Interview with Dr. Danica Burge, Breeder of Scottish Terrier
Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Where do you live? What is your breed? What is your kennel name? Do you have a website? How long have you been in dogs? How long have you been breeding dogs? Who are some of your best-known dogs?
Dr. Danica Burge: My name is Dr. Danica Burge and I was born into the dog world. I have been participating in the dog world for 40 years. My parents got their first Scottish Terrier in the late 1960s, began actively showing in the early ‘70s, and began breeding under the prefix J-Mar, which I continue to use today. I live in San Jose, California, with my husband, Jon, and daughter, London. I was fortunate to learn from some of the icons in our breed such as Barbara DeSaye (Sangreg), Bergit Coady-Kabel, Bob Bartos, the Stephens (Glenby), and so many others within my local breed club, as well as handlers I was fortunate to watch and learn from, such as Bill McFadden, Eddie Boyes, and Mark & Sally George.
I grew up working for handlers such as Amy Rutherford, Amy Rodrigues, and Laurie Jordan-Fenner. My parents were encouraged and guided by strong mentors in their local breed club as well as in the national club. My mom was an educator by profession, and truly exemplified this when encouraging others to learn and understand everything there is about the Scottish Terrier and the Conformation world. This message has not been lost on me.
I feel it is our duty as stewards of not only our personal breeds but also the sport we participate in. We MUST encourage and work to be inclusive. We must help guide newcomers about breeding, showing, health, and general animal husbandry. My parents were fortunate to start with a Bardeen Bingo son from Anne Woolridge, and today we are celebrating winning Winners Bitch and Best of Winners at Montgomery County and the STCA National for the fourth year, and thus, retiring two National trophies, as well as over 15 National Specialty winners.
As a Breeder, can you share your thoughts on your breed today? Is breed type strong? Are there things to be concerned about? Are there any health-related issues? Have you worked with breeders overseas? Are pet homes typically available for your breed?
Dr. Danica Burge: As a breeder who has been involved with Scottish Terriers for 40 years, I believe the breed has some real struggles right now, many of which are not unique to the Scottish Terrier breed. I believe that one of the current issues that plagues the breed is a poor front assembly. Remembering as stated in the Breed Standard: The chest should be broad, very deep and well let down between the forelegs. The forechest should extend well in front of the legs and drop well down into the brisket (Illustrated Standard, 2018).
As well as being strong, powerful, and low with a good amount of forechest. There are many judges today who have not seen enough Scotties with forechest in order to recognize them when they do come into the ring. There is a trend towards a more upright, straighter dog than what is described in the Standard.
All breeders must be mindful of this. One last issue that has been at the forefront of my mind as a breeder is the overall discussion of c-section vs. no c-section. This is a longer conversation than this platform allows for, but it is a huge discussion within our breed. The majority of breeders in our breed have moved to a strict c-section-only policy. And even recently, listening to Dr. Hutchinson in Ohio state that “a c-section generally means live puppies,” which I understand with a breed that averages four to five a litter. Losing any is tough, especially when we start out with lower numbers.
But my question is, what will the long-term effects be on the breed? Will the use of AI and c-section-only have overall long-lasting negative effects on reproduction? The current female we are campaigning free-whelped eight puppies and was back in the ring six months later. While we had a c-section scheduled, she had other plans in mind. Speaking with Westie breeders, they can see the effects it has had on their breed in as short as a decade.
Additionally, it goes without saying that as stewards of the breed, we should be working to test and/or assess our breeding stock for the diseases and conditions such as VWD, subluxating patellas, CMO, thyroid, etc.
Dr. Danica Burge: We are fortunate that with Scotties there are always good homes for puppies. Have we seen the number of potential puppy buyers wax and wane? Of course, but for the most part there are always good homes. I think something that has had an impact on the number and the quality of puppy homes has been the way potential puppy buyers find out about puppies. Growing up, we had a policy that was part of the code of ethics within our club, which stated that members could not advertise litters of puppies or puppies available. Of course, this was referring to the days when you could find litters in the newspaper. Now breeders are competing with Facebook groups, AKC listings, GoodDog, etc. Still, to this day, many of our puppy buyers are people returning to us for another puppy or word-of-mouth from our breeder referral program.
As an Exhibitor, can you comment on recent entries in your breed? Are majors available in your area? Does your breed often participate in Companion and Performance events? How can newcomers in your breed be encouraged to join the sport of dogs?
Dr. Danica Burge: As someone who has traveled all throughout the US this year, I can honestly say that low breed entries are present across the US, with one area as an exception; the Midwest still seems to pull bigger numbers. It does depend on the type of show, specialty versus regular all-breed, and location. For example, the San Francisco Bay area used to have over 10 well-known successful Scottish Terrier breeders who actively participated in shows. As with many heritage breeds, the Scottish Terrier numbers have declined… but the desire for Scotties is still there. Yes, finding a point can be tough, let alone finding a major. Getting a major together means either traveling or working hard with people in your area to bring together enough dogs for a major.
We have many Scottish Terrier owners who participate in champion and performance events with their dogs. Of course, the most popular is Barn Hunt, but many Scotties are finding success in Scent Work and even Fast CAT.
As mentioned in the first question, I think it is important that we encourage newcomers. Whether that means helping new owners learn about grooming their Scottie with weekend grooming sessions/lessons, encouraging new owners to take a conformation class or going to an introductory Barn Hunt class, we need to work hard to make newcomers feel welcome. We need to start with the younger generations. You bring in the child or teen and then you bring in the family.
What are the biggest challenges facing the dog show community as a whole and how can we address them? And finally, what are some of the positive changes you’ve seen in your breed and in the dog show community as a whole over the past decade?
Dr. Danica Burge: One of the biggest challenges facing the dog show community is participation and interest. How can we get people in the “door?” As someone who works in the athletic and performance side of things in my profession, I understand that each sport/activity has to work harder to grab and hold the attention of its participants because there are so many more choices. The days of just basketball, football, volleyball, and swimming are long over.
The days of just 4-H and FFA are gone as well. Kids and families can choose from fencing to robotics, to 4-H, to Rugby and soccer. How can we as a sport compete with those other sports in order to grow? We need to work to help people feel welcome by helping newcomers or new puppy owners know that participation is more than just showing a dog in Conformation. They need to know the sport is about community and family. The dog world is amazingly unified by our passion for dogs in this niche world. There are so many things for people to do these days. How do we hold their attention?
Dr. Danica Burge: Since I have a young daughter who has gone with me to shows from the time she was three weeks old, the addition of Pee Wees comes to mind as one of the most positive additions that has happened within the Conformation world in the last decade. The work and creation of this program by Johnny Shoemaker needs to be applauded.
We are a family sport and, with our third generation now participating, we are able to help encourage our next generation to enjoy a sport that is so near and dear to our hearts. To go to a show and see little kids line up with their dogs and their adult helpers, proud smiles on their faces and ready to show off and get a big rainbow ribbon, is incredible to watch. By creating and promoting PeeWees, what Johnny has done is one way we can work to build the sport. These kids are the best walking billboards we have. They show off that ribbon all day, then take their ribbon back to their classroom for show & tell, and now you have kids asking about the dogs and how they can win a ribbon.
I am fortunate that I was taught to respect and value the history of the sport and those who came before me, while also understanding the need to look to the future through the eyes of our next generation. We must keep a broad perspective when it comes to inclusion and encouraging newcomers, but also hold a narrow focus when understanding what helps to keep our breed healthy and true to its Standard so that we can enjoy these dogs for years to come.