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Doug Johnson | Clussexx English Toy Spaniels and Clumber Spaniels, Sussex Spaniels, Welsh Springer Spaniels & Nederlandse Kooikerhondje

Doug Johnson

Interview with Doug Johnson, Breeder of Clussexx English Toy Spaniels and Clumber Spaniels, Sussex Spaniels, Welsh Springer Spaniels & Nederlandse Kooikerhondje

  1. Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Where do you live? How many years in dogs? How many years as a breeder? What is your kennel name?
  2. What is your “process” for selecting show puppies? Performance puppies?
  3. In your opinion, is your breed in good condition overall? Any trends that warrant concern?
  4. As a Preservation Breeder, can you share your thoughts on the sport today? How’s the judging these days? What do you think about the number of shows?
  5. In your opinion, is social media good for the sport? Is it harmful?
  6. What are the biggest challenges facing the dog show community as a whole today and how can these be addressed?
  7. What are some of the positive changes you’ve seen in the sport over the past decade?

Doug Johnson

1. I’ve been in the sport of purebred dogs for 40 years and I breed English Toy Spaniels, Clumber Spaniel, Sussex Spaniels, Welsh Springer Spaniels, and most recently, Nederlandse Kooikerhondje. I live in Bloomington, Indiana, and I am a breeder, judge, and exhibitor. And I’ve been breeding since the late 1980s.

2. In Toy breeds, you’re always looking for a dog that has a great temperament. That’s paramount in selecting a show animal or a companion animal. That would ALWAYS be number one, especially in English Toys who tend to be a little introverted. It’s very important that they have a rock-solid temperament. I’m not a big one to talk about a Performance puppy versus a Conformation puppy, because really, they should be able to do it all. You don’t see a lot of type differences in a Performance puppy bred to perform for a certain venue, Agility or Obedience, for example, in the Toy breeds. A Papillon, for example, could do both of those things very easily. They can be a Best in Show winner, but they can also have a Rally title and an Obedience title and still look the part of a show animal. So, I don’t think there are big distinguishing features. That is the beauty of sharing time with Toy breeds.

Once you have passed the temperament testing in a litter, you would then move on to looking for very specific breed details of your breed. We grow them up a little bit longer than most breeders in the breed. We believe our kennel has a bit of an advantage because they’re raised with other breeds that aren’t Toy breeds. So, they’re more empowered and braver than a lot of Toys Spaniels we meet in the ring. Toy breeds need to be brave, and sometimes when they live amongst dogs that are the same stature they don’t become as brave as they could. So that’s one of our advantages. All of this said, if looking for a structural concern in Toys, you must look at knees for fitness and strength to ensure functional soundness to perform in these venues as well. But for the most part, I think the aesthetic of the animal is the same.

3. I think the English Toy breed in the United States is varied in quality. I think we have a range of breeders who are not as progressive as others. I don’t think they see forward motion and movement in their kennels like some others, meaning there are several breeders who are very content with the dogs they have reproducing themselves, looking like what they have, retaining the qualities they have but not looking to improve or advance the breed in any certain way. I think that we have seen the profile of the breed elevated in the last 15 to 20 years. From the advent of someone like Karen Miller, who got involved and had a high-profile animal do some winning, it assisted in getting judges to recognize the breed as competitive within the Toy Group. From that, you’ve had people, including us, get involved who have produced a lot of puppies over a period that have been rather successful in the last two decades. So, there is movement for improvement in a faction of breeders, but I don’t know that it’s shared across the English Toy Spaniel community who are still very satisfied with retaining the certain type of dog that they have and perhaps is less competitive when exhibited outside of its littermates of the same quality. Of course, there are areas of concern in the current state of the breed in our country. We continue to see dogs exhibited and rewarded with their tails down in the ring. (Would you award a Cavalier a major with its tail clamped down? Crawling around the ring?) Every breeder in the country knows how I feel about this. I’m made fun of because I don’t tolerate a dog with its tail down, where most breeders don’t care about that. I see this breed’s mentality to be the exact same as the Cavalier. You would never show or reward a Cavalier that had its tail down, and I don’t think you should do the same in English Toys. So, we have great concerns about that. Knees are also an area of concern, as we see this at each National being ignored by judges as the exhibits gait around the rings with slipping patellas. That’s a problem, and that should be addressed in the whelping box and then assessed in the show ring, and judges should be less forgiving of it. And finally, one of the breed’s biggest challenges is the closed membership of the parent club. It has been unquestioned and unchecked for decades. This is a club that does not let people in who might not agree with the powers that be. I know of eight people turned down in the past year. I can’t imagine that is happening in other parent clubs. They have turned down our membership twice now. This restrictive behavior only fuels our passion to continue our successful path. We know the actions of the few hurt the club and the breed. We rise above to continue to advance without the small-mindedness of those who don’t know us but see the progress and run scared of competition. It is a sad state when a small club is so exclusive to the point of self-harm. It is unfortunate for the club but not for the breed, as we continue to support it with quality dogs

