ZENA THORN ANDREWS
ZENA THORN ANDREWS owns Britain’s most successful kennel in terms of
the number of champions produced. Over a hundred UK champions, and many
more overseas, have now been bred, owned or sold by Zena or her partner in the
Drakesleat affix, Jeff Horswell. Of these, 20 are Irish Wolfhounds and 91
Miniature Wirehaired Dachshunds ; in addition there has been one Greyhound and
two Field Spaniels.
Her many other successes at group and BIS level are well-known; most recent achievement is to win the 2004 Pro Plan/Dog World Pup of the Year competition.
How has Zena achieved this and what advice would she give to those starting out on the road towards developing a consistently successful strain?
1 STARTING OUT
Most people come into their first breed virtually by accident but Zena, after being interested in show dogs from the fringes for several years, did her homework before obtaining her first Wolfhound; indeed she looked round for two years before seeing a suitable litter advertised.
"I got every book on the breed and read them avidly and learned as much as I could about conformation and movement. This was an enormous help when I came to select a puppy.”
So her advice is, read everything you can get hold of, not only books but breed club handbooks from as far back as you can get; they often contain valuable tips from breeders from past generations. If it is not a British breed, find out what experts from the country of origin have had to say.
Read everything you can, too on canine structure. R H Smythe’s book on construction and movement is a great starting point, followed by McDowell Lyon’s The Dog in Action, Rachel Page Elliot’s Dogsteps, with especially good diagrams, and Leon Hollenbeck’s The Dynamics of Canine Gait.
Talk to the great breeders and judges of the day. Zena learned much about shoulders from Percy Whitaker, while Florence Nagle stressed the importance of athleticism and good conformation.
If at all possible, watch you breed doing what it was bred for. When she started, Zena lived on the edge of Dartmoor and was able to watch both breeds hunt in the forest, some even being loaned out to track wounded deer. This convinced her that Wolfhounds should not be too long, otherwise they had difficulty turning, so she tried to breed for long ribbing and short loins
In Wolfhounds, Zena started with a male, not the most usual way of going about founding a line. Fortunately he turned out to be a very good one, Ch Edgecroft Simon.
She assumed she would be able to carry on by buying in a daughter. In reality this wasn’t so easy. Possibly because of being successful straight away, she and Simon were not easily accepted by fellow breeders, and he was not used by well-known kennels of the time. Eventually Zena was able to buy in a nice daughter of Simon, out of a pet bitch, and by mating her to suitable dogs soon began to breed winners.
Miniature Wires were a different story. This time she decided to start off in the normal way with a well-bred foundation bitch. She had admired the great personality of Ch Silvae Enormouse, so ordered what she hoped would be a show prospect of similar bloodlines from this kennel. What arrived, in an orange box, was a very large 18-month-old bitch, very plain, but sound and well made with no glaring faults, and a good pedigree.
No question of showing her, then, but she had the breeding Zena wanted, so she kept her and by clever choice of sires hit the jackpot in the first and second generations.
So, Zena’s advice is get a bitch from a kennel which consistently produces quality, ideally perhaps a full sister to one of their champions. At least, even if she does not turn out to be a show ring star, you have the genetic heritage on which to build.2 CREATING YOUR OWN LINE
Spend plenty of time getting your eye in, says Zena, but then follow your own judgement. She can never understand why, when looking at the breed records supplement, one sees so many people use dogs and lines which have never made a mark in the ring. “Why ever don’t people use the good dogs?” she says.
In both breeds, she believes strongly in mating complementary types of dog.
In Wolfhounds, her success stemmed from mating the daughter of her first champion male into different lines. One of these tended to be solid, substantial and well-made, if unglamorous and often lacking in furnishings; the other line had the elegance and style though sometimes lacked the requisite substance. Putting these together, with a double dose of her original bitch, came up with the CC record-holder and BIS winner, Ch Drakesleat Kyak.
In Min Wires she decided to go in the direction of the Selwood dogs which had some influential ancestors in common with her Silvae bitch. Their breeder, the late Peggy Hood-Wright, was a great help with advice and encouragement. Should she go with the show ring star, Ch Dittany, who had size and soundness but wasn’t so good in head and eye where Mandymouse also failed, or for Penstemon, of superb type and quality but who after a short show career went overweight?
She chose Penstemon, in spite of his size, and thereby began to fix the real Dachshund heads for which the Drakesleats have become famous. She was lucky from the size point of view in that the first litter produced Ch Drakesleat Hussy, smaller than her parents though still a struggle to keep under weight. An outstanding dog from a repeat mating, Dick Dastardly, did go overweight but as a stud dog reproduced the virtues and had a major impact on the breed and the line.
