOB there four times.
Flynn was probably best known for his joie de vivre…code for wild and irrepressible. In Flynn’s mind, he was the king. He was a big, tawny dog with big movement, big presence, big ego and gorgeous breed type which included his tremendous movement and all the breed details. Flynn lived to the ripe old age of 14. In his life he was also High In Trial in obedience at the National Specialty and had a Herding title.
Flynn produced a BIS son (Ch. Deja Vu Up Close & Personal) and BIS daughter (Ch. Deja Vu Ruffles Have Ridges PT), who is the top-winning Briard bitch of all time, was a National Specialty winner (j. John Connelly) and a Westminster Group placer (j. Lester Mapes). Sassy produced a daughter, Ch. Eastbay Deja Vu Enjoy the Ride, who went Best in Show (j. Etta Orenstein) from the Puppy Class.
Flynn’s dam, Ch. Deja Vu Four Leaf Clover ROM (a Tinsel daughter), was WB at a National, but most notably is the top-producing dam of all time. She produced two Westminster Group placers (Ch. Deja Vu In Like Flynn CD PT and Ch. Deja Vu House On Fire) that were also multiple Best in Show dogs.
In the litter Flynn came from were four notable brothers. Ch. Deja Vu Instant Success was a multiple Group winner, sire of several Group winners and the great Ch. Deja Vu Purple People Eater that won a National Specialty from the classes (j. Jack Ireland), was BOS at another National and broke the all-time BIS record for bitches which had stood for over 20 years. Another brother of Flynn and Instant Success was Ch. Deja Vu Intrepid, a multiple Group winner and Winners Dog at a National Specialty (j. Judith Goodin), and the fourth brother was Ch. Deja Vu Ipso Facto that was a multiple Group winner and significant sire. Besides Flynn, our most notable sire was Ch. Deja Vu Up Close & Personal ROMX. Udo was a Flynn son, multiple specialty winner, Westminster BOB winner (j. Peggy Beisel-McIlwaine) and a Best in Show dog. Udo was a dog widely used by diverse breeders in the breed and outcrossed several times to unrelated bitches. He was an extraordinary moving dog with a beautiful head and crochet tail, beautiful breed type and substance, and a less-than-perfect topline which sometimes did not help him. But as a sire he was prepotent for his sweetness, excellent health, gorgeous pigment and fantastic movement even when bred to bitches who were often less talented in the movement department. Udo sired three Best in Show get (litter brothers Ch. Deja Vu Cool As A Cucumber, Ch. Deja Vu Mia Chain of Fools, and Ch. Deja Vu Popsakadoo It Is What It Is), and two National Specialty winners (Ch. Deja Vu Cool As A Cucumber and Ch. Deja Vu It Is What It Is, twice).
The two bitches, Ch. Deja Vu Purple People Eater (Violet) and Ch. Deja Vu Ruffles Have Ridges PT (Sassy), came one after the other in the campaign ring. They were both National Specialty winners and multiple Best in Show dogs. Sassy also won a National and placed in the Group at Westminster. Violet was sired by Instant Success (Flynn brother) out of Ch. Apropos Deja Vu Moon Unit, a Flynn daughter (diagonal ladder breeding). She was the first to break the longstanding bitch BIS record, then came home to the life of a pet and a brood bitch. Sassy was sired by Flynn, both were shown by Regina and, after Purple People Eater broke the all-time BIS record for bitches, Sassy came along and bested that record.
More recently, our top achievers have been Ch. Deja Vu Cool As A Cucumber and the black bitch Ch. Deja Vu Popsakadoo It Is What It Is. Both sired by Ch. Deja Vu Up Close & Personal, both multiple Best in Show dogs, both National Specialty winners, both #1 All Systems and both top 5 Herding Group dogs.
Cool As A Cucumber (Dill) was Best of Breed at the National (j. John Studebaker), was #1 All Systems, a top 5 Herding Group dog and a multiple Best in Show dog. He spent his youth leased to Briard fanciers in Mexico where he was #1 Herding dog and #3 All Breeds with 15 Best in Shows there. Once back home, Dill was shown by Regina Keiter, having great success upon return to the States for his supple movement, wonderful proportions and most gorgeous head and tail. I would have changed his size. He was too tall. He had tremendous length of neck and very long, high-set ears which accentuated his lofty presence.
Ch. Deja Vu Popsakadoo It Is What It Is (Izzie), shown by Dominique and a few times by Regina, was WB at the National (j. Margaret Shappard), Best of Breed at two Nationals (j. Thora Brown, j. William Shelton), Best of Breed at Westminster (j. Peggy Beisel-McIlwaine) and a multiple Best in Show dog. Izzie’s silhouette, strong topline, gorgeous strong head, high-set ears and perfect tail shape and carriage combine to give the classic look I dream of. In a breed where carriage, proportions and croups are a terrible problem, she excels in those qualities and is a classic example of what the breed should be.
