Wow! Alice Velasquez owns and runs Guardian Rottweilers, a family-run kennel that endeavours to breed some of the best rottweilers in the world in temperament, conformation and working abilities.
Rottweiler breeding is made of knowledge mainly, this is what we try to provide here through each article. Yet, I’ve been astonished by all the value Alice is providing here in this interview. Too often, we don’t even publish interviews we make because the answers are too slim, too short, too thin. Alice is sharing so much here about dog breeding but, I’ve got to tell you right now, it is our longest post on Breeding Business at over 4,600 words. Not a single out is useless.
Please enjoy the read and share this nugget with breeders and passionate owners around you.
Please introduce yourself and your Rottweiler breeding activity?
I grew up with a Rottie as a child and have always had a very special place in my heart for them as my best friend. I was an awkward kid and my Rottweiler got me when no one else did.
I first started working with this amazing breed when I was a combat medic in the military and continued to work with them after I became a police officer in Washington D.C.. My love for them as my constant companion grew and developed into a deep resect and admiration for a breed that was exceptionally high in courage, biddable, always willing to give 110%- no matter what. And somehow, capable of being hard as nails when working, and a sweet, lovable, affectionate gentle giant who was often a bit of a clown when not at work. I was impressed with their ability to interchange seamlessly between so many different hats.
I initially got a Rottweiler specifically because of my family. My daughters (now 16 and 14 years old) have Osteogenesis Imperfecta, or Brittle Bones Disease. It makes them prone to bone fractures and often in need of a wheelchair, walker, crutches, etc. I wanted a Service Dog for them, but the amount of facilities that were even aware of Osteogenesis Imperfecta, let alone had a companion trained to assist in that capacity, were non-existent. So my husband and I decided we would purchase them a dog and I would train it for them.
I wanted a dog that was strong and sturdy – helping to steady them and hopefully prevent some falls and/or injuries. I needed a dog that was intelligent and clever: capable of thinking outside the box and ariel to sense needs/commands even when they were not given as my daughters were only 1 and 3 years old at the time. I needed a dog who could take his job seriously, yet still be completely situationally aware, cognizant of himself and his environment, and of course, exceptionally gentle with my most precious angels. We initially purchased a Labrador—the quintessential Service Dog— but very quickly discovered that this breed had too much energy to be gentle enough for a child with Brittle Bones.
When we first purchased Diesel, our Rottweiler, we had arranged with the breeder to take him for about a week on a trial basis. My husband was not too sold on having a Rottweiler around his young children, nor did he think this breed possessed the mental capabilities to be a Service Dog. Diesel was already 4 months old when we purchased him and already a good size boy at about 45 pounds—larger than both of my daughters! When we first picked up Diesel, we took him to a park to see how he interacted with children. Two of my friends came who also had kids of their own. After we set the kids down, the older ones of course headed straight for the playground equipment and quickly started to fan out. Showing instant and intuition that neither my husband or myself had anticipated, Diesel started to round the kids up and actually herd them back towards us by making increasingly smaller circles around the group and gently nudging them back towards the adults. Everyone was astonished and needless to say, quite impressed. After some time at the park, we headed to the pet store. I sat Tahlia down on the floor to play with some of the toys while I started reading the backs of the bags of dog food—trying to educate myself on the best food for our young puppy.
A stock boy started to come down the aisle with a cart and Tahlia was sitting directly in his path. He thought he would simply reach down and scoot her over. Diesel had been laying down at Tahlia’s feet rolling a ball back and forth with her, quite relaxed and seeming indifferent to what was going on around him. The moment that young man bent down towards Tahlia, Diesel stood up so fast that it caught everyone by surprise. There was no aggression in him—no growling or barking—he simply stood up and placed himself between the young man and my daughter, as if to say, “you have to go through me first.” It was at that moment, only 4 hours after our “trial” with Diesel began that he had earned a permanent home in our family and our hearts. To know that this young pup who had only know my kids for literally just a few hours was already ready to defend her, protect her, and take care of her—there is no faster way into the heart of a mom than knowing you love and care for her child in that capacity.
At the time, we had no intention of breeding. We wanted Diesel for our own selfish reasons of helping our children. But as he grew and matured and we saw the chasm of difference between our Diesel and what is commonly referred to as a “Rottweiler” here in the US, as well as the complete lack of availability here in the US for a working dog of his caliber, we gradually started educating ourselves and contemplating breeding.
