August 17, 2011

Checking out our Tamaskan Dog breeder

Posted in dog ownership, dogs, pets, Tamaskan Dog tagged , , at 3:27 pm by Angie Hilbert

Wayne and I are not buying a Tamaskan puppy. We are working with an ethical, responsible breeder to find surrogate parents for Paka, our little fur-baby.

When you look at it like that, it is a game changer. I’m not interested in a good shopping experience. I’m investing in a deeply personal experience that comes with life-long commitments and attachments.

Judy at J&J has a vested interest in our Paka. She welcomes on-going interaction, she is there when I have questions, has asked for updates and pictures after we take Paka home to reassure her she made the right decision in letting us take her. If Wayne and I were to have a life-altering event resulting in the need to re-home our fur-baby, Judy wants “first response.” That is, she wants to be able to take Paka back herself rather than leave her to an unknown individual or (Buddha forbid!) an animal shelter. Responsible breeders keep track of their dogs to be sure that no dog they put on the ground EVER ends up in a shelter or puppy mill.

My visit to  J&J kennels of Virginia was beautiful. The first thing I noticed when pulling up to J&J was the gathering of horses in the well kept pasture. In addition to breeding a litter of Tamaskans every year, Jim and Judy have also been stalwart supporters of the Nokota Horse conservancy. The goal of this organization is to preserve the small, closed population of Nokota horses. These are descended from the herd of Lakota Indian ponies confiscated from Sitting Bull when he turned himself in at Fort Buford. They are living history in blue roan. Like the Tamaskan Dog, there are limited numbers of horses, a breeder of a closed population must look ahead to ensure a future with genetically appropriate crosses for future generations. It’s not enough to just look back to be confident of the health of the cross you are making now.

Jim walked me through the dog-friendly home to the lower level. The room was cool even in the Virginia summer heat but full windows flooded the room with natural light. He had crated the dogs in anticipation of our visit. Each crate had room for it’s occupant to turn around and lay down. The floors of each crate were padded with thick carpet samples and no wire or bare floors. The seven dogs (six Tamaskans and a friendly pit bull) were all clean and well groomed, ready to be presented for introductions.  I’m not comfortable with a breeder keeping more than 10 dogs or having more than 2 or 3 litters a year. Once you get that big, It’s hard to imagine the dogs getting much of a family life with humans. (A possible exception might be the Monks of New Skete. They run a larger operation but each dog is assigned to a single brother who lives with and cares for his one individual dog.) It is personally important to me that my Paka’s parents come from a happy family with lots of human contact and not a “breeding operation” “puppy farm” or “backyard breeder.” A happy, healthy dog makes a confident, successful mother. A lonely, stressed or sick dog, is compromised in her puppy-rearing. Since Paka will learn much about behavior, boundaries and discipline from her mother. I want that mother to be a happy, stable, family dog.

After the initial, excited ruckus, Jim said, “now, you’ll all get to say hello, but not until you’re quiet.” And he crossed his arms across his chest. The dogs looked at one another and settled down. So Jim started letting them out one by one. Each dog greeted Jim as it emerged from their crate. Not lunging or rushing the door, but politely stepping through as it opened. Then they came to investigate me. I offered my hand to each dog. Some pressed into it. Others just sniffed at it. Only Sybil, prefered not to approach. None jumped up on me. After I repeated each name, to be sure I learned it, they trotted to the door and Jim let them out into the kennel yard.

It was wide, spacious and surrounded on three sides with a wooden privacy fence. The fourth side shared a plank fence with the pasture. It had been lined with a wire fence so the dogs could see and interact with the horses without trespassing into the horse pasture.

The ladies, Ruby and Woulfe were the first dogs to approach me. Ruby held back for Woulfe to go first. Woulfe is the matriarch of the pack. The first Tamaskan Dog in all the Americas, she was also the first to greet me. It pleased me that she kept her feet on the ground and did not jump up. But when I squatted down to her level, she did take the liberty of putting her paws up on me and licking my face. Once she took my measure and was satisfied that I was a good egg, she moved oblique to me and Ruby approached.

Ruby is to be my puppy’s mother. I very much wanted to get to know her and learn about her temperament and bearing. She was as gentle as a lamb in wolf’s clothing. Not at all shy, she pressed into my hands almost more like a cat than a dog. I stroked her fur and she touched her nose to my face giving my chin a little lick. She had no objection when I put my arms around her for a hug and she let me, a stranger, touch her feet, ears, head and face without complaint or evasive movements. What a tender and affectionate lady! I could absolutely see why Judy calls Ruby her a “softie-dog.”

Now they all started milling around me. None of them jumped up on me though one or two did raise a foreleg, reaching for me. I was more than happy to reach back. Now, Jethro was to dog to meet! His is a magnificent, wolf-grey dog the color of pewter with amber eyes and a flowing, lupine gait. I watched his movements very carefully. Jethro inherited borderline hips scores indicating canine hip dysplasia from Lobo. In some cases, this results in arthritis ranging from mild to severe. Since Jethro was going to be the father of my Paka, I wanted to look for any sign his hips caused him any sort of pain or limited his movement. Toys were tossed and Jethro leaped. A ball thrown across the paddock which sent all seven dogs galloping full tilt after it. Jethro outmaneuvered and out ran them all to win the prize over and over.

