Interview with Anneke van der Wijst, English Bulldog breeder at Tivoli Bulls

Interview with Anneke van der Wijst, English Bulldog breeder at Tivoli Bulls

Breeding bulldogs is challenging: the breed is in a difficult space currently, and English Bulldog breeders have to put a lot of money, effort, and time into each litter. To help shed some light on how to breed bulldogs correctly, we’ve asked breeding-related questions to Anneke van der Wijst, from Tivoli Bulls.

Anneke has bred multiple Grand Champion and World Champion bulldogs, Dogs of the Year, and took the lead in dozens of dog shows all around the world. Tivoli Bulls was created by her husband and herself and they have been breeding for over 27 years, giving birth to almost 150 litters.

So yes, she knows a bit about breeding Bulldogs that are healthy, typical, and well trained.

Why Breeding Bulldogs?

A good question; the first bulldog I saw was to be honest absolutely nowhere near a show dog. The second one was a female 8 weeks in her pregnancy, with her belly bigger then her head; in all honesty, she looked horrible. Both didn’t really make me want to own one.

Later on, I saw a litter of pups and my view on the English Bulldog breed changed. As a true animal lover, I like all kind of puppies but Bulldog puppies are so special to me.
 A bulldog is funny and a true character dog, who easily steals somebody’s heart, and that’s what happened to me!

A bit later, we did buy two females pups, so that they are never alone and can entertain each other, too. I then bought a third English Bulldog bitch and this one was for showing. I bred my first litter with her as a challenge to see if I could do it. Bulldogs are not easy to breed and raise and if something is not easy, I’m in!

And 27 years later I’m still doing it: owning, breeding, showing and now also judging my beloved breed. As somebody recently said to me “you are a real Bulldog-lady.”

What are the top mistakes English Bulldog breeders make with their bloodlines?

Being kennel blind. Many breeders do think they have the perfect English Bulldog specimen and keep on breeding with bloodlines that have severe faults which do keep on coming back down the line.

Bulldog breeders must stop with such practices and take the time and effort to find better dogs with better pedigrees to breed from, and start all over again.

A lot of breeders nowadays use line-breeding because many say thats the way to breed quality, not knowing why and how. It has become some sort of buzzword. There are more ways to breed healthy Bulldogs than just using inbreeding to get an “almost perfect one” (perfection doesn’t exist). Inbreeding and linebreeding are very powerful techniques but they are inherently very risky; only well-advanced breeders can sporadically use them.

Complement your specimens but always make sure the breeding mate’s pedigree is worth it. Health is always the most important, such a structural shape and morphology, especially with this breed. A quality dog is healthy and has type, it’s never just one of these two. Each breeder should aim at breeding dogs bringing both, type and health, forward.

Anneke van der Wijst has experience with breeding, showing, and judging English Bulldogs.
Anneke van der Wijst has experience with breeding, showing, and judging English Bulldogs.

What is a frequent judging mistake you've come across as a show participant
?

Probably letting the dog who is handled the best and runs the fastest win the trophy.

The Bulldog is a head breed, always has been and always will be. Head is of utmost importance, followed by a strong correct body and legs. Of course their gait should be easy and free but still like a Bulldog’s gait. The bulldog is not a runner, however it should display the correct speed to show their special way of gaiting. One shoulder a bit ahead and a heavy gait, like walking against the wind, preferably the rolling gait.

Believe me, this all in one dog is so special and not easy to find.

How do you get motivated to show when you are just starting and know you'll end up losing?

I started showing my Bulldogs 26 years ago, and I starting not knowing much of the breed standard and how things get engineered (at breed level, but also at dog shows.)

To be honest, I have no idea how I stayed motivated and kept on going forward. I only know I have a pitbull-mentality: I start by not saying I can’t, and then prove I can. Perhaps also by believing and working on it that one day we will have the best. It takes years and years to learn to “read” the Bulldog and everything that comes with it.

