Laura Clark is a reputable Boxer breeder (Clarkenwells Kennels), handler and she is also on the AKC’s Judge list for the breed. Laura has been involved in boxer breeding for over two decades and accepted to share how to breed boxers of sound health and great temperament.
From assessing a boxer puppy’s show potential to clearing your breeding stock of common health conditions, Laura Clark is giving us clues and tips on how to breed better boxers. Breeding is difficult, so is showing dogs. Doing both is often coveted but rarely executed for long; these two hobbies are time takers and the hopes and dreams soon dissipate to leave place for a much harder reality.
Enjoy the interview!
What brought you to breeding boxers over just showing them?
The boxer breed was introduced to me by my parents when my father was retired from work through ill health. My mother bought him a boxer and I believe this extended his life by 10 years. Having a loyal and loving dog also improved his quality of life as he was never alone. Not until I was over 30 years old did I get the opportunity to own a boxer myself through redundancy and I set out to buy a bitch that I could breed and show.
Breeding to show, showing to breeding, which comes first?
There is no right or wrong way to do it. People usually get frustrated in the show ring and find it difficult to be trusted enough with a special show dog, meaning that breeders are reluctant to sell good puppies with show potential to novices, so they turn to breeding themselves in an attempt to breed their own special dog(s). With that being said, the idea may sound much easier than it actually is.
Breeding dogs is a challenge even after 20 years! There is so much to learn and so many opinions to listen to. The skill is in listening and learning from experienced owners and breeders, and taking your time to progress – there is no fast track to winning or producing winning stock. Once I had tried to show my first boxer with very limited success, I was lucky enough to meet a great mentor, who I still show dogs for today. I was told that there is a 10-year apprenticeship and that proved to be true.
So essentially many people choose to breed in order to be able to keep the best puppy in the litter.
How do you evaluate show potential in a Boxer puppy?
When I first see a whole litter, I am looking for substance, bone and an all-round good impression. Obviously, this is much easier with a litter you have bred yourself as you see them all the time and can assess them constantly. Additionally, in the boxer breed markings can be very important.
It is not until around 10 days when eyes are open can you see which are fully pigmented. You then need to wait until 6 weeks to be able to stand the puppies up and assess their confirmation. Males take even longer to be able to assess if testicles are fully descended!
So I would spot a favorite early and then watch it through the stages and from 4 weeks you can assess temperament and character. There is no one thing — its really about an all-round puppy that meets the standard and has the personality to cope with the show ring.
What is your process to find suitable partners for breeding?
A number of criteria are important when considering a stud dog for your bitch. For me, I must like the dog, its character and temperament, and not just in the show ring. The latter is possibly the hardest thing to see in your stud dog — you can see him in the controlled environment of the show ring or working but it is best to try and see him at home to witness how he lives and behaves.
Health testing is vital and in Boxers, we have a proven heart testing scheme so all breeding stock must be tested and ideally have a score lower than 2. I do like to explore some of the history of the lines in regards to cancer and kidney issues—although there is only limited evidence of genetic and environmental influences. If I have any reservations then I simply avoid these lines.
The Kennel Club in the UK has a great Mate Select program which can help you understand how closely bred animals are, but it is also important to use a dog that compliments your bitch. A winning dog-bitch combination does not guarantee that it is correct or that it is healthy! Always do thorough research.
What are your thoughts on inbreeding, linebreeding, and back-breeding?
Inbreeding, linebreeding, and back-breeding are all essentially the same to me. In order to produce type in a bloodline, we have to breed similar dogs and in order to prevent health issues, we have to breed genetically different dogs.
It’s really all about getting the balance right and moving forward with a lot of care. Somebody passionate about dog breeding should always question himself and make every decision with as much information as possible.
What does an average day look like at Clarkenwells Kennels?
In brief, a day in my kennels would involve being up early, bringing the dogs out for short exercise, and then grant them access to large runs. Dogs would then be fed. Further exercise off lead for at least an hour, and training in the morning.
My dogs would then relax around the house and garden with the family during the afternoons. They get fed again teatime, some would stay in the house some would be back in kennels and runs. This depends on the number of dogs and life stages of the dogs on-site at the time.
A short exercise for all dogs before bed at around 10 pm. Grooming is minimal for my breed and would be incorporated into each day.
What are the current medical conditions affecting Boxers a lot?
The Boxer has numerous health issues, some common to other breeds and some more specific to the Boxer.
Cancer — the biggest killer of all dogs — seems to be prevalent. Epilepsy, kidney disease and heart disease are all too common. The Boxer breed authorities (Health committees and Breed clubs) have worked hard to develop schemes to try and understand these issues and breed away from them wherever possible. Sadly, we have no DNA test available on the breed.
In the UK, we have a successful Aortic Stenosis heart testing scheme which has seen the deaths from the disease almost disappear. Cardiomyopathy and Juvenile Kidney Disease have been major issues in recent times and continue to baffle us as a breed and despite extensive research, we have not made much progress. The outcome of which has meant that breeders have just avoided those lines and dogs that have developed or produced these diseases.
What are the top three mistakes you notice the most in today's Boxer breeders?
I am not in a position to criticize other breeders but commonly as breeders, we fall into the trap of using a friend’s dog, a top winning dog or a complete outcross dog, for a number of good reasons, but none of which do anything to complement our own bitch.
Should new breeders show for feedbacks and networking since they most likely will lose?
For anyone wanting to start to show their dogs, they must first do research about ringcraft classes in their area, attend local shows and be sure it is for you. Always start at the bottom, it’s a mistake to go to championship shows too early with no experience. Take advice and listen to more experienced owners, have your dog assessed by its breeder or someone else in the breed you can trust — be realistic about your chances, and remember that it is only a hobby!
Does showing your dogs automatically turn you into a reputable dog breeder or there is more to it?
Showing dogs and success in the show ring has almost no bearing on being or becoming a reputable breeder. Being a responsible breeder looking to produce healthy happy dogs that are close to the breed standard that will make good companions and pets, that can do whatever is asked of them, showing working, agility, should be the priority.
You are responsible for all the puppies you produce, for finding them the right homes and for doing your very best to give them a healthy start in life. Breeders who get too serious about winning and attending shows all the time, promoting their lines and becoming very blinkered about other stock may run the risk of making poor breeding decisions. Breeding and showing are expensive, but it is the health and welfare of the dogs that should always remain the priority.
What are your breeding and showing plans for the future?
I have been breeding and showing for over 25 years. I have bred several homebred champions and handled dogs for my mentor to their title. The challenge of taking out new puppies and seeing them enjoy their work remains, however, my desire to have top dogs lessens as I get older.