Lesley Brabyn | Timaru Kennels

Lesley Brabyn, Breeder of Timaru Kennels


Interview with Lesley Brabyn, Breeder of Timaru Kennels

Where do I live? How many years in dogs? How many years as a breeder?

Lesley Brabyn: I live in Northern California on the Sonoma County coast, near the little village of Bodega. (Its claim to fame: where Alfred Hitchcock filmed The Birds.) I first stepped into an AKC show ring in 1965, initially with Shetland Sheepdogs and then, in 1967, I started showing Salukis, which I still do. In 2007, my husband and I bought a 400-acre ranch and needed something to guard the livestock, so Anatolian Shepherd Dogs entered our lives at that point. We got our first one as a ranch dog, not intending to show, but one thing led to another and, very soon, we found ourselves in the ring with Anatolians as well as Salukis. We bred our first Anatolian litter in 2012. I am also licensed to judge four sighthound breeds and I’m provisional for three more, including Anatolians.


What is my kennel name? How many dogs do I currently keep?

Lesley Brabyn: Our kennel name is “Timaru” and we currently have six Anatolians and six Salukis in residence. All the Anatolians are full-time livestock guardians on the ranch when not being shown.


Which show dogs from the past have been my noteworthy winners?

Lesley Brabyn: The first Anatolian we showed was BISS GCH CH J-Haven’s Esmeray at Timaru, whom we obtained in 2009 from a goat breeder, Jill Pritchett, in Indiana. I had done a lot of research on the breed beforehand, observing dogs in the ring and talking to breeders, and then I attended the 2008 National Specialty in Atlanta. That enabled me to zero in on the dogs and bloodlines I liked.

We were fortunate in that Jill had just had a large litter from the bloodlines I was most interested in, and so I flew out to Indiana and brought “Esme” back to California as a baby puppy. She was a great introduction to the breed, had a fabulous temperament, and I finished her at 14 months with four majors and multiple Best of Breed wins over Specials. She went on to win a Best in Specialty and was the No. 1 Anatolian bitch in 2011, all owner-handled. Bred once, she produced three champions.

Another was BISS GCHB White Oak Wiesje. “Veesha” came to us in a very odd way. We happened upon a listing on Craiglist for three Anatolians needing a new home. Upon inquiry, we learned that the dogs were on a goat farm, came from bloodlines of interest to us, and needed rehoming due to a divorce. So, we made the three-hour trek to the Sierra Gold Country to see them; a mother and her two 11-month-old daughters. The dogs had been somewhat neglected but were people friendly, so we loaded them up into our SUV and brought them home. We found new situations for two of them, but kept Veesha as we felt she had the best structure and temperament for our needs. Despite never having been off her property or on a leash for her first 11 months, she finished in seven shows with a BOB over Specials. She went on to win a Best in Specialty, BOS at the ASDCA National Specialty in 2015, numerous Group placements, and was the No. 1 Anatolian bitch in 2015. She also produced seven champions, with an eighth nearly finished.


Which have been my most influential sires and dams?

Lesley Brabyn: We bred Esme to one of our own dogs, Ch. Muhsin of Timaru, who came from strictly working lines. I had become wary of the temperaments of some of the dogs I’d seen in California and felt safer in using a dog I was very familiar with in all types of situations. “Moose” was one of the best dogs we’ve ever had: patient, calm, loving, and an outstanding guardian on the ranch. Originally acquired as strictly a goat guardian, he was never taken off the ranch until the age of two. Despite that, he finished his championship in seven shows with three majors and multiple Best of Breed wins over Specials. He was also Select Dog at the 2011 ASDCA National Specialty and Best Veteran at the 2016 National Specialty. The hardest part of showing him was convincing him that getting into a car was okay. Bred four times, his offspring include ASDCA’s Livestock Guardian of Merit award winners for 2012 & 2013, the Best Working Dog at the 2013 ASDCA National Specialty, Eukanuba’s Best of Breed winner for 2013, top-winning male ASD in the US for 2013 & 2016, ASDCA’s Silver Guardian award winner for 2013 & 2016, and Best of Winners at the ASDCA 2016 National Specialty. We lost Moose in 2022, one month shy of 14 years old.

