Interview with Michelle Santana, Breeder of Foxfire Doberman Pinschers
Where do I live? How many years in dogs? How many years as a breeder?
Michelle Santana: I always wanted a Collie! I finally got my wish when I was fourteen. My mom said, “Since I’m driving you around to fun matches, Conformation class, and Obedience classes, I’m going to resume my dream of owning a show Doberman.” She and my dad purchased our foundation bitch, Am. Can. CH JanRic’s Zerline v. Davanti, “Pele,” in 1979 and she was the first Doberman Pinscher I ever pointed.
Once she aged out of the Puppy Classes, her Breeder and my Mom decided she was “ready to go,” but my handling had not progressed to defeat the pros on a regular basis. I was like 15/16. So, they hired professional handler Gene Haupt and Pele finished from the 12-18 Month Puppy Class and won a Group One from the classes under Langdon Skarda! Boy, that brings back memories! EVERY Foxfire Doberman today traces back to Pele, so many generations ago. Once Pele finished, I played around with her as a “special” and won a couple of BOB, but mostly honed my skills to finish her progeny, which I vowed to do—and did!
We whelped our first litter in 1982, which produced our first two Champions, Breeder/Owner-Handled by me. (Our First Champion also became a ROM, which is a parent club designation given to Dobermans that attain a Championship/Advanced Performance title and pass the Working Aptitude Evaluation temperament test. Our friends, whom she eventually retired to live with, put the Performance title on her.
Originally from California, my significant other, Dave Miller of Placer Country GSP fame, and I moved to the Pacific Northwest—almost 30 years ago!
What is my kennel name? How many dogs do I currently keep?
Michelle Santana: Foxfire was chosen by my Mother who passed away quite a while ago. She didn’t participate much in the breeding program much after the first ten years because of health issues, but she got to see me be awarded AKC Working Group Breeder of the Year in 2010 and Outstanding Breeder of the Year “Winkie” by Dogs in Review subscribers in 2012 as well as achieve DPCA APEX GOLD Breeder level of which there are only two recipients thus far. She was extremely proud of my accomplishments.
We usually have around 6-10 dogs, not including puppies I may be “growing out” until I can really determine if they are a keeper. I co-own many of my dogs, so they live with various trusted friends. The joke among my friends is that if I ask you to “babysit,” that’s usually a sign they have a dog for life, LOL! I always say, “It takes a Village.” And it DOES! I could have never reached the level of success Foxfire enjoys without Dave and a mass community of FRIENDS who have become Family—and who help the breeding program along by keeping dogs for me, and occasionally whelping a litter if I am traveling to shows.
Which show dogs from the past have been my noteworthy winners?
Michelle Santana: We’ve had several notable winners. Our first Breeder/Owner-Handled DPCA Top Twenty Finalist and AOM winner was Multi. Group-Winning CH Foxfire’s It’s Gotta Be Good, “Dreamer” (1986).
My first BIS Breeder/Owner-Handled (1993/94) was CH Foxfire’s Devils N Demons WAC. He was also a multiple DPCA AOM recipient and Top 20 finalist. We won the National BOB from the Veterans Class in 1998. “Demon” was our first notable sire and earned the distinguished DPCA GOLD level Legacy award. It is very difficult to qualify for Gold level.
Then came Demon’s granddaughter, CH Foxfire’s Take That. “Jazz” was also in the DPCA Top 20 and a DPCA AOM and multiple Group winner. Her daughter, CH Foxfire’s All That Jazz, was one of our biggest winners. “Jade” took me on the ride of a lifetime! Winners Bitch at the 2002 National Specialty and then on to No. 1 Doberman in 2005. Multiple BIS/25 BISS, DPCA Top 20 winner, DPCA National Host Club BOB, AND she was a fabulous producer! She is a DPCA Legacy Bronze level recipient.
Her daughter, CH Foxfire’s All The Glirz N Glamour, “Jayla,” also became a Breeder/Owner-Handled multiple BIS/BISS winner, DPCA National Regional BOS, and Top 20 qualifier and No. 2 Doberman in 2009.
