LYNN -- How did you get started in Danes?
RAY -- During my teenage years, I showed horses – hunters and jumpers. At the shows, I used to see a boy, about my age, who had a black Great Dane bitch named Tara. I admired her so and thought she was beautiful and elegant.
Sometime later I met a couple who were showing quarter horses and we became good friends. The wife in this couple, Janet Troxel, bred Saint Bernards. As my friendship with Janet developed, I found myself becoming more interested in her dog activities. I liked the Saints but really didn’t identify with the breed personally. I had never been to a dog show and it wasn’t until sometime later that I began to entertain the idea of breeding dogs.
Somewhere along the way, I had seen a movie that had a harlequin Great Dane in it. I liked that dog a lot.
As time went on, my friend Janet and I began to spend more and more time talking about dogs, until one day I decided, "I think I will become a breeder of Great Danes – harlequins."
I recalled seeing a sign on the highway that said "Lindi-Dane Kennel," so I went there to find out something about this breed. The kennel was owned by Bob and Jeanne Sangster. After visiting a few times, discussing dogs, etc., I was ready to buy my harlequin. Well, as it happened, I bought a 2-1/2 year old black bitch and a 13 month old brindle bitch.
That first night I was a little overwhelmed by these two adult bitches – to say the least. Never even having held a Great Dane on a leash, I found myself with two grown bitches to manage. It was exciting, but I must admit I was a little nervous.
There was a small house on the property of a stable in Kenosha, Wisconsin, I had already rented and had prepared by buying two large chain link dog runs. It was there I began to be a breeder of Great Danes. I’m not kidding – that’s how it was. It was July 1967 and I was 23.
In the beginning, I had poor guidance that probably set me back years, but somehow, at least, I had the sense to breed to good dogs. For the first breeding I took my black bitch to Kentucky and bred her to "Ch. Harpie Von Meistersinger." She missed. When I sent her back during her next season, she was bred to the German import "Ch. Rocco Von Henneburg," and I had my harlequin pups.
In the meantime, I bought more bitches, bred more litters, etc., even did a fawn-black mix color breeding, all just sort of a pointless effort. I wanted good dogs, but with poor guidance and no concepts, I made all the mistakes of others and then many, many more.
One day I bred my Tamanaco daughter, the original brindle bitch, to a fine dog named "Ch. Evanger’s Noble of Keppen." She did not conceive.
I had been entering dog shows from the beginning, had been placing in the classes, and even some of the dogs I had bred began to win classes. So, I stumbled blindly through those beginning times, until in 1969 I got my first high quality show dog. After being basically unhappy with the results of my breeding so far, I decided to stop fooling around. So, one day a girl named Denise Tracy and I flew to Kentucky and she bought me a beautiful 6 month old harlequin dog named "Romeo Von Meistersinger" from Toni Pratt. Now, this was a dog with a truly respectable name and heritage. As I began showing Romeo, he proved to be competitive, and, for the first time, it felt right. One day he was Reserve Winners Dog at Daneorama and shortly after won a five point major at Hoosier Great Dane Club under Mary Johnston. Romeo had a wonderful personality and was a devoted companion.
LYNN – Did you finish him?
RAY – No. He finished, but not with me.
One night a good friend, Anthony Sheridan, and I went to breed a bitch we co-owned together, one of my less than mediocre fawn bitches typical of what I had at that time, to a nice young dog who had done some impressive winning. His name was "Ch. Waco’s Faro of Apollo."
When we arrived at his owner’s home, by coincidence they had guests, and the guests were Gloria Keppen, Jean Fowler, and Hazel Gregory, who until then, I had never met. I immediately became more ashamed of my bitch and wondered why we were here putting ourselves through this ordeal. "Couldn’t we just leave her in the car and go home?" I recall thinking.
Previously when I had seen the pedigree of the "Noble" dog I mentioned earlier, I realized that he and his pedigree were very, very different from the pedigrees and dogs of the people I had been dealing with. His sire was "Ch. Dinro Taboo," his dam "Ch. Vanda Von Riesenhof."
Now here, sitting in this house, just happened to be Gloria Keppen who bred Noble, and Hazel Gregory who bred his whole mother’s pedigree. This was getting serious. After barely surviving the unveiling of my bitch, I listened to them talk and learned that the third lady, Jean Fowler, had recently purchased a dog from Hazel Gregory named "Von Riesenhof’s The Boss." She bought him as a puppy, but now he was about 12 months old.
I had tried to find a Von Riesenhof dog after the unsuccessful breeding to Noble, but there were none in the Midwest at the time. Since we had come to breed to the other dog, we did that breeding, but inside my mind the excitement was about the new acquaintances I had made and the new information I had learned. Now that I knew where this real dog was, next time I would take my best bitch and breed her to him. So, that’s what I did. I bred "Cinderama III of Lindi-Dane," the original brindle bitch, to the young "Boss."
Cindy was a daughter of "Ch. Nandame’s Tamanaco." In hindsight, I realize that I underestimated the value the Tamanaco influence played in the development of my earlier dogs.
So, on February 2, 1970, I had the best litter produced to that point, and "The Hustler" was born. I loved that puppy dog. And also there was a beautiful fawn puppy bitch, but I made a regrettable mistake with her. It was during the "hip dysplasia craze." I call it that because what seems to periodically happen in our breed is that from seemingly nowhere, we suddenly had an epidemic of some new problem that is cropping up – wobblers, dysplasia, and everybody was talking about it.
I began to take my puppies to a very reputable research veterinarian in the field to have them palpated to see if they had hip dysplasia. At any rate, this beautiful bitch palpated dysplastic at 7 weeks, so I had her put to sleep. Fortunately, for me, the baby Hustler palpated normal, or I probably wouldn’t be sitting here in your living room today giving this interview.
"The Hustler" was the first good dog I had bred. I had Romeo, whom I loved and respected, who was a good dog, too. But as "The Hustler" began to grow up, from the response of others who knew far more than myself, it was becoming evident that he might be extraordinary. He won ten consecutive puppy classes. It sounds funny to speak of winning puppy classes now, but it was important to me at the time. Never was I able to stay on him in Winners because Romeo usually won the Open Harlequin Class, too. After the puppy classes, this would become a more serious problem, especially according to Jean Fowler and Gloria Keppen.