My family has remained the heart and very essence of Guardian Rottweilers. Our kids are involved in every aspect of what we do—they help train, handle and show our dogs, they each have their own personal dogs, they help in whelping and raising the puppies. My oldest daughter knew how to start an IV, tube feed a puppy, do am and pm weights and checks, give subcutaneous fluids, vaccinate, microchip, weigh pups and calculate medicines, give CPR and everything in-between by the time she was 9 year old!
Liliana went on to become a registered breeder with AKC by the time she was 12 after having selected her pick puppy from a litter, raised and trained it, competed with it in USA and in Europe, and then decided which impressive German male to use as stud for her female based on Judges evaluations, what she knew of the bloodlines, and how the stud was producing, and successfully breeding her first litter of pups out of Guardian Eva Von Gottschalk.
All of my children have been featured in international Rottweiler publications, had dogs that went on TV, and in a production for Animal Planet, and have each selected and trained their own individual puppies and then gone on to compete internationally with the pups that they selected and trained.
Guardian Rottweiler is indeed a family business in every way possible. We have all dedicated our lives to this breed that we love so passionately.
You breed working rottweilers but have you got some dogs for conformation shows or Schutzhund?
We are proud to breed and produce balanced dogs that are capable of competing and excelling in any venue. We have produced dogs that have gone on to Search and Rescue, service dogs for everything from Brittle Bones to Cancer patients, and therapy dogs to military veterans suffering from PTSD.
One of our clients, Army Staff Sgt. Perry Hopman (Iraq 2006-08) suffered from PTSD and has now an incredible young Rottweiler from us in training to assist him. He was featured in a National Geographic article and is progressing at a rate that the experienced trainer and handler has stated is unparalleled by any other dog he has trained!)
Guardian Rottweilers also achieved the very prestigious title of First Place Breeder/Kennel Class at the ADRK Klubsieger in 2013! Over 500 of the world’s best Rottweilers competing from all over the world handled by some of the best and most renowned judges, handlers and breeders the world has to offer!
Some of the other many accomplishments of our dogs:
- Guardian Warrick Von Gottschalk — Candidate for International Champion, Adult Champion of Bulgaria, Balkan Champion, Grand Champion
- “Koda” Guardian Mango Von Gottachalk — Grand Champion, Balkan Champion, Bulgarian Champion
- Guardian Atlas Von Gottschalk — Champion of Macedonia, Moldova, Montenegro, Georgia & Azerbaijan
- Guardian Geneva Von Gottschalk — Best Female, Best of Breed, Champion of Serbia
- Guardian Xoana Von Gottschalk — VP3 ARV National Sieger, VP3 ARV Regional Sieger
Where is the Rottweiler, as a breed, leaning towards in the future?
There are a lot of unfortunate “trends” in the Rottweiler breed currently that really worry me.
First, here in the US- we somehow think bigger is better, and confuse size with beauty. The breed description for the Rottweiler is that he is a medium to large (not extra large, not jumbo, not oversized), robust and powerfully built dog. The ADRK breed standard on size/weight for a male Rottweiler is only 50kg, or 110 pounds, and believe me a well built, drive dog at 110 pounds is more than enough stopping power for anything. By over sizing the breed (usually accomplished by mixing the breed with Mastiffs, Great Danes, etc.) we are not only taking away his working ability, but also significantly increasing the health issues that already plague this breed.
Imagine the working ability of a hippo vs. a horse. The powerful, strong, agile horse can run for days. The hippo is powerful enough, but only for very short distances and then he is completely exerted. The same goes when comparing a mastiff to a Rottweiler. A correctly built working Rottweiler can work for hours and hours- having the ability to herd, perform his duties as a police officer or in search and rescue- working unceasingly; whereas the mastiff can walk from your door to the mailbox, then be done for the day.
Another troubling trend in the Rottweiler is head type. Although I definitely do NOT like the elongated hound dog type head common in American Rottweilers- lacking stop definition and lacking power in the muzzle, the “extreme” head type that is increasing in popularity is equally dangerous for the breed. Not only are there heath complications that result from a muzzle that is too short- making the dog brachycephalic and causing inherent sinus and breathing problems, but the dog also loses his working ability. The Rottweiler has the strongest bite force of any domesticated dog breed according to a study by the National Geographic. But he only has that when he is correctly built.
