Low Numbers, High Ideals
For Chateau Blanc's Janina Laurin, a small gene pool means big success.
Like several of my fellow Group Breeders of the Year, I am also a second-generation dog person and a former junior handler, and was a handler’s assistant to my aunt Gerlinde Hockla during my youth. Unlike some of them, however, I have faced rather unique challenges throughout my years in the fancy.
Courtesy J. Laurin
Chateau Blanc Belgian Tervuren is probably best described as a “boutique kennel.” When we were young, the most dogs we ever had were 8 to 10. In the last 20 years, most of our dogs have been co-owned. Currently, our immediate family splits six dogs among three households. It has never been a major breeding operation. It truly started out as a “hobby” for my mother, Edeltraud Laurin, and became a passion focused on whole-dog principles as we have a multipurpose functional breed. It was only natural that at least one of her three children became involved. It was her good fortune that both my sister Darlene and I caught the bug.
Since 1960, Chateau Blanc has produced more than 150 champions, Best in Show dogs in two countries, High in Trial dogs in all possible venues, multiple group winners and placers, titlists, and some deeply loved companions. It is a family venture: My mother and I both judge, and my sister and I compete in breed. I enjoy training obedience, tracking, and agility, and Darlene has found a passion in herding. We are indeed competitors.
Over the course of this life in dogs, I was asked and agreed to serve my parent club as president, secretary, board member, and for the last 10 years, AKC Delegate. I am also a founding member of the judges’ education committee. Apparently, I’m either a glutton for punishment or have a penchant for organizing and directing. I’ve served as show chair for two all-breed clubs, was a founding member for an agility club, and have been a show chair for several trials. I’m serving my tenth and final year as president of my local specialty club, and I occasionally write for a dog magazine. In addition to all of this, I have a career, am married, and donate time to local charity.
One of these days I’ll have the perfectly clean home, bake the perfect pie, and have a beautiful garden. But right now I’m busy living, breathing, and planning the next generation of Chateau Blanc dogs, chairing a regional specialty and agility trial, and strategizing the next steps for the crew in the rings this year. Luckily for me, my husband is a patient man who enjoys these smart dogs. I have family and a wonderful network of friends and puppy owners who have become dear friends.
There hasn’t been one major bullet for success. Rather, a number of key factors help shape a direction: a good foundation, hard work, focus, conviction, integrity, humility, an open mind to education, and “the network.” Like the old song goes, “You gotta have friends.” When you live deep in the heart of suburbia and can only realistically keep a couple of dogs, they have to be of excellent quality and you need people you can trust to raise others of great potential in breed or performance. Finding homes for show prospects is not difficult, generally speaking. Finding a home that will value the dog not just for its ribbon count and understands the challenge of a breed that requires devotion and dedication adds to the interviewing mix, and thereby brings a challenge. It’s important to delve into a potential owner’s personal vision of success. A solid base of excellent pet homes is important and these homes are equally as cherished. Not every dog can be a star in the breed or performance rings but every dog has the potential to be someone’s personal star.
In a breed as mine where the gene pool is moderately small and two or three prolific breeders can change the direction of a breed for years, you need the ability to stay focused on your vision according to the standard. When conformation judging becomes stuck on a singular trend, you need to have faith in your breeding decisions even if they aren’t winning at the moment. When you are on the upswing of winning, it pays to keep a healthy perspective on what your breeding program still needs to improve or to maintain its quality.
A critical eye in assessing the value and worth of your dog’s contributions to a breeding program, the show ring, or performance venue is a must. It may mean changing your mind on the stud dog you thought would add something, turning down a potential bitch to your stud dog, or retiring a star dog when his shine is beginning to dim. In my case, my family is my biggest support and critic in terms firming up breeding and showing decisions. Seek outside objectivity from a trusted and knowledgeable fellow dog person.
Developing a Line
Producing dogs with sustainable quality over the course of many years is not accidental; sometimes it is lucky, but never accidental. While there is some room for experimenting and minor missteps, researching pedigrees, keeping abreast of health issues, and maintaining strong communication with those who have purchased dogs and other breeders of integrity-whether in your breed or not-are critical to developing as a breeder. A major mistake in not properly researching pedigrees for health, temperament, and genetic traits can be catastrophic for a small kennel. It could take years of recovery or mean starting over. Attending national and regional specialties to assess the “competitive health” of your line and your breed will help drive these wise decisions.
Stakes are high for those of us who are small in numbers dogwise. Good foundations in health, temperament, overall type, and movement are the key to a strong beginning. Adjustments over the course of time in the fine details of your breed will continue to refine the look of your line and improve or maintain your breed’s qualities.
Breeding, showing, and developing a line is a slow journey with many turns, but it is one of the most rewarding rides I have taken. It is still very much a hobby, but a passionate one that I am continuing to explore.
There is much to accomplish—my perfect dog is yet to be produced!
Janina Laurin is a second-generation dog enthusiast and breeder of the renowned Chateau Blanc Belgian Tervuren. She was the 2002 recipient of the American Kennel Club’s Breeder of the Year award, representing the Herding Group.