After a lot of difficult and agonizing evaluating, I decided I should sell Romeo. It was not an easy thing for me to do, but I did sell him to a wonderful home. I sold him to Ann Willard of Dallas, Texas, and Hazel Gregory. Hazel finished Romeo fast and eventually went on to win an All Breed Best In Show. Romeo lived a long and healthy life with Ann Willard and I never regretted the decision.
Well, "The Hustler" finished from the Bred By Exhibitor Class in a total of seven shows at 18 months.
International K.C., 4 points, Len Carey
Chain O Lakes K.C., 4 points, Donald Booxbaum
Waukesha K.C., 2 points, Maxwell Riddle
And, at 18 months, The Great Dane Club of Milwaukee, 5 points, J. Council Parker.
This record was a direct result of the knowledgeable guidance I got from Gloria Keppen and Jean Fowler. That was the beginning of some of my best times in dogs. Gloria, Jean, Steve Cochran and I had more fun than I could ever describe, and it left memories to enjoy and cherish forever. Plus, I had this good dog.
LYNN – It always helps to have a good dog.
RAY – From then on, everything was completely different. Things began to make sense and there was some logic to it.
People began to express interest in my young dog. There were impressive offers, even by today’s standards, from prominent people in the breed.
I remember sitting in an airport with Hazel Gregory, she trying to explain that this was an important moment in time for me and it required my careful and correct handling and that I could not afford to make a mistake. It was an inspiring talk that I will always remember.
Lina Basquette had made quite a fuss over him, also. She encouraged me and said she loved the dog, even though she would be a competitor.
In January 1972 Steve and I went on the Florida circuit. Boy, it was competitive – about twenty Specials and only one other owner-handler besides myself. They were all top contenders: Lina with Thumper, the Johnstons with Akobie, the gorgeous Ch. Broadway’s Annie Oakley, Ch. Del Rado’s Canis Major, on and on. Most Specials won no breeds on that circuit and none won more than two, including us. "The Hustler" won at Brandenton and Miami, and again, at the time it really was something special to me. We had done as well as the best, with the best.
As things went on, I began to think, "Oh, no, I hope I don’t have to sell this dog, too." I didn’t have money to campaign a special. People were telling me he deserved more than I could do for him.
In the meantime, I had met Gloria Morey and we became friends. To make a long story short, we worked out an arrangement where they would campaign the dog if he were sent to California. So, I did it. We signed a contract stating we would co-own him during that time and I would get him back after his show career was over. So, he’d be specialed and then I would get my dog back. "The Hustler" was sent to the Rodwells (Doug and Sylvia). He had some nice wins out here, including the Great Dane Club of California Specialty, and it gave a real challenge to my future in dogs. The rest is history."
LYNN – Let’s finish "The Hustler" story.
RAY – Well, there were two other fine dogs here already doing some impressive winning. They were "Ch. Tallbrook’s Dapper Dan" and "Ch. Jocopa’s Treble Maximus."
Those California days were difficult for me. It was highly competitive here and some of the people were tough. We sent a dog with no one to defend him. Before he left for California, I had heard mostly good, but after he left I heard mostly the worst. It was confusing and, of course, I was naïve. In some ways, I’ve always felt some guilt for the decision I made.
Anyway, he started with Doug Rodwell in June 1972 and finished second in the country for the year to "Ch. Heidere’s Kolyer’s Kimbayh" with Lina. The Rodwells divorced and Moreys chose Sylvia to handle him from then on. (She wasn’t known for specialing any dogs at the time." He did some nice winning but stories started coming back that he was limping. There was nothing I could do but bear it. It had become a difficult and frustrating experience.
Moreys then brought him back. I remember seeing him again for that first time after he came home. I don’t know what I expected, but he looked beautiful. I showed him one time after that at Lake Shore Great Dane Club, then never showed him again. He was still young but that was it. He was our dog for the rest of his life.
LYNN – How long did he live?
RAY – Eight years. He died on March 1, 1978, at just past eight years old. He had a rather mild case of bloat, no torsion. At this age, I would allow no surgery. He had lived normally to the last hour of life, and I never regretted my decision to put him to sleep.
LYNN – Was he used much as a stud dog?
RAY -- There were a fair amount of bitches bred to him. The funny thing is, we never bred to him ourselves. Everything was different then. I didn’t have the broad field of quality bitches I have now. Steve and I have wished we’d done more for him in that department. We each only finished one champion sired by him. Steve handled "Ch. Windane’s Zephyr" owned by the Ryans and I handled "Ch. E. Frazier Keppen of Tamerlane" owned by Gloria Keppen. He sired about 14 champions, four of which became All-Breed Best In Show winners.
Some of his offspring went on to become outstanding producers in their own right. "Zephyr" has sired about 26 champions so far; "Ch. Honey Lane’s Rave Review" having sired around 10 or 12 so far; and "Ch. Dagon’s I’m Pixie" is the dam of quite a few champions, too. Others who weren’t finished themselves produced champions, also.
During those years, Steve and I were handling mostly offspring sired by "The Boss." We finished quite a few of his early champion get and put many points on many others, handling about 10 or 12 of his 25 champions at some point.
LYNN – You’ve talked about Steve Cochran already. At what point had you met him?
RAY – I met Steve in 1969. He had never been in dogs before but his wife and I had been friends before they were married. From then on we bred dogs together. We showed our own dogs and for a long time, bred on a relatively small scale. We finished them from the "Bred By" class and really did great together.
As we learned, we began to do better breedings and a foundation was starting to form. Basically, we were crossing the Von Riesenhof bloodline with individuals who had Tamanaco close up on their pedigrees.
One of the most successful breeding resulted from breeding a "Hustler" daughter to "Ch. Woodland Dane’s Ding Dong," then owned by the Johnsons of Shreveport, La. It produced one of the best we had ever produced, "Ch. Rojon’s Please Me." "Please Me" won a five-point major from the puppy class and was finished from "Bred By" She was sold to Jean Fowler. She may have been as good as I’ve ever seen. Also from that litter came one of my personal favorites, "Rojon’s Daiquiri O Mango." I shall never forget her. Ironically, she never finished. Steve says now that I had some weird thing about her and that I showed her only to certain judges and only at certain shows. When I showed her, she inspired me as much as any dog I have ever handled. To me she was no less than a sensation. Also from that litter came "Ch. Rojon’s Dingus Khan of Tomike" owned by Katherine Cato. He also sired some champions.