One of Esme and Moose’s offspring was our keeper, GCHG Timaru Serag Mounir. Like his parents, “Mounir” had a lightning-fast career in the classes and finished at 10 months old with a Group placement. He was a Grand Champion by 14 months and went on to win Best of Breed at Eukanuba in 2013, a Working Group First at the Silver Bay KC in 2015 and an OH Best in Show. He was the No. 1 Anatolian male in 2013 & 2016, Select Dog and Best Veteran at the 2019 National Specialty, and the first male Grand Champion Gold in the Breed, always breeder/owner-handled. We lost this noble, loving dog all too soon in 2022, two days after a routine surgery and for reasons I still do not understand.

Mounir’s legacy lives on in his children, which include littermates BIS MBISS OH-BIS GCHS Timaru Bekci Ayisi and MBIS BISS OH-BIS GCHG Timaru Tallulah. “Bear” and “Tallulah” have both won all-breed Bests in Show, Best of Breed at the ASDCA National Specialty, and Best of Breed at Westminster KC and at the AKC National Championship Show in Orlando. Both also have OH Bests in Show. Both have been bred from and their children, the oldest only just two years old, have been racking up some very impressive wins. A Tallulah son, Ch. Timaru Guardian of the North, despite living in Canada and rarely shown in the US, won Best of Breed at Westminster KC this year as well as at the 2022 AKC National Championship in Orlando. Various other children have taken majors at the National Specialty and its adjunct shows over the past two years.


Can I talk a bit about my facilities? Where are my puppies whelped? How are they raised?

Lesley Brabyn: We are on a 400-acre ranch on the Sonoma County coast in California and have a base herd of about 50 registered purebred Kiko goats. The Anatolians are each assigned a pasture to preside over, depending upon the age of the dog and that of the goat cohort. These pastures vary in size, from one to 30 acres, and for the shelter the dogs and the goats share. Although our first litter arrived early and was whelped in the middle of a field(!), the rest have been whelped in a barn stall. We attend the births, but try to interfere as little as possible as we’ve found that Anatolian mothers prefer to do things their way and can count; if you dare take a baby away for weighing… We are adherents of Dr. Carmen Battaglia’s Early Neonatal Stimulation Program and put each puppy through the exercises daily until they are about three weeks old and then do a reduced version over the following weeks. We expose them to the smells, sounds, and sights of goats from about three weeks onward and, if we have the right size and temperament of goats at the time, allow them to co-mingle from about five weeks onward. I say “right size and temperament” as while we want our puppies to understand about goats, we do not want them to be intimidated. It is a balance. Our puppies are usually all in their new homes by 11-12 weeks, and at that point, we begin a series of additional exposures and training exercises with our keeper, which would be the topic for a separate article.


What is my “process” for selecting Show Puppies? Performance Puppies?

Lesley Brabyn: Assessment is part science, part art, and part luck. We start watching as soon as the babies are toddling around. We watch how they carry themselves, how they use their limbs, how they react or respond to various things in the environment: new people, noise, sudden movement, littermates, their dam, goats, etc. At 8 weeks, we take stacked photos and evaluate, a la Pat Hastings, assessing static structure, angles, and balance. And we watch some more… It is not easy, but I prefer to make my decisions and then get puppies into their new homes no later than 12 weeks. I believe this to be the best for the long-term adjustment of the dog, even if keeping them longer might mean a more definitive assessment of quality. Sometimes, we get it right. Sometimes, we don’t.


Do I compete in Performance Events? In Parent Club Tests & Trials?

Lesley Brabyn: For measuring the ability to guard livestock, as yet, there really are not any meaningful tests. A measure of success for such dogs is the absence of anything bad happening to their charges. During the day, as someone once remarked, it looks like a field with goats grazing and dead dogs lying around. But when night comes on, look out!


