TRC: Thank for taking the time to speak with me. Can you start by telling us some of your involvement with dogs?
FL: It�s a long history. I got my first purebred in 1937, bred my first litter in 1945, and got my first GSD in 1947. From the mid-1960s to late 1970s I was a weekend professional handler, all breeds, in the U.S. and Canada. I started judging point shows in 1979 and got foreign judge licenses a decade ago. I lecture and judge all over the world� some 30 countries so far.
I have become well known in the German Shepherd Dog (GSD) world for breeding dogs with great hips, character, and other traits. I have been active in all phases: handler, judge, breeder (now on my third trip through the alphabet, German style, naming litters in alphabetical order... you can see my 3rd "B" litter on
http://home.zonnet.nl/Brejo37/index.htm ), a trainer in schutzhund and other venues (I wrote the obedience rules for States Kennel Club and had the first double USA/Canadian UD GSD in Ohio), and in some countries, a schutzhund judge as well as an all-breed conformation judge. I am considered the world's foremost non-veterinary expert in hip dysplasia (HD) and other orthopedic disorders, a popular seminar lecturer on orthopedics as well as gait-&-structure, an author of several books and a prolific magazine article writer, and a consultant in canine behavior.
TRC: Okay! This is an on-line magazine obviously dedicated to Rottweilers. I am sure that some of the readers want to know why I am interviewing someone known around the world as Mr. GSD. Can you tell us about your involvement with the Rottweiler (as handler, judge, etc) and your overall impression of the Rottweiler breed?
FL: Dog people must realize that they can learn from people in other breeds as well. For instance, because I prefer GSDs doesn�t mean that I don�t know about others. I have owned other breeds, too, and I am familiar with almost all of the hundreds of breeds, thanks to my experience around the world. I typically judge and lecture in three or four countries a year and see breeds that other Americans never do. There are more similarities between breeds than people realize, and more than the differences. I have had much experience with Rottweilers in handling them, training with them in schutzhund, competing against them and judging them. I have judged many important Rottie events prior to my fatal run-in with a treacherous loser in the Rottie ring and the American Kennel Club (AKC) staff in 2000. I know the Rottie very well; I am unfazed by advertising or "names", and can pick out the best and tell you why, all according to the Standard and function of the breed. I have given top awards to Rottweilers in countries from Pakistan to the U.S., from Malaysia to the Caribbean.
TRC: And your overall impression of the breed?
The Rottweiler is unspoiled when compared with the GSD of "American" lines. It is basically the same, regardless of what country I find them in. Whereas the GSD has drifted... nay, jumped... from the "country-of-origin" breed type since the late 1960s, the Rottie is almost identical whether found in the German, UK, Trinidad, Chinese, or U.S. show rings.
TRC: You mentioned that the Rottweiler is �unspoiled� as compared with the GSD. The GSD has been in this country longer than the Rottweiler, can you speak about the development of the GSD in this country as a working and show dog? I am wondering if there are things that the Rottweiler hobbyist can learn from any trends that you observe?
FL: The best lesson you can learn is this: stick to the "country-of-origin" ideals. Ignoring that advice and letting poor judges make poor decisions is what led to the downfall of the typical "AKC Shepherd", starting in the late 1960s. Put as much emphasis on training and working titles as you do on AKC championships, and you will do right by the breed. Do everything possible to bring together the "working" and the "show" arms of the fancy, and squelch nasty comments by either about the other. Make a special, high-profile award for the Rottweilers that excel in both fields, if there is none such already.
TRC: We stand in agreement that there seems to be a great difference between the German GSD and the American GSD. And just to clarify you are saying you don�t see the same problem in the Rottweiler?
FL: Well, so far, the Rottie's style and true-to-the-Standard look has been preserved, but there is a danger in drifting into the American GSD club's errors. Eternal vigilance is the price of both liberty and security. Obviously, there are some rather �course� Rotts in the sports field (schutzhund, etc.) as well as a few in the German conformation ring, but the extent of the dichotomy does not yet exist that is present in the GSD in North America.