All of our early dogs and most of our dogs today seem to finish with all or mostly majors. We’ve always done well at majors and specialties. Today I show almost exclusively at majors. There’s no rule about it, we just usually only enter majors, especially me. I really like the fancy shows.
LYNN – Do you each play a specific part in your partnership in dogs?
RAY – In the beginning we did everything pretty much together, bred together and handled our own dogs, but as time went on, Steve decided he really wanted to become a professional handler and he wanted to learn the right way.
There are a lot of people who have the ability to set up the dog, but there is so much more to it than that. A professional should conduct himself in a professional manner. People are entitled to that when they pay for professional service. It’s sort of like the woman who can serve a great meal to houseguests, but that doesn’t necessarily mean she could be a chef in a fine restaurant.
At any rate, he began to work for an all breed handler. I suppose this was really the beginning of our developing separate personal goals. So, for three years Steve worked for Doug McClain, a noted all breed handler and terrier expert. Subsequently he got his license to handle several terrier breeds as well as Great Danes and some others. The day he received his handler’s license, he signed off all our dogs. He had made the decision to be a professional handler, would handle anyone’s dog, of any color, from any breeding, and did not want there to appear to be a conflict of interests. At that time I tried to handle only dogs from my breeding.
I stayed primarily a breeder and he became a professional handler. Steve didn’t mind going to show after show, weekend after weekend. That is difficult for me to do. So, it worked out well. We balanced each other and worked together. He did then, and still does today, contribute tremendously behind the scenes to my dogs and to my breeding program and I feel I have reciprocated by contributing to his handling career. We exchange ideas and each has a high regard for the other’s opinion. At dog shows we’re a synchronized team. I suppose it comes from working together for such a long time, and, after all, we grew up in dogs together. But, at this point, he thinks in terms of a handler and I as a breeder and from my point of view, I sometimes think he has been the Rojon advantage.
Now I even show some dogs that are not from my breeding. It’s fun and it also keeps the public, as well as some judges, from developing too strong of a preconceived idea of what is going on or what we will be showing, and it keeps them looking at the dogs.
LYNN – Who else have you worked with?
RAY – Another person who has contributed unconditionally to my breeding program, as well as becoming a valued and loyal friend, is Faye Ringhand of Milwaukee, Wi. She has been there through thick and thin, in joy and in heartache, for several years now.
LYNN – How did you meet Faye?
RAY – Faye owned a fine dog named "Ch. Furylane’s Romeo," who was bred by the Denios. Shortly after he finished, I bred Daiquiri to him. Romeo was a strong moving, well-muscled square dog. One day Faye called to inquire about one of us handling him as a special. Then she came over to discuss the idea. I remember the night well. To everything we would say, Faye would respond "Oh, boy, this is going to be a lot of fun!" If she said it once, she said it ten times. After she left, I looked at Steve and said, "I sure hope this is going to be as much fun as she thinks it is." (Laughter)
Well, Steve specialed Romeo and he went on to become a multiple group and specialty winner.
As time went on, our friendship grew closer and on one Valentine’s Day I gave Faye "Flower," "Ch. Rojon’s Sunflower." She was a daughter of Romeo and Daiquiri. Flower finished from Bred By with a good record. We then bred her to Ch. Windane’s Zephyr, which produced Ch. Rojon’s Rachel Rachel. Rachel was also special to us and is one of the best bitches I have ever bred. Sometimes I forget just how good she is until she comes to stay at my house for awhile.
LYNN – Didn’t she finish rather young?
RAY – Yes, and won two group firsts from the Puppy Class; one from 6 to 9 and one from 9 to 12. She finished at 12 months and five days old with back to back majors from Bred By, giving her a total of four majors.
During that time Faye bought a pretty fawn puppy named "Honey Lane’s Lolli Pop" from Donna Crane. She was sired by "Romeo" out of "Ch. Honey Lane’s One More Time." After Steve finished Lolli, Faye and I co-owned her and bred her to "Ch. Rojon’s Captain Fowler." The result was four more champions, including "Ch. Rojon’s Doctor Ly," who won the national futurity at Westchester in 1981. He and his litter sister, "Ch. Rojon’s Carmel Crème," are owned by the Werners. Also from that breeding is "Ch. Rojon’s All That Jazz" owned by the Hughes and "Ch. Rojon’s Emily of Janik" owned by Nikki Riggsbee.
Faye does so many things I can’t begin to tell you all of them. One valuable but not so glamorous task she performs is all the secretarial work so important to any organization like this. She’s just always there when I need her and we’ve had some of the best times together.
LYNN – How do you feel the breed has progressed or regressed in the past 15 years?
RAY – Gradual improvement should take place. After all, we have some advantages today due to science and modern technology, such as, better veterinary and health care, better medicine, dog food, transportation, photography, publications, etc. I think the breed continues to make a steady general improvement at a very slow rate of speed. There certainly were some great dogs in the past; there are some great dogs today; and there will be more in the future.
Quality in the breed seems to run in peaks and valleys and also different geographic locations rate differently at times, depending on who’s breeding a lot and what leadership sort of "sets the pace."
We also have this great new advantage that has been a reality for several years now, the GDCA Regional Specialty. Personally I feel it is the single best thing that has happened in the breed since I’ve been in dogs. It affords us an opportunity to witness a blending of dogs as no other show in the country. This is paralleled to the opportunities after judging each day, to meet, enjoy, and have in-depth conversation with people whom you might never otherwise have the good fortune of meeting. For me, it has an inspiring experience every time I have attended.
Today it seems that more good dogs come from people who aren’t necessarily famous. This proves that more and more people are progressing and really producing quality individuals. Before, good people were often repressed by some elitists who tried to succeed by holding others back. Different forms of intimidation were often exercised. Today, you must produce. Talk alone just doesn’t cut it and perpetuated intimidation is the best way to make a fool of yourself. People don’t want to hear how good you or your dog are, they want to see it. Today, for sure, deeds speak louder than words. More people have demonstrated a sincere and intelligent approach. They are more aware and more objective than ever before.