Nevertheless Zena warns against doubling up on a fault, even in otherwise top class stock. It took her several generations to get the size stabilised and even today, she, as do all breeders of Miniature Dachshunds, knows the heartbreak of keeping a super male puppy who ends up too big to show. When she started, Min Wires were not that many years and generations from their start in this country, and in their early days with CCs had an extra pound leeway in their Standard compared with the other two Miniature varieties, so it was not surprising that breeding to under 11 pounds was far from easy.
Having established the heads she liked, she was able to use Dittany in the next generation, resulting in Susan Raphael’s Ch Drakesleat Klunk Klick of Andyc, who still holds the dog CC record, and his sister Ch Kalamity Kate who, mated to her uncle Dick Dastardly, sired the great Ch Ai Jail, CC record holder at the time and dam of the current holder Ch Ai Jinks.
A dilemma some breeders are lucky enough to face is how best to mate a really outstanding bitch. All too often great bitches do not reproduce their like – could this partly be through unwise choice of stud dog? With Ai Jail, Zena had a brainwave. One of her dogs, Jack The Ripper, was not proving a dominant sire, indeed his progeny usually resembled their dams. So why not try him on her top bitch? The result was Ai Jinks!
In this breed, too, she has found there are two basic types which complement each other, the very elegant, longer dogs with good croups and tailsets, and the sturdier, shorter dogs who tend to excel in bone and topline. Time and time down the generations this pattern has repeated itself, the best results coming in the middle, from a combination of the two.
Good stud dogs can come in either type, a classic example being a father and son from 25 years ago, the elegant, scopy, even perhaps a touch leggy but very sound Ch Rough Stuff, and the small, neat, compact and all quality Ch Komma. Coming up to date, the elegant Ch Ris Otto mated to daughters of the stockier Ch Simon Parsnip, or vice versa, has been responsible for most of Zena’s recent winners.
In building up her line, Zena has found it works to base her pedigrees on good sound dogs with only minor faults, Ris Otto being a current example. Other dogs, who may have specific virtues to offer specific bitches but who also have distinctly minus points, you may want to use once or twice for a specific reason, but don’t double up on them or you could well land yourself in difficulties.
Nevertheless it isn’t always the greatest dogs who have the most impact at stud. The Wolfhound, Ch Kyak, was by any standards a great one; his son, Ch Sovryn, was nowhere near as good and had to struggle to attain his title. Yet with his short coupling, good legs, feet and particularly temperament, he proved a most successful sire, and was more widely used than his father.
He taught her another lesson, that puppies can develop at different rates from what you are used to. Not himself over-endowed with neck, he threw puppies who tended to seem short in neck too. But as they grew on the necks suddenly began to develop and they ended up fine.
Above all, you have to be honest with yourself about your dogs – don’t be kennel-blind. In her early days Zena used to write a critique on all her breeding stock which she included in her pedigree and breeding record book, along with a photo if possible. Those familiar with her show reports in DOG WORLD will know that she does not mince her words; nor did she do so with her own dogs.
She would write down the good and bad points of her bitch and of any potential mates and this was a great help as her breeding plans developed, enabling her to avoid doubling up on problems and to stick to the virtues.
“You dogs are bound to have faults,” she says, “and there will always be other good dogs around. Don’t dismiss them even if they belong to your worst enemy.”
Early on she started breeding relatively close, though she has never indulged in close inbreeding. “Half-brother to half-sister can be a lovely mating if the parents are complementary,” she says.
Serious faults which she would never breed from include monorchism, over or undershot mouths, or in Dachshunds bitches who are too small to even try to whelp naturally. However you cannot throw the baby out with the bathwater and inevitably your early stock will include bitches who do have lesser failings – her first Wolfhound brood did not have an ideal mouth, for example; the secret is to breed away from them.
Correct conformation has always been a priority. As Florence Nagle always said, “Never mind about a head, you can get that in one generation, but it takes forever to try to fix good hindquarters”. Above all, know your breed Standard word for word.
Over the generations the lines become purer and purer as recessives are bred out. For example, in her first litter of Min Wires two recessive smooth coats turned up, yet she never gets these now. The key, as ever, is selecting the right puppies to breed on with.