They all galloped the length of the yard, past the outdoor kennels with doors wide open. The kennels are built on a raised concrete platform, covered by a shade net and each unit holds two dog houses and a bucket of water.

I carefully watched Lobo as well. It seemed wise to observe how he managed since his CHD was more pronounced than His son’s. Lobo was running with the pack after the ball. He is an easy-going and relaxed dog. After everyone was tired out, Lobo and Jethro were laying down in the cool damp mulch. Tamaskans love to dig so Jim and Judy provide the pack with an area of soft natural mulch so they can enjoy digging without exposing mud and getting filthy. I thought that would be a good time to examine their hips. The let me handle their legs, back, hips and rear-feet without complaint or evasion.

Canine hip dysplasia (CHD) is a complicated disease. There is a genetic component to the disease but also a strong environmental influence. Careful attention to diet and exercise can go a long way to preventing CHD even in a dog genetically pre-disposed to the condition. CHD is also variable in it’s presentation. Some dogs, only mildly displaced, are afflicted with arthritis pain and limited mobility. Other dogs, severely displaced show no ill effects at all. Since none of the dogs in Jethro’s bloodline display any limitations or symptoms associated with CHD, Judy is hopeful she can continue to develop her kennel’s bloodline with crosses to dogs with excellent hip scores breeding the condition out of her line entirely.

Jethro’s hips are being studied further in compliance with the TDR breeders regulations but she plans on pursuing her goals for her dogs. She is dedicated to preserving the relaxed temperament, amber eyes, gentleness and adaptability of the original Tamaskan bloodline in the USA while crossing always to excellent hip scores to improve the line. Judy will proceed with the breeding while awaiting the results of Jethro’s second hip screening, this one from the British veterinary Association, which is now the only scheme accepted by the Tamaskan Dog Register.

Judy’s decision to breed Ruby’s litter with Jethro is a controversial decision. Members of the TDR committee insist Judy should never breed Jethro and use a stud with passing hip scores or be expelled from the TDR. Committee members recommended “Wave.”

Wave is a young and unproven stud but he has excellent hips. He is also a shining example of everything the Tamaskan Dog is bred to be. Friendly, he plays nicely with others. Intelligent, he loves computers and completed his obedience training at the top of his class. Gentle, he is a therapy dog at Carolina East Medical Center. Helpful, he displays a working-breed eagerness to be useful. Unfortunately… he also happens to be Ruby’s nephew.

Though line-breeding of close relatives is not unheard of in the dog world, it  can have very serious and untreatable consequences. CHD, on the other hand, even when symptomatic, is entirely manageable and treatable. Moreover, Much of Wave’s exemplary temperament, intelligence and gentleness comes from the same pedigree as Jethro’s. In addition to being Ruby’s nephew on his father’s side, Wave is also Jethro’s nephew on his mother’s side. Although the predisposition for CHD is genetically present in in that line, it was not expressed in Wave. This is PRECISELY the kind of breed improvement that Judy is working toward in her carefully considered and planned litter between Jethro and Ruby.

Wave is the example of what happens when you cross the pedigrees Judy is crossing! One parent, with excellent hips from the Scottish Odin line from Alba and the other parent with borderline hip scores from the Woulfe/Lobo line from Prestigious Blustag.

(At the time of writing, another candidate for stud in the USA has hip scores pending but it is unlikely results will be in before Ruby comes into season. Therefore he is not being considered for this litter.)

To confirm my impression, I consulted another of Judy’s references. Due diligence is appropriately my burden, after all. Were the traits of Jethro’s line really so great and valuable that it was worth working with the borderline hip scores to try to improve them? Or was the TDR right and Jethro should be nutered as having nothing valuable to justify working to improve his line’s hips? Another Tamaskan breeder, with experience with Judy’s dogs, was willing to talk with me. I was encouraged to hear that the dog Tarheel Tamaskans got from J&J was the one they considered “top of the line” compared to any other Tamaskan Dog they have known. That dog, Tundra, was full sister to Jethro. Just like Jethro, she did inherit Lobo’s CHD. Like Jethro, she was asymptomatic of hip problems and was an exemplary and beloved model of the breed. She produced a litter with Ruby’s brother, Blaze. That was litter included  Wave, the paragon of Tamaskan dog health and virtue. Clearly, a confirmation that Judy was not alone in valuing the unique and individual traits of Jethro’s particular Tamaskan Dog family. It is worth keeping. With Wave as an example of success in reducing the risk of CHD through breed development, why does the TDR committee not sanction Judy’s decision?

