Terri Walker, of Le Berger Bien Aime (the beloved shepherd) in Jonesborough, TN, fell in love with Pyrenean Shepherds in the ’90s. She is involved in several international health initiatives on behalf of the breed, has hosted international forums, and written many breed-related articles. Terri is a long-standing member of the breed clubs in the US and France and is a past member of the breed clubs in Finland and the UK. She chairs the health committee for the Pyrenean Shepherd Club of America.
AKC: How did you get started in breeding dogs?
Terri: I was living abroad in the early ’90s when we lost two beloved canine companions. I had friends who were fanciers and breeders of the Pyrenean Shepherd (aka Berger des Pyrenees), and like so many, was captivated by their saucy good looks and intelligence. However, I spent several years learning about the breed before importing my first dogs. It has been an unabashed love affair ever since.
AKC: What is the most important thing to know about your breed?
Terri: A well-bred Pyrenean Shepherd is a delightful companion, but one that demands a fair amount of skill and time in terms of training and management. They are a landrace — few in number worldwide — and deserve our utmost care and respect.
AKC: What is your favorite question to ask of potential puppy buyers?
Terri: I don’t believe in questionnaires, but I do believe in communication. To that end, I try to learn as much as possible about a potential home so I can better meet the goals and expectations of the owner. This is not a process that happens overnight, but once armed with that information, I can make the best placement choices for that home.
AKC: What are the main qualities you look for in potential owners?
Terri: It’s important that the potential owner understands that Pyrenean Shepherds need structure and training along with mental and physical stimulation to truly thrive. Anyone unprepared to provide this does a disservice to the breed. So, I am very interested in learning what training resources and experience they have with dogs, and whether they have the time to devote to developing a puppy to its fullest potential.
AKC: What is the best advice you would give to novice breeders?
Terri: I advise anyone contemplating rare breed dogs to first garner experience with a mainstream, more popular breed. This has many advantages, chief amongst them the fact you can learn transferable skills from a broader range of experienced breeders that can aid you in the objective evaluation of your ultimate breeding choices. The population of worthy dogs in a rare breed, especially if they originated outside of the country, is limited, and the need to truly understand pedigrees and to conduct appropriate health testing is paramount. Don’t take the first dog on offer and don’t fall prey to cosmetic fads within your breed, like coat color or patterns or exaggerated features. Pay attention to structure and movement. Learn what those things mean within the context of your breed. A true steward and breed preservationist breeds to the standard each and every time. And if you hit a roadblock in terms of type or health, don’t be afraid to start over. Sometimes that is the smartest thing you can do.
AKC: Do your dogs participate in AKC sports?
Terri: Although my program is small, I have owned and produced titled champions in both conformation and agility. They also compete in rally, coursing, and many other events. They work as therapy dogs and have appeared in advertising media and commercials. They have won and placed at the national level in AKC agility and conformation and are all owner handled. Most recently one of my dogs, the youngest Platinum Versatility titled dog in our breed, MACH6 Noble D’Artagnan De Bien-Aime MXB2 MJS2 MFB TQX T2B CA BCAT ACT2 THDN DN DDB CGCA TKP, won all the top awards at the AKC 2021 Agility Invitational in Orlando, placing first in the 16-inch height class in a very competitive field of dogs, and then went on to place second at the 2022 AKC Premier Cup. He is the only Pyr Shep to have been invited to that event, but he comes from a long line of Bien-Aime dogs that are equally talented.
AKC: What do you like best about breeding dogs?
Terri: Breeding dogs successfully requires a community of like-minded individuals. I especially enjoy mentoring new breeders and fanciers. It gives me the opportunity to make new friends, who are in many ways like extended family members. But I would have to say that producing a beautiful, athletic all-rounder, and making a meaningful contribution to breed preservation, is what I most love.
AKC: Do you have a favorite breeding story?
Terri: Ha! Don’t get me started. Too many “tails” to tell!