She has not found that, in itself, close breeding has affected either size or virility. More problems tend to arise when an outcross is introduced, sometimes producing more difficulties than benefits. One experiment tended to produced high hocks and poor toplines; another increased the size, and both cases took three generations to breed out. Sometimes it takes so long to breed away from the problems an outcross can bring that one has to wonder whether anything, other than a different name in the pedigree, has been gained.
One case which did work was when she began to get slightly crowded mouths, so started to incorporate Swedish lines. European breeders insist on perfect teeth, and this dealt with the problem in a single generation.
It is easy to get bogged down in pedigrees. Zena is a great pedigree enthusiast, and has record of Irish Wolfhounds right back to the beginning of the breed, but she recognises that in practical terms it’s really only the first couple of generations which are significant when breeding. Some breeders worry greatly if there is a dog they disapprove of in, say, a prospective mate’s sixth generation, not an attitude that Zena shares.
If a mating works, why not repeat it? Not every breeder agrees with this, feeling it gives them more scope for future line-breeding if they try a different sire next time, but Zena is a great believer in repeats. After all, the one and only Ai Jail came from a repeat of the litter which had produced Ch Riff Raff and the important sire Range Rover.
Another example was the Wolfhound bitch, Breeze, brought in from Holland to mate to Sovryn; they were mated four times and each litter produced a champion.
Conversely, if a mating which she has a hunch will produce the goods doesn’t work the first time, Zena will try again in the hope that things will ‘click’ second time around.
It is an enormous help to a breeder if they can have like-minded friends to share their breeding plans with. Between you, you have much more scope to develop a line. In earlier years Zena was lucky to have several such friends, notably Julie Cartwright with the Wolfhounds.
Over the years she has known a number of kennels whose dogs one could identify at a glance, so distinctive was their type. In Wolfhounds the Sulhamsteads and Eaglescrags were distinct, as indeed were the Brabyns and Erindales. The Dialynne Beagles and Sandylands Labradors obviously have a high quality ‘look’. The Risepark Miniature Schnauzers always represent a certain style, even after regular additions of imported sires.
In the terrier breeds, Zena recognises a Howlbeck Parson wherever she happens to travel, and has given CCs to several Starcadia Wheatens of the same breeding. One can always tell the type of the Araidh Staffords, too.
Overseas there are the Swede Suns Bassets in Sweden, and from Portugal the Sete Moinhos hounds of the same breed; the Bluepeppers Australian Terriers in Finland and the Baghdad Salukis in Australia: “They proved to me that you can after all have good front construction in a Saluki.”3 MANAGEMENT
Producing show dogs is not just about breeding and pedigrees. Rearing plays an equal part, and in both breeds Zena has seen promising puppies she has sold ruined by poor management.
Puppies’ needs are relatively straightforward. Good quality food, and warm and cosy bedding – why shiver off all the nourishment?
Exercise is of paramount importance too. Zena is not one of those who believes that giant breeds need to be confined for hours on end and given strictly limited exercise as puppies. Such puppies will never be sound. Her dogs start exercising from as early as eight weeks, though it is vital that the puppies are never overtired – ‘don’t walk them ragged’ – and have plenty of opportunity to sleep. Puppies playing together will give themselves plenty of exercise but they must be allowed to sleep when they want to.
Zena’s dogs are lucky enough to live as a pack and they have plenty of opportunity to go off hunting and enjoy themselves. “If they have too good a life at home, they can be bored in the ring, so I continually have to think up ways of keeping them interested when they are shown.”
If you have to go out to work, ensure that someone exercises your growing puppy at least twice a day.
Above all, don’t over-show a big breed puppy. Every day with the stresses of travelling and being at a show takes up the equivalent of a day’s growth, so for a giant breed, two or three shows as a puppy is plenty. Otherwise they may well be not only physically spoilt, but thoroughly bored by the time they should be in their show ring prime.
When Zena started, feeding was far harder than it is today, with good quality complete foods much more difficult to obtain, and it was difficult to achieve the right balance for a big breed. Nowadays top class foods are much more readily available, so be extremely careful about supplementation. Top quality foods need no additives; indeed it is all too easy to overdo the calcium and vitamin D, which can have worse effects than the reverse. The only supplement Zena gives are to mothers with puppies, and when she bred Wolfhounds a calcium tablet would help while they were teething.
Temperament must always be a breeder’s number one priority – just imagine bad tempered Wolfhounds, for example. If you run into difficulties in this respect, there is no choice but to cease breeding from that line.
Look at the whole pictures, temperament, health and intelligence. Zena’s Wolfhound, Ch Runan, was ‘as thick as two short planks’ but his sister Ch Rosin ‘as bright as a button’. Bear that in mind too when breeding.
