Interview with Franklin Williams and Tracy Kaecker, Breeders of River Bottom American English Coonhounds
Where do we live? How many years in dogs? How many years as breeders?
We live in Central Illinois. We have both had dogs our whole lives, but Tracy started exhibiting in 1994. Tracy has bred dogs for 25 years, starting with German Shepherd Dogs. Frank has bred dogs for over 40 years, having bred field Labradors Retrievers, English Setters, and Bluetick Coonhounds. Together, Frank and Tracy raise American English Coonhounds under the River Bottom kennel name, and longhaired Dutch Shepherds under the kennel name Traka.
What is our kennel name? How many dogs do we currently keep?
Our kennel name for the coonhounds is River Bottom. We currently have 11 dogs, plus a brand-new litter of nine American English Coonhounds.
Which show dogs from the past have been our noteworthy winners?
That would be our foundation dog, GCH River Bottom Tri Dunkin Me (Dunkin). He was our first nationally ranked dog for four years running, a Westminster Kennel Club Breed winner, and an AKC National Championship Breed winner.
Which have been our most influential sires and dames?
Again, that would be our foundation sire, GCH River Bottom Tri Dunkin Me. The first litter he sired produced BIS RBIS GCHB CCH River Bottom Divine Intervention BCAT SCE SIN SEN TKN CGC ATT (call name Diva). She is currently the top-winning American English Coonhound in AKC history and the only NOHS Platinum level American English Coonhound.
Can we talk a bit about our facilities? Where are our puppies whelped?
We live on 2-1/2 acres in a semi-rural area, but we also own a little over 105 acres of farm ground. A few of our hunting dogs live in kennels, but most of our dogs are house dogs.
Pups are whelped in our family room. All pups, whether they will be a hunting dog, family companion, or both, are raised in the house until they are at least six months old. This introduces them to the discipline needed to train confident and well-rounded dogs. They are exposed to all the normal household sounds like TVs, dishwashers, and vacuum cleaners as well as outside lawnmowers, weed eaters, vehicles, etc.
What is our process for selecting Show puppies? Performance puppies?
All of our pups are handled extensively from the moment they’re born. When they start walking, we watch their movement to see how well they use themselves. We also observe their overall demeanor. Sometimes it may not be the most conformationally correct dog that we keep. The pup(s) we choose is/are based on their overall temperament, disposition, and how they have bonded to us. They can be the prettiest pup in the world, but if they don’t have the attitude (or if our personalities clash) it is all for naught.
For performance, we want a dog that is biddable yet independent, and a “thinker.” We observe the pups closely, especially when first put into a new area. We will see who puts their noses to the ground to explore the new environment, who uses their voice when they have found something that really peaked their interest, and who isn’t afraid to wander away from the rest to explore. This is not a foolproof method, but it does show the potential for how outgoing they will be and how much natural instinct they have to hunt. Keep in mind, the American English Coonhound is bred to go out on its own and hunt with no direction from its owner. Our primary focus is the hunting dog. A dog that is afraid or is unwilling to leave your side in the timber will never succeed as a hunting dog.
Do we compete in companion events? Performance events?
Frank and Tracy both show dogs in Conformation. Frank enjoys pleasure hunting as well as participating in competition Nite Hunts. Tracy competes with the hounds in Scent Work Trials, Water Races, and Field Trials. She has been training two of our other nationally ranked coonhounds in K9 Search and Rescue.
Is “performance” part of our decision-making when it comes to breeding?
Absolutely! Our motto has always been: “A working dog doesn’t have to be pretty, but a pretty dog darn sure better be able to work.”
This holds particularly true in a coonhound breed. Their value is in their hunting ability.
The written Breed Standard should reflect a dog that can perform the work it was originally bred to do. The show records tell the story of how closely they conform to the written Standard, but the sound of their voices ringing through the timber in pursuit of their quarry is where the real-world standard is found. For this reason, we try to incorporate well-conformed, proven hunting dogs into our breeding program.
How would we define “conditioning” as it relates to our breed?
They should be well-muscled with great endurance. In a hunt, a coonhound can easily travel 12-15 miles or more through varying terrain. Once they find and “tree”’ their quarry, they may spend hours on the tree until the handlers can arrive. Their physical structure has to hold up to that style of hunting. We strive to ensure that our dogs are fit, both physically and mentally, not only for show purposes but also to succeed at what the breed was established to do… track and tree game.
Are there any health-related concerns in our breed? Any special nutritional needs?
The major health concern typical of many large-breed dogs is hip and elbow dysplasia. There are some incidences of thyroid issues, but they are few and far between. As for nutritional needs, a healthy American English Coonhound is an easy keeper. A good quality kibble is all that’s needed to maintain health and optimal body condition.
Do we think our breed is supported by a sufficient number of preservation breeders?
In AKC, there are very few people breeding and promoting the American English Coonhound. However, the breed is well known and well represented in other registries. In those registries, they are bred almost exclusively for hunting—and that is not a bad thing. It keeps them true to the breed’s original purpose.
