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Stephanie Davidson | South Willow Boxers

Stephanie Davidson, Breeder of South Willow Boxers


Interview with Stephanie Davidson, Breeder of South Willow Boxers

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

Stephanie Davidson: I’ve been living in the Phoenix, Arizona, area since March 2012. I moved from the Salt Lake City, Utah, area where I was born. I’ve been involved in dogs and the sport of showing them since I was very young. My mother would drag myself and my brothers to dog shows where she handled her Shih Tzus. Her kennel name was Sultan Shih Tzus. I still laugh at the photos I come across of me and my brother running around the showgrounds in our pajamas. Showing her dogs was a huge part of our life, and their maintenance was always a huge part of our daily routines. When I went to buy my first dog, I was determined to get a “real dog” (which is what I would tell everyone), as the smaller dogs like Shih Tzus were not for me.

The first dog I bought was a Rottweiler. Although the Rottweilers I had were great dogs, they were too powerful for my young kids and their friends. I can’t stress how much research I did to find a breed that was still a strong dog that could look intimidating to a stranger but was still great with my kids and my elderly grandmother. Everything I read pointed me towards a Boxer.

In 2003, I purchased my first Boxer, and in 2005, I attended my first dog show as a spectator with my Boxer. Although my mother told me many times to not get involved in showing, as she felt it was too political, I was sucked in by one of the best Boxer handlers of that time, Gary Steele. Although, after showing my first Boxer and I knew he was not “show quality,” I was hooked and loved the competition. From then on, I’ve strived to produce a better dog that is as close to the Breed Standard as possible. I’ve been breeding and showing Boxers since 2006.


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

Stephanie Davidson: One of my favorite things to do while living in Utah was to ride my ATVs from my home to the South Willow Canyons of Grantsville. My dogs would run behind, following me, and we would spend hours in the mountains. To always remember how much fun I’d originally had with my Boxers, my husband at that time and I came up with South Willow Boxers as our kennel name. Back then, and still through today, I have seen and heard breeders keeping many dogs, which requires them being in crates or runs for much of their lives. Although this has always been a common way of housing dogs, I have always wanted my dogs to be part of my family and part of my daily activities.

Over the past 20 years, I’ve had as few as two Boxers and as many as 10 in my home. No, they have not all gotten along, but I’ve found ways to divide my home and yard so that I have groups. Each group is then alternated every few hours so that they all have run of a yard and home, and plenty of hours sharing time with me. It’s also very fun (being sarcastic) to then try to remember each night which group’s turn it is to sleep with me.

Ultimately, I prefer not to keep more than four dogs in my home. I feel the one-on-one attention, each traveling with me on outings and being part of a family’s normal routines, is huge for a well-balanced temperament. Of course, one cannot truly have a breeding program with so few dogs. What I do instead is, if I do not want to keep another dog in my home, I find a friend or someone I can work with. I give them the dog as their family member and we form a commitment where they get to take one of the best Boxers as their family member, but they work with me so that I can show and breed the dog. This doesn’t work for everyone, but I’ve been fortunate enough to find some wonderful families.


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

Stephanie Davidson: Until recently, I’ve never wanted to push a dog beyond getting its championship. So, the majority of my dogs have not gone on to be top winners in the breed. However, that being said, I have only put two Boxers in the ring that haven’t achieved their championship and all others have achieved theirs within a short, reasonable time period. I have 35 Champions and/or Grand Champions to date, one Grand Dam of Merit, three Dams of Merit, and one Sire of Merit. I have produced two Top 20 contenders and a Breed National Specialty winner. Only last year did I decide to “campaign” a couple of my dogs; “Pohaku” (GCHG South Willow’s Drop It Like It’s Hot) and “Scarlett” (GCHB South Willow’s Putin’ On The Ritz).

Being that both were mostly shown by the same handler, they both took turns on when they could show. Not being able to show both of these dogs full-time, both still achieved Top 20 status, a Breed National Specialty win (the other won Select at the Breed National), a Westminster AOM, Select at the AKC National Championship, and multiple Bests in Show and Reserve Bests in Show.

However, for me, the most noteworthy wins have been those I’ve accomplished on my own, owner-handling my dogs. My boy “Bocephus” (GCHB Starlyn’-South Willow’s Family Tradition, SOM), was No. 1 Owner-Handled Boxer for over two years; we’ve achieved Group Ones together and he was awarded BOS at the AKC National Championship to the No. 1 ranked Boxer at that time and a Best in Specialty over multiple top Boxers in a large entry. Another of my girls, “Danica” (GCH South Willow N Hallmarks Driven To Succeed), was awarded Breed over the No. 1 and No. 2 male Boxers at the time, owner-handled by myself.


Which have been my most influential sires and dams?

Stephanie Davidson: My boy “Chevy” (GCH South Willow’s Like A Rock), had the largest impact on my breeding program. It is his features of his gorgeous, strong head and smooth square outline that I worked to pull through in multiple generations after him. “Chili” (CH O’Bravo N South Willow’s Red Hot Chili Pepper, GDOM), is behind some of my top-performing Boxers. She was bred twice and produced five GCHs or CHs, one Canadian CH, and other major-pointed kids, all of which achieved their titles with limited showing and have gone on to produce beautiful, winning kids of their own.


