TRC: Let�s start with some basic information about your dog involvement. How long have you been handling dogs and how long with your primary breed, the Rottweiler?
KK: I have been handling dogs for close to 30 years and Rottweilers for about 20 years.
TRC: How many Rottweilers have your finished?
KK: I have finished over 50 Rottweiler champions
TRC: How and when did you become involved with dogs?
KK: Well, I always loved animals and always had pets. I�ve had pets from chickens, to hamsters, guinea pigs, goats, horses and we also had dogs. I got my own dog when I was 9 years old. It was a mixed breed, looked like a corgi/collie mix�and was a fantastic dog. My grandfather and father had hunting beagles. And these were not dogs for decoration. These were beagles that were born to work and knew they were born to work. My first pedigreed dog was a German Shepherd. Then when I got married and moved to Long Island, I got a female Doberman Pinscher. Her name was, Venus. I showed her some and also kept two puppies from her that I showed. They didn�t finish but were both major pointed. We won some big shows under legendary breeder/judge Tess Henssler of Von Ahrtal Dobermans.
TRC: So the Dobermans were your beginning in show handling? When did you decide that you wanted to be a professional handler?
KK: I handled my own Dobermans, became active in the dog game and was a member of the OHA (the Owner Handlers Association) and the Stuart Club of America. The OHA is where I learned the art and skill of handling. And I also just stayed active and learned as much as I could about structure, temperment and movement. I just wanted to handle my own dogs to the best of my ability. Before I knew it many of my dog friends were asking me to handle their dogs as well. I was handling Dobermans, Akitas, Bloodhounds, Boxers, Whippets, Bullmastiffs and German Shorthairs. I was especially known for handling Dobermans and was also active with Whippets.
TRC: Really, I never knew you were involved with Whippets.
KK: Yes, I was very active in Whippets. I co-bred, with Diane Bleeker of Moreshore Whippets, one of the top-producing bitches in the breed. Moreshore Whippets have produced Best in Show (BIS) Whippets known around the world.
TRC: And now your breed is the Rottweiler?
KK: Yes, the Rottweiler has become my passion. I started showing them when I met Khalid Ahmad. He and his brother-in-law had a dog that I really liked, Bilalian Acres Dark Star. I told him that I could go BOB (Best of Breed) from the classes with the dog. Rottweilers were so popular that I would end up being in the Rottweiler ring all day. There would be 20-25 Open Bitches and 20-25 Open dogs. So I sort of got �pigeon-holed� into Rottweilers.
TRC: Interesting! I got my second Rottweiler, from my uncle who was a breeder, when I was about thirteen or fourteen years old. The dog was sired by one of Khalid Ahmad�s dogs, Bilalian Acres Midnite Fire, who was a son of Ch. Stormking�s Arlo. That was close to 20 years ago.
KK: Dark Star was an Arlo son also. So he and Midnite Fire were at least � brothers. Maybe even full brothers, I don�t know.
TRC: Did you take him (Dark Star) into the ring? And, if so, did he in fact go Best of Breed (BOB) as you predicted?
KK: Yes, I did show him and he did very well. He went BOB from the classes, had a Group 2 and finished his championship.
TRC: Did you know right away that you had a special affinity for Rottweilers?
KK: I knew right away that the Rottweiler was a very unique breed. They had a different demeanor. They would �talk to you� when you showed their bites. Well, the owners called it �talking� but the judges called it �growling� (Laughs). I learned how to speak the Rottweiler language, how they communicated, and decided I wanted to become their friend and get to know their character. This is a breed that you have to understand. Just like with humans, sometimes you have to have an open mind and extend yourself to understand some else�s culture and language.
TRC: And you are not just a handler but also have a breeding program, correct?
KK: Yes, I have been breeding Rottweilers for 13 years, which is something that I really had no plans to do. One of my clients, Anthony Vitale, gave me a bitch, OBV�s Mercedes von Hoag (9 points, a major reserve under Muriel Freeman at a specialty show). She became my foundation bitch. In a sense, Anthony Vitale inspired my breeding program. I am currently on my third-generation.
TRC: How many champions have you bred thus far?
KK: I have bred 12 champions and presently have 5 or 6 actively showing that need a major or so to finish. So over the next 6 months I should have close to 20 champions.