The TDR committee consists of five international Tamaskan breeders. Only two of them are experienced (The developer of the Tamaskan breed and her daughter.) but they have never personally met Judy, Jethro nor Wave. There are also three inexperienced breeders on the committee with only two litters produced between them. Both of those litters were accidental and now, would violate the TDR breeders code (one due to immaturity of the dam, the other due to monorchidism in the sire. though at the time, monorchid studs were permitted by the TDR.) The puppies resulting from both litters were registered though some were registered only after hip scoring as the immature dam also failed her hip testing. Judy’s thoughtfully considered litter, will not be registered. It is not in compliance with the TDR breeding scheme due to Jethro’s hips. In order to achieve registration for future litters, Jethro’s BVA hip scores will have to pass and Judy would have to petition for reinstatement to the TDR and await their decision.

All things very carefully considered, I am confident in Judy’s decision. Her experience, her careful calculation of the risk/benefit analysis of of each cross and her careful consideration of the goals she has for her kennel speak volumes. She is willing to sacrifice her registration for the improvement of her breeding lines.

Though breed club politics is beyond my scope, I am simply grateful that our Paka’s noble pedigree will have no repeated names in the family tree.



  1. Anon said,

    I dont understand how a breeder is going to “breed out” the bad by continually breeding the same parents. Its understandable to not want to cross blood lines, but this is confusing as well. Skip the litter and wait for a viable stud?! That sounds like the better plan?

    P.S. I got your blog from the Kennel FB page….was interested, but this is confusing…

    • You are right. For the short term, perhaps waiting for a new stud candidate to come available in the future might be considered a good strategy. But don’t forget; Judy’s goal is not just one good litter now. Her goal is to preserve and improve Jethro’s bloodline for generations and contribute to the genetic diversity of the breed as a whole. By improving the future integrity of Jethro’s line, she can accomplish this goal. But the only way to do it is to breed him and keep his progeny (that score well on their hip tests) to breed forward.

      Here is an article discussing the strategy:

      Of course, in the case of a simple genetic disease, a breeder can just have one litter from an affected dog. Then, after screening the puppies and select the most likely looking one (from among those who tested clear) and retire the affected dog after a single litter.

      But CHD takes two years to manifest. It may take a litter or two before the breeder has kept a pup that is a candidate for breeding. It takes commitment and patience.

      Fortunately. The stakes are a lot lower for Judy than in most cases. None of the affected dogs in Jethro’s pedigree show actual symptoms or have any actual disability. So it would seem that the CHD that runs in his family is not likely to produce dogs that suffer even if they are affected.

      This is only a second litter for Ruby and Jethro. Ruby was specifically sought out and obtained by J&J on the criterion of being a good match for Jethro. She’s not just some local dog that was handy. Judy kept Sadie, a female from their litter last year.

      Judy’s goal is to preserve Jethro’s line intact through his unaffected offspring. Next year, Sadie will be old enough for hip testing and if she scores well, she can breed. If not, well, then there will be another likely yearling from this litter waiting for a shot.

      I know it is complicated. I hope the article helps you make sense of the conflicting issues involved.


  2. Anon said,

    Again, rebreeding the same dog in hopes that the offspring will be fine, to me, is unethical. Say that 1 dog out of the litter is fine and turns out to be a great candidate, then what about the others? Why not wait for the previous litter to age and find out the results vs. indiscriminately breeding. It will take 2 years to find results, so in that time, there could possibly be 2 more litters of “bad” pups. That would be the right thing to do and I understand the reasoning for the expulsion. Its not ethical.

    If you had a parent with a potentially debilitating disease, and the other parent did not, but the chance of the child inheriting the disease is great, would you take a chance if it meant that the child could potentially be severely impacted? Thats how I see it. Add to that the expense of caring for a dog with Hip Displasia. There’s surgery, pain medications, etc. If this is what is being done to “protect the line”, then this needs to be said upfront. What you see now at age 5 may be drastically different at 8, 9, 10 and a dog is a lifetime commitment.

    Good luck with your choice, and I hope everything turns out ok….

    • Thank you,

      There is ample precedent in this specific situation that, yes, it will turn out ok. There is no evidence that the health stakes for this particular litter are anywhere near as dire as your statements would imply. (Though I completely agree that they *can* be significant in other situations and thus, perhaps the TDR is wise to keep it’s strict rule.)

      I also recognize that your general argument is embraced by many thoughtful, ethical breeders. As is the opposing argument by other thoughtful, ethical breeders.

      I guess what Cesar Millan says is true, “the only thing two breeders can totally agree upon is that the third breeder is totally off track.”

      Since there are already ample forums for breeders to debate best practices and attack one another’s actions as “unethical” This type of anonymous character assassination will not be tolerated here.

  3. Brian said,

    Hi Angie,

    Not sure if you still monitor this page, but I are your pictures still available? The links just route to iCloud.


    • As a matter of fact… I have some pics and videos on YouTube:

      Here is the kennel pics of the outside yard.

      And here are the litter of puppies our Paka and Fable have come from. (yes… we have 2!)

      Hope you enjoy the pics.


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