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Kristi Libertore | Whiskey Hills Bracchi Italiani

Kristi Libertore

Interview with Kristi Libertore, Breeder of Whiskey Hills & Whiskeytown Sporting Dogs

  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?

1. My husband, Tony, and I have a combined 30 years in breeding dogs. We live on Brays Island, South Carolina, which is one of the premier quail hunting communities in the country. Tony’s original breed was GSPs, and he was a NAVHDA judge and trainer for many years, with multiple Versatile Champions under his kennel, Feather Hills. My original breed was Wirehaired Pointing Griffons. My WPG kennel is Whiskeytown Sporting Dogs, which produced multiple BIS/RBIS/Group Winning and Placing Griffons and multiple Field and Show Dog Hall of Fame dogs. In 2020, we were awarded AKC Sporting Group Breeder of the Year. When I first met my husband in 2016, he introduced me to the Bracco Italiano. Tony has been involved with the breed for over 14 years now. We’ve dedicated our future to helping import, breed, and develop the quality of dogs we always try to produce; beautiful, sound, and correct dogs that can still do their job! Since the breed gained full AKC recognition, we have bred the first Champion, first Grand Champion Bitch, and a Best in Show winner along with multiple top-ranked Breed, All-Breed and NOHS Group-placing dogs. We had the No. 1 Breed and All-Breed Bracchi the first two years, won Westminster BOB, making the cut, with our foundation male, “Lepshi.” We also won the inaugural Westminster BOB and won the AKC National Championship BOB four times with four different Bracchi. Producing beautiful, correct dogs that can still do the job they are supposed to do is what the term Preservation Breeder means to us.

2. Our process involves a series of things. For show puppies, we stack them and evaluate them on the table with a group of people. Bracchi babies are very difficult to stack at young ages! We also watch them on the ground, looking at movement, which is a hallmark of the breed. A dog must have correct structure, be balanced front and rear, and have a beautiful head. For our hunting tests, we do a variety of things. We take them to a new outdoor location to start. We begin by watching their reaction time before they begin to explore and search their surroundings. A dog scoring high will immediately begin to explore and expand. We interact with them, tossing a toy to see their desire to go towards retrieving it. We watch how they interact with a stranger and with people in general. A good gundog must be very outgoing and fearless. We bring in a dead bird, at first tossing it into the litter. We watch to see which ones immediately gain interest. The ones that grab it, fight for it, and trot off with it as a prize score highest. Most of our families are hunting homes looking for a loving, calm companion in the home. Temperament testing is critical too. We pick each puppy for each family; it’s non-negotiable. Our breeding dogs will ideally be the best of both worlds, correct and beautiful with strong hunting instincts. We require a show title or an advanced hunt title to be bred. Ideally, a breeding dog will have both.

3. The breed is getting stronger here in the US. We have been importing dogs and using frozen semen to begin building out the lines of dogs we want here. As more people import, we hope that they bring more great lines of dogs like we have been doing for the past 14 years. The trend that concerns me is preserving the dogs as hunters. This breed is a POINTING breed, not a hound. They are heavier boned than a GSP and range like a medium GSP, so always look for a powerful pointing dog. They should not lumber, roll, or hold their tail high over their back like a hound. The movement of the Bracco should be fluid and powerful, with the head held high; this is how they hunt. The long ears and loose skin are to help pull scent upward. The Bracco is seeking birds and moving quickly. The ears bring the scent upward, but the head is up high and they must cover ground quickly and efficiently. There also seems to be confusion about the topline. The Bracco topline is made up of two lines; one from the slope of the withers to the 11th dorsal vertebrae, the other is slightly arched, joining with the line of the croup. The topline should remain strong in movement. A dog that rolls is fundamentally incorrect. FCI handlers are allowed to gait much more so than here, and the rings are often larger. That doesn’t mean a dog showing in the US shouldn’t move out—you should always be able to see the dog at that full speed in your mind!

4. To be honest, there are too many shows and not enough great judges. There is so much discussion about how to preserve the sport, but at the end of the day, it’s the breeders that matter. We are the ones who devote our time, life, and energy to maintain a breed. We need more breeder-judges who have built great kennels. I mentor judges in both of my breeds. I know instantly the ones that “get it” and the ones checking a box. We would love to be judges, but the time-consuming process, even in the breeds you know well, prohibit it for many.

5. We use social media to help promote our dogs. It’s “free” advertising, but it can often be ugly and disheartening too. People can’t seem to accept that my dog can be great, your dog can be great, and those things don’t have to be exclusive. The petty, even childish antics can wear out the best of people. At the same time, it can be educational and a great way to meet new people and introduce them to your breed.

6. Bringing in fresh and talented dog people as judges is a challenge. Making it easier for judges to be experts on certain breeds, and maybe not trying to be an expert on 200-plus breeds. Also, the number of shows is insane. I get why clubs are doing four- and five-day clusters together, but as an exhibitor it’s getting exponentially more expensive with so many shows. Handlers struggle to find assistants. With so many days on the road, it’s a very hard life. I wish there were fewer shows but more with great judges than what we see currently. I also wish there were more breeder competitions, more special events for this.

7. Speaking for my WPGs, I think as a breed develops over time, the overall quality becomes greater. Fifteen years ago, the Breed ring was not nearly so consistent in quality as it is today. I think that is why certain breeds seem to produce multiple top winners each year; the consistent quality has been built so that the great ones are truly great ones. I also like the changes made to support the showing of dogs past their championship; GCH and NOHS.