BIS/MBISS CH Foxfire’s Love Monster CD, ROM was the No. 1 Male in 2008 and won the DPCA Top 20 Breeder/Owner-Handled. “Cupid” also was a DPCA AOM recipient and is a DPCA Legacy Bronze level.
Multi BIS/BISS Ch Foxfire’s Alltimate Wanna Be was our second National Specialty winner and third DPCA Top 20 Winner. After I finished “Julius,” I allowed him to go to Texas with an owner, Tony MacKenzie, to be handled by Alfonso Escobedo because I knew I did not have the travel capabilities and resources to allow him to fulfill his promise. (Diego Garcia handled him in his last TT event because COVID canceled the 2020 National, and he won the 2021 event at seven years old!)
Which have been my most influential sires and dams?
Michelle Santana: Definitely “Jade,” Multi BIS/25 BISS/DPCA Top 20 winner CH Foxfire’s All That Jazz, dam of fourteen Champions. Rarely are top show bitches as prepotent as males seem to be. Or, you sacrifice the “Show Record” for the “Whelping Record.” Jade is a DPCA Legacy Bronze level recipient. She was always an over-achiever and slept on my bed for 12.5 years!
Her first litter, sired by a dog from Argentina, “Inaqui,” produced a very contemporary influential sire of our breed, CH Foxfire All Star. With nearly one hundred Champions (including the illustrious four-time DPCA National and Top 20 winner, “Fifi”), “Jet” (Jayla’s brother) is a recipient of the highly prestigious DPCA GOLD level Legacy award. Jade & Jet were both AKC Top Producers (Dam in 2008 & 2009 and Working Group Sire in 2009
From Jade’s last litter was born another influential sire, DPCA Legacy Bronze recipient CH Foxfire’s Alltimate. “Jullyen” is the sire of our National Specialty and our third Top 20 winner, CH Foxfire’s Alltimate Wanna Be, “Julius.”
Can I talk a bit about my facilities? Where are my puppies whelped? How are they raised?
Michelle Santana: Originally from California, we moved to Oregon almost 30 years ago. We live on a beautiful seven-acre “Doggy Heaven” property! It was my dream as a small child growing up in a residential neighborhood to live in a place like a “National Forest” and just open the front door to be in a park with my dogs! We even have a creek I walk our puppies to every day. My creek walk videos are quite popular on Foxfire Dobermans Facebook page!
I whelp our litters in the bedroom because it’s the easiest room to temperature control and keep quiet. After about a week of sweating my brains out, LOL, and everyone is settled in and doing well, I move the litter to the kitchen converted pantry/whelping box. This way, they hear lots of noises and hustle & bustle as they grow.
At six weeks, they start to go outside (weather permitting) to a puppy play area which has lots of apparatuses to be adventurous on, like a slide, teeter totter, tunnel, wobble board, etc. And we begin our creek walks. We have two Papillons and they really enjoy teaching the puppies the ropes of following the trail to the creek, and keeping the puppies “in line.” I think this teaches the puppies to be greatly respectful of small, yet mighty, animals. It’s a wonderful and blessed life for all of us, but ALOT of property upkeep for poor Dave.
What is my “process” for selecting Show Puppies? Performance Puppies?
Michelle Santana: Even though I don’t do Performance Events myself (with the exception of putting a CD on my Collie when I was 14), I do have many friends and puppy owners who love the Performance Events.
I seem to have a keen sense on which pups will do well in Performance venues, though most of my dogs, and probably Dobermans in general, are highly biddable and love to do things for their owners. So, it might just be dumb luck!
I don’t really do a lot of stacking on a grooming table. I prefer to watch them running around playing and self-stacking. After all, we aren’t a breed that shows on a table! And my pups generally suck at table-stacking. I decide which ones look the part of having what it takes to be a “show prospect.” Then at about 9 weeks, right before cropping, I’ll take some photos on a table and share with a couple of trusted friends to see what they see—trust, but verify my intuition.
Do I compete in Performance Events? In Parent Club Tests & Trials?