TRC: What dog (or dogs) brings you the most satisfaction in knowing that you were involved with them?
KK: As I think back and reflect, it is really difficult to say because there have been so many. One very nice dog that I handled, American Champion Von Hottenstein�s Hubabubba (ARC Gold Sire, MRC Hall of Fame), was the number one Rottweiler in 1991, when the breed was at the height of its popularity (the #2 breed in American Kennel Club registrations). Based on show record, that would be my best accomplishment. And in 1990 he was the # 2 dog in the nation, second to BIS Ch. Nelson von Brabantpark. Other dogs that come to mind are A/C Champion Victorhaus Noble Heritage, a dog that was just dripping in type. He was a grandson of International Champion Ives Eulenspiegel and also linebred on Ives; Ch. Cisco von Huter, a Ch. Eiko von Schwaiger Wappen son; Ch. Von Hottensteins Omega, a dog with excellent conformation and one of my best show dogs was a bitch, OBV�s Ginger von Hoag.
TRC: Has handling in the breed ring improved since you first started and if so have you made contributions to any of those improvements?
KK: Twenty to thirty years ago people were using short, heavy leads and doing much more hand-stacking. I was one of the first to use loose leads and also to free bait, in Rottweilers. I also started showing a lot of puppies, which many were not doing. Showing puppies is something I got from my involvement in the Doberman world, as they were very big on socializing their puppies.
TRC: Is there any decline in what you see in the ring?
KK: There is a lack of consistency. You see some dogs with strong heads, some with movement, some with nice bodies, and then you see some that seem like they have substance and then when you look closer they don�t, they�re overweight. And a lot of people want to breed but don�t know the breed issues, health problems, or strengths and weaknesses in their dogs or their lines.
TRC: Why is that?
KK: You have to realize that twenty years ago, through the �90s, Rottweilers were at the height of popularity. As professional handlers we were at 115-130 shows per year. So you got to see the best and worst breeding stock on a regular basis.
TRC: What, if anything, would you say is the greatest problem or concern in the breed?
KK: The greatest problem is that no one wants to mentor or be mentored. Everyone keeps making the same mistakes. Here�s what happens, someone comes into the breed, they buy an 8 week old puppy, then hopefully they get the dog�s hips OFA�d (Orthapedic Foundation for Animals hip evaluation) at 24 months or shortly thereafter. Then within 6 months the bred the bitch whether she is titled or not. But they don�t go back to their breeders for consultation. They don�t ask which stud dog to bred to, which one would go best with her lines and what strengths and weaknesses are in the lines. We have many people who come into the breed for a short-time, do their damage and then pass it on to others. I would really like to get back to the point of unity and people working together. For instance, the ARC (American Rottweiler Club) is supposed to encourage local clubs but don�t have enough local clubs where people meet on a regular basis to learn about the breed, breeding, temperment, gaining experience, fighting against breed bans and so many other things. In the Dobie community you have a lot of involvement on the local level. You are bogged down with education, you hear it over and over, �know the standard�, �know it verbatim�, �understand the history of the breed� and �socialize your dog�. You learn baseball from being on the baseball field. With anything you learn from doing and being involved and working with others in your area of interest. I mean we even have people in leadership positions that don�t speak to people. They will even walk by you without speaking.
TRC: It sounds like it is more than a dog problem but a human problem that affects the dog.
KK: Exactly! But we are the protector of the breed. We have a responsibility to help each other and especially for the experienced person to help the novice. My philosophy is, if you�re a friend of the Rottweiler you are a friend of mine. And it is not just people who don�t mentor beginners, but a lot of beginners who don�t want to be mentored. Many people don�t want t be mentored because they don�t want to be told the truth. They just want to hear what they want to hear. We want our doctors to tell us the truth. We want out lawyers to tell us the truth. But in dogs many people really don�t want to hear the truth about their dogs. The truth is your guide. It is an indicator. If I tell someone that their gas tank in their vehicle is near empty, it�s not too hurt their feelings but so that they know they better pay attention to the gas and re-fuel before it�s too late.
TRC: Did you yourself have mentors who were instrumental in you becoming successful as a professional handler?