4. I think we have plenty of shows. I think there are perhaps too many shows to keep quality high. It’s nice to have maybe fewer shows where there’s more concentration of animals so that there’s direct competition rather than making something we call a kennel champion. (A kennel champion is a dog that has shown only against its kennelmates and isolated in its exposure to other breeders.) You can run away and take four bitches and one dog and get a major on a bitch and a crossover major on the dog. And before you know it, that dog is a new champion, and no one’s ever seen him. Well, that, to me, is not the point of the sport. The showcase of animals at a dog show is breeder-to-breeder competition so that you know where you stack up amongst those also breeding your breed. To me, that’s more important. The state of the sport is strong. The entries across the board are reasonable, but for a minor breed there’s not a lot of opportunity for breeder-to-breeder competition. I would like to see more of that.

5. In my opinion, social media has benefited the English Toy Spaniel greatly. Were it not for social media, the global exchange of quality animals across country borders and barriers would not be happening. Our kennel has certainly had a direct impact on the global community because of exposure from Facebook or Instagram. They allow you to showcase your dogs, and people acknowledge them who may not speak your language. Yet, on Facebook, you can communicate back and forth about your common passion for a breed. We’ve certainly benefited from a wonderful exchange with breeders in Russia who had bred to a dog of ours that we placed in Germany for a short period of time. That has led to a cooperation that has really brought to the fore some great English Toy Spaniels. The top-winning English Toy Spaniel of all time is a direct result of the influence of social media. Were it not for the fact that I was on Facebook and saw some dogs in Russia and reached out to a breeder in Russia, none of that would have happened because we didn’t know each other. I didn’t even know she existed! And despite a language barrier, we were able to communicate about animals and work to advance the breed, advance our kennels, and exchange genetic populations. We are still doing this and communicating about our breed. We share a common goal of advancement, improvement, and viability as well as working to increase the breed’s profile in the competitive Group that is the TOY Group!

6. The biggest issue facing the dog show community today is probably the cultural shift against purebred dogs. With that in mind, dog shows are a safe place to be a breeder, a safe place to display what you’ve bred. I think that we’re faced with a cultural shift where the “adopt don’t shop” mentality has taken over. This is sort of a tired mantra that we’ve been hearing. I think breeder-on-breeder drama is detrimental to the sport. I am probably one of the few who are not anti-doodle. I am pro-breeder. I don’t think you can be pro-breeder and anti-someone who breeds. I’m not an anti-high-volume breeder. I am a pro-responsible breeder. I’m actually pro-accountable breeder. So, if you’re accountable for your animals, if you have 100 litters a year or one, all power to you. If you have 100 litters a year and you take great care of them, super. If you have one disastrous litter and you throw your hands up in the air and ignore all of the problems, that doesn’t make you a better breeder than the high-volume breeder because you only had one litter. We have to support breeders across the board. We have to educate people on how we want breeders to breed. How we want them to be accountable for dogs, what are the methods in place to ensure the health and wellness of animals that we create, the welfare of the animals we create, and good positive relationships with those people who have dogs from us. Without those relationships, everything falls apart. So, keeping those relationships would be the biggest challenge we face as a collective group of individuals sharing the same sport.

7. I think, over the past decade, people have grown to realize how important the social aspect of dog shows has become. A growing family of dog friends means that you are reaching people socially. There’s a social aspect to dogs and dog showing that is very important, especially with Toy breeds where they become part of families. That’s a little different than some of these other Groups within the American Kennel Club system. These are dogs that sleep on your bed, watch TV with you, and share your life. We certainly have recognized the importance of the Toy breeds from day-to-day life. That’s one of the most important things about dog showing now, the community of dogs that we have, the aspect of dogs, all of which is positive, is where we all share in the companionship of an animal. It’s an integral part of the human experience.

Additionally, there have been several positive changes in the sport. I think that we are seeing a focus on a lot of testing to produce quality dogs. There are lots of advances in the medical field for animals to help our dogs live longer. There is a concentration of quality breeders still breeding dogs. Another big challenge is the fact that we don’t have a lot of breeders, so without them, you rely on a mass population to breed dogs. We want people to focus on breeding quality animals that are healthy. Fortunately, we do have several mechanisms in place to test animals for health, DNA testing to make sure that what you’re putting together is good. Then, there’s even something as simple as the microchip and utilizing that to track your dog and put that in place for the lifetime of the dog. These are medical advances that we didn’t have when I started. This type of thing is huge when it comes to the canine population.