It’s Spring time and many humans’ thoughts turn to puppies! Humans sitting at their computers or on their phones take Facebook quizzes on which dog they resemble the most, follow dog pages, browse ads selling puppies and search for dog breeders. There’s a lot of information out there and it can be overwhelming.
To help humans navigate this information, Toller Tails will be interviewing dog breeders in the United States and Canada to offer humans a glimpse into the world of dog breeding and specifically Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever (NSDTR or Toller) breeders.
For our first Toller breeder interview, we spoke to Kelly Schur, who breeds and shows Tollers in the United States of America at FoxPoint Gundogs.
Henry Toller Tails (HTT): How did you get into breeding dogs? Kelly Schur (KS): I was lucky enough to be born into the world of dog shows and breeding. I am a second-generation dog fancier with over 25 years of active involvement in the fancy with my mom raising and competing with Pugs when I was a child. Instead of traditional sports and other extracurricular activities as a child, I traveled 2-3 weekends per month competing at conformation and junior showmanship events. My mom and I continue to exhibit and breed Pugs together to this day.
HTT: For those new to the world of dog shows, what does “in the fancy” mean?
KS: When I say, “in the fancy”, I am referring to the world of reputably and purposefully bred dogs and the competitive sports that are available to registered animals.
HTT: Why did you choose to breed Tollers? KS: I saw my first Toller at a show in Minnesota shortly after they became American Kennel Club (“AKC”) recognized. He stopped me dead in my tracks. That dog would turn out to be none other than “Schooner” (Am/Can/NSDTRC-USA CH SHR Vesper’s Mariner Coupe De Vale, JH AX AXJ WCI VCX ROM), the first Toller to win an AKC Best in Show.
Less than six months later, my close friend Kristin asked if I could help her out with taking a few Tollers into the conformation ring at a local dog show. She then introduced me to the two people – Deb and Mandy – who would go on to become my mentors in the Toller breed. Years of handling Tollers on and off allowed me to get to know what they were like without the commitment of owning one.
I was drawn to the Tollers’ intelligence, spunk, and uniqueness. Then, by happenstance, I got the chance to show a special little Toller girl named Avery for a friend. Avery would change my life and become the matriarch and foundation for my kennel’s bloodlines.
After quickly earning her AKC show championship together, Avery came to stay with me for a few months to see what it was like to live with a Toller. Her visit happened to coincide with a local supported show entry and field event and her owner encouraged me to give it a try.
With earning both her show championship and working certificate together, my friend offered me the honor of sharing in ownership of Avery. She would come up to visit once more, earning her AKC grand champion title and becoming a top conformation Toller, before returning to her primary home to have a litter. Avery’s puppies were the first Tollers to bear my name as breeder.
HTT: Is co-ownership of a show dog common in the dog breeding world? What does co-ownership of a dog mean? KS: To co-own a dog means to share ownership, sometimes with as many as four or five other parties, and it is fairly common in the dog breeding world.
There’s a variety of reasons a breeder may choose to co-own a dog including:
maintaining some control in the decision-making process, particularly as it relates to breeding;
to split expenses with other parties;
to provide a more solid connection for the purpose of mentoring; or,
to have their name attached to a dog more prominently to celebrate its accomplishments.
In many cases, co-ownership offers a breeder continued access to a dog for their breeding program without having to worry about keeping too many dogs in their own home, over the municipality animal limits, etc, and also someone gets a wonderful dog to love and cherish. Also, the dog breeder doesn’t have to lose that animal from their kennel’s gene pool.
The most important thing when entering a co-ownership relationship with a dog breeder is to be certain that all expectations are known by all parties such as who is responsible for paying for vet bills, food, entry fees for competitions, etc. prior to registration being submitted. A written and signed co-ownership contract is the best way to ensure all parties know what their responsibilities are!