It was a huge honor to be awarded AKC Herding Group Breeder of the Year in 2016, and also to win the Breeder of the Year (All Breeds) Award from Dogs in Review magazine.
Please comment positively on your breed’s present condition and what trends might bear watching.
Terry Miller: The breed has improved in the size of our dogs. For a while we saw some pretty big dogs. Too big. It is a subject that I find interesting. I would not be exaggerating to say that many AKC judges have asked me whether a Briard that is of perfectly correct size is actually not big enough. When bitch size is 22″-25 1/2″ (with a DQ for under 22″) and dog size is 23″- 27″ (DQ for under 23″), the expectations of size seem to be rather misunderstood. This is a medium-sized dog. The Briard is a moderate dog in pretty much every way, including size. Like most herding dogs, it is a purpose-driven breed with all priorities guided by function.
Silhouette has been one of our biggest challenges in the breed for two qualities. 1. The AKC standard mandates square proportions (“from the point of the shoulder to the point of buttock is equal to or slightly more than his height at the withers”). The struggle is that proportions with long bodies—more like the outline of the Bearded Collie—are not Briard proportions. A cutout of a Briard is unrecognizable if it resembles a Beardie rather than a Briard. We have significant challenges when it comes to dogs and bitches that are too long. 2. The breed
has trouble with the shape and angle of the croup. Croups, like fronts, are not easy to understand or to breed for since there are multiple components that govern
The sport has changed greatly since you first began participating. What are your thoughts on the state of the fancy and the declining number of breeders? How do we encouragenewcomers to join us and remain in the sport?
Terry Miller: The sport has changed as a reflection of the world. Irresponsibility, shortcuts, terrible sportsmanship, winning at any cost, disregard for the nobility of the canine species and the uniqueness of the purebred dog, cruelty to other humans and a belief of entitlement. I am not optimistic about the future of the sport and now in the midst of the pandemic, perspectives change—at least for now—therefore, values change.
I was taught by my mentors by the example they set of unselfish devotion to dogs and the greater good for the sport, the greater good to the world, the greater good to the dog world.
My heart is sad over the absence of true breeders. In my own breed, fellow breeders whom I trust have an ongoing dialogue about the many empty seats at the table of real, true breeders of our breed. There is only a handful. Many of us, who came up together in the breed, wonder who will inherit the breed we have devoted our lives to. Our breed is one of the rarer ones to begin with. Over the past ten years we have watched so many of the breeders we could depend on for so much support, fellowship and intellectual curiosity, stop breeding, die, move on, change their lives and priorities. We can count on the fingers of one hand, the number of true breeders with breeders’ hearts and work ethic left in the breed. The conversation turns to how many do we have who breed an actual family of dogs? How many do we have who carry and sustain a vision for the Briard? How many do we have who sustain in their mind’s eye a template for the Briard? How many do we have who still read their standard over and over again? Our breed is not unique. There are people who produce puppies. But how many breeders are there, really? In the sport, breeding and breeders should be the main event. Not the means to the end of showing a dog.
I guess this is more complaining on my part than it is solutions. Until breeders rather than adoptions become at least equal, we and the sport are in trouble. The American Kennel Club needs to step up to the plate and take its place as the leader in the field, to create supportive actions to influence the views and hearts of the dog-loving public.
Where do you see your breeding program in the next decade or two?
Terry Miller: The next decade or two might be a little bit of wishful thinking for me. I will be 85 by then! Dominique is ten years younger. She’ll be carrying on and perhaps also Dominique’s daughter, Marjorie, who was a Briard owner in utero, and owns and loves the breed. Dominique and I will never lose the passion and thrill of breeding beautiful dogs. We still dedicate ourselves to study and never stop learning. We read the old French standards from the beginning versions and contemplate the intentions of the writers. It helps that Dominique’s first language is French!
Finally, tell us a little about Terry outside of dogs… your profession, your hobbies.
Terry Miller: I went to college for painting and drawing and have a degree in fine arts. I still love art although breeding dogs has mostly replaced my need for making art. It is a similar process and hugely satisfying to my need to be creative and my visual sense of balance and beauty.
I am a professional dog trainer and behaviorist. I have run a hearing dogs for the deaf program, volunteered in a couple of shelters, done Schutzhund and sheep herding, puppy testing, spoken to kennel clubs, judges’ groups, high school career programs, and police k9 training groups about behavior, my career, training, about hearing dogs and about Briards. I belong to two all-breed kennel clubs and a few Briard clubs. I am currently President of the Atlantic States Briard Club and am former show chair of the Sugarbush Kennel Club.
Our recent move has increased the house workload. Even though the house was owned by a dog person before us, there is lots to do with changing fencing, still unpacking and making it our own. We are just learning to put names to the beautiful plantings all around the property. We look forward to having our first litter of puppies on this property sometime this summer.