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Mchill’s Border Terriers | Peter Holson

Peter Holson posing with his dogs at a dog show.


Interview with Peter Holson of Mchill’s Border Terriers, by Allan Reznik

Where did you grow up?

Peter Holson: I grew up in Lake Forest, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago, about 30 miles north of the city.


Do you come from a doggy family? And if not, how did the interest in breeding and showing purebred dogs begin?

Peter Holson: We were a doggy family but not a dog show family. My father insisted on having well-bred, purebred dogs. Growing up, we had a German Shepherd Dog, Miniature Schnauzer, Airedale Terrier, Alaskan Malamute, Golden Retriever, Standard Schnauzer, and maybe others.

In the mid-1970s my sister, Hillary Zimmerman, got her start in Doberman Pinschers. She had a bitch that she was planning on breeding. In the search for a sire, she took me to my first dog show (I was probably 12 at the time) which was the International Kennel Club, when it was at the International Amphitheater, south of the city. We watched Dobermans literally all day long. Interestingly, when the revamped IKC was announced, someone posted the IKC catalog from that year on Facebook and I saw the sire that my sister ended up breeding to, listed in the catalog… Ch. Marks-Tey Blue Velvet. Anyway, I was there to help whelp that litter and I remember vividly the first puppy born was a big red male which she ended up keeping.

Peter Holson
Peter Holson – Mchill’s Border Terriers

After college I was living in Chicago and decided I wanted a dog of my own. I ended up getting a Standard Schnauzer from Ron and Pat Lombardi of Bardwood Standard Schnauzers. Max was sold as a “companion” but they told me that if I was interested, he was nice enough to show. After weeks of preparation (I would sit for hours and watch Pat strip/groom my dog) we went to a Standard Schnauzer specialty in Cincinnati, Ohio. At the first show we were RWD, and at the Specialty, we were Best in Sweeps and WD. Needless to say, I was hooked.

At this time, I met a neighbor who had Pugs that he showed. Steve Rush (he has recently started showing again with his Frenchies and Borzoi) and I became fast friends, started going to conformation classes together and travelled around the Midwest showing our dogs. It was then that I met a Border Terrier for the first time. I was charmed by their scruffy, understated looks and loving personality.

Years later, my sister Hillary called me and said, “Guess what I just brought home?” She had just purchased a Border from Janelle Larson in California. His name was Jen-Lar’s Top Secret. “Topper” was a great little Border who finished his championship very quickly with multiple Breed wins from the classes. He had a lot of Joyce Standish’s great dogs behind him as well as some other very influential Borders. Hillary then purchased a bitch from Joyce (Standish’s I’m a Princess). Topper and “Busy” were the foundation of our McHill’s Borders. Since then, Hillary and I have been breeding together. Hillary usually whelps and raises the puppies while I focus on training, grooming, and finishing their championships.

Peter Holson
Santa Barbara Breeder’s Showcase Group 1 under the incomparable Bergit Coady Kabel; “Gizmo” and his son McHill’s Hat Trick, “Duncan”

Who were your mentors in the sport? Please elaborate on their influence.

Peter Holson: I am lucky to have had a number of great mentors. First, my sister. She has a keen eye for dogs and is very quick at assessing a dog’s virtues and flaws. We have been breeding Border Terriers together for over 20 years and she is integral to the success that we have had. Then there is Linda George of Horizon Doberman Pinschers. First of all, just watching her show a dog was breathtaking. It was like a dance. She taught me that when evaluating a dog, start from the ground up.

If you don’t have good feet the dog can’t do its job. I certainly think that is true for Borders; without good feet they couldn’t cover ground like they are supposed to and, of course, couldn’t “go to ground” as they must do. Secondly, she taught me that every dog is different and you can’t just show them all the same way. You need to figure out what makes each of them tick. I would say that I have yet to master that skill.

In Border Terriers, my first mentor was Danielle Green of Northern California. She showed some of the early top-winning Borders, Ch. Krispin Taylor Made and Ch. Kobold’s Road Warrior among them. We spent countless hours on the road while we showed my first all-breed BIS Border, “Gizmo.” Danielle taught me so much about Borders and dog shows but what she really instilled in me was to “give it back.” She said it was my responsibility to turn around and share my knowledge with others new to the breed and/or the dog show community. I try my best to do this!

