Interview with Herding Group Breeder Tasha Mesina
Where do I live? How many years in dogs? How many years as a breeder?
Tasha Mesina: I live in Winnemucca, Nevada, on a sheep/goat farm. I got my first dog in 1995, and started showing in 1998. I’ve been breeding Belgian Malinois since 2006.
What is my kennel name? How many dogs do I currently keep?
Tasha Mesina: My kennel is Element Belgians Performance Malinois. I currently have four Malinois in my home, plus a couple of elderly Chihuahuas and two of my husband’s bird dogs. We’re hoping to add a Belgian Laekenois at some point.
Which show dogs from the past have been my noteworthy winners?
Tasha Mesina: That honor goes to my foundation bitch who just passed, “Brook,” BISS AOM GCH Roulet’s Trew Ewe Move Me RA HSAs OA OAJ OF BH AD CGC TN-O NAC NJC NG-N NCC.
Her granddaughter, “Twyla,” Group-Placing GR CH/Int. CH Element’s Exploding Wildfire at Sundown RN ACT1 TKA RATI HT CGCA CGCU HSAs FSSs CL1-F CL1-H PKQT-COVID L1, is out currently and doing well in show and performance with limited showing. (Co-owned with Mallory Eckstut.)
Which have been my most influential sires and dams?
Tasha Mesina: My most influential sire wasn’t owned by me, but he’s in the pedigrees of almost all of my dogs: Bel./AKC CH O’Neill van Balderlo CQN HS JHD TDI CGC (s.92 B & s.93 T). “O’Neill” was owned by Catherine Sheilds of Carousel Malinois and was bred by Paul Vlomans of van Balderlo in Belgium.
Can I talk a bit about my facilities? Where are my puppies whelped? How are they raised?
Tasha Mesina: My dogs have large paddocks to run in. The space to roam keeps them in excellent shape. I have five fenced acres and I’m in the process of putting in a kennel building.
Pups are born and raised in the house. They are exposed to a ton of noise and family life. I think this helps to prepare them for living with their new families when they go home.
I put a lot of effort into exposing my pups to as much as I can while they are here. I use the Avidog and Puppy Culture programs. They are exposed to livestock as soon as they can follow their mothers. They go home started on clicker training and are well on their way to being crate-trained.
What is my “process” for selecting show puppies? At what age do I make my decisions?
Tasha Mesina: At 8 weeks old, I select my show prospects. I put them on a table using the Puppy Puzzle to evaluate structure. Then I watch them in the yard, trotting around. Most of my show prospects have that extra sparkle and attitude that says, “Look at me!”
How do I prepare my pups for the show ring? Does my breed require any special preparation?
Tasha Mesina: It starts with good nutrition. I want my dogs to gleam from the inside out. They are a pretty “wash & wear” breed. About a week before the show, I bathe and line brush. I never use conditioner as it can soften the coat too much. They should have a weather-resistant, hard coat. Day of show prep, I mist with water, blow out and line brush again. Good to go!
Is my breed hand-stacked or free-stacked in the show ring? Why is it presented in this manner?
Tasha Mesina: Belgians are free-stacked. A correctly built dog will stand four-square. They are a silhouette breed and should be allowed to show off their elegance. Hand-stacking can ruin the picture.
Are Performance and Companion titles important to me as a breeder? Are parent club titles? Absolutely!
Tasha Mesina: Performance in many ways is way more important to me than conformation. Malinois are primarily owner-handler shown; most finish their dogs and go on to other sports. Malinois are not a breed that sits still very well, so most are sold to sport homes. I think performance titles allow the breed to shine doing what they do best—work!
In my opinion, is my breed in good condition overall? Any trends that warrant concern?
Tasha Mesina: I think there have been a lot of areas of improvement since I started in Malinois. Type and temperament have definitely improved. Sadly, I do see a lot of dogs with straight fronts and dogs lacking in prosternum. I think that’s something we need to work on.
Is my breed well-suited to be a family dog? Who are the best candidates to own my breed?
Tasha Mesina: Well, they can be. I’ll explain. They do need someone who will socialize them a lot, and they need to be included in the day-to-day family life. They can be managed with dog savvy kids. In general, I do not recommend them to inexperienced dog owners. An ideal owner (for me) is someone who wants to title a dog at both ends (conformation and performance) as well as someone who considers their dog a part of the family. They do live a long time, so that’s something I stress to my owners.
Do I feel that my breed is supported by a sufficient number of preservation breeders?
Tasha Mesina: No. Unfortunately, the Belgian Malinois has become very, very popular as of late and we’re seeing a huge rise in poorly bred Malinois by people trying to make a quick buck off the breed. Our rescue is burdened as a result of this.
True preservation breeders who have been in the game a long time are few and far between, though you can certainly find them. A good place to start is the ABMC or AWMA breeder referral lists.
For a bit of fun, what’s the most amusing thing I’ve ever experienced with a Herding Dog?
Tasha Mesina: Last year at a Herding Trial, it was raining and terrible outside. I had a set of sheep that just didn’t want to move from their shelter into the weather. I was trialing a young bitch for a friend of mine, and the bitch was clearly getting frazzled at the lack of movement; she was trying her best to get 60 sheep to move. She thought about it and dove under the bellies of all those sheep, biting the ankle of the lead ewe to get her moving. It worked! My heart was in my throat. (All I could think of was the phone call I would have to make to her owner about her getting squished.) I’ve trained a different behavior since then, lol!
Anything else I would like to share about myself? Any special message I have for all of us in the fancy?
Tasha Mesina: My main focus in Malinois over the last few years has been building a herding line. Thankfully, there are still breeders who care about performance and the heritage of the breed’s original purpose. So, I had lines to select from that had lots of natural herding ability.