Interview with Working Group Breeder Michelle Santana | Foxfire
Where do I live? How many years in dogs? How many years as a breeder?
Michelle Santana: Foxfire Doberman Pinschers is based in Oregon, but we are transplants from my home state of California. It’s been about 26 years now, but seems like yesterday! My Mother, Clarice, dabbled with the dream of wanting to “show Dobermans” even as early as when I was five or six. But those two Dobermans, “Carlo” and “Fancy,” did not realize her dream. So, our official start was around nine years later, in 1979, when she returned to the pursuit of her dream by purchasing our Foundation Bitch, “Pele,” AM/CAN CH JanRic’s Zerline V. Davamti, WAC; finding her breeder in the San Francisco Yellow Pages! Pele was JanRic’s first champion. Our first litter was born out of Pele in 1982.
What is my kennel name? How many dogs do I currently keep?
Michelle Santana: My mom settled on the kennel name of Foxfire. The number of dogs is constantly fluctuating as pups come and go, adults come and go (and, of course, some stay forever), and dogs that I co-own come for showing or breeding and then return back to their co-owners. But on average, there is a mixture of 6-10 such heathens that I’m caretaking for.
Which show dogs from the past have been my noteworthy winners?
Michelle Santana: There are so many who are near and dear to my heart. I guess I’d start with our three DPCA Top Twenty Winners; MBIS/CH Foxfire’s All That Jazz, “Jade,” BIS/GCH Foxfire’s Love Monster CD/ROM, “Cupid,” and MBIS/GCHG Foxfire’s Alltimate Wannabe, “Julius”(winning it as a Veteran), as well as my first BIS Special, CH Foxfire’s Devils N Demons, WAC who won our DPCA National from the Veteran Class, breeder/owner-handled. (Julius won the National in 2017.)
Which have been my most influential sires and dams?
Michelle Santana: We have been hugely blessed to have a wonderful matriarchal foundation line for 12-13 generations now. And our patriarchal arm has influenced many breeding programs in many countries, all in the quest to move forward the preservation of the Doberman today. We honor those great breeders who came before us and shared their wealth of knowledge and their dogs’ genes! Two standouts at Foxfire were a mother/son duo that topped the AKC Charts with Highest Honors. MBIS/DPCA TT Winner CH Foxfire’s All That Jazz was the AKC Top-Producing Dam 2008 and 2009 (Dam of 14 Champions!), and her son, Ch Foxfire All Star, was the AKC Top-Producing Working Group Sire 2009 and 2012 with almost 100 Champions to his credit; but more importantly, he is a continuing Top Producer for our breed through his progeny. (He is the sire of the great “Fifi.”)
Can I talk a bit about my facilities? Where are my puppies whelped? How are they raised?
Michelle Santana: We live on seven beautiful acres with a creek that runs through our property. Each day, our puppies go for “walks to the creek” accompanied by our Papillons. (Their videos and exploits endear many to Foxfire’s FB page.) I whelp our litters in the bedroom where we can keep it optimally quiet and warm. After a few days, we transfer the moms and their brood to a bigger whelping box in the main portion of our home/TV room for further hands-on monitoring. All of our puppies and adults live in our home and get hands-on raising by me and my significant other, Dave Miller, who used to breed German Shorthaired Pointers under the prefix, Placer Country. (He had well over 100 GSP Champions before retiring shortly after moving to Oregon). I’ve actually co-bred champion GSP and one Papillon champion myself as well.
What is my “process” for selecting show puppies? At what age do I make my decisions?
Michelle Santana: My motto is, “When they have 15 points/both majors, you know you have a “show prospect.” LOL!
I like to watch my puppies on the ground. I really don’t do a lot of “table analysis,” and therefore, my pups aren’t really “table stars.” In fact, they do their best to look like dromedary camels when I try to get photos! I envy breeders who diligently table-stack their pups each week and take photos to publish on social media.
I like to have a couple of favorites narrowed down by ear-cropping age (nine weeks), because we do a tiny bit different crop on companions vs. show (length and base shape). From nine weeks, it isn’t unusual to “grow” a couple of pups out to 4-5 months because we have a teeth DQ in my breed. This extra time also allows to further evaluate if a puppy is fulfilling its early potential. Needless to say, it’s a long, arduous process and it’s labor intensive.
How do I prepare my pups for the show ring? Does my breed require any special preparation?
