Dan Koon and Lane Conrad are married, living in Colorado, and both in love with an unspoiled dog breed: the Bracco Italiano. Also called the Italian Pointer, it is a breed developed in Italy as a versatile gun dog and now very popular in various countries, including the United States. The breed principally relies on devoted breeders such as Lane & Dan to gain in popularity and quality.
Simply introduce yourself and your two businesses.
Our names are Dan Koon and (Ms.) Lane Conrad, husband and wife, and our sons, Justis and Radigan. Our businesses are Cerca Trova Canile (breeders of Bracco Italiano dogs) and Wash-N-WatchDogs (our in-home no-cage dog boarding business.)
How did you get involved in the dog breeding industry at the first place?
When Dan and I met almost 20 years ago, we had both been in dogs for most of our lives. I started obedience showing with a Golden Retriever I got when I was 12, and he had dogs since childhood that he trained in tracking wounded game, etc. We compared our dog experiences and decided we wanted to be the best breeders of a rare breed in the U.S.
Dan had watched the Rottweiler become ruined in the ’70’s and got out of breeding Rotts for that reason. We decided that we were looking for an unusual-looking dog, short-haired and short-tailed (for a clean house and stuff not swept off coffee tables) and a multi-purpose dog. We got all that with the Bracco, although it took us 2 years to find anyone who we could speak to in English about this great breed!
Do you consider breeding as a hobby, a business or both?
We consider it our business, and luckily one that we love (we should, since we have 8 Bracchi who live in our house with us.) We and our sons are the only employees, and this and Wash-N-WatchDogs are our sources of income.
What made you go for Bracco Italiano over any other breed; the Bracco Italiano is not commonly known.
We liked the rarity of the breed. In 1998 the only hits we could get on the internet were not in English, except for a breeder in the Netherlands. We also liked the short hair (less shedding), the short tail, the general facial expression, and the fact that the minute you look at a Bracco, you can tell that this is an extraordinary breed. The Bracco is a wonderfully intelligent, high-drive (in the field) low-energy (if properly trained for in-house living) family dog with very few genetic issues. The intelligence and ability to think outside the box are fairly unusual in a hunting breed.
What improvements do you want to bring in the breed?
That is a very interesting question. We don’t feel that we could possibly improve the Bracco as the Italians have created it. The only thing we feel we might be able to do in the U.S. is monitor genetic health problems more than may have been done in the past. It’s difficult to know how much has been done in this area by Italian breeders since we don’t speak the language – but we know that dogs with hip dysplasia and eyelid issues, for example, have been bred in both countries. I believe that it is imperative that we keep “good” breeders in business, and push “bad” breeders out of business – and I think peer pressure is a good way to do that.
What are the biggest misjudgments other owners and breeders may have about Bracco Italiano?
Many people don’t give a Bracco credit for how intelligent he is, and for how much mental stimulation he actually needs in order to keep him happy. The Bracco Club website and Wikipedia (to name a few) say how important it is for this breed to have large amounts of physical exercise; we disagree, and this may be our obedience background showing up. We have learned that if the dog is challenged mentally, there’s no need for daily 3-hour walks – in fact, one couldn’t keep up with the dog anyway – they’d only expect more.
The other misjudgment is that this breed does not need to hunt. It is possible to have a Bracco and not be a hunter – but you lose the amazing interaction of dog and owner and also take away the Bracco’s reason for being – you might as well tell Beethoven that he was never allowed to play the piano again (but he COULD look at it.) Bracchi Italiani, in order to be truly happy, must hunt. The Italians have devoted 2000 years to doing exactly that. And – really – why would a person want a Bracco if he’s not going to allow him to do what makes him happiest?
How did you choose your founding dogs when you started breeding Bracchi Italiani?
Have to admit, we didn’t have much choice, since we were relying on the Netherland kennel to make our decisions for us. We got a lovely brown male (Dino) from them, and they got an orange/white female (Alba) from a breeder they knew in Italy. We trusted our friends to get us good dogs – and we’ve moved up from there. It was important to have a brown and an orange, since these colors can be bred. Two browns cannot be bred (possibility of bad recessive genetic issues) and it’s O.K. to breed two oranges. This gave us more flexibility if we ever found another Bracco in the US to breed to.
Did you you start with puppies or adults?
