Interview with Matthew & Susan Townsend, Breeders of Sforzando Leonbergers
We are teachers in North Carolina who began sharing our lives with Leonbergers in the 1990s. We enjoy dog shows and dog clubs, and we work as preservation breeders to move some of the best Leonberger traits forward for the next generation to enjoy.
Where do we live? How many years in dogs? How many years as breeders?
We live in Mebane, North Carolina, and have twenty-five years in dogs. Susan and I have been breeders of Leonbergers for over twenty years. The weather is great for Leonbergers for three seasons a year, and the air-conditioning vents are great in the summer!
What is our kennel name? How many dogs do we currently keep?
Matthew & Susan Townsend: Our kennel name is Sforzando, an Italian musical term meaning “with sudden presence” that we borrowed from our mutual backgrounds in instrumental music performance and education. We currently have eight Leonbergers and a fun Beagle at the house.
Which show dogs from the past have been our noteworthy winners?
Matthew & Susan Townsend: We have had a few girls that did very well in the show ring; notably, Brubecks Take 5 di Sforzando, Sforzando’s Fioritura, and Sforzando’s Jive at Five. There are only four bitches that have won the Working Group and we are proud to have breeder/owner-handled two of them.
Which have been our most influential sires and dams?
Matthew & Susan Townsend: The most influential sire for our kennel has been “Rafiki,” Cherrywood’s Lion Sleeps Tonight. The most influential dam has been Nika von Alpensee. We have built five generations of Leonbergers based on that pairing and have plans to continue that line into the future.
Can we talk a bit about our facilities? Where are our puppies whelped? How are they raised?
Matthew & Susan Townsend: Our dogs have “family living” at our three-level home on seven acres. The dogs have two garages, a basement, and a senior center to enjoy in addition to the first level of the home. We have five fenced yards on the property. Our cars are in the driveway, of course.
Puppies are whelped and raised in a dedicated puppy room on the first floor. They start out in a small 6×6 whelping box and eventually graduate to full use of a dedicated, very tough, great room. The outside door in that room has a ramp that leads to a large, safe, and comfortable puppy yard which they can start to enjoy when they gain full mobility. The puppy yard expands into another gravel yard when they are a bit older.
What is our “process” for selecting show puppies? At what age do we make our decisions?
Matthew & Susan Townsend: We make some decisions in the first 24 hours based on front assemblies and necks. We usually decide on pick puppies at seven weeks of age. We focus strongly on balance, correct front assemblies, strong silhouettes, and a fluid, clean, ground-covering gait.
How do we prepare our pups for the show ring? Does our breed require any special preparation?
Matthew & Susan Townsend: Puppies start preparing the minute they are born! We are with the babies 24 hours a day and they are constantly handled. We stack newborns in the air and begin stacking puppies on the table at three weeks of age. Mental, physical, and social conditioning are key to success in the show ring. They need to be handled, have unimpeded access to fun exercise, and meet “show people.” The process from the whelping box to the show ring is seamless.
Can we share our thoughts on how our breed is currently presented in the show ring?
Matthew & Susan Townsend: I think Leonbergers are currently being exhibited better than they ever have been in the United States. Of course, we always have people who are new to the sport learning to raise, groom, and train their dogs, but what you typically see in the Best of Breed ring is well-presented.
Are there any health-related concerns within our breed? Any special nutritional needs?
Matthew & Susan Townsend: Leonbergers have short lives. Our breed suffers from a very high incidence of hemangiosarcoma and osteosarcoma. We have issues with allergies, thyroid disease, cardiovascular failure, and, occasionally, temperament problems. There is also some incidence of elbow and hip dysplasia, and neuropathic disorders. Nutritional needs can conflict with financial needs, as puppies can devour a mountain of food while growing.
In our opinion, is our breed in good condition overall? Any trends that warrant concern?
Matthew & Susan Townsend: We are making progress. Weak, straight rears are endemic to Leonbergers, and candidates to help improve this problem are few and far between. We continue to work on having correct, strong fronts and maintaining appropriate substance. I feel we have managed to preserve the unique character of the Leonberger while working to improve the breed.
Is our breed well-suited to be a family dog? Who are the best candidates to own our breed?
Matthew & Susan Townsend: Yes! Leonbergers with adequate exercise make excellent family companions. They are sweet and sensitive. We love to have our puppies go to homes with children where they have a fenced yard or to retired homes with an active lifestyle.
Do we feel that our breed is supported by a sufficient number of preservation breeders?
Matthew & Susan Townsend: No. Unfortunately, breeding Leonbergers is very hard on the wallet, the calendar, and the soul. Most breeders stop before they have a chance to really learn and make a difference. Huge icons of the breed are stopping their programs. We don’t know who will take their place.
For a bit of fun, what’s the most amusing thing we’ve ever experienced with our breed?
Matthew & Susan Townsend: Our home is usually very quiet. One day, we had some workers come to the house to do some work that had been contracted, but not scheduled. I was at work while they were replacing some siding on the porch.
The workers chose not to heed the very loud warnings at the window from two Leonbergers that were not happy with two strangers taking the house apart. Well, after a minute or two, the window opened and two Leonbergers jumped out to “escort’’ them off the porch and into their truck.
We came home to find two very proud girls who had “defended” the house. We gave our intrepid Leos some richly deserved praise, treated them with some pepperoni, and invited the workers to come and meet them. Tails were wagging and kisses were offered. A job well done!
Are you looking for a Leonberger 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 a Leonberger 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.
Leonberger Dog Breed Magazine
Read and learn more about the friendly Leonberger dog breed with articles and information in our Leonberger Dog Breed Magazine.
Leonberger Breed Magazine - Showsight