I also believe that people from many different walks of life can succeed in dogs, regardless of their financial condition, locality, etc., if they have the talent, some patience, and are smart enough to develop it. It’s as simple as that.
LYNN – In what two or three areas do you feel people are lacking in knowledge of the Great Danes?
RAY – Of course, we must always insure the ability for people in our breed to understand the importance of breed type – the difference between breed type and bloodline style.
People must also understand the importance of the aesthetic flow of the "line of the dog." This means how one piece connects to the other; the smoothness and symmetry of the dog’s parts and how they fit together; the arches and the angles. There should be nothing rigid, nothing bunched up, only a smooth flowing line from tip of nose to tip of tail. Each piece should have beauty unique to itself as well as making a contribution to the all over beauty and symmetry of the total.
And, in my opinion one of the most underdeveloped areas of Great Dane knowledge is their gait. It is extremely difficult to learn correct gait watching only our breed. It would behoove people, even some people who have attained a notable degree of success, to watch and study some other breeds, such as Salukis, Boxers, some Setters, Spaniels, etc. Observation in other breeds can help develop the ability to understand proper function of the dog in motion.
LYNN – It seems to me that in any particular breed, not just Great Danes, people continue to show what you think is a really mediocre dog and they go on and on for years doing that instead of facing reality. Why do they do that? They see the dogs that continue to come to the top. Why don’t they call the breeder who breeds those particular dogs? Why don’t they give their dog to a good pet home and buy a high quality dog to show?
RAY – First of all, I don’t think all people have the same goals. Secondly, I don’t think all people have the same self image. Some simply don’t see themselves as winners. There are also those who go on trying to "prove you wrong." It seems they would rather go on unsuccessfully than do it by what they see as "your way." Some are so afraid of losing their own identify that they shy away from a breeder of reputation because they seem to be blinded by the idea that they will only contribute to this monster that is always beating them instead of realizing that it could be the fastest way to make their own personal gain. By having this mistaken idea, they actually prevent themselves from achieving the personal success they so desperately desire. The funny thing is, a notable breeder has already earned his own recognition. He is the very one who is in a position to help others fulfill their own goals.
The saddest are those who are afraid to go to a successful breeder or handler because they are afraid of using that final option and then still failing. In some cases, as a self-defense mechanism, some people find it easier to claim that the recognizable faces in the breed win because of who they are, of course, overlooking the high quality animals those people are continually exhibiting. I suppose, for some, it is easier to discredit others than it is to admit making wrong choices or inadequacies in one’s self. One of the most difficult positions a top breeder or handler is occasionally confronted with is having someone come with their heart in their hand, humbly admitting their defeat and say, "We love the breed, but it seems everything we’ve done so far has failed. We’ll do whatever you say. Many others have achieved success with you. Can you help us?’
The compassion you feel in this situation and the responsibility of taking on the task are almost overwhelming. If you had a magic formula, surely you would give it to this person. But, as you see, there is none. In dogs, there are no promises. Anyone who promises anything is someone to stay away from. But some people offer better odds. After you buy your high quality dog, you still must do all the things you did before to help him become a success, but your chances are better. You can’t just come to me or any other breeder, buy a good dog, and expect to run to the front of the line. You still must make success a reality, but maybe this time it can be done. I’m not saying people misrepresent their puppies – there just seems to be so much "wishful thinking."
LYNN – When you sell a puppy to someone, do you ordinarily take on the handling of that puppy?
RAY – No. When I sell a dog, the person gives me their money and I give them my dog. The money becomes mine and the dog becomes theirs. I don’t try to take the money and keep the dog. Of course I have an interest in the dog. I give the best information I can, but it is their dog.
With me, there are no contracts, no strings, and no conditions. I will give advice, do anything possible to help insure success, but the new owner makes the ultimate decisions. Long, complicated contracts and conditions set a predisposition for a hostile relationship. This includes whomever the new owners wants to have handle the dog. In fact, I’ve encouraged people to go to other handlers. I’ve sold dogs to many parts of the country and often suggested handlers in those respective areas who I feel are fair and would contribute to a successful outcome.
We never ask to handle any dog. At times it seems we are showing a lot of my breeding, but there is no rule, especially where Steve is concerned. One other thing I might add, and I am especially proud of the fact, is that many people who have bought dogs from me have owner handled that dog to its championship and farther. It still proves that a good dog, presented well, will win its share of the time.
On the other hand, occasionally a handler calls or comes with a client to buy a dog. As a breeder, it’s flattering and I regard it as an honor.
When local people ask who to have handle, I often suggest myself or Steve, but, believe me, Steve doesn’t always have an opening, and even sometimes actually complains "People are beginning to think I show only Rojons." The nerve (laughter). The handling business has always been separate from the breeding.
LYNN – How do you handle your stud dogs?
RAY – I’ve kept only two males since I’ve been breeding dogs; "The Hustler," of course, and the dog I have now, "Boy," "Ch. Rojon’s Oh Boy V Mecca Dane."
The stud dog is really a unique individual. For me to keep a male dog, he has to be a great dog. He must possess qualities I can get nowhere else. The reason some stud dogs are used over and over is because after people give a great deal of thought as to who is best to breed their precious bitches to, many decide on that same certain dog. Making a correct selection is not an easy task. There’s a saying, "You can rate a stud dog by the company he keeps," and there’s some truth to it. When many knowledgeable people are selecting the same dog to breed their best bitches to, you should at least objectively consider him when it comes to your own bitches. The dogs that are selected over and over are used because people believe that dog offers that best chance for a successful result.
Occasionally there is the rare, pre-potent stud dog. I don’t think you can actually plan to produce these extraordinary individuals because there doesn’t seem to be a scientific reason why they occur. But when you see one, if you like him, you’d better breed to him, but if you don’t like him, you’d better not.
When selecting a stud dog for my own breeding, it seems I’ve often liked breeding to young new dogs. I’m not so influenced by what a dog has produced with other people’s bitches to determine whether he could contribute to my breeding program. Only in some instances, I will notice a strong pattern of a particular fault, especially if it falls into the breed’s endangered parts area (neck placement, croup, color, upper arm, eye shape).