Is our breed well-suited to be a family dog? Who are the best candidates to own our breed?
Like most hunting or working dogs, they do need their share of physical and mental exercise. If this is provided they make outstanding family companions. The best family for this breed is one that is willing to give the dog an outlet for its drive and hunting instinct. This does not mean they have to be turned loose in the timber and hunted all night if they don’t have the means or ability. These dogs excel at Tracking or Scent Work, as this allows them to use their instinctual abilities coupled with their drive to find the object of the “‘hunt.” The prospective owner needs to be someone who will give them mentally stimulating work in addition to the physical exercise of a good run.
What is the biggest misconception about our breed? What is our breed’s best-kept secret?
The biggest misconception is that they are chronic barkers and difficult to train. Yes, they do have a very loud voice by design. They will bark from sheer boredom, so keeping them mentally and physically challenged will alleviate that. Like any other breed, they will not bark needlessly or incessantly if you don’t allow it.
While they are not stellar Obedience contenders due to their independent nature, they can be taught basic manners with consistent training. The best-kept secret is they are amazing family companions. They are easy to housetrain, get along well with other dogs, and they tend to love children. The breed was designed to hunt with other hounds in a pack. With a family, they become a member of your “pack.” As fierce and tenacious as they are in the timber, they are equally affectionate, loving, and loyal to their human family. They are also very welcoming to others, both young and old.
If we could share a comment or two with judges of our breed, what would we like to say?
This is a moderate breed: moderate angulation, moderate reach and drive, and moderate speed when gaiting. A post-legged dog will not hold up running timber all night long, so there needs to be some angulation; it must be matched front and rear and never over-done. And they should never be gaited at breakneck speeds at the end of the lead like you see in some other breeds.
The American English coonhound is the only coonhound Breed Standard which states the dogs should be friendly and outgoing with people and other dogs. If the dog is shy or fearful, it should be heavily penalized regardless of how good its movement or conformation is. Again, it has to function as a hunting dog. Although they work independently, they still have to be handled by both the owner and, in some cases, by strangers, depending on the circumstances. They should not be overly aggressive, but a fearful dog will not do well when their quarry tries to fight back.
There have been many times when we have seen judges reward dogs in the show ring that have cowered or shrunk away from the judge when being examined. Normal apprehension in a young puppy is okay, but they should quickly rebound. Likewise, any aggression towards another dog should be severely penalized.
Do we have any words of wisdom to pass along to newer breeders?
Make sure you understand the Breed Standard and this dog’s original purpose. Talk to the breeders who have been involved in this breed for many years. Be sure the breeders you talk to have the titles on their dogs to prove their abilities or are willing to take you on a hunt with their hounds. Registration papers do not make the dog, the dog makes the registration papers.
For a bit of fun, what’s the most amusing thing we’ve ever experienced with a hound?
I had been teaching one of our young male dogs, “Ollie,” some tricks. It was partly for the mental stimulation, partly for fun, and partly to obtain his Trick Dog title. Ollie is an extremely food-motivated dog, so he is happy to perform tricks for treats.
We were in Orlando at the AKC National Championship and Ollie was awarded Winners Dog. Frank and I both had specials, so we asked one of our friends to take Ollie back in the ring for Breed. This friend has nationally ranked coonhounds of her own and is great at presenting them in the show ring. So, just as any good handler does with an unfamiliar dog, she asked questions about how she should show him. I told her that he was a young dog, just learning how to hold a stack, and is not rock solid at a stand-stay. She should not expect a seasoned show dog. I told her to do her best, but just let Ollie enjoy the experience. What I failed to tell her was NOT to use bait to get him to stand and stay.
I had just finished the individual exam with my bitch special, so I turned to watch my friend with Ollie. She was trying her best to get Ollie to hold still and look good for the judge… but she was trying to do so by using bait. Ollie did what he thought he should do. He was sitting. He was laying down. Ollie was “taking a bow.” He was giving her a “high five.” He was “speaking.” Basically, he was throwing every trick he knew at her, trying to figure out what would earn him that piece of bait in her hand. She was trying to get Ollie to look good for the judge at one of the most prestigious and biggest dog shows of the year and he’s being a complete and utter goofball.
I finally got her attention and motioned to her to put the bait away. By that time, it was too late. After Breed judging, as she was handing him back to me, I apologized and explained how I had just been training him to do some tricks. She said, “My lord… I didn’t know what he was trying to do—everything but what I wanted. No wonder he looked at me like I was a fool. Well, at least he did enjoy himself.”
Are you looking for an American English Coonhound puppy?
The best way to ensure a long and happy relationship with a purebred dog is to purchase one from a responsible breeder. Not sure where to begin finding a breeder?
Contact the National Parent Club’s Breeder Referral person, which you can find on the AKC Breeder Referral Contacts page.
Want to help rescue and re-home an American English Coonhound dog?
Did you know nearly every recognized AKC purebred has a dedicated rescue group? Find your new best friend on the AKC Rescue Network Listing.
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