KK: Yes. I grew up with animals on a farm in Suffolk, Virginia where my primary mentors were my grandfather, my mother and uncles. My grandfather was also a horse trainer. They all taught me respect for animals. We never even sat down to eat until all the animals ate. Handling dogs begins with having a great respect for the dog as a living creature. I have also had a great number of people in the dog world who were integral to my success dogs.
TRC: Who were some of the people?
Mrs. Muriel Freeman is one. I considered her the matriarch of the breed. She set high standards for breeder and for handlers who were presenting dogs in her ring. She is no longer active in the breed and we certainly miss her presence. I know I, and so many others, learned a great deal from her. I showed under her, which was quite an honor. She was very encouraging of my handling and involvement with the breed. I also attended her seminars. I have also attended seminars by and learned from Catherine Thompson, Michael Grossman, Jan Marshall, Joan Klem, and Anton Spindler.
TRC: That�s quite an impressive group of people.
KK: And there were more, Felicia Luburich, Mark Schwartz, Tony DiCicio, Karen and Bruce Billings, Mike Gallagher, and others. And then there were handlers who I learned a great deal from such as Syd Lamont, a naturally gifted handler, Jimmy Moses, James Forsythe, Perry Phillip, Jeffrey Lynn Brucker, just to name a few. As far as handling they don�t come more skilled than a handler of the past Syd Lamont and Jimmy Moses, who is still actively handling.
TRC: You mentioned local clubs, what role (if any) do you feel the national club should play in the breed?
KK: The national club should be the caretaker of the breed. The caretaker of the Rottweiler in America is the American Rottweiler Club, not the ARV (American Rottweiler Verein) or the USRC (United States Rottweiler Club). The ARC is the only club recognized by the ADRK and the FCI as the parent club of the Rottweiler. Any one who cares about the future of the breed here in the US needs to be involved with the ARC to have their voice and opinion heard, whether it is the tail issue or the working aspects of the breed or anything else.
TRC: You also mentioned �the Rottweiler demeanor�, has the Rottweiler demeanor and temperment changed over the years?
KK: No, the basic temperment is the same. However, dogs are socialized a lot more. Back then there were not a lot of people bringing puppies out to the shows. We were bringing 120 pound dogs out to shows for the first time. The type of male dog that was dog aggressive then is still dog aggressive today, he has just been taught better manners. But again, the basic temperment is still the same.
TRC: What about so many people who say the Rottweiler is a softer dog today?
KK: Well, it is so difficult to judge. Did you ever see that advertisement about the two brothers? One subscribed to the Wall Street Journal and the other Hunt & Field. Maybe that�s not it exactly but something like that. Well, as it goes the won who subscribes to the Wall Street Journal is the one who grows up to be the one who is successful in business and very rich. The point is that dogs like anything else are a result of time, place and environment. Again, dogs are not necessarily softer but are definitely socialized more. I have even seen dogs that people perceived as being �hard dogs� but they weren�t hard. They were really insecure. I agree with what Anton Spindler says that a dog should have a certain amount of tolerance. A dog that is confident and doesn�t have a weak temperment is more secure. Socializing also makes a dog more secure. People are more sophisticated and have more �dog savvy� today. But the only way we could know for sure is by testing the dog.
TRC: You mention testing, how do you feel about breed testing, schutzhund, and aspects of the breed besides conformation?
KK: It is a matter of what people chose to do with their dogs. A dog activity requires the dog and the owner. Schutzhund is great! There are an increasing number of other activities that a person can do with their dog: conformation, schutzhund, obedience, agility, herding and even more. The main thing is whatever you pursue is to be successful at it. I know so many people who say they are schutzhund people and criticize show people, yet they haven�t titled any dogs in schutzhund. Everyone should have an activity for their dog and be successful in it.
TRC: Does the breed lose anything if the breeder does not pursue schutzhund?
KK: I don�t think that a dog that does not participate in schutzhund loses anything or that the bred loses anything. They did a test with birds that they kept away from nests for several generations. When they allowed subsequent generations to nest, they nested. Of course if you�re looking for a police dog or a sport dog, you need some reference point as to what the dogs abilities are. A dog from a consistent, well performing schutzhund background has a better chance to do the work. Many people who focus on mostly showing their dogs stopped doing schutzhund work because the AKC forbade AKC member clubs from doing any type of bite work. This was a result of the bad press around the country for many breeds, including the Rottweiler.