We have produced the first champions of so many dogs who have gone on to become well-known producers like "The Boss," "Ding Dong," "Simba," "Furylane’s Romeo," "Daneaura’s Hunter," "Rojon’s Captain Fowler," "Honey Lane’s Rave Review," and, of course, "Boy."
LYNN – Do you ever reject bitches who come to be bred?
RAY – I would only do this if the bitch were of such inferior quality that she shouldn’t be bred. Really, I don’t get that type of inquiry. If it’s a high quality bitch, as for my opinion of the breeding, I try to keep it to myself. The owner of the bitch is the breeder of the litter. Just as I wouldn’t want the owner of a stud dog I have chosen to suggest another dog he thinks would be a better choice. I don’t do that to those who choose my dog to breed to. The breeder of the litter is entitled to the credit or criticism for his work. He will be the one who grades and sells the pups as show prospects and those pups will bear his name. The stud dog owner should not try to be the breeder of another person’s litter.
LYNN – About how many litters do you have in a year?
RAY – From the time I began to breed quality dogs, about 1970 to 1978, I didn’t do as much breeding as I do now. We showed only one or two dogs at a show. But since about 1979, after Faye entered the picture, I began to do more breeding. It has gradually increased to the present level. At the end of 1983 I had a lot of pups at the same time, but then in 1984 I had only one small litter. It seems to run like that.
There was a time when some people tried to pass negative judgment on those who produced more than one or two litters a year, sort of trying to appear self-righteous. In most breeds successful breeders breed dogs. It’s not frowned upon. In fact, they are often regarded as leaders in their respective breeds. I will never apologize for breeding high quality Great Danes. You must produce numerous individuals to accomplish the task of producing and maintaining a contributing "bloodline." At the same time you must demonstrate a responsibility to each of those dogs you produce. I think I have.
To answer the question, I’m at the highest rate ever now, averaging about three or four litters a year. Sometimes it seems like more because, as my bloodline progresses, I have been fortunate to have several multiple champion litters. At this point I have more individuals from one litter in the ring than some of the other breeders do, so it seems like there are more litters. But if you counted, I think it’s about four a year. Believe me, that’s all I can handle. It’s tremendous work.
LYNN -- Do you give any guarantees with the dogs you sell?
RAY – I do not refund money. But, yes, I replace dogs, whether show prospects or pets, for various reasons.
If a show prospect simply doesn’t live up to its potential, I will replace that dog. It is often emotionally a very difficult and sensitive situation, but I try to handle it as best as I can for the welfare of the dog, the feelings of the owner, and my reputation for being fair. Occasionally I want to replace a dog when the owner doesn’t want to give up yet, and that’s a difficult situation also.
If any dog I sell develops a disabling genetic disorder or a serious health problem as a young dog, of course I will replace it. But, yes, I have replaced dogs, for sure.
LYNN – Give me some of your thoughts on the health of dogs and your feeding methods.
RAY – Through all the wonderful experiences we enjoy with our dogs, so are there those times of difficulty, frustration and heartache when they become affected by sickness, disease or injury. Each breed seems to have a set of problems unique unto itself. Danes are susceptible to bloat, wobblers, several different osteo disorders, heart problems, meg-esophagus, etc.
Some of the problems are genetic, some are not, and some research hasn’t proven one way or the other. Nevertheless, they occur. When someone who has bought a puppy from you calls with a problem, usually they are calling for help. They naturally assume you are more experienced than they are, and having bought from a reputable breeder in the first place, it is nice when that breeder shows some compassion for the person and dog in distress. In many cases things that seem to be a matter of life or death to the novice, a few understanding words of wisdom from the experienced breeder can make all the difference in the world, not to mention the real help it may offer the dog. It might be suggesting a vet who is a specialist in a certain field.
It is important not to automatically presume that the caller is calling to place blame, and equally important that the breeder doesn’t try to blame the new owner. Placing blame doesn’t help the dog. It is often just looking for an excuse. When these problems occur, it usually is not an indictment on a particular bloodline, or even on a particular dog. These problems are in the breed. The longer you are in it, the more problems you will experience. All you can do is to gather knowledge on the subject, evaluate it, and deal with the particular situation as a responsible adult. See if there are steps you can take to avoid it in the future and go on.
Just as your experience sometimes makes it possible to help correct some problems, it is also your responsibility as a breeder to tell a new owner the truth when your experience allows you to know that a particular problem is very serious. Difficult as it is, you must tell the new owner the truth in this case, too.
As far as feeding goes, for me it is very simple. I begin weaning puppies at about three-and-a-half weeks to four-and-a-half weeks of age on to Canine Science Diet Growth, feeding four times a day. Then at 7 weeks, I reduce the feedings to twice a day. At approximately four months of age, I gradually change the Science Diet to Ken-L-Biskit soaked in warm water. No meat and no supplements ever. That’s it. Oh, yes, everybody looks forward to milk bones at bedtime.
I think it’s better for the dog to grow slowly rather than rapidly. Manufacturers of dog food today employ brilliant scientists and spend millions of dollars on research to find out exactly the canine’s requirements. Then they fortify their product to ensure this balance. It’s a bad mistake to mess it up. Not only is it a waste of time and money, but it is dangerous and the innocent dog can become the victim.
Some people in our breed have a tendency to show their dogs heavier than I prefer. I like to see the dog look clean and athletic rather than packed down with a lot of excess weight.
LYNN – Let me ask you about ear cropping?
RAY – What about it?
LYNN – I hear you’re the top expert.
RAY – Now, Lynn, where on earth did you hear a thing like that?
It is the responsibility of the people who are breeding those breeds that require specialized attention at an early age to take care of things such as ear cropping, tail docking, dew claw removal, etc. It is not fair to pass off that responsibility to the inexperienced new owner.
Ear cropping doesn’t have to be a horrible experience for the puppy if it is approached intelligently and correctly. There may even be some benefits from the experience. The puppy learns tolerance during the after care.
Whether the ear stands or not has very little to do with the person who cropped it. Whether it is beautiful or not has everything to do with him. The factors involved with the ear standing are: the dog himself, the ear itself, and, of course, most important of all, correct and persistent after-care and taping. In my opinion, a high fashion ear crop enhances the all-over beauty, elegance and majesty of the Great Dane, as well as contributing to a healthier ear for the rest of the dog’s life.
