Interview with Susan Thibodeaux, Breeder of Kallmee Toy Fox Terriers
Where do I live? How many years in dogs? How many years as a breeder?
Susan Thibodeaux: I live in Florida on the Space Coast. I’ve been in dogs since 1978 and a breeder for most of those; however, the majority of those years I was in Vizslas and Cocker Spaniels. I’ve been in Toy Fox Terriers since 2013.
I began showing dogs in 1978. Ten years ago, after decades in the Sporting Group showing primarily Vizslas, Cocker Spaniels, and English Cockers, I made the decision to segue to the Toy Group and now have Toy Fox Terriers and Toy Manchester Terriers. I am Vice President for the American Toy Fox Terrier Club, on the Board of the Brevard Kennel Club, and a member of the American Manchester Terrier Club and the Toy Dog Club of South Florida. In addition to showing, I can be found having fun in various events such as Rally, Fast CAT, and Barn Hunt, stewarding, teaching handling classes for BKC, and judging sweepstakes and matches.
What is my kennel name? How many dogs do I currently keep?
Susan Thibodeaux: Our kennel name is Kallmee. I like to tell people I have more than a few dogs and less than a lot.
Which show dogs have been my noteworthy winners?
Susan Thibodeaux: In Toy Foxes, it would be GCHG Kallmee The Aerialist, “Flyer.” During his career he was BOB at our National Specialty, BOB at the AKC National Championship Show, BOS twice at Westminster (once to his litter sister), over 150 BOBs and 30 Group Placements of which six were Group Firsts.
His dam, “Sparkles,” GCHG Barbary’s Gold N Jewels RATN, was also a noteworthy winner with more than 120 BOBs, BOS at a National Specialty, and BOB at the 2015 AKC National Championship Show.
Which have been my most influential sires and dams?
Susan Thibodeaux: Sparkles has her ROM for producing champions. My boy “Barnum,” GCHB Barbary’s Kallmee The Ringmaster RA FCAT CA TKN FDC CGC, sired Flyer, “Gemma” (2021 BOB at Westminster), and other lovely champions who are producing lovely Toy Foxes in their own right.
Can I talk a bit about my facilities? Where are my puppies whelped? How are they raised?
Susan Thibodeaux: Our dogs are whelped and raised in our home. The puppies are kept in the bedroom till they are toddling and then they are moved to the “dog room,” a spacious room attached to our family room. Our dogs are housedogs; however, puppies are confined to a puppy pen in the dog room unless under supervision, but the dog room is right in the middle of the flow of our day, so they get a lot of attention. We take them out to play in the house and outside, and spend a lot of time with them. They also go in the RV on the road with us when we travel, as we take all our dogs. (Just got back from a week in Oklahoma with five-week-old puppies).
What is my “process” for selecting Show Puppies? Performance Puppies?
Susan Thibodeaux: I watch the puppies from the time they can toddle and begin to form opinions about them, but I don’t make formal assessments till they are eight weeks old. I also invite a few friends whose eyes are really good at assessing puppies and I ask their opinions as well.
Generally, my show dogs become my “performance” dogs as we like to do things with them after they retire from the show ring. The same things I look for in a show dog—structure, movement, soundness, temperament—are important for doing all the fun things they can do in other events. Puppies usually stay till they are 12 weeks old and I have always, over the years, kept two if I couldn’t decide and let them grow up and mature to see how they turn out. I do this for me, as keeping the right dog is more important to me then selling puppies.
How important are Breed Specialties to me? How important are Group Shows?
Susan Thibodeaux: We have a breed that dips in and out of the low entry pool. That means that, generally, we don’t see a lot of other Toy Foxes from outside our local area and often only a few at the shows. Specialties are hugely important for seeing dogs from other lines, comparing what we have, looking for other dogs to breed to, and sharing experiences and information. I just got back from our National Specialty in Oklahoma, and it was one of our largest specialties in recent years with 61 Toy Foxes. It was great to see what others are producing, what the various lines are looking like, sharing information with other breeders, and seeing dogs in person that we’d only seen pictures of.
What are my priorities when it comes to breeding? What are the drawbacks?
Susan Thibodeaux: My priorities are to produce better than what I have right now. That’s my goal for every generation. Drawbacks are keeping the numbers manageable, so that means sometimes retiring a dog to a pet home in order to keep a dog for showing and future breeding. Almost half of our dogs are retirees right now who will never leave, so we have to be very discerning about the number of litters and who and how many to keep.