TRC: What do you think of the AKC now bringing back a working title that involves schutzhund-type work?
KK: It�s on their web-site and seems to be very similar to schutzhund but of course will go by a different name.
TRC: Do you think that this will have any major impact on the Rottweiler in America?
KK: I don�t think it will have a major impact. Again, it is a matter of what people chose to do. Schutzhund is so time consuming, requires a lot of dedication, and most of all you have to find a good helper. As long as people realize that this dog is not a �coach potato� I think the breed here will be fine. Many people do the breed a disservice by thinking it is a �coach potato�. This is an intelligent breed, with drive, energy and the capabilities for high performance. They have to be engaged.
TRC: As an AKC Handler how do you feel about the German system?
KK: The ADRK (German Rottweiler Club) has a system and it is an excellent system. The Rottweiler is above anything else a working dog. The ZTP (Breed Test) is an evaluation of the dog�s basic conformation and working temperment to see if it is adequate for breeding. It is a disciplined and much needed system. Such a system in America would be difficult because Americans are not as easily regulated. It is much more difficult for most people to be involved in schutzhund.
TRC: Where does the difficulty lie?
KK: In America we have many people who are interested in schutzhund. In Germany it is not just an interest, it is a way of life. I went to Germany in January of this year (2003) and spent time at the Nuremberg Rottweiler Club. The difference in schutzhund training in Germany and here in the US is like night and day. They have modern buildings dedicated to the schutzhund club. It is like that with hunting clubs here in America. They have their own buildings, kennels, bird dog plantations. But there are few who are committed to schutzund like the Germans are. The schutzhund fields are the size of a football or baseball field and there are people who know what they are doing. It was such a great feeling driving up to the training center and you see a beautiful sign with the training center name. There is a playground for the children. Kennels to leave your dog so you don�t have to leave them in the car, computers, a modern kitchen, you can stay in the clubhouse and view training happening outside on the field. They also have the most experienced trainers in the world and all the towns have clubs. It makes it so much easier to be involved with schutzhund when it is so accessible and you have so many resources at your disposal. For one to find a schutzhund club in the US, in their area, is itself a challenge. The Germans also have more unity.
TRC: More unity in what sense?
KK: Well, I sensed more comraderie and more unity in improving the breed. Here when you have success people get jealous and won�t help each other. Maybe that is not a dog thing but people in general. If you�re the fastest, the best tennis player, or hit the ball the farthest people don�t really give you respect but want to take you down. I was in Germany with Xaver Meixner (vom Schwaiger Rathaus), Bernd Oswald (von der Teufelsbrucke) and Erwin Busl (vom Burgthan) who are some of the biggest Rottweiler names in the country. Yet there was a unity amongst all of these big name breeders.
TRC: What was the occasion for your trip to Germany?
KK: Bernhard Clay (breeder/trainer, active in conformation and schutzhund) Joe Hedl (Breeder/Judge, and owner of the legendary International Champion Santo vom Schwaiger Wappen) and I went to visit some kennels, talk to breeders and look at some dogs. We saw a lot of dogs. It felt great to spend time with Rick (vom Burgthan), a Rick son, Chan von der Bleichstrasse and Emil von der Bleichstrasse, who is an International Champion, Schutzhund 3 and Chan�s brother from a repeat breeding. I had bred to Rick (to Karriem�s Lucy) in February of 2002 so it was good to see him live and some of his other offspring in the flesh. I am thankful and grateful to Bernhard and Joe for introducing me to so many great people in Germany. It was really great to travel and spend time with two people who share my Rottweiler passion. We also got to spend great time with Xaver Meixner and his wife and Mr. Busl and his wife. Their hospitality was great. They gave us royal treatment.
TRC: What was your impression of Rick?
KK: Rick is an incredible dog. I have seen a lot of Rottweilers over the past thirty years or so and he is the most impressive dog I have ever seen at that age. He was going on ten years old and looked like he was about five years old. I really wanted to bring him over here to show him to his AKC Championship. At ten years old he could easily finish his AKC Championship.
TRC: Wow! That says a lot about him as a specimen. How would you compare presenting a dog for the judge in a German-style with presenting a dog for the judge in an AKC show?