HTT: What does the day in the life of a dog breeder look like? What do you do? KS: Dog breeding is a hobby. My daily life does not look much different from a typical dog owner. I work full-time as a teacher, so the dogs are let out, fed, and secured in the morning like most dog owners would do and in the evenings they are loose in the house as our companions. At least one evening per week is spent at a training class, working on honing competition skills – currently our focus is obedience work.
Our weekends generally revolve around the dogs, whether that is traveling for a conformation show, spending the weekend out working dogs on birding or field skills, or competing in some type of performance event.
When we have a new litter, our life shifts to focus solely on the puppies with almost constant supervision of mama and her babies during the first week or two followed by six or more weeks of careful socializing, exposure to new things and foundational training.
HTT: People unfamiliar with dog breeding often wonder why pure-bred dogs cost more than a dog they can get from online listings like Craigslist, Kijiji or the local shelter. Why do pure bred dogs cost so much? KS: Purebred and well-bred are not one in the same. A well-bred dog costs more for several reasons. The parents of our puppies are exhibited in a variety of venues to help us evaluate their potential for contribution to the breed.
Each dog breeder has their own priorities, whether that is conformation, field, performance or a combination of the three, but obtaining titles requires a combination of entry fees ($27-$50 USD on average, depending on the venue), travel expenses, and possibly handling fees if a breeder chooses not to do it themselves. These costs add up quite quickly!
Even more importantly, the parents of our puppies are health tested and evaluated for potential detrimental disorders such as hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, Juvenile Addison’s disease and more.
These tests can be quite costly, with some (such as eye certifications) needing to be repeated on an annual basis. It is not uncommon for health testing for one dog to add up to $1,000 USD or more. This is all before a litter is even a consideration!
With each litter bred comes additional expenses such as:
brucellosis testing (which is an infectious disease caused by bacteria and can be transmitted to humans and other animals);
progesterone testing (to time the breeding for the highest likelihood of pregnancy);
veterinary exam fees;
stud fees; and, so forth.
There is a distinct possibility, even with the most carefully planned and executed breeding plan, that no puppies will result – and there are no refunds. Beyond the expenses that a responsible breeder incurs, a potential dog owner is also paying for a lifetime of knowledge, mentoring, and hopefully friendship with their dog breeder.
This is different from when a person buys a dog online from Kijiji, Craigslist, or adopts from the many shelters and rescues, the transaction is completed and the relationship with the seller often ends.
A reputable breeder by contrast continues to be available to the new dog owners to help problem solve when issues arise, delight with you in the joys that having a Toller brings to your life and share your pain when you eventually have to say goodbye.
A good breeder welcomes and craves a long, open relationship with their puppies’ homes. And heaven forbid a dog owner is ever in a position they cannot keep their Toller, a reputable dog breeder will be there to take them back, no questions asked. When we bring them into this world, they will forever be “our” puppies.
HTT: What can a person expect from a reputable breeder?
KS: A reputable breeder will complete at least the bare minimum of health testing for their chosen breed and provide a health warranty of some type (what is covered and for how long will vary from breeder to breeder).
They will also thoroughly screen potential buyers for their puppies by asking questions about what type of home environment they will provide and sell any puppies under a contract that requires the puppy comes back to their care at any age for any reason should the buyer no longer be able to care for them. Reputable breeders also tend to produce litters only when looking to keep something for themselves.
Buyers should be wary of breeders:
who do not ask questions of those inquiring about buying a puppy;
who always have puppies available; and,
who do not pursue health certifications on their dogs – and a veterinary exam is decidedly not the same thing as health testing as a majority of hereditary disorders are not observable to the naked eye, even a highly trained one.
A reputable dog breeder should be:
happy to answer your questions;
eager to share their knowledge of the breed; and,
investigating you as the buyer just as much as you are investigating them as the breeder.
HTT: Why do breeders show their dogs in dog shows? What role do dog shows play in dog breeding? KS: Competing in conformation – the “beauty pageant” – offers a chance at outside assessment of our breeding stock. It potentially helps to avoid “kennel blindness”, which is where a breeder has difficulty seeing the faults of their own dogs. It also allows dog breeders to evaluate potential breeding options.