How would I define “conditioning” as it relates to my breed? How important is coat care?
Susan Thibodeaux: I’m big on fit dogs. Judges often comment on my dogs’ muscles and fitness. I don’t force them to exercise, but we have the space for them to run, jump, dig, climb, and play—and we encourage it. Thankfully, Toy Fox coats are easy to care for; I started in Cockers years ago and I much prefer the easy wash-and-wear coat of the Toy Fox.
Are there any health-related concerns in my breed? Any special nutritional needs?
Susan Thibodeaux: Overall, the Toy Fox Terrier is a very healthy, long-lived dog. We do have some things we test for; the list is on the parent club site and on OFA’s site. As with most Toys, keeping their oral health routine is important. If owners want them to keep their teeth they need to commit to keeping the teeth clean.
The biggest issue I see nutritionally is obesity in our breed. It’s so easy to overfeed and overtreat these dogs and, when they are adults, they get overweight very easily. Food portions need to be measured and treats used sparingly (best used when training!), and encourage play and activities to stay fit and burn calories.
Do I think my breed is supported by a sufficient number of preservation breeders?
Susan Thibodeaux: No. In fact, several well-respected breeders have passed away these past 12 months and a couple have retired from breeding. Our number of registrations last year was only about 400. If we lose breeders and don’t bring new ones in then we will be on a trajectory that will be hard to rebound from. Several of us have made it a priority to bring new people into our breed so that its future will be more secure.
Is my breed well suited to be a family dog? Who are the best candidates to own my breed?
Susan Thibodeaux: Toy Foxes can be good with people from young to old. As far as families, I’d say Toy Foxes are good with good children. They are Toys—if handled roughly they can be injured, so parents who want a Toy Fox must be cautious of young or boisterous children handling the dogs.
I’ve been trying to get more social media exposure where the 20- and 30-year-olds are; this breed lends itself to people who want a dog they can take with them, do fun activities with, low maintenance, easily fit in smaller housing, and can play now and sit in your lap while you’re on your computer or watching tv later. It is a great dog for retirees too, for the same reasons as listed above.
What is the biggest misconception about my breed? What is my breed’s best-kept secret?
Susan Thibodeaux: The biggest misconception is that they are yappy dogs. Yes, they bark at squirrels and other “prey” but they can be trained to be quiet. We have a number of Toy Foxes and they are loose in the house while I work remotely. I wouldn’t be able to have conference calls and get things done if they were constantly barking. The best-kept secret? Just the fact that the average person doesn’t know they exist—the whole breed is a secret and we’re trying hard to get them noticed and recognized.
If I could share a comment or two with judges of my breed, what would I like to say to them?
Susan Thibodeaux: Please don’t treat our breed like the unwanted stepchild of the Toy Group. This is a fabulous breed and has much to offer. Have patience with their animation and energy. Remember, they are terriers—more than one of us has had the experience of a Toy Fox wanting to go over to the next ring to “kill” a big dog.
Most Toy Fox exhibitors would greatly appreciate it if the judges would check the bite last. Do not reward hackney gait. Remember, their bodies are at least 50 percent white, which INCLUDES the underside of the dogs. Bites should be scissors. And don’t be afraid to wicket, but with a three-inch allowable spread in height, with 8-½ to 11-½ inches allowed (9-11 inches preferred), remember that there could be some real optical differences when looking at the line-up on the floor.
Do I have any words of wisdom to pass along to newer breeders?
Susan Thibodeaux: Start with the best you can and find a mentor who knows the dogs in the pedigree behind your dog. Don’t get stuck in “silos.” Get to know the breeders of the other lines as well, and if you need to use their dogs to get where you are going then do so. My motto for this year, which I shared at our banquet, is “Compete in the ring, collaborate outside it.” We all want to win; I know I do! But if we are concerned for the long-term survival and health of the breed we need to work together to promote the Toy Fox Terrier, increase its recognition and desirability in the public, and share the information and knowledge that so many older breeders have about the dogs in the past that will be lost with them when they go.
For a bit of fun, what’s the most amusing thing I’ve ever experienced with a Toy Dog?
Susan Thibodeaux: Living with Toy Foxes is more fun than watching TV. Whether it’s Barnum flipping the pedal on my exercise bike, Sparkles using a food bowl as a skateboard, Flyer ascending to new heights to see if he can fly, the daily hunting of lizards or the games of tag, tug of war, and keep away, we stay