LYNN – A question I didn’t ask you before about breeding. What are your thoughts about inbreeding, line breeding and out crossing?
RAY – I mostly have done line breedings to this point and have done very little inbreeding. Generally speaking, I haven’t noticed a great deal of success resulting from inbreeding. Some people inbreed time after time, but, to me, when I see individuals produced from these pedigrees, often they haven’t a vague resemblance to the dogs they are so inbred on. I have seen pedigrees with Ch. Dinro Taboo fifteen or eighteen times on the pedigree and the results don’t look any more like Dinro Taboo than the man in the moon. Also, I have seen people who get a good dog, then incestuously breed him to all of his offspring with very poor results. Those people aren’t real breeders. If it were that easy, we’d all do just that. There is a place for inbreeding, but it surely is not an instant substitute for a multi-generation breeding plan of success.
If your goal is to produce good show dogs, one method of success may be outcross breeding. Many respected breeders have achieved commendable success using this method of breeding.
If your goal is to establish a bloodline, however, it becomes more complex because you are setting a strict set of conditions that those individuals must live up to. They must look alike and reproduce alike. At that point, when you outcross, a loss you incur can be greater than the gain you were after.
When you are producing a bloodline, you breed the bloodline and the individuals are the yield of the bloodline. It’s like breeding the bush but judging the flowers. When I produced "The Hustler," I felt I had produced a good dog. He didn’t have to be a certain type dog. Now I breed individuals that are also good, but they have to resemble each other. I feel that line breeding generally offers the best method of breeding because you get some benefits of both. Individuals are related and can look similar. I can also obtain a mild effect of the outcross but still keep the distinctive look of my dogs. It has been successful for me and brings me closer to my goals with a minimal amount of risk.
LYNN – What do you think of judging at the shows today? Do you have any comparisons from years ago?
RAY – A judge simply has one job. That is to select the best dogs. To begin, I will admit judging should be better. The difficulty lies in the question: "How does the AKC go about improving it?" This is a very complex problem with no easy solution. There really is no way I can think of to test for competency.
Judging is subjective. Most judges think they at least know their breed. In my view the greatest single problem again is a lack of recognition of breed type. Without the ability to recognize breed type, it is literally impossible to be a competent judge. It simply takes more than deciding which dogs manage to get around the ring okay.
Another problem is placing great emphasis on animation or showmanship. That particular quality has become a priority because it covers up more incorrectness than any other one factor. It simply presents a false picture. Of course everyone likes their dog to show well and look beautiful. I am no different. But it should not be a major factor in the separation of the animals present. Only someone who has a deficiency in knowledge of correctness gives undue priority to animation and showmanship. It simply has no valid relationship to the quality of the individual and of little importance when it comes to reproducing correct structures, movement and breed type.
On the other hand, the idea of expecting perfect judging is naïve. One can’t expect all judging to be perfect until all the dogs we show are perfect.
LYNN – Why do you think there are so many negative comments about judging?
RAY – Look, it’s like going to the movies. Many people like some movies, some people like a few movies, and some movies – well, hardly anybody likes. That’s how it is in dogs. The dog show judge is supposed to determine real excellence of quality, not just to select dogs he enjoys seeing. That’s what the spectators do. It takes more than knowing "what you like," according to what? What background? What knowledge? Along with millions of others I enjoyed the movie "Porkies," but realize the critics didn’t rate it high in artistic or technical value. Whereas "Amadeus" may not have been as popular with the public, I’m sure they believe it has far more merit of excellence. When spectators watch a dog show, they are in a position to watch what they like. To most, it is their hobby. But the judge is there to compare and evaluate excellence according to the technical standpoint of the standard. It is his job to approach it from a little different point of view.
Of course, everyone is entitled to their own opinion. Everyone should own dogs that he likes and everyone is entitled to his own opinion, too. However, there is a lot more to it than a judge just selecting what he likes. A judge has to be able to recognize and evaluate quality, to separate the excellent from the good, the good from the average, the average from the fair, and the fair from the poor. He must be able to separate type from style. A judge must be able to recognize and evaluate levels of soundness and be able to understand the dog in motion. So many who profess the importance of soundness or movement do not reward the animals who are the most sound or the best gaiting anyway. The judge must be able to do all this according to the standard and be able to do it with many dogs under various sets of conditions, for at this point it is far beyond the matter of knowing what he likes.
We should be thankful for the excellent judges who are doing the job weekend after weekend; breeder judges and multiple breed judges alike. But just like there are different levels of quality in dogs, so there are different levels of quality in judging. All you can do is reward those who are excellent by suggesting their names on judges’ committees and by exhibiting your finest animals on those days when they are scheduled to judge. You see, you can separate the judges just as judges separate the dogs – excellent, good, average, fair or poor.
It is sad when becoming a judge has been a cop-out. Once you get the license, you no longer have to produce, you no longer have to compete, and you no longer have to do any of the extreme physical work that goes along with a large breed like Great Danes. You don’t even have to answer to anyone, but you do have to answer to yourself. On occasion I have sat at large specialty shows and wondered just how much money people have spent collectively to present their dogs in competition. Not to mention the great physical effort, mental planning and organizing. You see, you don’t just pay a $15 entry fee, but cumulatively thousands and thousands of dollars, hours of hard work and heartache to finally make these shows a reality, not to mention the work and money a club has paid for the show expenses, including the judge’s fee. It had better be important for that judge to do an excellent job, to feel that he was qualified to accept the challenge in the first place. Bad judging is the greatest rip-off in the sport, not to mention the long-term negative effect it has on the breed we love and work so hard to preserve and improve.
LYNN – So, what you’re saying is that it’s a question of competency and not honesty?
RAY – Yes, but the two are linked together. Honesty begins by applying for your license to judge when you truly believe you are qualified to pass judgment on other people’s dogs; when the experience and knowledge you have gained has elevated you to the position where your judgment becomes an asset to the breed. It continues during the decision-making time whether or not you feel qualified to accept and take on the difficult task of doing a really competent job.