A long, narrow muzzle and weak head certainly will not promote the strength and power the Rottweiler should generate, but a muzzle that is too short to obtain a full mouth grip on a sleeve will also lack power and strength. There is also the added complication of all the bite problems associated with a muzzle that is too short. A Rottweiler’s mouth should contain 42 adult teeth. You can only go but so short and still accommodate 42 teeth. Think of the other “stub nose” breeds like the English Bulldog, Boxer or Pug and think of the respiratory problems, missing teeth and sever bite problems associated with the extreme face we have bred them into.
The job of a breeder should be to strengthen the breed, not weaken it. We should be trying to breed existing health problems out, not trying to breed new ones in.
What can breeders do to preserve and improve the breed for the next decades?
There will always be inherent health problems associated with any breed of dog. We have manipulated the genetics of the dog to achieve the desired look or performance we want, and unfortunately, that manipulation has caused health issues. This is true of any breed.
If someone is considering breeding, they should first be aware of what inherent genetic disorders are prevalent or possible in the breed they have chosen. In the case of the Rottweiler, the biggest issues are hip and elbow dysplasia, heart problems including SAS (sub-aortic stenosis) and, in most American bloodlines, cancer, thyroid and eye problems are becoming increasing problematic.
All of these issues must be medically screened for not only the sire/dam you wish to breed, but also in the generations preceding him/her. This is where bloodline knowledge is crucial. If I have a stud that has excellent hips and elbows, however his father had hip dysplasia and he has 2 brothers that also have hip dysplasia, then clearly, he is not a good breeding choice.
The Rottweiler breed in not in critical conditions concerning numbers of specimens, so we have the luxury to be choosey on what we breed. Heath issues are way too easy to breed into a bloodline and can be much more difficult to breed out. That absolute bare minimum tests that should be performed when considering to breed a dog are hip and elbow x-rays and certification from the OFA and heart exams, preferably echo-cardiogram.
The ADRK or Allgemeiner Deutscher Rottweiler-Klub has set and maintained the Rottweiler standard for nearly a decade, and is, without a doubt, the premiere expert for such important matters.
Rottweilers are huge eaters, and Rott breeders must consider this big expense when they get involved with breeding. What is the diet your rottweilers are on?
Nutrition is very important for any breed or species, but especially crucial in large dog breeds. A Rottweiler will grow from less than a pound at birth to 80-100 pounds in the space of 12-24 months. This insane growth rate is one of the major contributing factors to the joint problems that plague Rottweilers, especially hip and elbow dysplasia. It is very important that you have genetically-strong bloodlines to help prevent hip and elbow dysplasia, but the dog’s diet also plays a major role.
The puppy must have a diet that is high in glucosamine and chondroitin to help protect the joints, and equally important that the diet has an easy to digest protein source that is in correct balance to ensure a fluid growth rather that huge growth spurts that can be damaging not only to the joints, but also to large muscles including the heart.
We have tried MANY foods over that last decade, and have found that there are a few out there that are of merit, but unfortunately too many that are far from adequate. I have also found that popularity or price often have little to do with the quality of the food. Many of the more popular or more well known brands (Eukanuba, Purina, etc.) are often popular only because of aggressive marketing, sponsoring loads of dog shows, and offering big incentives to breeders, handlers, trainers and veterinarians to use and recommend their products. They spend all of their money on marketing and incentives rather than on a quality product.
The most import incredients to avoid in dog food are wheat, corn, soy, by-products and other cheap fillers. I’ve created an thorough page on my website that does a much more in-depth breakdown of what ingredients should be avoided.
We currently feed our dogs a combination of raw and quality dog food. I like a rotational diet where the dog is not fed the same food day in and day out. It is nearly impossible for one food to have everything needed- poultry will be naturally higher in glucosamine and chondroitin; red meat will be naturally higher in iron and other essential vitamins; salmon and other fish will be naturally lower in fat and higher in omega 3’s and 6’s.
Fish is also considered one of the easiest protein sources to digest. It is important to note that just like there is no one diet that works for all humans, not all dog foods will work the same for all dogs and breeds. Individual dogs will have different nutritional requirements, and you will have to adjust what you feed accordingly.
How do you pick your pups’ forever homes to make sure the people know what they are getting into?
