Erica Max lives on a 35-acre horse ranch outside of Durango, Colorado, where for the past 22 years, she has bred Danish Warmblood Sport Horses. She and her husband had an Airedale Terrier and two Giant Schnauzers, but one day, when he was at an outlet mall in New York, he saw a dog that he thought was “some sort of wolfhound mix.”
After speaking with the dog’s owners, he immediately called Erica, saying that he’d just met a dog that they had to have. Erica’s journey in showing in conformation and breeding Picards began in 2011 when they added a puppy who would become CH. Allstars Gregory Peck CM FDC IT (Garçon) to their pack.
AKC: How did you get started in breeding dogs?
Erica: I was born and raised in the Lincoln Park section of Chicago (with a few years in Jamaica). Even though we lived in downtown Chicago, we always had dogs and cats with a few birds, reptiles, and fish thrown in too. It was well known that my mother would take in all strays, and, as a result, we often would find animals left on our doorstep. So, growing up all of our dogs were abandoned dogs that moved in with us.
When my husband and I got married, a friend told us that before we had children, we should get a dog because it teaches you that your schedule has to adjust to another being. So, we got our first Airedale. She was my first purebred, registered dog and she kept me laughing every day. We decided that she needed a canine companion and got our first Border Terrier, Bracken. Even though they were “city dogs,” they were walked in Lincoln Park and on the beach for three hours a day. Bracken’s littermate was a two-time National Specialty winner, and Bracken was a fabulous dog. We decided to breed her and so we had five Border Terrier puppies in the kitchen of our Chicago condo. That was in 1991 and was the start of my interest in breeding dogs.
AKC: What is the most important thing to know about the Berger Picard?
Erica: Berger Picards are wonderful dogs. They love their families, and, like most herding dogs, they want a job. While ours live on a working horse ranch, Picards can do well in all sorts of environments, however, they are not a dog that can be left home alone all day. They are very smart and need to be given something to do or they will drive their family nuts. They are very good at excavation projects. Having said that, they are also happy hanging out with their families and watching football. I tell my “puppy families” that Picards have a great sense of humor. Of course, they always ask, “What do you mean?” and then when they have lived with one, they invariably tell me at some point, “I get it.” The sense of humor and intelligence can make for interesting training.
One of the common misconceptions about Picards is that they don’t shed. They do. But if they are brushed weekly, the hair is very manageable. Picards tend to be warm and loving with their families but aloof and standoffish with strangers. It is very important that as puppies they get out and meet new people and have lots of new experiences. Because we live in a small tourist town, my dogs are well known along Main Avenue. Even as adults, I take them down for walks on busy weekends, and my Picards have been in many a high school homecoming and Fourth of July parade.
AKC: How has AKC Marketplace helped you find puppy buyers?
Erica: The AKC Marketplace has been a valuable resource for me as a breeder. I find that people who tend to look on the Marketplace have a good idea of the breed they are looking for. Many times, it is the first point of contact although it is by far not the last point. I have an extensive process for deciding who will be joining our “puppy family.”
AKC: What is your favorite question to ask of potential puppy buyers?
Erica: Describe a typical day for your family. What is your house like? Do you have a fenced area? What kind of relationship do you want to have with your dog? For 25 years I ran an executive search firm specializing in searching for very high-level executives for major investment banks. As a result, my interviewing skills are pretty solid, and I tend to use those when I speak with potential puppy people.
AKC: What are the main qualities you look for in potential owners?
Erica: I look for people who are interested in a Picard for specific qualities that Picards have. They are not a good dog for someone who wants a dog just to hang out. Picards, like all herding dogs, like a job and really want to interact with their families. Picards like an active lifestyle, and I find that people who want one of my puppies understand and embrace that.
AKC: What is the best advice you would give to novice breeders?
Erica: Find a mentor. Talk to as many breeders as you can. Be realistic about the qualities and faults of your dogs. Decide what you want to improve but also understand that there is no perfect dog.
AKC: Do your dogs participate in AKC sports?
Erica: My dogs compete in conformation as well as herding and barn hunt. I also make a point for them to get their Farm Dog Certification. They enjoy the one-on-one time with me as I am their handler in all three. I am new at being an owner-handler, and they teach me things regularly.
AKC: What do you like best about breeding dogs?
Erica: I love researching pedigrees and meeting prospective stud dogs and brood bitches to try and find the “perfect match.” After 22 years of breeding sport horses, I know there is actually no “perfect match,” but my aim is to breed better and better dogs. The other great part is getting emails from my puppy people telling me how much joy their dog has brought into their lives and seeing reports of the show dogs we have bred.
AKC: Do you have a favorite breeding story?
Erica: My very first litter was my Border Terrier litter. My girl went into labor on Memorial Day and sure enough, the first puppy was stuck. We headed to the emergency vet, and they were able to get the big boy out and the rest were born as we watched the Indy 500 at the emergency vet. Of course, we named him Mario Andretti.
Visit http://mountainpicards.com/ to learn more about Erica’s dogs.