Peter Holson
BIS Multi. BISS GCHP McHill’s HRH Prince Gizmo House Of Gremlin, ”Gizmo”

While not officially mentors, the people who have influenced my understanding of the breed would be Joyce Standish, Marg Pough, Karen Fitzpatrick, Barry Rose, and Susan Kane. All are longtime Border breeders with significant influence in the breed. The depth of knowledge these people possess is incredible, and they are very generous in sharing it. I am a bit of a silent observer and take in as much as I can, even in casual conversations or observations.

Again, while not directly mentors, when I lived in California I was incredibly fortunate to be around the likes of Bill and Taffe McFadden, Gabriel Rangel, and Simon Simaan. I always try to watch and learn from them as much as possible. All are icons in the sport, profoundly gifted, and I am lucky to call them friends. Lastly, Amy Rutherford who shows our specials (I call her my sister from another mother). Whenever I am at a show, I help in her setup as much as I can. I have learned so much about the conditioning, care, and presentation of terriers, and dogs in general, from those experiences. I am a firm believer in the adage, “Sit with the winners, the conversation is different.”


The McHill’s Border Terriers are widely known, highly successful and well respected. What breeding philosophies do you adhere to?

Peter Holson: Hmm, well I guess I have a few philosophies. First, we consider both genotype and phenotype when evaluating a breeding. We certainly use the pedigree to make decisions, but I also think you have to have an artist’s eye and mind when breeding. Have a vision of what your ideal is and breed towards that vision.

Then, most important is to know what you have and know what you need to reach that vision. We breed the best that we have to the best and most appropriate dog that is available. I see a lot of convenience breeding in our breed… either the dog was close, or it was cheaper, or a dog has had some big wins. I won’t fall into that trap. Lastly, don’t make excuses for your dog. Whether it’s in their conformation, or particularly when it comes to temperament, you cannot excuse something that should not be passed on.

I recently made a very difficult decision with a bitch. I absolutely adored her. She was perfect (even though she really wasn’t) and she was absolutely obsessed with me (which is always nice). Conformation-wise, she was a decent bitch, but with a few issues that are problems for me (a roundish rib and a high-ish sickle tail). Most importantly though was that, as time went on, it was clear that she was way too sharp in temperament for a correct Border. I made the difficult decision to move her on, even though it gutted me. I hear people making excuses for their dogs’ behavior all the time… oh, she’s coming into season, or she has great prey drive. I won’t make excuses no matter how difficult. You must be brutally honest!

Peter Holson
Westminster Kennel Club with McHill’s Higher Love, “Gabriel”

How many Borders do you typically house? Tell us about your current facilities and how the dogs are maintained.

Peter Holson: We generally keep between five and seven Borders at any given time. They are all housedogs so it can get a little crazy, especially since we have two juvenile males in the house at the moment. We are on 2.5 acres, just outside of downtown Santa Fe, New Mexico. We have walled in front and back courtyards where the dogs can roam as they please. I have a small kennel with three indoor/outdoor runs and grooming space, but we generally only use the runs when we are away for the day. By the kennel, there is about a quarter acre that is secured with fencing, where they get good exercise. I never leave them out in the back fenced area unsupervised, primarily because of coyotes. We need an Anatolian Shepherd Dog!

Peter Holson
A good day at Hatboro. Best of Breed (McHill’s Hat Trick), Winners Dog (GCH McHIll’s Higher Love), Winners Bitch (GCH McHill’s Wicked Games Of Hemlock Lane)

Who were/are some of your most significant dogs, both in the whelping box and in the show ring?

Peter Holson: We had been breeding successfully for years, primarily just finishing championships. Then came Gizmo who really put us on the map. He finished his championship at the NorCal Terrier Specialty at 11 months old and just took off after that, placing in tough Groups under great judges. One of my favorite weekends was at Woofstock towards the end of his career. In a deep, California Terrier Group we were awarded a Group 2nd and 3rd that weekend.

The first day, Bergit Coady Kabel (she had not yet retired from handling to begin her judging career) was in first place with the Miniature Schnauzer, then Gizmo and I were in second, followed by Gabriel and his Scottie, and Eddie Boyes and his Smooth. Needless to say, it was really tough competition and it’s a win that still puts a smile on my face. Gizmo was a great Border and he was such a great show dog… he just loved it! He was my heart dog and had admirers from around the world.

In the whelping box, it would have to be GCh. McHill’s Cheap Trick, aka “Jezebel.” She was a Gizmo daughter and has been an exceptional producer. Jezebel was a very nice bitch; great body with a decent head. She finished her championship before a year of age and her co-owner put her Grand on her very easily. Aside from producing numerous champions, Jezebel was the dam of a National Specialty WD and National Specialty WB/BOS (both by different sires), both under breeder-judges. Her get have, in turn, produced very nicely for us and others.