How to spot the show dog in a new litter of Bulldogs?

At birth you see the type of head, and that’s very important from day one. Then, I wait to see how the body develops, and after that comes the movement. After nine or ten weeks, you can see this all together, and never get blinded by your first thoughts at day one. Indeed, a lot as they grow up over those very first weeks.

Be realistic and honest to yourself in what you see and feel on a puppy. Keep in mind, every new line you meet has its own typical aspect; and it’s always a challenge to recognize and value it correctly.

How do you plan, prepare and find a suitable partner for a breeding?

Breeding bulldogs requires you to project yourself few generations down the line. Your decisions do have consequences.
When breeding Bulldogs, you need to project the what could a potential stud result in, few generations down the line.

First, I have to explain that Tivoli Bulls are 2 people; my husband Hans, and I. Hans is more on the background (he prefers that) and makes 9 out of 10 of our combinations for breeding. He has a good eye for quality on a dog and knows the breed, through and through. I always say he is born with that gift, I am more the public relations part and love to show the dogs. The same as with raising litter, he loves the nights and I prefer the days; we are an ideal combination ourselves in a way.

Hans searches online and offline until he finds the most perfect match for our males or females. He also checks each candidate’s pedigree to see if the ancestors are worth it; but also looks at whether or not the candidate (male or female) has already given quality pups and how they turned out as adults. Often, I come home from a dog show and mention him a particular dog to investigate, it might be something for our dams or sires.

Champion titles are most definitely nice on a dog, but not a must at all. It’s the dog itself and its qualities that will make him interesting, and it has to be backed with a strong pedigree to avoid a one-off lucky specimen. We pretty much never use a “lucky shot” — it simply has no future! A line-bred male or female is stronger in giving his or her looks but it has to be the correct breed-typical characteristics, otherwise its very difficult to breed away from it.

From time to time, we go ahead and buy a new stud that benefits from a strong pedigree in order to refresh our blood and gene pool. When finding a new male for our kennel, we always make sure he adds to what we are missing or what could be bettered on our breeding females. We hardly ever buy a female, we prefer home bred females.

What are some main health concerns breeders should focus on breeding out urgently?

Bad breathing, and to be more specific: narrow trachea, to long soft palate and also very important a relaxed easy going character which prevents a lot of stress. Also like to mention bad eyes, too small, to big or to deep.

How do you find your customers?

There are two different worlds: when we had our first litters, and now.

Twenty-six years ago, you could find your customers at a dog show with big advertising shields on the benches of your dogs, and business cards with your information on it. Nowadays, it’s internet-focused: website, Facebook, Instagram, you name it. The world has become much bigger or smaller, it simply depends on how you look at it.

anneke (from tivoli bulls) at a dog show
Anneke from Tivoli Bulls handling one of her English bulldogs at a dog show.

I remember our first litter, we had four pups, nobody was good enough but I had to let them go. I cried behind closed doors. Nowadays, almost 150 litters later, I gained lots of experience in breeding and recognizing the right people for your pups, everything is much easier. Most people find us by internet or seeing our dogs during dog shows. They know what we are about.

And I have to say that after breeding 46 English Bulldog champions, they are showed to their title all over the world, from Asia to South Africa, Europe and the US and campaigned 3 Bulldogs from other breeders to their Ch. Title. Which brings us new clients for showing and breeding and the true fanciers of the breed, not really those just in need of a bargained and discounted pet.

Any actionable advice to somebody starting to breed Bulldogs?

Go to dog shows, preferably where a true breed specialist judges. Try to dissect and understand why a dog wins, and why another one comes fifth. Talk to people who have experience and have proven themselves, do visit their kennel. Learn the breed standard and compare it with real dogs. Most of all, talk and ask lots of questions to the leading kennels who have proven their knowledge by their success and dogs.

Keep your mind opened, and never think you know it all!

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