Michelle Santana: I do not, but we have many, many dogs that do! Foxfire has bred at least six dual-titled CH/MACH dogs, plus a triple-titled Agility Grand Champion/MACH4/CH, which there are only a few of in Dobermans. And Foxfire has 40 DPCA ROMs and counting! For a ROM, you must become a Champion, have an advanced Performance degree, and pass the arduous DPCA Working Aptitude Evaluation temperament test. It’s quite an accomplishment to become a ROM and we are so proud of our puppy homes that pursue such lofty goals! We do have one owner who has gone High in Trial at our National Obedience Trial on a couple of occasions.
On many occasions, we have individual dogs qualifying for the DPCA Top 20s in Obedience, Agility, and Conformation. It’s wonderful to produce such versatile dogs!
As for parent club programs, I participate in the DPCA Breeder and Legacy awards with many of our males and females being awarded either the Gold, Silver, or Bronze levels. I also participate in the DPCA Longevity program, which requires a Doberman to reach ten years old to receive a certificate. We just had our 132nd Doberman recognized with this distinguished landmark honor.
Is “performance” part of my decision-making when it comes to breeding?
Michelle Santana: In a way. It doesn’t have to be a formal title, but I want dogs that are good citizens. So, they have to be biddable and get along in society. Not shy and/or timid about things. Not obnoxious or stubborn. Although a trait in the Breed Standard is described as “determined,” which could be considered stubborn, LOL, and which alone can be challenging to live with!
How would I define “conditioning” as it relates to my breed?
Michelle Santana: Conditioning is really everything and probably one of the hardest aspects for people to grasp in raising a Doberman; definitely for the show ring because we have no hair to hide flaws or create an illusion of something being there that is not. I have hair envy, LOL! Just grow coat to mask a flaw or groom in a virtue! But, I hate grooming!
Toplines must be hard, and muscles defined in the rear. So, if you don’t have the property for massive exercise routines, you have to seek it out through road-working or treadmill and parks for hardcore galloping. You can’t just take a couch potato to the show and expect to win!
There is also a massive amount of conditioning the brain. Having to have ears up and tail up to create the coveted eloquent silhouette of a Doberman isn’t by happenstance. You have to work with puppies early on to teach the behavior of “attention” and (from our Standard) “of proud carriage.” Some are naturals, but far more have to be sculpted mentally into a great show dog!
Are there any health-related concerns in my breed? Any special nutritional needs?
Michelle Santana: Unfortunately, yes. Researchers tell us 50-60 percent of ALL Dobermans, regardless of lineage, will develop some type of heart problem. We have a high susceptibility to two types of cardio events: dilated cardio myopathy, which can cause congestive heart failure, and an electrical infarction syndrome, which can cause sudden death. We are all trained to do annual heart testing through a cardiologist for an echo ultrasound for DCM, and a 24-hour Holter EKG for irregular infarctions. You can purchase your own Holter monitor yourself through a company and submit the data yourself to this company, and get results in a day. So, over time, this option is more cost effective. However, a test with too many premature ventricular contractions (PVCs) will have to see a cardiologist. There is also a blood test, ProBNP, that can help monitor heart health relatively cheaply. Unfortunately, many John Q. Publics (JQP) do not know to do the above testing, so by the time their dogs fall ill it is too late to reverse the heart damage. Medications to help heart health can give a pet years, if developing irregularities are caught early.
I’d say the second biggest affliction Dobermans have after heart concerns is cancer. Researchers with the Doberman Diversity Project, which I also participate in, say that the average lifespan of a Doberman is eight years. When we started in Dobes it was said to be nine years; however, we have many live to 10 and beyond.
Do I think my breed is supported by a sufficient number of preservation breeders?
Michelle Santana: I don’t think so. The demand for Dobermans by JQP is quite high. As we old guard breeders get too old for the demands of such a labor intensive and powerful breed, we do not have enough replacement young breeders coming along to meet a regular demand for JQP Dobermans.
Very few of the younger breeders breed with any regularity. When breeders only breed once every few years, I fear the sustainability of the breed will be jeopardized. So, they will turn to the backyard breeders (BYB) producing puppies of lesser quality.
Is my breed well suited to be a family dog? Who are the best candidates to own my breed?