KK: If you have a good Rottweiler you can win in either show. The main difference is summed up in what has been said about AKC dog shows in general, �it is the only sport where amateurs and professionals compete for the same prize.� In the AKC shows there are more professionals in the German-style shows there are not as many professionals.
TRC: And how do you, as a professional handler find it different, I mean being in the ring and actually presenting your dog for evaluation?
KK: In the German-style show, and in the English style also, handling is more hands-off and natural. Which should be no problem for a good dog because if a dog is balanced his feet will fall into place, you don�t have to lift his topline up. Also, in the Germa-style show you are given an excuse to lose because you can easily say �you ran out of gas� from all of the running (Laughs). In the AKC shows the dog does not really even get a chance to warm up. In the German-style shows it seems based more on performance, the dog has to run and the handling is less inhibiting so you get a better idea of the dogs temperment and drives. One thing I appreciate about the German-style shows is the critique, there is more accountability with the judge explaining what he or she liked or didn�t like about your dog.
TRC: You mentioned accountability, does the lack of it affect AKC shows negatively?
KK: Yes, it does.
TRC: How so? Are the AKC shows more political as they are often accused of being?
KK: They are not necessarily more political. Whenever you have people competing for anything there is a chance for there to be decisions that are political. In many of the German-style shows you see situations where the leaders of the club sponsoring the show, are also entering their dogs in the same show and winning in great numbers.
I hear people say that the AKC shows are more political because the professional handlers win most of the time. Well, what is a professional? A professional is someone who has mastered their craft, of course you would expect them to win. But there are still reasons why I prefer the critique and the accountability that comes with it. For example, a judge might not place a dog because he or she thought that a dog had a missing tooth but the dog in fact did not have a missing tooth, and things like this have happened. For whatever reason, from not having their glasses to whatever else, that�s what they think they saw. But there is no explanation or communication to clarify what they saw you just get no placement and never had a chance to ask the judge to look again. It�s like paying to have your car fixed but the mechanic never tells you what the problem was.
TRC: Have you been successful in the German-style shows?
KK: Yes, my dogs and I have been very successful in the German-style arena. Ch. Karriem�s Windwalker is not only a sweepstakes winner and specialty winner (under Catherine Thompson) in the AKC ring but he has gone V-2 (Excellent) in the Open class at the 2002 ARV National Sieger Show, under FCI Judge G. Oshea. He was also V-1 in the Champion Class at the 2002 USRC Northeast Regional Sieger Show under ADRK Judge Jurgen Wulff and V-1, Champion Class at the Housatonic Rottweiler Club (USRC) Specialty under ADRK Judge Helmut Weiller. Ch. Karriem�s Maximus has gone V-1- Select Male (USRC), Ch. Karriem�s Lucky Charm has been V-1, Karriem�s Phoenix is V-rated, Karriem�s Butterfly Chaser, V-1, Karriem�s Count, V-2 and Karriem�s Nature Bounty is a Select Ch. (ARC) who was also SG-1 and Youth Siegerin at the 2002 Canadian National Sieger Show and we have won the kennel group at the 2002 Canadian National Sieger Show, the 2003 Houstonic Rottweiler Club and the 2003 Keystone Rottweiler Club Specialty. Even more important than just success in terms of wins and trophies is what you learn from the show. One can learn a tremendous amount from the German-style shows. In the German shows you have an opportunity for placement in a class and also a critique. The German-style clubs bring in more judges that are specialists, experts, not generalist judges of several breeds. They are more authorities and understand Rottweilers and Rottweiler temperments. Some judges not familiar with Rottweilers get upset if a Rottweiler acts like a Rottweiler. One judge asked me �Why don�t Rottweiler people teach the dogs to show their bite like the Doberman Pinscher people?� I said because, �It�s a Rottweiler, not a Doberman.� Rottweilers are noble, strong and don�t like to be pushed around. A judge has to know this.
TRC: Do you have any plans to become a judge?
KK: Well, I have already met the AKC qualifications and have the application. I just haven�t signed in and send it in.
TRC: Why not?
KK: Once you become a judge you can�t show professionally. I love the training, the showing, helping new people, helping to prevent people from making the pitfalls I have made and helping them to succeed.
TRC: Well, this has certainly been a pleasure. Thank you for your time.
KK: Thank you. The pleasure has been mine.