LYNN – What advice would you give beginners?
RAY – The most important thing to do is to learn your dogs, to learn the breed. You have to learn the symmetry of the total dog, and then be able to break the total down into individual parts, and to understand each part as a total within itself. You must develop a picture in your mind of this total and of each part, be able to take it apart and put it back together.
There has to be conversation to learn. It takes time, a lot like school. In the beginning you gather information. You ask and listen, not ask and tell. As you talk to different people, you will begin to learn who knows what they’re talking about and who doesn’t. You should learn from those who came before you, those who can pass down their interpretations and experiences, so when things occur, you will have some basis of how to deal with them.
Study the successes and failures of leaders in the breed. Try to avoid some of their mistakes and pitfalls. Try to determine those who are really successful and try to emulate them.
Be aware of what those around you are doing – positive and negative. Don’t waste time judging them; instead concentrate on weighing the merits of what they have achieved to see how those achievements can be applied to bring you closer to your goals.
When purchasing a dog, for heaven’s sake, get the very best you can possibly afford. Be sure to go to a breeder who has actually sold dogs who have gone on to become champions as well as excellent producers. Many breeders have had great success in the ring, but when you examine the record closely, you can see that the only dogs who ever became champions were owned or handled by them. None or few who were ever sold went on to finish.
Try to start with the benefit of the long term, successful, experience of someone else. Why start from scratch when you don’t have to. Why give yourself a test that is nearly impossible to pass.
LYNN – What do you think it takes to become a successful breeder?
RAY – Becoming a successful breeder involves so many factors. First of all, there are many types of breeders. There are those who occasionally breed for fun and to upgrade the bitch they already own, to see if they can get a pup even better than its mother to show, and maybe never breed again. There are breeders whose goal is to try to produce generation after generation of the best individuals they can who will be competitive at the dog show. There are only a few breeders whose goal is to establish a bloodline, those who are breeding to set a consistent interpretation of the standard on many related individuals, over a long period of time, who will have the ability to reproduce their traits consistently. Any or all of these objectives are good, honest reasons to breed Great Danes, with no single category necessarily better or more noble than the other. They all contribute to the breed as a whole and the only difference is just exactly what the person wants to get out of it for himself; what he wants to achieve; his own particular goal.
As time goes on and after a few good individuals result, you should begin to create some sort of design or blueprint in your mind of what you want your Great Danes to resemble; a picture of what you would expect to be working toward. A breeder will then produce individuals who are a result of that design; the interpretation of correctness according to the technical standpoint of the Great Dane standard. These dogs must be aesthetically beautiful, as well as physically and mentally sound.
One cannot just be able to talk theory, but the real breeder must produce results. He should develop a philosophy as well as the reality of the individuals born. It helps to have a basic understanding of other breeders’ philosophies and to be able to meet in some areas with ideas and pictures different from your own.
Try to understand the reasoning of others whom you respect. Some of them will have different ideas, but you can respect them in spite of your differences and can learn from their successes. You should try to understand how they came to their decisions, agreeing or disagreeing after you have weighed all the factors. Try to postpone judgments until you have investigated the factors and viewed it from their point of view. Then incorporate gains made by others effectively into your own breeding.
It is important to challenge others to achieve excellence through competition, to teach newcomers breeding technique. From these people will come the breeders and judges of tomorrow who will select the individuals that will determine the future of our breed. Competition keeps balance. It doesn’t allow you to go off the deep end, to over beautify on extremes and end up with caricatures, but to keep a real hold on the basic structure and the obvious faults while developing the real depth of beauty.
One must prevent individual people from undermining the whole hobby of showing dogs. When you hear unfair criticism, degradation of breeding or of particular dogs, don’t be afraid to challenge the credibility of the statements he or she may be making. When you hear unfair ringside comments about judging, force the speaker to explain how he knows what he is saying is true. Try not to think in double standards. Don’t talk mostly of virtue in your own dogs and mostly of faults while discussing other’s dogs.
Knowing your dogs means that you have a real understanding of the depth of quality in the total picture, or type, in the depth of quality in each part of the individual, and also an understanding of athletic agility, of function, of strength, of balance, and of the mind. This is not achieved overnight. This is a characteristic the breeder and judge should have in common – a deep understanding of the breed. If one only sees the obvious, they have a long way to go, for they are only at the elementary level. When one evaluates dogs in his litters or in the ring, an elementary knowledge cannot be disguised.
Many people never develop an opinion beyond the obvious, so therefore end up with mediocrity. They’re constantly trying to counteract excellence and depth of quality with obvious fault. These same people are fooled by dogs of little merit because they practice opinion based on superficial observation, whereas the cultured eye does not constantly dwell on obvious faults, but has developed the ability to recognize and reward excellence.
Judges come from the ranks of breeders. Their one job is to select the best dogs present in the ring that day. They must separate the dogs presented to them and choose the individuals who represent the closest to the picture in their mind. It is up to them to give true sense of credibility and logic to breeding show dogs. "Dog shows are conducted to reward and stimulate good breeding." A judge must reward excellence when he finds it. A successful breeder or judge is able to sort out and recognize excellence when he sees it. This may be the one most important trait there is.
You must also market your product properly. When this is done, it not only helps you, but it helps the breed. One must understand the market before he creates the product. If one just creates the product first, he will end up having to liquidate the product he has created because there will be no market for it. The pet market should not be used as a dumping ground for misfits. Pets should not be the individuals that are ugly, misshapen, unhealthy or unsound mentally or physically. The pet market is entitled to a healthy, beautiful animal raised the same as their siblings who are technically more correct. In other words, pets should not consist of the lower 25 percent of the total born, but rather the show potentials should consist of the upper 25% of the total individuals born, so to speak. The pet market is a valuable asset to our breed and should never be abused or taken for granted.
LYNN – How close are your dogs to the picture in your mind?
RAY – Wow, that’s really a flat out direct question. I feel my dogs excel in breed type. I am satisfied with overall quality of head and will strive to maintain that virtue. It is a "high priority" with me. This includes expression, eye shape, eye color, head size, etc.
Neck placement and length of neck has been excellent almost from the beginning. Topline I rate generally excellent. They have proper withers, strong, straight, flexible backs, and excellence in croup and tail set. The dogs have properly angulated rears (which in recent years has been brought slightly closer to the standard instead of bordering on the extreme).