First, before I even interview with a prospective client, I make sure they have read at least few pages on my website about the Rottweiler, including our contract. The Rottweiler is not the correct breed for everyone, furthermore, not everyone should own a goldfish, let alone a dog. The Rottweiler can be a dominant, hard headed, confident dog breed. He is a dog that you must work with and give respect to. He is a dog that requires daily training and exercise. As the expression goes, to whom much is given, much is expected.
After potential clients have reviewed my contract and my Rottie facts page, then they can schedule an interview. I much prefer interviews in person as it gives a chance to really get to meet my dogs, let me do some demo work, as well as an opportunity for me to be able to see and meet them. However, many of my clients are out of state or out of the country, so we must do another from of interview- phone or Skype usually.
During the interview process, I will reiterate the requirements and needs of a Rottweiler, we will discuss nutrition and training and we will go over my Guardian Rottweilers Puppy Contract. The Guardian Rottweilers Puppy Contract is non-negotiable and legally binding. It stipulates the responsibilities of the new owners, the responsibilities of myself as the breeder, and the very important clause that demands that the pup gets returned to me in the event that the owner is no longer capable of taking care of him. Not only have we never had a single one of our dogs end up in a shelter, we have rescued dozens and dozens from shelters, owner-surrenders and rescue groups over the last decade. The main reasons dogs end up at a shelter are 1) the dog was sold to someone that should have NEVER owned a Rottweiler or 2) complete lack of breeder support leading to poor or missing training, improper nutrition and the accompanying health issues, etc.
A breeder’s job does not begin when you find a customer and does not end when the puppy is sold. A breeder’s job starts the moment they even consider breeding. You are responsible for the dam and all the lives you choose to create from the moment you breed her. You must be physically and financially responsible for each and every one of those lives until they cross over to Rainbow Bridge.
If every breeder stuck to this code of ethics, then there would not be any unwanted dogs in shelters that were produced by breeders, period.
Please guide us through your Rottweiler breeding program: do you use brood bitches and studs all from your kennels or do you bring external blood to add new traits?
Every breeder should have in their mind the perfect Rottweiler. As long as that image in your mind conforms to the breed standard, then that should be your breeding goal. The goal of a breeder should never be to simply produce puppies. There are already thousands upon thousands of deserving dogs stuffed into every shelter all over the world that would love a forever home. The goal of the breeder should be not only breed preservation, but to improve upon the breed- NOT to change the breed standard, but to try and help breed out or at least breed against whatever issues plague that particular breed.
Because our dogs are raised with our family- to include our other feathers and furry friends- ducks, peacocks, ferrets, chinchilla, chickens, turkey, goats, pot-bellied pigs, rescued kitties, other dogs, and of course loads of extra kids that always come over to play (and stay! ;) ) character is just as important to me as conformation. It must be a dog that not only will I trust around my own family and kids, but also be one that I will be able to trust around the children of the families the pups go home to.
I work mostly with my own bloodlines. I have put nearly 2 decades of my life into perfecting my bloodlines, so they are the ones that I trust and respect the most. I know exactly what to expect, I know what issues to be cautious of, and what attributes to try and amplify. Too many breeders are dishonest with their bloodlines and hide faults and imperfections, making it almost a guessing game- and breeding should not be, ever, simply a game of chance. However, I am also very much aware of the impending disaster that can and will be caused by breeding too tight and painting yourself into a corner.
When I attend shows and working events with my dogs, I am not only going to show off what I am producing, but just as importantly, I am going to learn and observe what everyone else is producing. I am looking for a potential stud for an upcoming litter; I am looking for a bloodline combination that might suit my breeding needs; I am looking for a potential dam or youth to incorporate into my breeding program. However, we do not “catalog shop” – see a dog that looks nice in a photo and has some nice dogs in his/her pedigree and decide to breed to or purchase based on photos.
At Guardian Rottweilers, we do not make the decision to breed a dog based on his/her pedigree alone, although that is important. We physically travel to Germany, Italy, Serbia or else, to observe the dog in the ring or in the field, meet with his parents, siblings, and any offspring so that I know with great confidence how that dog will contribute to my breeding program in character, health and conformation.
As a breeder, I strive to produce puppies of exceptional conformation and temperament. This reputation has given me the opportunities I have to be able to own the dogs we own and have access to some of the best bloodlines in the world, as well as be responsible for breeding and producing some of the best Rottweilers in the world.
