Peter Holson of McHill’s Border Terriers lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico. He has been involved with Border Terriers for more than 20 years and has bred them for about that long. McHill’s is a brother/sister breeding program. Typically, Peter’s sister, Hillary Zimmerman, whelps and raises pups while Peter is more involved with showing class dogs and the occasional “special.” They also do periodic co-breeding with committed owners of their dogs who are interested in breeding.
AKC: How did you get started in breeding dogs?
Peter: Growing up, we always had purebred dogs that were from reputable breeders. My sister became seriously involved with Doberman Pinschers in the early 70’s and has been breeding them since, and I was always around to help with litters and puppies. She got her first Border Terrier 23 years ago and I got a puppy from her and have been breeding them ever since.
AKC: What is the most important thing to know about the Border Terrier?
Peter: Border Terriers are “essentially a working terrier” and fortunately, breeders are committed to maintaining their working aptitudes. Because of this, they generally have a strong prey drive and might not be a breed best suited to say, avid gardeners or people who insist on walking their dog off-leash (they will have a great recall until the day that they do not, typically when they see some sort of prey that they are determined to get). Border Terriers are an extremely versatile breed and can enjoy any and all activities… conformation, obedience, scent work, barn hunt, agility, earthdog and even dock diving are all things at which BTs can excel.
AKC: What is your favorite question to ask of potential puppy buyers?
Peter: I’m not sure it’s my favorite, but it’s probably the most important: Do you have a secure yard for a dog, and secondly will the puppy be a part of your family? Border Terriers are not a breed to be put out in an unsecured space and must be made to feel a part of the family.
AKC: What are the main qualities you look for in potential owners?
Peter: An individual or family who want a dog that will be another member of their family. Border Terriers are very people oriented and must feel they are a part of the family… they do not do well left to their own devices! I really try and connect with people who will be a part of our BT family, sharing the joys and stories of their life and adventures with their BT.
AKC: What is the best advice you would give to novice breeders?
Peter: Develop a relationship with a respected mentor in your breed. It is most important to find someone who can see the virtues in other breeders’ dogs, not just their own. Then, you must pass on what you learn from your mentor to people who are newer in the breed than you are. It’s selfish to keep what you learn all to yourself! Have a vision of what the ideal is and breed to that vision – don’t get sidetracked by fads or trends in your breed. Finally, breeding is not for the faint of heart. It is full of heartbreak, disappointment and frustration, but the joys of success far outweighs all of this!
AKC: Do your dogs participate in AKC sports?
Peter: One of the problems our national specialty faces is that BTs excel at so many sports that we are forced to limit the events that we offer, otherwise our national could be several weeks long. While I focus primarily on conformation (without good conformation, you won’t have good performance dogs), many of our puppy people enjoy the multitude of events available.
AKC: What do you like best about breeding dogs?
Peter: I really love hearing from puppy people about the joy that their Little Brown Dog (LBD) brings to their life. I have heard over and over from different people, many of whom are long-time dog people, that their BT is without a doubt the best dog they have ever had. I also really love seeing people who contact us for a dog that they could compete with in conformation, as a novice owner handler, and go on and have success in the show ring. Just this week one of our puppy owners won a competitive NOHS Terrier Group under a well-regarded terrier judge. She was overjoyed, as was I! I also love seeing when our puppies fulfill the potential we saw in them as young dogs.
AKC: Do you have a favorite breeding story?
Peter: Hmmm, so many… my first homebred all-breed Best in Show winner, the stories of how a dog completes the family, and how their new puppy is the best puppy ever! One story was when we had a bitch that we decided not to breed and to re-home at the same time we had a repeat puppy owner come to us for a second dog for their daughter, who was a young woman with special needs. They came to meet us at a dog show to see if this pairing might be a good fit. When they met, it was like they were old friends reunited after a long separation. They fast became the best of friends and have been pretty much inseparable ever since; it really was an instant and unique bond. These are the reasons I enjoy breeding this special breed!