We started with pups. Because Dan stayed home and I went out to work, I was able to take Dino with me so each pup bonded with his respective owner. If we sold two pups to a family (we almost never do), they would probably bond to each other rather than the family members, being each other’s best friend – ironically, the reason many families get two pups in the first place. The long-term effect (usually) is that the dogs only pay attention to each other.
How do you differentiate your dogs and your business from the other Bracco Italiano breeders?
First, although we started selling a puppy to anyone, we decided about 3 years in that we would only place our pups in hunting families, which is different from most all other breeders in the US. We feel very strongly that we need to continue what the Italians have done so well – and we do not want to create a “Bracco Americano”, as has been accomplished with so many breeds in the U.S. We also feel that the conservative American family can use all the help it can get. We have found that, since the Bracco loves kids and people in general, this puppy can really bring parents and kids together. It’s pretty hard to play with your iPad while trying to hold a gun and pat your puppy. and we’ve found that hunting families are happy ones. We also strongly support NAVHDA, the North American Versatile Hunting Dog Association, and what it does for the dog-human relationship (the handler isn’t even allowed to carry a gun during trials.)
As far as how our dogs are different from others – all of our Bracchi Italiani live in our home with us (we have 3 sets of dog bunk beds in our living room.) Our puppies are born and are raised in our living room, so they are far better socialized than most. Dan has had the opportunity to go to Italy 4 times, and has earned the respect of many Bracco breeders, and this has helped tremendously when we needed a new puppy for breeding – we were able to get breed-quality dogs, for the most part. We definitely got burned, but have also been able to get most of our dogs who have produced phenomenal pups. We also have 6 different bloodlines in our 8 dogs, allowing for some excellent breeding combinations.
Finally, we’ve been told that we are very informative about the breed – and we take pleasure in being so. Very few people know anything about the Bracco, so we take the opportunity to educate as much as we can. If you’re calling us about our dogs, we take this as a compliment – and want to make you happy you called us. In addition, after the sale, we are right there to help answer training questions, and potentially breeding questions, down the road.
Do you do anything special, on a daily or weekly basis, to give extra care to you dogs?
No – although I take one of the dogs with me every time I leave home, so he or she gets some alone time. Since the dogs aren’t kenneled, they don’t need anything extra (that I can think of!)
Did you need a lot of money to start your breeding adventure?
Depends on the meaning of “a lot.” I can’t remember how much each dog cost, but it was probably $3-$5 thousand to start. Each time we get another dog from Italy, it’s generally $3-$4000.
How do you pick your puppies’ new forever homes?
Do they hunt? Does the dog live in the house? Are they a family? If you answered yes to all 3, you’ll generally get a pup from us.
Of course, single people can also qualify – and the best homes are the ones who will have the dog with them during the day. These dogs won’t do well in the backyard ’til you get home from work – they get way too bored. Having said that, Braccos can get very separation-anxious, so you should start early, with your puppy getting used to not following you all around the house. How to do that? Tie the pup in the living room, with a good chewy, and go in and out of the room, first for a few seconds, then for a few minutes, then longer and longer. Never leave the puppy tied without you being fairly close.
How do you control your expenses while breeding dogs?
Not sure how to answer this – it’s the same as budgeting any business …. take in more than you pay out!
How many litters per year are you having on average?
One to two. Because we raise these guys in the house, it takes a great deal out of Radigan and me (the designated puppy-raisers) and we really want to do it right.
What diet are your dogs following?
Although we could definitely feed better (read: more expensive) food, when you’re feeding 8-15 dogs at a time, you have to watch the cost. We feed a medium-quality food (Diamond) which has as major ingredients lamb and rice. We also supplement with what ever leftovers we have on a daily basis. We butcher our own meat regularly, also, so there’s lots of additional nutrition from that.
We read ingredient labels very carefully, but the big question is basically the first 4 ingredients or so, since the list goes from most to least. Corn is often used to reduce production cost – and dogs don’t digest corn well. Generally, we find that most any issue can be fixed by changing to a food with better ingredients. Skin issues, ear infections, digestive issues – in our experience, all improve when you give your dog a better diet.
What would you tell to those who say dog breeding should cease or become ultra-regulated as there are too many dogs in shelters?