TRC: What can the conscientious breeder do to preserve the complete dog?
FL: Insist that the judges you and your puppy customers show under truly understand the breed. Don't just go to a show because it's in your neighborhood. Train your dogs in schutzhund, even if all you get is a single SchH-1. Make them work for the privilege of being called a true Rottweiler. Work toward harmony with the "working Rottweiler" clubs, the one that is a member of AWDF, for example. Attend each other's events. Make sure that you continuously make improvements in the status of elbows and hips in your lines. Bad elbows in Rottweilers are notorious. But take a lesson from the Bernese Mountain Dog people who have made great progress in that area, the Bernese has much similarities in ancestry and type when you look at the overall world of dogdom.
TRC: A few minutes ago you mentioned a �run-in with a �treacherous loser� in the Rottie ring and the AKC staff, in 2000�, what is your relationship with the AKC currently?
FL: That of a couple who have been through a very bitter divorce. The AKC staff (field reps are under the thumb of two or three staff people in Raleigh, NC) and one AKC Board member... who hates my guts for exposing him, as well as for promoting the international (German) style dog... they have the power to keep me from judging AKC events. The thing that brought the strain to a head and got my license in AKC lifted was a sore loser at a big Rottie entry in 2000, and his employer (the dog's owner), who sic'd the field rep on me for leaving a note on the table asking breeders to contact me if they had a dog that would be suitable for a friend in another country. The staff at AKC, looking for any excuse to nail me for my critical magazine articles about their foibles, said I was "dealing in dogs". That's what you get for altruistically trying to help people, if your enemies are lying in wait to ambush you. It was like sentencing a person to life imprisonment for running a red light when no traffic was around. So my relationship with the AKC is an estranged one. But I am very busy judging for UKC and many foreign countries who are more concerned with expert opinions and judgments than in politics and venomous revenge.
TRC: What organizations are you involved with?
FL: I am an all-breed judge for the UKC here, and for many foreign countries. Not everybody in the world is impressed with the AKC. Of course, there are some that are so tied to the FCI and AKC that they fear rocking the boat, but I have recently judged in almost 30 countries that are independent enough to "be their own boss". On various websites, you can see my judging reports in places like mainland China, Taiwan & other SE Asia, South America, Europe, etc. I am a member of the biggest dog club in China, for example, as well as an SV judge (The parent club for GSDs worldwide), and have honored credentials in many countries. You know the old Biblical proverb: "A prophet is without honor in his own country".
TRC: What are some of the major Rottie shows that you have done?
FL: I�ve done at least a few big Rottie specialties in a number of countries... I did the Mile-High Club and the American Rottweiler Club (ARC) shows several years ago with very big entries. I have judged very large entries at innumerable all-breed shows and was the featured speaker at the ARC National one year in Stone Mtn., Georgia. I have judged independent Rottie specialties and some connected with an all-breed event, in England, Scotland, Trinidad, and New Zealand.
TRC: Who are some of the memorable dogs that you've judged? (Internationally and/or in the US?
FL: I think probably my favorite Rottie in the U.S. was Nelson Brabantpark, whom I awarded Best of Breed (BOB) to in San Diego. Another stand-out dog was from Northern Ireland whom I judged near Dublin: he was one of the top winners in the UK for several years. And the dogs of Eddie & Isabel Nicol of Glasgow, Scotland were about the best I've ever seen, too. I found an outstanding Rottie in Auckland, NZ, but I have not kept records of names as diligently as some others have. There were many that I would have been proud to own. Thanks to the tendency of computers to crash I have lost many details.
TRC: You are known as one of the foremost experts on HD, how did your involvement with this important health issue begin?