My dogs generally have superb pigment and coat color, generally good side gait. I have overcome a difficult problem with short leg length and feel it is now behind me. (My most difficult challenge before.) They have good depth of brisket and breadth of body while maintaining elegance.
I have made improvements on some front end assemblies, shoulder lay back and greatly improved length of upper arm so vital to proper front end usability. I think my dogs excel in intelligence and temperament. They have a high degree of adaptability, are basically happy individuals and generally healthy with longevity.
I am sorry to say that some are not as good going away from you as they were in the past. On some dogs I have lost some degree of quality in that area which is very hard to say to you but harder for me to accept within my own mind, and, believe me, I have already worked and shall continue to work to overcome this.
The greatest variance in my dogs is length of body. I realize how important it is to have correct body length – a long rib cage with short coupling. Too many of mine are not short coupled. It is the loin area at fault.
Even though all of my dogs are not long in body, some of my best individuals are longer than they should be. I want my bloodline to be identifiable because of their virtues, not because of their body length. But my goal is not just to reduce body length (that would be easy), but to maintain excellence in all the other areas and to produce them shorter coupled. A judge once said to me in the ring that body length is a matter of balance, but so is it a matter of balancing a negative trait against the total summation of excellence of the individuals present that day. It is not the single factor which determines an excellent specimen from a poor one.
I don’t mean to imply that my dogs need no improvement in other unrelated areas, but length of body is the area that needs the most immediate response to correctness.
It seems the less luck enjoyed in the production of a superior specimen, the more probable it will be to sustain that high degree of excellence through reproduction. When your dogs generally reach higher degrees of quality, your gains become smaller and far slower to achieve and the process of elimination of faults also becomes slower and more difficult to achieve.
LYNN – In the future do you plan to special a dog of your own?
RAY – Really, to this point I have never been motivated enough to give the effort necessary to do that job. It takes such concentrated effort and would leave little energy left for other priorities.
My first good dog was specialed, but as I’ve said, I really contributed no effort at all. I just supplied the dog. Even though "The Hustler" had some impressive wins, when I think of him, they rarely com to mind. Actually, I remember him for other reasons far more important to me personally. He was the first really good dog I was able to watch and learn from. Believe me, the best way to learn your dogs is to live with a good one. Although I do give his winning credit for my early recognition, in actuality, the winning was left back in 1972 and the real value has lasted far longer and continues to affect me as time goes on.
I will admit that I’ve noticed an increasing awareness within myself and even some intrigue about high level dog showing, but I don’t know. I still seem hesitant to try it. One actually should begin to peak after he gains the insight and the perspective to truly be able to understand his field. It would be sad to think my early breedings resulted in producing my best dogs, those who were created from the least amount of knowledge. From a relatively shallow concept, I would hope the best are yet to come, that all I have learned and achieved would be beneficial to high level breeding and exhibiting.
LYNN – Are there people in the pasta or present whom you admire?
RAY – Of course, there are many. As breeders, I admire the long-term work of Bob and Hazel Gregory and have a deep appreciation and respect for the Von Riessenhof bloodline. Of course I admired Rose Robert for the artistic value she contributed to our breed. She demonstrated unique beauty and type with her bloodline. I personally saw only the later dogs of Mary and Gerry Johnston, but recognize and understand a unique impression those dogs left me. From a more limited and private breeding program, the Danelagh dogs of Nancy-Carroll Draper have demonstrated consistent virtues along with their dignity and subtle beauty. I also respect the work of Toni Pratt. During her time she played a vital role in the all-over upgrading of the Harlequin in this country. She truly was a dedicated dog breeder.
There are so many more. Many that you only begin to appreciate after you can look at their contribution with a broadened understanding and objectivity that only time, experience and knowledge allow you to do.
Currently, I feel that Anna Mary Kauffman enjoys the most consistent and pre-potent bloodline, producing numerous high quality individuals. I hold her in high regard as a breeder and distinguished dog woman.
Contemporaries – well, it has to be the difficult and complex job undertaken by Laura Kiaulenas. Her understanding of the total living mechanism of our breed is becoming increasingly evident. She has the ability to understand animal conformation and function as well as anyone breeding today, and I predict she will make some of the greatest contributions of this generation of breeders, perhaps of all time. Her personal goals surely go far beyond just winning at the dog shows.
I admire the handling talents of Sylvia Rodwell, who demonstrates her abilities in an area where there is surely gifted competition in her field. And who doesn’t notice Lina Basquette, especially for her perseverance in the early years, conquering Group and Best in Show winning with a breed of dog that wasn’t really thought to be a contender at that level.
I respect the judgment of J. Council Parker, Roxanne Mahan and many others who consistently do fine jobs of judging our breed regardless of the difficulty of the job that confronts them.
Although I have never met any of these people personally, I have admired the work of those like Patricia Craige, Sam Ewing, Bud Dickey and others who have successfully competed with specimens of their breeding at the highest level of dog show competition.
LYNN – Do you have any proud moments or experiences that are special to you?
RAY – There are two instances that come to mind right off the top of my head. At Westchester, I remember standing there, smiling to myself, as "Gucci" was about to win Best Bitch in Futurity, "Doc" already having won Best Dog. After that long day I watched them walk in together for Best …… it was a nice feeling.
Another time was shortly after "The Hustler" died. I was leaning against part of the tent at a very large specialty and watched "Pixie" and "Zephyr" win Best and Best of Opposite. It was a proud and heartwarming moment between myself and the memory of my wonderful dog.
Also there have been special moments in the ring, personally, when myself the handler and the dog, have fused together to create that "magic." Some of those instances were with "Piper," "Simba," Daiquiri," and more recently, "Bonanza."
LYNN – Is there anything left you would like to say?
RAY – Yes. I’m exhausted, but one thing more.
These opinions evolved over a long period of time from the many experiences and observations during my dog activities and are subject to change. They merely represent a criteria for my own work and are never meant to be used to judge others. They’re just my ideas and challenges for myself, a way of weighing my own successes and failures.
I think in the end, one has only competed with his own idea of success.
An interview with
By: Lynn Lowy, editor
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