Interview with Non-Sporting Group Breeder Carol O’Brien
Where do I live? How many years in dogs? How many years as a breeder?
Carol O’Brien: I have lived in Durham, North Carolina, since 1998. I adopted my first Dalmatian in 1963 while a student at Cornell. The puppy belonged to a fraternity with a fire engine, but it was not a good situation for a dog. She became my companion and a well-loved campus mascot.
My first show dog, Ch. Van Der Mark Pollyanna, was purchased from California breeders and began a 55-year career in dogs and Dalmatians. In the early years, I bred 11 litters personally and my dogs sired another 10, all with the Thanewood Dalmatians name.
What is my kennel name? How many dogs do I currently keep?
Carol O’Brien: Thanewood Dalmatians came about because my first “show dog,” who taught me a lot but was not of championship quality, had the registered name Thane of Glamis. When my ex-husband and I purchased 50 acres in Ithaca, New York, after college, we called it “Thane’s Woods.”
When I was actively breeding, through 1996, I had eight Dals, four of whom were champions and sires. When I relocated to North Carolina, I took a ten-year break from breeding and then returned to conformation exhibition in 2007. Today, I have one or two Dals living with me or with my handler, Russella Bowen.
Which show dogs from the past have been my noteworthy winners?
Carol O’Brien: Ch. Thanewood Van Der Mark Piper was the first AOM (pre Select Dog) at DCA National at 11 years of age in an entry of over 500 dogs. GCHG Rockstar Thanewood Freewheeling was BOB at the DCA National in 2016 at 8-½ years old, the second oldest Dal ever to be BOB. GCHG Spotlight Beatrice Shadow Run was BOS at the DCA National in 2021.
What is my “process” for selecting show puppies? At what age do I make my decisions?
Carol O’Brien: Whether they were among the 35 champions we bred or sired, or the four Dals I purchased that were all Top 20 Dals for multiple years, the puppies were either evaluated and selected (often with several breeder visits) during their first 8 weeks. I saw Beatrice when she was 6 months and a few days old with Connie Wagner in Orlando, and fell in love. My newest liver male, whom I also saw at 6 months at DCA with co-breeder Carrie Jordan, was another “love at first sight” selection.
All of these dogs demonstrated, in my view, sound structure, appropriate spotting and color (the characteristics that make the Dalmatian one of the most recognizable breeds in the world), and outgoing personalities.
How do I prepare my pups for the show ring? Does my breed require any special preparation?
Carol O’Brien: I believe Dals do best when they have several people with whom they have spent time, trained with, and often even lived with away from their owners.
Camping out helps with their resilience and confidence. And although I only worked a few of my early Dals in Obedience, all the later show Dals had training with me in classes or with their handlers.
Can I share my thoughts on how my breed is currently presented in the show ring?
Carol O’Brien: Although no longer an active coach dog, the Dalmatian’s history as a coach dog should still be reflected in its presentation. They should move at a moderate pace, showing how they cover ground, and not be raced around the ring at excessively high speeds. Although some judges may believe an exaggerated speed on the go-around is a sign of good structure, one can better see their structure at both a moderate pace on the go-around and the out-and-back. You will frequently hear judges instructing exhibitors to slow down or to take the dog at an appropriate speed.
Although no longer an active coach dog, the Dalmatian’s history as a coach dog should still be reflected in its presentation. They should move at a moderate pace, showing how they cover ground, and not be raced around the ring at excessively high speeds.
Are there any health-related concerns within my breed? Any special nutritional needs?
Carol O’Brien: In Dalmatians, high uric acid levels result in the formation of bladder stones. Dals should be fed low-purine diets and have access to water to encourage hydration. Through the research being supported by the Dalmatian Club of America Foundation and the AKC Canine Health Foundation, we are attempting to learn more about the genetics that cause copper storage disease and deafness. Deafness is detected with BAER testing as young puppies. The Dalmatian Club of America encourages health testing for hearing, thyroid, hips, and elbows. We collect DNA to be used in research studies.
In my opinion, is my breed in good condition overall. Any trends that warrant concern?
Carol O’Brien: Overall, I think in the last ten years we have made progress in temperaments. As the Disney 101 Dalmatian movies came out, we witnessed, as many breeds do when they become very visible to the public, extreme growth in popularity. When these cute puppies did not have proper socialization and exercise in fenced-in areas or with their runner-partners, they could not expend the energy that gave them the endurance they needed in their original function as coach dogs.
We continue to see short upper arms that restrict their reach and, more recently, issues with hocks that are too high, or straight stifles.
Finally, the standard calls for markings that are “round… well-defined… the more distinct the better… in size from a dime to a half dollar…” Overall markings in both the liver- and black-spotted Dals are good, with the occasional overly colorful but well-structured dog being shown.
Is my breed well-suited to be a family dog? Who are the best candidates to own my breed?
Carol O’Brien: Dals are great family dogs when properly raised and exercised. Most breeders require either a fenced-in yard or recommend various ways (jogging or performance activities such as dock-diving or Fast CAT) to keep the Dal physically and mentally in good shape.
For a bit of fun, what’s the most amusing thing I’ve ever experienced with a Non-Sporting Dog?
Carol O’Brien: At a show with a large Dal entry, I was showing a dam in Bred-By Exhibitor. Her son had gone Winners Dog and her daughter had been awarded her puppy class. Both were being held ringside, awaiting the competition to finish. As they watched me and their mom, “Blanche,” finish our go-around and be stacked, the handlers outside of the ring holding the pups lost control and both pups bounded into the ring, trailing leads and jumping on me and Blanche. Fortunately, with the help of the steward, the offspring were corralled and judging continued with Blanche going BOB and her son BOW. Thank goodness for good showring fencing.