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Ziggy, a Polish Lowland Sheepdog owned by Steve and Nishi Jadczak, practices a perfect dumbbell hold en route to a CDX (Companion Dog Excellent) title. Photo courtesy Alicia Harantschuk.

It’s kind of fitting that a dog named “Snowhill’s Zygmund Marley” is a Polski Owczarek Nizinny (PON in the United States) who answers to a name like Ziggy.

Chances are, this is a breed (Polish Lowland Sheepdog) many of you have never heard of. In 2019, the breed ranked 173 out of 193 in popularity. There are only an estimated 1,500 to 2,000 in the United States.

And, yes it gets even better. He responds to cues in three languages – English, Polish, and Hindi.

Ziggy was to be named after Ziggy Marley, Bob Marley’s son, as “he seemed to always make reggae singing sounds,” says owner Nishi Jadczak, of Wyndmoor, Pennsylvania, but there was a mix-up with registration, and Ziggy was written as Zygmund.

You Had Me at “Polish”

Bringing Ziggy into Steve and Nishi Jadczak’s household was a swift-moving, engrossing narrative with a little help from Dr. Amy Koterbay, a veterinary oncologist who was treating the couple’s Golden Retriever Chance for lymphoma in March 2014.

A month earlier, the couple’s 10-year-old Bulldog Rocky died and suddenly they were faced with losing Chance, too. With that emotional heft and choosing not to be dog less, Steve asked Koterbay if there was another breed she could recommend.

“She mentioned her parents own a Polish Lowland Sheepdog, a breed neither of us had ever heard of,” Nishi recalls. “I still tease Steve that she had him at ‘Polish,’ since that’s his ancestry.”

From that point, things moved fast-forward. They reached out to Kristine Kim, a North Carolina breeder who had one male puppy left but was promised to another home. Kim suggested they call back the following day to check on his status.

“We were not interested in a puppy,” Nishi says with tender reminiscence, “since Chance was very sick and we were grieving from Rocky’s loss. A couple of days later, Kristine called us back to say we could have the puppy but that we would have to pick him up the following day in Washington, D.C., about 150 miles and a 2½-hour drive from home.”

Admittedly, this wasn’t the ideal emotional foundation for adding a new household member.

The shaggy-coated herding breed is also a guardian of sheep. Here, Ziggy does a stare-down with two fearless, bottle-fed lambs at the nearby Rose Bridge Farm Sanctuary in Montgomery County Pennsylvania. Photo courtesy Carrie Barron.

Make Yourself at Home

Ziggy came home and proceeded to fall in love with the ailing Chance, climbing all over and snuggling alongside him to sleep. “Chance was incredibly patient with his little friend and tolerated his antics another three weeks before he passed,” says Nishi.

A territorial and herding breed in its homeland, puppy Ziggy immediately took charge after Chance’s death. Each morning he would case the perimeters of the Jadczaks’ yard and then go to the driveway to collect the newspaper, which was bigger than him some days. He would drop it at their feet, look up, and expect to be paid for his service.

Steve laughs, “It’s a joy to see Ziggy respond to opportunities to work with excitement and anticipation. Now getting paid, that’s another matter.”

Ziggy boasts a look to melt the heart but don’t let that fool you. The breed, Nishi cautions, can become aggressive if not socialized early. Hence, she joined the local Suburban Dog Training Club for basic training and interaction with classmates. To provide Ziggy an at-home mate, four months later the pair brought home Charlie, a Golden Retriever. Since then, they have added Micah (Ziggy’s son).

Ziggy, left, takes time to pose for a family photo with owners Steve and Nishi Jadczak and his son, Micah. He knows he will reap a treat reward afterward. Photo courtesy Simone Jadczak.

Unexpected Success

Remember, Ziggy was purchased simply as a pet. But as Nishi and Ziggy’s teamwork blossomed during those early classes, club members and instructors encouraged Nishi to consider showing him and attending area trials.

Well, that didn’t go too well, for starters. “My initial reaction was that this was not for us and no way would we ever want to get involved,” Nishi recalls. Not dismayed, Jadczak opted for a stark change of venues and took Ziggy to a nearby farm to observe his herding tendencies.

The 14-months-old dervish of energy and ambition was entered and passed an American Kennel Club herding-instinct under two judges. At that point Team Ziggy was off and running, moving on to Rally, Obedience, and Conformation.