How do people find you and buy rottweilers from you? Do you think social medias hold an important part in your visibility?
Most of our clients are word of mouth- either it is a veterinarian that has had one of my dogs come into his clinic and was impressed by the health, conformation and character; or perhaps a spectator at a working or conformation show event that saw one of my dogs, youth or pups competing.
However, my website is certainly my biggest asset. There are breeders by the boatloads out there whose website is geared almost solely towards the selling of their “product”– some even have a “click here to add a puppy to your cart” button– no need to interview to see if you are the correct home for that or any puppy, as long as you have money, you can buy.
My entire program is structured around educating. When I first got my soul mate and best friend, Diesel, nearly 14 years ago (his birthday is on October 20th!) I knew very little about nutrition, correct toys, best training methods, health issues, etc. I had to learn it all- and most of it was baptism by fire without the benefit of the internet.
An owner is only able to do as good for his dog as he is educated. If my ambition in wanting nothing but the absolute best for my Diesel and thirst for knowledge had not been sufficient, I most certainly would not have done right with my special boy who, even at nearly 14 years old, would without hesitation lay down his life for myself or my family.
As a police officer, I saw first hand the profound impact that ignorance and lack of education had on families- both human and canine. I vowed that if I was going to do this, I was going to do it right. And the people who do not have the time or patience to weed through over 300 pages on my website and learn about this breed are, without exception, the very people that should not be owning them. So the caliber of people that my website draws in and of itself helps to filter a great deal of people that, as I said earlier, should not own a goldfish, let along a dog that will be as powerful and intelligent as a Rottweiler.
I learned to type on a typewriter, so it has take some convincing from my teenagers to have a go at social media. However, I must say, that I really do like having my Guardian Rottweiler Facebook page as it gives me much easier access to all of my international clientele as well as a faster, more efficient method of disseminating information to a wide audience in regards to updates, show results, photos, and in general, helping everyone else feel more involved with everything going on here.
Tell us about your future champions and promising litters you have in mind?
Some of my favorite picks for you to keep your eye on in the upcoming year are:
- Guardian Puck Von Gottschalk
- Guardian Haven Von Gottschalk
- Guardian Kashi Von Gottschalk
- Guardian Trust Von Gottschalk
The upcoming litters that I am most excited about are our breeding with “Ocho” Guardian Warrick Von Gottschalk and Guardian Geneva Von Gottschalk.
Not only it is combining two of my favorite and best producing dogs (Geneva and her progeny are what secured us our First Place Breeder/Kennel Class at the 2013 ADRK Klubsieger in Rottweil, Germany!), but it will also be a line bred on KÖRUNG, DT.VDH-CH BALOU VOM SILBERBLICK BH AD VPG3 FH1, easily Germany’s most ICONIC studs of all time!
Another litter to keep your eyes on will be our litter with Guardian Isis von Gottschalk. Isis has produced some of the most amazing males I have raised and she was bred to Grand Champion Rolex Von Hause Pista, son of Rik Darel!
What is your most memorable anecdote and memorable rottweiler and/or client?
Ah, now that is a tough question. I could go on and on about all of my babies. Of course everyone knows my heart beats for my Diesel, and I have so many clients who have just as many stories as me.
But, without a doubt, one of my babies that, even at a very young age, showed the true heart and courage of a Rottweiler is young Prince. Guardian Prince Von Gottschalk, later named Bronx by his new family.
When Prince was only 3 days old, he wiggled into the gap under mom’s armpit, then when she leaned up on her elbow to check on another whining puppy, she inadvertently put all of the pressure of her elbow on this puppy. Within minutes, it was unmistakable that something was indeed quite wrong. I rushed him to my vet who immediately took him back to surgery. The weight of mom had ruptured his abdominal muscle and split it all the way from his pelvis in front to his spine in the back. My vet had to meticulously reattach the muscle to both the pelvis and the spine.
What makes his story so amazing is that 1) Dr. Jeff Udrasols is probably the only vet I know that would have even attempted a surgery of that magnitude on a puppy weighing around 1 pound and 2) the surgery was done with that exceptionally brave and strong and courageous puppy completely awake and conscious as he was too young to receive the meds to knock him out- they would have stopped his heart.
This little guy had every odd against him- even after he actually survived such a horrendous surgery, he had to survive recovery! That brave little guy is now 4 years old and thriving!