FL: I have been a "GSD guy" since 1947, and this breed is closely identified with HD for two reasons, primarily. One, the population of GSDs is the largest of any breed in the world (even though about 6th or 7th in AKC registrations, thanks in part to the departure from the international type, a sin the Rottie world has not yet committed). Two, GSDs are unique in having a greater response to joint looseness than other breeds. This means they are more likely to develop greater amount of degenerative joint disease at a given laxity, and probably have a lower pain threshold than many breeds like the Rottie, American Pit Bull Terrier, etc. � they will let you know more or earlier than most breeds. I was approached by my handling clients in the 1960s to see if the gait etc. was good enough to campaign their dogs, and I discovered that I could start to develop an "eye" for the most likely cases of moderate to severe HD. Wanting to reduce or eliminate HD in my own kennel, I also began bringing clients' dogs to Detroit for Bardens-technique puppy palpations as well as my own. I followed up with radiography on as many as feasible. In that way, I saw more hip X-ray films over the years than any other dog fancier, and more than most vets. I worked with Drs. Huff, Bardens, Riser, and many others. When my first HD book came out, the then director of the OFA called me the world's "foremost non-veterinary authority" on HD. I believe I retain that laurel, thanks to an extensive seminar and study regime over the past 40 years in this field. I have lectured at many veterinary schools around the world, and have presented several seminars every year for decades.
TRC: How have you acquired knowledge (education, observation, training) on the subject of HD?
FL: As I mentioned, I was given much encouragement and guidance by experts such as Wayne Riser (first director of OFA), Scandinavians Sten-Erik Olsson (who contributed some passages to my HD book), the Grondalens, and other specialists abroad and in the U.S. I have attended and taken extra training at veterinary conferences, have read some 800 veterinary and allied journal articles and books (studied most of them in great depth), and have been fortunate to hobnob with the best of the best in this area. Preliminary to these fortunate experiences, I was schooled in the sciences; I had been admitted to the University of Pennsylvania vet school in the 1950s but had no money to attend, so I continued working in the fields of organic chemistry, physics, and (for 5 years) in science education. All the while I kept up my intense interest in dogs.
TRC: Have you seen an improvement in large breeds (GSDs and/or Rotts) as testing has become more popular?
FL: Some clubs with very strong codes of ethics and peer pressure have made more progress among their members than others. Unfortunately, dog breeders come and go -- very few have the "staying power" that I have, for example (not being without a dog for more than a couple weeks except for 3 of my college years). Different Rottweiler clubs in the U.S. have different amounts of this peer pressure, and members drift in and out of their spheres of influence, but the tragedy is that having abrogated their rights to the AKC, none of them has the power to enforce breeding practices that would substantially reduce the incidence of orthopedic disease in their breed. The Bernese Mtn. Dog people here have done better, but they have a smaller, tighter-knit membership. In Europe, where the breed club nearly reigns supreme, and they don't have an AKC telling them they can't control their breed, they are free to put such requirements on breeders as not allowing registration of offspring from dysplastic (to some degree, anyway) dogs.
The GSDCA has made a mockery of the idea of being concerned with the welfare of their breed, which is why most ads you see in magazines do NOT promote the "AKC/GSDCA-type Shepherd", but rather the international (German) type. The majority of the public is fed up with the all-too-typical (or rather stereotype) needle-nose, non-standard, spooky, slinky-gaited "AKC dog", and flock to the German style unless they had already given up on the breed and had gone to Akitas, Rotts, Goldens, Labs, etc. When I was chairman of the Orthopedics Committee of the GSDCA, we almost put through a regulation that the annual "National" top ten or so (called "Select", the ones that would later be getting most of the breedings) would be required to have a minimum of an OFA clearance. We failed because of an unintentional joint scuttling of our efforts by two groups: one that wanted to protect their stud fees they were getting from their dysplastic champions, and the other who wanted to amend the motion to add everything including the kitchen sink: eye certification, normal elbows, and more. No, the only real progress is being made (and will always be, under the current AKC domination) by individual breeders, those who use all the tools at their disposal to produce the very best hips (and elbows) by using the best diagnostic and statistical tools such as PennHIP and breed value (the Germans call it "Zuchtwert"). And a breeder does not have to sacrifice trainability, character, anatomy, or anything else in order to produce orthopedically superior dogs. You can see that in my own dogs on my website ( http://home.zonnet.nl/Brejo37/index.htm ) managed by my daughter in Europe for proof of that... magnificent hips in a stupendously beautiful bitch, and I put five Schutzhund titles on her by the time she was 22 months old. All titles were earned under German judges except one SchH-1, and all in the U.S. before I took her to Germany for her breed survey.