A quality breeder will often look outside of their own kennel to find the best match for their dog in structure, temperament and pedigree. Without venues like dog shows and hunt tests to show off our dogs for other breeders to see them, this would be quite difficult.
That said, Conformation (and other) titles should not be the end-all-be-all of breeding decisions. Simply because a dog is a conformation champion does not mean that dog is worthy of being bred.
Similarly, a dog without a conformation title is not necessarily undeserving of contributing to the breed’s gene pool. Titles are merely one factor to be considered of the big picture in dog breeding.
HTT: How do you choose who gets a puppy? Can just anyone with cash buy one?
KS: As any quality breeder should, I screen all potential puppy buyers. While I do not require that they compete in any specific event, I will only sell Toller puppies to active homes.
Tollers are not a breed for everyone, and they need a “job”. All my puppies are sold under a spay/neuter contract (also known as a non-breeding contract) unless someone is interested in showing.
In that case, the puppy is sold with contractual restrictions on its breeding until health clearances have been completed and passed. I will not hesitate to refuse to sell a puppy to a home that I do not feel is “right” for a Toller.
Additionally, I do not let families pick their puppies. I do my best to match puppies to families based on the personality of the puppy and what the family has an interest in. A more reserved puppy isn’t likely to make a great agility dog, and a rambunctious, noisy puppy won’t be the best fit for an apartment. HTT: If a person has never bought a pure-bred dog, what questions should they ask the breeder?
KS: Do not be afraid to ask to see a copy of the breeder’s contract. If they do not have one, that may be a red flag.
Reputable dog breeders should be willing to discuss components of their contracts with you and provide justification as to why they have included what they have.
Prospective buyers should ask if the breeder has personal experience with what they are interested in. For instance, if you are looking for a Toller to hunt with, it is best to buy from someone who has experience hunting with the breed as they should be better able to recognize the qualities that make a good hunting dog and more effectively match you with the appropriate puppy.
If looking for a family dog, be sure to inquire if the breeder’s dogs live in the house or a kennel. I also love when prospective buyers ask about the socialization and training process.
Buyers should ask about health clearances, temperament, and activities the breeder engages in and measure the response.
If at any point it feels like a breeder is avoiding a question or defensive in answering, it may be time to move on.
Additionally, cost is a consideration for most families as you are investing in a living being that will hopefully be with you for 10 or more years, so prospective buyers should not be afraid to inquire about price.
However, a word of caution is that many breeders – right, wrong, or otherwise – are turned off by emails or calls where the cost is the first or only question asked, so do your best not to lead with that.
HTT: What advice would you give to someone who is thinking of bringing a Toller into their family?
KS: Do your due diligence in investigating a dog breeder and be willing to wait for the right puppy! It was almost a decade of involvement with showing Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retrievers before I owned my first one (although most will not have to wait that long – it was a choice I made), and I don’t regret it for an instant.
Start your search early! Tollers are a rare breed for a reason. They are not easy to whelp and raise. You’ll be glad you waited to get the right dog instead of the “right now” dog.
If you are not set on the experiences of teething, potty training, etc. that come with a baby puppy, consider asking around to see if any Toller breeders have a retired show dog or older puppy that didn’t turn out quite as hoped for show.
Furthermore, do your research to determine if a Toller is truly the right “fit” for your household. One of my favorite resources is the “Top 10 Reasons NOT To Get A Toller” from the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever Club of the United States of America.
Tollers are sensitive, aloof and have a high drive. If you are looking for a couch buddy who will be everyone’s best friend, then this probably isn’t the right breed for you.
HTT: Thanks Kelly for the interview!
If you are interested in finding a Toller and are wondering how to go about it, then check out my past blog post, "Finding a Toller or, How My Humans Found Me!" There's some helpful information in there about the process and tips from a first time Toller family perspective.
If any Toller Tails readers want to get in touch with Kelly Schur, you can contact her through FoxPoint Gundogs.