It is not reputable dog breeders who are the problem – it is indiscriminate puppy-mill breeding. There’s no question that there are too many dogs without homes, but those dogs are more often mixed-breed than pure-bred (I think.) I do believe that the largest registration body (AKC) doesn’t do enough about controlling puppy mills (i.e. – even THOSE puppies are AKC registered.) I also believe that the more the public is educated, the less problems there are with unwanted pets. I think that spay/neuter should be mandatory for any mixed-breed dog.
However, I’m against over-regulation as well. We are also amazed that so many owners will buy a puppy over the internet, expect it to be shipped, and only see the breeder’s website. That makes it very, very easy to take advantage of this shopper! You can present whatever version of yourself that you want to on your website – and none of it may be true! So, as a prospective puppy owner, you should be ready to go to this breeder’s home or kennel, unannounced, and see if the hype matches the truth.
A big problem in the U.S., we believe, is no-kill shelters. By allowing aggressive dogs to live and be potentially re-homed, this means that there are less homes for other non-aggressive dogs. As sad as it is, euthanasia of unwanted pets is a reality – therefore, it’s up to humans to determine which pets are most likely to find good homes, and which will not. I also believe that often the costs associated with the adoption may be too much for many individuals who could provide an excellent home.
Additionally, if a person is looking for a dog for a specific purpose (guard, stock, hunting, pet for an elderly person) it’s very difficult to find that specific dog in a shelter, without a whole lot of looking. Purebred dog breeders exist to fill that need.
How and where do you find most of your clients?
We find our clients by word-of-mouth, from other happy customers. We also get lots of traffic from our website.
What are your efforts put into in order to build a great reputation?
We believe that treating the folks who buy our puppies very well makes quite a bit of difference. We also try to educate them about our breed, the training of the pup, and just basically try to be available for any questions at all. Having a rare breed means that we often know more about the Bracco than any other person they may have spoken with. We also stand behind our sale – and if a problem arises, we’ve always been right there to help fix it.
Are you active on online communities and forums?
Not much, although we now are on Facebook – and I must admit – it’s fun being in contact with all sorts of Bracco owners throughout the world.
How important is it for a breeder to have an online presence nowadays?
A website is mandatory, and I used to think it wasn’t that important. The people who want our pups follow our website on a regular basis, and we are about promoting dogs of our breeding, since we feel we’re the best in the US.
Do you advertise online for your breeding business, or receive most traffic from Google?
We advertise through our website – we’ve tried magazines and have had very little results, so I think we receive most traffic through all the search engines – not just Google.
If you had to start afresh with another breed, which one would it be?
What has been your most memorable sale and client?
The Texas gentleman who came up in his helicopter to pick up his puppy. He then took her for several days traveling in the helicopter, so she became accustomed to running up to the helicopter and jumping up and down begging to go flying again!
Do you remember your first sale?
No – have to admit that I don’t.
Any advice you would give to newcomers in this industry?
Yes. If you want to be a dog breeder, ask yourself why. If it is to make money, think again. In order to be a good dog breeder, you’ll need to do a lot of work on screening for genetic issues – each breed is different, but in any given purebred, there are at least 5 different negative genetic issues that should be bred out, if you’re doing your job of producing healthy, intelligent breed-quality puppies.
In addition, if you’re in it long enough, you’ll have surgeries on your dogs that you may not have planned on… In our breed, for example, many tend to eat things you wouldn’t expect, which often equals exploratory surgery. Then there are whelping problems, which can necessitate caesarian sections (opening the bitch up to get the pups out.) Then, you’ll need to consider what will happen with your breeding bitches when they get too old to breed – do you keep them or re-home?
If you want to become a breeder of a specific breed, it’s really important for the breed that you do as good a job as you possibly can. That means finding dogs that are as close to the breed standard as possible, and at the same time, you need to be sure that these dogs are healthy, both mentally and physically, and are good at whatever they’re bred for. And then, you need to find new owners who will be appropriate owners for the puppy – for instance, are they looking for a mellow Golden Retriever-type dog to wait in the backyard for you to get home from work? If so, they’re not appropriate Bracco owners. The reason to be so careful is that if that relationship succeeds, you may well have a repeat client for another puppy. If it hasn’t succeeded, perhaps it’s because you didn’t do your job educating the client.
If you want to learn more about Bracco Italiano dogs, you should visit Cerca Trova Canile website, they really are great a source of information and do not hesitate to contact Lane and Dan if any question remains unanswered!