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

Stephanie Davidson: I’m a firm believer in making the dogs you keep a part of your family, whether they are show dogs or not. It is important to me that once a puppy is ready to leave my home, they have a temperament that is as balanced as possible. Therefore, once the puppies are old enough, about 4.5 weeks old, they are moved to the living room in a plexiglass walled pen where they can see and hear everything in a typical home life.

They get used to the different sounds, different people coming and going, and the routine of when to wake up and when to go to bed. Before then, the whelping box with the mother and her puppies are literally right next to the side of my bed. Anything could happen in that early stage and I make sure they are all receiving enough milk, care, and warmth. Then, at 8 weeks old, they are more than ready to leave for their new homes.


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

Stephanie Davidson: Many years ago, Pat Hastings of Puppy Puzzle and an AKC judge used a litter of mine to teach at a Breed National. I follow what she taught through today. Although I put more emphasis on the head than she did, since the Boxer breed’s head is so important, almost everything else she taught has proven to be correct for me. I do a lot of studying of how my dogs have grown in past litters and also do all the research possible on those studs I use that are not mine. I use what I research to understand better how each may mature. In keeping these records and following what Pat Hastings has taught, I feel this has led to the high success of only placing the best finishable dogs in the ring.


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

Stephanie Davidson: I spend most my efforts in Conformation events. However, I have competed in Lure Coursing, Fast CAT, and Canine Good Citizen as well. A few of my dogs hold titles from these events.


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

Stephanie Davidson: Although I breed away from issues such as slipped hocks, which can limit a Boxer in a Performance event, any breeding I plan is solely to produce a couple dogs that can be shown. Along with that, the rest are placed in wonderful companion homes.


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

Stephanie Davidson: It is very important to me that my Boxers are not only conditioned physically but mentally as well. Because I want my dogs to be part of a family’s day-to-day, they must be well rounded. It’s also important that a breed that can have joint issues is in good physical condition. The dogs at my home eat mostly a raw diet and are very active, and those that need a little more are on a treadmill or swim to build strength.


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

Stephanie Davidson: The main health concerns affecting a Boxer are cardiomyopathy, degenerative myelopathy, hypothyroidism, aortic valve disease, and hip dysplasia. Fortunately, there are tests to assist in breeding choices for these health issues. Unfortunately, there is no test for cancer and, for me, cancer has been the main concern I’ve had to fight. However, I have been told by vets who are open to natural medicine that their dogs’ raw diet has prolonged their lives.


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

Stephanie Davidson: I feel Boxers are one of the most competitive breeds showing. There are many outstanding handlers all over the US and in other countries, and many Boxer breeders who campaign and push for top rankings. This does make it so that we have to compete against a greater number of entries to achieve a championship title. But, it is also very satisfying to know that when you do win, it was against a large number of great competition.


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

Stephanie Davidson: As I stated earlier in this writing, the extensive research I did before buying a dog was keeping compatibility with my family in mind. Boxers are wonderful family members. However, they do need activity and mental challenges. They are very smart and can become bored and then destructive if they do not have attention and a job. I keep my dogs involved with every part of my life and I mix in different activities.


What is the biggest misconception about my breed? What is my breed’s best-kept secret?

Stephanie Davidson: When I first purchased a Boxer, part of my decision-making was a breed that looked intimidating. I was home alone a lot with my kids and wanted a dog for protection as well. Especially with the ears cropped, a Boxer can look scary to some. They are not, whatsoever! A Boxer is goofy, lovable, and outgoing. They are up for anything you want to involve them in.


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

Stephanie Davidson: Many years ago, if I was asked this, I would tell a judge to remember that a Boxer was designed to do a job. They required a certain strength, build, and bite. I’ve seen countless fine-boned Boxers awarded and others whose shoulders are so bad that their front legs are placed in front of their neck. I could go on.

After some years now, I realize judges have their hands on each of the dogs and they could be seeing something that a spectator can’t. They also may still feel that the dog they award was not great but still better than the flaws of the other dogs. My comment that still carries on through the last 20 years is to please just judge the dog and not the handler. We’ve all seen it, heard the conversations between the judges and that handler, and only want the dog judged, even if it’s not the one we would have awarded.


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

Stephanie Davidson: There are too many dogs out there. Only breed for a purpose and not just to produce pets. Dogs are someone’s lifelong commitment and if you don’t have time to put in everything that these puppies need, don’t breed. It’s not fair to those puppies. It’s a lot of work, but can also be very fulfilling.


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

Stephanie Davidson: A lot of a Boxer’s personality is to be goofy. From the “zoomies” where something just gets into them and they feel they need to burn circles around the yard or, if in the house, use your furniture to bounce off while running super-fast in a circle… or finding new ways to dive to the bottom of a pool by spiraling down… or being so excitable that they fold in half so much while walking towards you that their butt could bump into their head, a Boxer is always going to make you laugh!