That produced a couple of particularly memorable feedbacks from Conformation judges Beverly Capstick and James Reynolds at a Salem, Virginia, show, Team Ziggy’s maiden Conformation outing, from which they came home with Winner’s Dog and Best of Breed (twice) ribbons.

In Group, Capstick ordered Nishi to do the down-and-back twice, noting she was running too fast. During a photo session with Reynolds the following day, Nishi reflects, “I will never forget him telling me I have a very special dog and now all I had to do was to go take some handling lessons myself.”

It turns out he was spot on. “I was never taking classes seriously and always assumed that showing Ziggy simply meant running around in the ring and standing to be judged,” she acknowledges.

But Nishi accepted the challenge and with a newfound nimble teamwork managed to put Champion and Grand Champion titles on Ziggy and gained a little personal recognition in the process, being named Most Improved Handler by the Suburban Dog Training Club in 2015.

He is the first PON to achieve a Grand Champion Silver title and is accomplished in Rally, Agility, Herding, and Obedience, recently becoming the first of his breed to earn an Obedience Utility (UD) title.

Ziggy clears a hurdle while getting in some UDX (Utility Dog) practice work. Photo courtesy Alicia Harantschuk.

A Multilingual Pup

Nishi is from India. Steve is of Polish ancestry. Through lots of hard work and continued repetition, the spirited Ziggy is multilingual in and out of performance sports.

But in those early days, that came with a few caveats at home. Ziggy was exposed to Polish cues Steve used, forcing Nishi to ask him to refrain from using any calls she offered in Obedience training, such as “come, sit, and down.” Next, Nishi began using Hindi for fun while playing retrieving games at home. And Ziggy responded quickly.

While he didn’t sign up for it, Ziggy found himself a literal sounding board for Nishi.

“I have no one to practice on to keep up my Hindi language skills, so I engage in one-way conversations in Hindi with him. I’ve found Ziggy to be a good listener,” she smiles. “He waits for me to throw a toy or a dumbbell and retrieves it when cued in Hindi. I did the same when counting numbers, releasing him in Hindi on a count of a specific number.”

Ziggy took a Best of Opposite Sex title at the 2018 Glens Falls Kennel Club Dog Show in Bainbridge, New York. He was awarded the ribbon from noted Polish judge Tomasz Borkowski, DVM, Ph.D. Borkowski is co-author of “The Official Book of the Polish Lowland Sheepdog,” which many fanciers claim is the best book available about the breed. Photo courtesy JC Photography.

Dedication to Preservation

Recognizing her limitations, Nishi eventually hired a professional handler, Greg Strong, of Easton, Maryland, to afford Ziggy every advantage to showcase his fluidity of motion, teamwork with an experienced handler, and standard attributes. “We wanted someone who would treat our Ziggy with love and not just a commodity. Since 2016, Ziggy has been family to Greg and his team. He performs with an eagerness and trust, which is a credit to Greg.”

During that span, Ziggy has won Best of Breed four times (2016-19) at the National Dog Show, Best of Breed (2019) at the AKC National Championship presented by Royal Canin (2019), and Best of Breed at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show (2020) along with numerous other BISS, BOB, and Group placements.

“This is not a popular breed and we feel an obligation and commitment to do all we can to promote and preserve it,” she adds.

A dog’s gotta keep in shape in the winter months, right? Well, Ziggy chooses the treadmill. And, yes, he manages to adjust to different inclines and speeds. When the word “bath” is mentioned he quickly retreats to his sanctuary, the treadmill. Photo courtesy Simone Jadczak.

Newfound Celebrity

So what are this PON’s likes and dislikes?

He loves playing hide-and seek; he’s into Frisbee with a passion; he savors cooking shows on TV; the treadmill is his go-to indoor workout favorite.

“In fact, he will negotiate doing a workout on the treadmill to not being bathed,” Nishi laughs.

This consummate showman is a celebrity of sorts in his neighborhood. It’s not unusual for friends driving by to roll down their windows and shout they saw him on TV. On walks, the pair will be stopped and asked, “What breed is he?”

And on their block, Ziggy is known as “The Champ.”

“He has opened more new doorways and lasting friendships than I could have ever imagined,” Nishi concludes, “and has truly changed our lives. This character has also given me more self-confidence, laughs, and a desire to be a better pet owner. Those are pretty good perks, aren’t they?”

Related article: Is a German Shepherd Dog Right for You?
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