Michelle Santana: They are great family companions, highly devoted to their “kiddlets.” But, it is a difficult breed to raise through puppyhood until they kind of “grow up” and settle down at about three years old. Like I said, they are labor intensive, highly active, and intelligent. You need to keep them exercised and micro-managed. (And you also have to deal with months of ear wrapping the cropped ears, which takes dedication.)
My standard lecture is: “You are purchasing an 18-month-old to two-year-old human toddler. You are on suicide watch 24/7/365 as they try to put EVERYTHING in their mouths or jump off obstacles they ought not be climbing. They are not leaving the room to make a good decision. So, ALWAYS have one eye monitoring the puppy.” High maintenance is putting it mildly!
I choose homes where the folks either work from home, have highly flexible work hours, can take the dog to work, have doggie daycare options, or are retired. I do not choose homes that “go off to work for eight hours a day,” leaving the puppy for that length of time. It’s a disaster waiting to happen because the puppy won’t be exercised to properly develop physically or mentally.
What is the biggest misconception about my breed? What is my breed’s best-kept secret?
Michelle Santana: In the bygone years, the Doberman had a reputation of being a badass, sharp breed—easily provoked to bite, which they probably were! There was the movie The Doberman Gang (Dobermans trained to rob banks), which over-popularized the breed in the 1970s.
Our history books recount one of the first imports to the US, “Ferry,” being shown at Westminster, and it was rumored that he could not be examined by the judges, yet went Best in Show! Can you imagine that today? LOL!
My Mom’s first two Dobermans, when I was 5-7 years old, both bit neighbors. The one male was finally euthanized after biting a neighbor boy. He did not have a great temperament with “outsiders” but he was great with us. In her attempt to “break into the show world,” which she desperately wanted to participate in, she bought a pointed adult bitch from a local bench show that we attended annually, Golden Gate KC in South San Francisco. She too bit our across-the-street neighbor as he came running over excited to meet “Fancy.” She jumped up and bit his arm. So, while it was somewhat warranted, it was not what my Mom wanted to live with. So, she was returned to her breeder. Sigh. And my Mom gave up on Dobermans until my teens.
Dobermans have come a long way since the days of mass popularity from their movie fame and “popularity breeding.” Temperaments aren’t as sharp, and I believe contemporary breeders have strived to make the Doberman a versatile, family-friendly companion breed vs. a hardcore protection breed, especially in our litigious society where vicious dog laws can have your dog confiscated and euthanized… or you can be sued.
The best-kept secret is the breed’s devotion to their owner and their “Velcro” tendencies to always want to be touching you!
If I could share a comment or two with judges of my breed, what would I like to say to them?
Michelle Santana: The breed is a whole package. The symmetry of all the parts should harmonize with one another! It is a much more angled breed than a lot of judges realize, so broaden the definition of “fits in a box” to visualize the angles while seeking the “square dog.” Being straight and square is not the goal.
Do I have any words of wisdom to pass along to newer breeders?
Michelle Santana: Breeding is not for the faint of heart. It’s incredibly heartbreaking—and incredibly rewarding!
Mother Nature wields a wicked fickle finger of fate, and SHE DOES NOT READ all of our fancy health testing results. You just have to pick yourself back up and not dwell on the injustices of Mother Nature. Just continue to persevere by putting one foot in front of the other… and in front of the other.
For a bit of fun, what’s the most amusing thing I’ve ever experienced with a Working Dog?
Michelle Santana: I forgot that Ohana could break out of any Vari-Kennel-type crate when I picked her up from her co-owner on the way to shows. So, she was in a back crate of my van. Fortunately, I had an RV parking spot for closer parking inside the show grounds. I always prop my doors open for ventilation. I toted some stuff to the ring when suddenly the announcer was announcing that a Doberman was loose near Gate C. I didn’t note which gate I was parked by, but I knew there was a gate! So, I was immediately, UH-OH! I ran back to my van, and there was Ohana running around the van, trying to figure out how to get back IN! She realized she’d made a BIG mistake, LOL! I opened the back door wider and she immediately was so thankful to me and hopped back in! I didn’t make that mistake again, and she traveled in an inescapable crate from then on!