Fri, 04/19/2024 - 8:25pm

Brainstorming With the Master Breeders

A packed hall in Britain assembled to hear this trio's wise words

Many people within the sport seem to be of the opinion that, while the new generation are keen to become successful exhibitors, handlers and judges, there is little interest shown in developing as BREEDERS. If this were true, we would be facing huge problems, as it is the dedicated purebred breeders who provide the foundation of our sport.

After conversations with my good friend Mike Wildman, creator of Burton Village Ringcraft, with which I have been involved as a trainer for the past three years, we felt that this was rather a pessimistic viewpoint, as we genuinely believed that there is still a huge thirst for knowledge among exhibitors who wish to develop a serious breeding program.

The profile of the average breeder has of course changed as the world’s economy has. In the U.K., for example, very few people have the resources to maintain large kennels with accompanying staff, and so the vast majority of successful breeders (in the context of winning consistently at the highest level at dog shows) tend to live in relatively modest properties with seldom more than a dozen dogs. That said, many of them have managed to develop a clearly identifiable look in their dogs through judicious linebreeding and cooperation with other like-minded and trusted breeders.

So Mike and I decided to test the water, discussing getting together a small panel of Master Breeders and making their knowledge and experience available to our members at BVR. We looked at various options and decided we needed a small panel covering as wide a cross section of breeds as possible, drawn from people who have not only been successful in the show ring with homebred stock but have been prepared to let quality dogs go to other owners with whom they have great success.

It didn’t take long to come up with what we considered a dream panel, a trio of totally credible dog people who are widely respected and have vast experience and success as breeders. It took a while for us to come up with a convenient date for all three (each of whom accepted our invitation without hesitation), but we got there in the end.

We advertised the event in January, and within 24 hours of my placing an announcement on Facebook we were sold out. There was huge interest countrywide but also we had many enthusiasts from overseas asking if we could record the event, as they obviously anticipated its potential. Consequently, we arranged for a video to be produced covering the entire evening.

So on a Thursday evening in March, we welcomed an audience of 60 to the village hall where we hold our training classes for BRAINSTORMING WITH THE MASTER BREEDERS.

Our guest speakers, and the reason for such a great response, were Lesley Crawley, Tan Nagrecha and Sandy Platt.


Guest speakers Sandy Platt, Tan Nagrecha and Lesley Crawley.


Lesley is a third-generation breeder and now the sole owner of the Ragus kennel, which has been so phenomenally successful with Norwich Terriers but also made its mark with Norfolk and Border terriers. Her late mother, Marjorie Bunting, was a force of nature and a prolific writer on all canine matters. Lesley is known to be a most generous mentor and has provided foundation stock for so many emerging breeders who have justified her faith in them. She is a visionary and has in recent years cooperated with several equally passionate Norwich breeders overseas to great effect.

It would be no exaggeration to say that Tan Nagrecha has single-handedly brought St. Bernards to a totally new level in the U.K. show ring through his natural ability as an intuitive breeder, his flair as a handler and his impeccable conditioning and presentation. His Chandlimore kennel has broken all records, he has also been highly successful with Pyrenean Mountain Dogs and is now throwing himself with great enthusiasm into a Jack Russell Terrier breeding program.

The Charbonnel (English) Cocker Spaniels of Sandy Platt have been consistently successful for many decades, and Sandy too has been a great mentor to so many younger enthusiasts (one of which is our own Mike Wildman). She has also dedicated herself to the careful breeding of outstanding German Shepherd Dogs, Deerhounds and Petit Bassets Griffon Vendeen.

So we had three people who could speak about their experiences with a wide cross section of breeds.


A packed hall hung on every word!


At 7.30 p.m. we sat down, and these were just some of the questions I asked:

• When someone makes the decision to breed seriously, what would be your advice to someone in that situation as regards research and going about finding a suitable bitch to start with?

• Is it important that your foundation bitch is top show quality, or is pedigree more important?

• When looking for a stud dog for the foundation bitch, how should the new breeder assess their bitch and establish the best possible stud dog for her?

• What are your thoughts on linebreeding and outcrossing? Are there any particular combinations that have worked well for you?

• Do you favor paying an outright stud fee or having other arrangements with the stud dog’s owner?

• Do you routinely scan your bitches to confirm pregnancy?

• How do you treat your bitches when in whelp? Exercise? Feeding?

• When the due date approaches, how do you monitor your bitch? When she starts, please talk us through the actual whelping procedure.

• Let’s talk about weaning and puppy rearing — what works for you?

• It’s time to select your keeper puppy. Are you monitoring the litter constantly? At what age do you make your decision? Is it different with the giant breeds?

• When selling puppies, how do you vet potential buyers and do you have a sales contract? Do you ever sell bitches on breeding terms and, if so, how does that work?

• When keeping puppies, is it important just to focus on bitches, or should puppies be retained regardless of their sex, just based on quality?

• If you had to give just one “nugget” of wisdom to a breeder just starting out, what would it be?

Throughout the evening you could hear a pin drop, so attentive was the audience. Midway through the evening we broke for a hot supper that went down a treat and then continued until close to 11 p.m. My original plan was to offer the audience a Questions & Answers session afterward, but we simply didn’t have the time. This prompted the suggestion that we might consider a Brains Trust evening at a later date that will consist entirely of questions from the audience.

Not all our great breeders write books, and there is so much knowledge out there that needs to be passed on. Events such as this give the breeders of the future so much of value on which they can build.



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