Michelle Santana: As easy as it seems to bring a Doberman to fruition, they are actually quite labor intensive! They are highly visual and cognizant of their surroundings, never missing a noise or a fluttering butterfly. This requires an abundance of environmental desensitization. Because we have no hair or grooming techniques to manipulate what one sees in body form, we are a “what you see is what you get” breed. So, posture and poise become key elements. Teaching puppies to “use their ears” and to keep their tail up for future “free-posing” isn’t as easy as it looks! Just the weekly ear re-wrapping, teaching the ear cartilage to stand erect, is tedious and time-consuming. We do A LOT of socializing and walking around the shows to familiarize puppies with the environment.
Is mine a cropped and/or docked breed? Can I share my thoughts on cropping and docking?
Michelle Santana: Yes, although the Doberman can be—and has been—shown uncropped. And there are a handful of uncropped Doberman champions. However, it is NOT endorsed by our parent club. Our belief is that our forebears created the Doberman to be a Personal Protection Dog, and from the earliest days of creation you saw them cropped in Germany. The Standard does NOT describe an uncropped ear. Therefore, we feel that this is for a reason—the Breed is intended to be Cropped and Docked.
We acknowledge that we are one of the only Parent Clubs holding out on pressure to open our Standard and amend the Standard to describe a natural ear and tail. Many “old guard” breeders fight to protect the Standard—as written—by being actively involved in our breed club Board and Judges Education Committee. Being cropped and docked is an important attribute to performing the original function of our breed.
Are Performance and Companion titles important to me as a breeder? Are parent club titles?
Michelle Santana: Absolutely! I am extremely proud of the Performance Arm of Foxfire Dobermans!! My puppy people have gone above my wildest dreams, proving that our breed is one of the most versatile on earth! From Therapy/Service, Agility, Obedience, IPO, Dock Diving, and Nose/Scentwork, there is NOTHING a Doberman can’t do! In fact, one of the reasons why I am still the only DPCA Breeder who has qualified for the DPCA Breeder APEX Breeder Award at the GOLD Level is because it requires a breeder to have such a high number of Performance-titled and Temperament-tested (ROM) Dobermans, besides Conformation champions, to qualify. Breeders are often only as successful as their puppy people enable them to be! And we truly thank those owners who reach for the stars on our behalf.
In my opinion, is my breed in good condition overall. Any trends that warrant concern?
Michelle Santana: I think that all breeds ebb and flow. There is never a constant state of perfection. I also think there are a lot of quality dogs being bred and breeders who are trying their best. Judges can be a huge disappointment because, often, even with quality dogs present in an entry, they settle on mediocrity. Enough quality dogs are usually present in a decent entry to find worthy winners… but judges have to find them!
One problem that I see is when breeders tend to breed “locally,” so you see dominant sires in pockets of the US instead of having their genes being dispersed throughout. This can be problematic, I think, as certain faults and virtues don’t get dispersed evenly in the breed, if that makes sense. Kudos to the breeders who go the extra mile to breed to the sire that best complements what their bitch needs, instead of just settling on the current big winner in their area.
Is my breed well-suited to be a family dog? Who are the best candidates to own my breed?
Michelle Santana: Dobermans can make wonderful family dogs. However, getting through the first two years can be a monumental hurdle! They can be very destructive, determined, stubborn, and generally defiant.
The breed requires a HUGE amount of micromanaging that I equate to 24/7 suicide watch! So, I tell buyers that they are buying an 18-month-old to a two-year-old human toddler. And that’s “no joke” for the first two years.
My first choice for ownership are the people who work from home, are retired or self-employed, and those who take their pup to work or whose work allows pets. The early years of a Doberman are not suited to being left alone for 40 hours a week by itself. The lack of exercise and behavioral modeling causes too many behavioral issues.
Do I feel that my breed is supported by a sufficient number of preservation breeders?
Michelle Santana: I think the Doberman breed will be in a lot of trouble in the coming decade or two when all of us Preservation Breeders who are still left from the “old guard” retire from breeding. Oddly, there is a super-high demand for Dobermans by John Q. Public (JQP); a demand that Preservation Breeders cannot even meet now. There will be fewer and fewer good breeders and definitely not enough young, up-and-coming breeders to fill the JQP demand for Dobermans as companions. Fortunately, the DPCA is being forward-thinking and has begun a grant sponsorship program (paying $1,000 towards expenses) to encourage new graduating veterinarians (and even older, established ones who want to learn and/or perfect their skill) to attend a mentorship training program on ear cropping. Enrolled mentees spend time with an approved Learned Veterinarian Cropper who teaches the student the craft and skill of a dying art.
For a bit of fun, what’s the most amusing thing I’ve ever experienced with a Working Dog?
Michelle Santana: That our Dobermans LOVE Dock Diving and Swimming so much! Properly introduced to learning the event, Dobermans turn into Labradors!