Peter Holson
Westminster Kennel Club AOM, McHill’s Higher Love

Please comment positively on your breed’s present condition and what trends might bear watching.

Peter Holson: In general, I think Borders are in pretty good condition, although there is a wide variety of type across the country. Historically
they have been known to have “Border fronts,” meaning wide and paddling. Fronts have improved markedly and you really don’t see that too much anymore.

Trends that bear watching are anything extreme. Borders are “essentially a working terrier” and a “moderate breed” in all ways. For me, anything too short would be a concern. Too short in body, muzzles shorter than a ratio of 1/3 to 2/3, and short rib with extreme tuck up are all examples of problems that would impede their ability to do their job safely.


The sport has changed greatly since you first began as an exhibitor and breeder. What are your thoughts on the state of the fancy and the declining number of breeders? How do we encourage newcomers to join us and remain in the sport?

Peter Holson: I’ve had this conversation many times and it just seems there are way too many shows with less-than-stellar competition. Especially considering the cost of gas, hotels, and entry fees, the whole sport has gotten so expensive. It’s not a new idea, but it seems that fewer shows would create bigger entries and better competition.

Peter Holson
McHill’s All About Me, “Tizzy,”… Gizmo’s Dam

As for encouraging newcomers, I see too many exhibitors who are so concerned with ribbons and winning, yet they don’t even know what they have at the end of their leash as it relates to their Breed Standard. They just want to win. With this mindset, people are so competitive that it gets in the way of them being decent to their fellow competitors. Frankly, this can be a big turn off to newcomers. Don’t get me wrong, I am very competitive and I have had my less-than-flattering moments, but I always congratulate the winners. I also make an effort to help newcomers that I see struggling, whether it’s with their grooming or with the presentation of their dogs. It doesn’t take much effort.

Bottom line, I think as breeders and exhibitors we need to be more welcoming and supportive of newcomers, especially the younger generation. We must not let our competitiveness get in the way of this basic trait. McHill’s always tries to support Juniors with dogs and encourages breeding dogs that we provide (with our guidance, of course).

Peter Holson
Latest youngster… Ranoch’s No Ordinary Love At McHill’s, “Magnus,” going BOB over many specials to finish his Championship.

Where do you see your breeding program in the next decade or two?

Peter Holson: Yikes, I can barely think past next month, let alone two decades. It’s interesting, though… we have a 10-day-old litter on the ground and I am already thinking about who to breed them to. You need to think that way… always looking ahead. I would like to think that I will continue studying and learning about Border Terriers and their unique traits, while keeping my ideal vision in mind and breeding to that vision. I also hope we will continue to bring new people into the breed, the McHill’s family, and the sport.

Finally, tell us a little about Peter outside of dogs… your profession, your hobbies.

Peter Holson: Currently, my partner, Antonio, and I live in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Prior to moving to Santa Fe we lived in San Francisco where I sold residential real estate. I am now semi-retired with continuing real estate interests across the country.

Antonio is in the hospitality industry, working for a luxury brand hotel in Santa Fe. Luckily, this affords us great opportunities for global travel which we take full advantage of.

I love to cook all types of food; Italian, Asian, and grilling being my favorites. I love searching for recipes in old cookbooks, magazines, or online. During COVID, I joined the Sourdough craze which is really fun and tasty. Initially I thought baking would be too complicated but have found that it suits my slight OCD leanings. My latest obsession is pizza. Last summer I broke down and installed a woodburning pizza oven which has kicked my obsession up a few notches. I will say, my pizza game is getting pretty serious and Antonio insists that it’s the best pizza in town.

Peter Holson
First Winter in Santa Fe

I also love working in our vegetable garden in the summer. We had so much produce last year that Antonio wanted to start a vegetable stand.

We also enjoy anything outdoors. Living in the “Land of Enchantment,” we are lucky to be surrounded by some of the most striking and beautiful landscapes. Hiking with the dogs and exploring remote areas of New Mexico and Colorado are other pastimes we enjoy. Skiing is also one of my passions though creaky joints are starting to interfere and I think I’m becoming more of an Après Ski kind of guy! At the end of the day, though, my favorite thing is simply hanging out at home with Antonio and the dogs, watching anything British on the telly.