Is “performance” part of my decision-making when it comes to breeding?

Lesley Brabyn: Absolutely. We are committed to producing dogs that meet the Standard of the Breed as well as able to perform the breed’s original purpose. As such, any dog we keep for show/breeding MUST also be able to “perform” as a livestock guardian.


How would I define “conditioning” as it relates to my breed?

Lesley Brabyn: To me, conditioning in this breed means soundness and health. Muscles are developed and firm. Eyes bright.


Are there any health-related concerns in my breed? Any special nutritional needs?

Lesley Brabyn: Like any giant breed, there are things to be concerned about. We OFA test all of our breeding stock for hips, elbows, and thyroid, and breed only from those with Normal on thyroid and elbows and Good or better on hips. In my experience, Anatolians do tend to be prone to ear infections, though our dogs live pretty rough, always being outside, so perhaps this is only us. We feed a good, balanced diet, Purina Pro Plan, and they seem to do well on that.


Do I think my breed is supported by a sufficient number of preservation breeders?

Lesley Brabyn: This is a complicated question in regards to the Anatolian. From what I’ve observed, there is a minority of the breed registered with the AKC. Far more are out there on ranches and hobby farms that may or may not be purebred, but are bred strictly as working dogs. Is this a bad thing? Well, on the one hand, they are keeping the instinct going in their dogs. However, these breeders often see no practical reason for “papers,” much less know anything about what a Breed Standard is. On the other extreme, you have show breeders who only care about Conformation wins, and while they may take photos of their dog with a token sheep, they really do not understand all that it takes to make a successful livestock guardian in a true field situation. To me, both are extremes. I believe we need to adhere to the Breed Standard in making our breeding selections: to value basic soundness, balance, and breed type, as well as to select for all the elements that go into making an effective livestock guardian dog.


Is my breed well suited to be a family dog? Who are the best candidates to own my breed?

Lesley Brabyn: While we have successfully placed puppies in family situations, I would not recommend the Anatolian as a family dog. They are large, they are powerful, they often do not like other dogs, and they can be very territorial. They are NOT a beginner’s dog. Yet, some thrive in a family situation. On average, I would say that the ideal Anatolian owner is someone who has a good understanding of dog behavior and the importance of being pack leader. He or she must be physically and mentally capable of managing this powerful and independent breed.


What is the biggest misconception about my breed?

Lesley Brabyn: That if an Anatolian is friendly with people, it cannot be a good guardian—not true. That Anatolians will naturally stay with their flocks and you don’t need fences—not true. That because an Anatolian is fine with my goats, he will be fine with your goats—not necessarily true.


If I could share a comment or two with judges of my breed, what would I like to say to them?

Lesley Brabyn: Keep in mind that the country of origin for these dogs, Eastern Turkey, is one of extreme terrain and weather. In order to protect their charges, they must be able to move quickly and with agility over hill and dale in pursuit of predators. Remember, in their genetic makeup is sighthound and the Anatolian is supposed to be one of the most athletic of the livestock guardian breeds. In order for such a large dog to hold up over time, covering distance quickly on punishing ground, it must be built properly. I despair at every Anatolian National I’ve attended when I see how many of the exhibits have major structural faults: cow hocks, fiddle-fronts, weak pasterns, short legs, sway-backs, etc. The frames of these dogs could not hold up over time to the rigors of their native terrain, and that is just sad. Please pay attention to basic canine structure when judging this breed. It does not get a free pass on soundness. If anything, in a dog of this size, given its purpose and country of origin, basic soundness and balance should be essential in making your assessments.


Do I have any words of wisdom to pass along to newer breeders?

Lesley Brabyn: Do your research before investing.


For a bit of fun, what’s the most amusing thing I’ve ever experienced with a Working Dog?

Lesley Brabyn: From the time goat kids are very young, they like playing “King of the Hill” and will find any rise in ground, piece of wood, or rock to stand on to be higher than their peers. Often, they will be standing on top of a sleeping Anatolian, even a Best in Show-winning Anatolian. This, is priceless.

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