A Passion for Excellence
After 40 years, Jean Boyd of Rivergroves Great Pyrenees still seeks that special something.
Jean and Wayne Boyd, of Rivergroves. “There is nothing more rewarding than knowing
you held that little puppy in your hands at birth, wiped him down, raised him, trained
him, finished him, and ultimately showed him to number one.”
A lifetime of love and commitment to Great Pyrenees started for me as a child’s simple love of dogs. While most children’s interest change as they mature, mine evolved to a rewarding career of breeding and showing a magnificent breed. My foundation pair produced 15 champions, including Ch. Rivergroves Crusher’s Re-Run, my first homebred Best in Show dog. From these two dogs, Rivergroves has been able to genetically continue a successful breeding program to the current dogs of today.
Breeding dogs is both an art and a passion for excellence. It is the search for that perfect dog which is never quite attainable yet remains the goal of all serious breeders.
When you begin to breed dogs, you must first study your breed standard and your pedigrees as well as books on genetics, structure and movement. You must understand the origin and purpose of your breed along with the development of breed type. Type is what defines your Great Pyrenees and differentiates them from other breeds. There are many good books available to help you.
It is also important to watch other breeds at dog shows. This will help you understand and identify the differences in type, structure, and movement. We have always made it a policy to stay and watch all the groups and Best in Show at most every show we attend.
Pitfalls, Traps, Disappointments
It is important to take your time and decide what your goals are before making breeding decisions. As a breeder, one begins with the highest-quality dogs possible. They should reflect the qualities you want to bring out in your puppies. In trying to minimize unwelcome surprises, you need thorough knowledge of the pedigree behind your dogs. You must fully understand the strengths and weaknesses in the pedigree and learn how these will be reflected through the sire and dam. Maybe the sire or dam didn’t exhibit the phenotype you had hoped to see in the offspring, and that should be noted.
Once the puppies are whelped and on their feet, we like to begin evaluation around 7 to 8 weeks of age. Don’t fall into the trap of feeling if it can’t be shown it will be good for breeding. You must also reevaluate your breeding stock from time to time. If a litter shows no improvement over the parents, perhaps it would be wise to retire the sire or dam or try another combination. The best breeders have a drive to enhance their lines with every breeding.
There are many pitfalls for the novice. You must learn to see the entire dog with all its faults, and remember nothing happens overnight. To reach your goal you must be prepared to compromise. You might breed to a dog with a less than perfect head but with a perfectly structured body and sound movement. You must think in terms of years and prepare for hard work and many disappointments. Successful breeders combine an artist’s eye for beauty, symmetry, and balance along with the ability to foresee the present as the road to the future. The great bloodlines will live forever as a blueprint for future generations.
Breeding Great Pyrenees for the show ring is no different than breeding for pet companions. All puppies should be confident with good temperaments, correct breed type, good structure and balance. It is during observations and evaluations in the early weeks the potential show puppy becomes apparent: that will be the one with “attitude” as well as structure, balance, and type. There are many ways to look at puppies. I have found when they single-track when moving at 8 weeks they never really change. This is made possible by correct structure: a balanced front and rear with ample reach and drive. Always look for balance. They are working dogs, so you must remember their initial purpose and look for the dog who can withstand the stress of working. Their temperament must be confident, outgoing, fearless, and curious. Puppies with these traits make wonderful pets as well as show dogs.
We like to take all our puppies to puppy training classes for socializing and car/crate training. We keep it “fun” so they have a good experience. Here is where we start training for the show ring. We begin with stacking and gaiting, using show collars and bait and lots of praise.
To begin with, your show puppy has to have excellent breed type and I use the word “type” as overall conformation. With Great Pyrenees it has to have a certain elegance, correct movement with reach and drive, good angulation, and overall balance. Another essential for my breed standard is a correct head and beautiful almond eyes. The eyes should be dark and have good fill. There are too many Pyrenees with large round eyes, large heads with too much stop, droopy lips and short deep muzzles appearing in the show ring all of which is contrary to our breed standard. If it looks like a white Newfoundland, it is not a correct Great Pyrenees. The head should be wedge shaped with no apparent stop. The ears should be set level with the eye and the mouth should have tight lips with good pigmentation. It takes many years for new breeders to know the correct look for a Great Pyrenees.
What Puts the Special in Specials?
A good show dog must have that extra something—an attitude, and an enjoyment of being in the show ring with all its distractions. A specials dog is just that. It brings something special in attitude and spirit. Often there is a remarkable rapport between the handler and the dog as they seem to be moving as one. Handling dogs looks deceptively easy. It is not but with a lot of practice you can become proficient.
Most who attempt dog breeding don’t last more than a few years. Some expect to make money and find soon enough that is not the case. If you get truly hooked and make that long-term commitment, you will find it fulfilling on many levels: the challenge of trying to produce the best with consistency and the thrill and hope of each new litter, the intellectual challenge of always learning something new, and the joy of placing pets with people who will love and cherish them as you would.
What Dreams Are Made Of
Showing a Great Pyrenees is a difficult and time-consuming job which doesn’t begin in the show ring. The show ring is where the true worth of the breeding program becomes apparent. The basic, fundamental, most productive and rewarding elements in breeding dogs for the show ring is a well-planned breeding program.
Each generation must be improved not by chance or luck, but by a well-thought-out and carefully planned breeding program. Showing a dog with a handler is an option, but breeder-owner-handled is the triple crown of dog showing. There is nothing more rewarding than knowing you held that little puppy in your hands at birth, wiped him down, raised him, trained him, finished him, and ultimately showed him to number one. It is a wonderful experience for you and the dog you love. Surely the pinnacle of my career and what breeder’s dreams are made of.
Jean Boyd and her husband, Wayne, have been owner-breeder-handlers of top Great Pyrenees for nearly 40 years under the Rivergroves banner. They were the American Kennel Club’s Working Group recipients in the 2007 Breeder of the