As far as showing is concerned, don’t be too selective over the judges, and learn to take your defeats well; after all, the same judge might put you up next time. Zena will show under almost any judge. Sometimes you will get a pleasant surprise; only recently she won a CC under someone who over many years had never previously given her one.
With just a few notable exceptions, she has tended to retire most of her Dachshund champions with three or four CCs. Not only has she usually had another one coming along, but she feels this helps keep the breed open and improves the ringside atmosphere.
As far as handling is concerned, model your style and methods on the people who win. In her early days, Zena was determined not to look like a novice in the ring, so practised hard before making her debut. She soon learned that every dog requires a subtly different technique, depending upon its individual personality and on what faults it has to hide and what good points to emphasize. What did take time was to learn what all the dog terms and abbreviations meant – she pretended to be an expert but in reality this took ages!
Don’t show your dogs when they are not in condition. As her show critiques indicate, Zena likes to see dogs with plenty of muscle tone; it surprises her how few judges take note of this. Take your dog into the ring before judging so it will get used to the various ring surfaces.
With a wire-haired breed she find every’s dog’s coat is different. Some, the pinwire variety, will last all year with scarcely any trimming; others need to be attended to constantly.
Dedication, day in, day out, is essential for running a successful kennel. Don’t leave the management in anyone else’s hands, it’s up to you to notice when anything is slightly amiss. Currently Zena does all the work except when she is away.
Any long-term successful breeder has their disasters; Zena’s worst experience was an outbreak of distemper many years ago when many puppies were lost, though the vaccinated adults survived. By and large, though, she is convinced that you make your own luck, and she has no time for moaners.4 SELECTION
Some breeders claim to be able to pick the best puppy in the litter while they are still wet and never change their mind. Not Zena. “Never choose your puppies too soon,” she says, certainly not before eight weeks, though you can tell a great deal about conformation and balance from looking at pups from above as they eat.
In some ways this gets harder as the years progress for as the line develops through years of line-breeding, the puppies become more even and it is not so easy to select the best one, whereas in earlier days the best tended to stand away from the rest. Now, after 17 generations, she has to run on puppies for longer than ever to make sure she keeps the best.
Zena can keep a relatively large kennel, something like 20 Min Wires, though she had rather more in the days when she kept both breeds. However she reckons that one ought to be able to keep a successful line going with as few as ten.
One of the biggest danger for any breeder is to become ‘over-dogged’. It is so easily done. “Don’t be sentimental,” says Zena. “As long as you are sure they will have at least as good a life as they did with you, by and large they will forget you in a matter of weeks.” If they have done you well, why not let them live out their lives in luxury on someone’s sofa?
She admits that she first went into Dachshunds in the hope of being able to cover the great cost of keeping a kennel of Wolfhounds. With small litters and their share of whelping problems, this quickly proved a vain hope.
Puppy sales will never cover the cost of maintaining a show kennel, so occasionally Zena will sell one of her champions abroad, preferring to make one significant sale rather than churn out lots of puppies. Make sure any homes overseas come well recommended and that the dog will not spend its life caged.
Sometimes an overseas buyer will want to improve on a specific point in his line, something which you as seller should bear in mind. Also remember that different countries have different priorities and sometimes different Standards, so there’s little point in selling, for example, a dog with incomplete dentition to some parts of Europe.
Opportunities for exchange of dogs are now greater under the pet travel scheme. In the past, in quarantine days, Zena had back for a while one of her best dogs, Ch Drakesleat Talk Over, after he had spent time abroad, and he proved his worth at stud before returning to his owner. Last year a Japanese dog of all Drakesleat lines, Ch Drakesleat JP Baro Trier, came over from Japan and was top Min Wire.
Breeding terms can have their place. Although over the years Zena has had quite a few of these which haven’t worked, sometimes they have, a classic example being the mating which produced Ch Terripixa Drakesleat – and no one needs to be told who chose that one from the litter.
“You must be careful and write everything down, otherwise it’s the easiest way to lose your friends!” she says.
In conclusion, let me quote from an article by Zena on ‘How to build up a strain’, published in the Dachshund Club Handbook and in DOG WORLD ANNUAL: “Don’t expect to get everything you want in the first generation. You may, but it will be more luck than anything if you do. It will take several generations to do this consistently and remember the breeders of your selected dogs and bitches will have had more to do with your first few litters than you can take credit for.
“When you mate your own homebred champion to your own homebred champion bitch and produce a champion, you can truly call yourself a breeder with your ‘own’ strain.”