Interview with Trina Matteson, Breeder of DarkHorse Belgian Malinois
Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Where do you live? What is your breed? What is your kennel name? Do you have a website? How long have you been in dogs? How long have you been breeding dogs? Who are some of your best-known dogs?
Trina Matteson: My husband and I live on our five-acre farm in Silver Springs, Florida. Our breed is the Belgian Malinois and our kennel name is DarkHorse: www.DarkHorseKennels.com. I am the third generation of my family to be involved in the AKC sport of dogs. I ‘ve been breeding with my family since I was a child, so 30-plus years, but I have been actively breeding Malinois for nearly four years and have produced 16 champions, multiple Group winning, multiple Group placing, and multiple Best in Specialty winners as well as numerous dogs titled in a multitude of performance sports.
My two best-known dogs would have to be my foundation stud dog. “Cain” was No. 1 2017, 2018, 2019 & 2022. He is the only Malinois to win a Best in Show in the past 20 years. My other well-known dog is the current dog I am campaigning. “Kraken” is a multiple Group winning dog and is just turning four in December. He has been No. 1 All-Systems for the entirety of 2023.
As a Breeder, can you share your thoughts on your breed today? Is breed type strong? Are there things to be concerned about? Are there any health-related issues? Have you worked with breeders overseas? Are pet homes typically available for your breed?
Trina Matteson: I feel the breed as a whole is headed in a good direction. The breed is continually improving. While there are still some with questionable temperaments, I feel the breed has improved tremendously in stabilizing the mindset.
Breed type truly depends on which area of the country you are in. Because I am campaigning Kraken, I have the opportunity to travel the country and see many other Malinois. There are pockets throughout that have set “styles” for the most part; you can look at the breed ring and know you are looking at a ring of Malinois but you will have numerous “styles.”
While temperaments have improved, I feel there is still room for improvement for the majority. The other issue I have noticed needing improvement is the front assembly of the breed. This is a herding breed, and in order to do its job they should have the ability to work all day. When a dog has a short upper arm or straight front, they cannot withstand the pressure of a full day of work.
The parent club recommends hips, elbows, and eyes to be tested by OFA. There have been cases of Spongy Degeneration with Cerebella Ataxia within the breed. Because of this, we also genetic test our dogs to make sure none of them carry the genetic markers for this horrible disease.
I have worked with a fabulous breeder in Belgium who has helped guide me in my program. Stijn Van Hamme of Vaardekenshoeve Kennels has been instrumental in helping me to know his lines and helps me to bring a stronger breed type into my breeding program.
Pet homes are available in my breed, but we have to be very careful as this is a high stimulus breed. They need interaction and must have a family willing and able to keep the dog’s brain stimulated. If you don’t give a Malinois something to do, it WILL find something to do and, more often than not, it will not be what you wanted.
As an Exhibitor, can you comment on recent entries in your breed? Are majors available in your area? Does your breed often participate in Companion and Performance events? How can newcomers in your breed be encouraged to join the sport of dogs?
Trina Matteson: The entries in Malinois are surprisingly strong for the breed. We have some shows that only have a couple entered, but quite often we currently have an entry of 5-15 Malinois at a show. Majors are something that quite often breeders and exhibitors have to come together to build. We are a low entry breed still, but there are areas with multiple breeders who work together to build majors.
I think the breeders truly need to step up and help guide newcomers to join clubs and learn the different sports that are available to them. Owning a Malinois gives you so many different opportunities in the aspect of choosing what to do with your dog. The options are endless. Malinois are one of the most-used breeds in performance events. They are truly the “do it all” breed.
What are the biggest challenges facing the dog show community as a whole and how can we address them? And finally, what are some of the positive changes you’ve seen in your breed and in the dog show community as a whole over the past decade?
Trina Matteson: As a breeder, owner, and professional handler, I have truly noticed the divide between professional handlers and “owner handlers.” With AKC giving non-professionals their own series and also only allowing non-professionals to exhibit in 4-6 Month Puppy, they have created a greater divide and, quite honestly, animosity between professionals and non-professionals. I do not call them “owner handlers” because, although I am a professional handler, I am first and foremost a breeder, owner, handler. AKC needs to bring back the foundation of our sport and make it about the dogs and our breeding programs. The sport has become more about people winning and doing whatever it takes to win instead of evaluating our breeding stock.
With having grown up in the show world, I have seen so many changes over the years—some good and some bad. But one thing I have seen time and time again is that our community is strong. With the advancement of technology, it has opened opportunities for our community to spread knowledge and truly help each other in times of need.