TRC: What has your involvement been with the Penn Hip system? Can you explain the system to the reader?
FL: When I first was informed of the research and preliminary results being developed at the U. of PA ("Penn"), the place where OFA got started under Prof. Riser, I went there to find out for myself. I was made privy to data that would not be published until the early 1990s, and with my scientific bent and background, immediately saw that this was a most logical and effective diagnostic technique, the one that breeders had been waiting for since hitting that �progress ceiling� we were slamming our heads against with only the OFA, "a" stamp, ADRK's hip ratings, etc. I continued reading all the studies while implementing the PennHIP distraction index evaluation in my own breeding program and following results of others who were also doing so. Explaining it would be too extensive a project for an interview, but several of my articles on the subject are on many websites, www.SiriusDog.com, to mention just one. In a nutshell, it is a technique for leveraging the loose femoral heads out of the socket�s depth, and measuring the displacement. It is far more objective, while the older methods are subjective.
TRC: Do you use OFA and/or Penn Hip in evaluating your stock?
FL: Until some years ago, I was still adding OFA evaluations for two reasons: to compare the two methods, and for evidence that I imagined puppy buyers were still demanding. Now I use only PennHIP, and again, for two reasons. Firstly, PennHIP is vastly more informative about true laxity (looseness often hides in the leg-extended "OFA"-type position); secondly, with great acceptance of the PennHIP distraction procedure in the scientific, veterinary, and breeding publics, none of my puppy prospects are demanding OFA anymore. After all, the first of three pictures taken during the PennHIP exam is the same position and protocol as used by OFA, ADRK, SV, BVA, etc., and is the best for seeing degenerative changes, while the next two positions are far better for seeing actual "covert" laxity.
TRC: In essence, you feel the PennHIP is a more accurate evaluation than the OFA?
FL: Absolutely! The leg-extended position shows only half or slightly more of the story, the arthritic or degenerative changes. And in young dogs, before you put in the money training, showing, and feeding them, that degeneration is seldom there. Laxity does not hide from the distracted view, and is an excellent (the best) indicator for risk of future degenerative changes.
TRC: Can you talk about the United Schutzhund Clubs of America (USA)? And have they been effective in maintaining the German GSD?
FL: The "USA" (also known as "USCA" to distinguish it from the country of its home and origin, and standing for "United Schutzhund Clubs of America") is the other, younger breed club in the US. The German Shepherd Dog Club of America (GSDCA), the older club, is a member of the AKC, which is NOT a member of the FCI but IS an AFFILIATE. (Please see my article on www.realgsd.info website for a full explanation of dog clubs and organizational structure in the world.) By a stupid, blind mistake, the heads of USA/USCA missed an opportunity to join the WUSV when it was formed. That�s the World Union of "SVs" (German Shepherd clubs), and the GSDCA sent in an application to join. First come, first served, as they say, so the GSDCA, which is antithetical and at odds with the world Standard got the voting membership. When the USA club saw what a goof they had made, after having been associated with the German club for many years but only in the schutzhund trial arena, they tried to get the membership changed. However, the rule of "First come" was extended to mean that the WUSV would not chuck out a member without REALLY good reason... I mean overwhelming pressure! The USA/USCA, then, was screwed, if you pardon the mechanical verbiage. All they could get was an "associate" membership, but not the vote and prestige. So here we have the sorrowful picture of a member club (GSDCA) that refuses to adhere to the Standard, and on the other hand, a sidelined USA club that always and rigorously not only adhered to the Breed Standard, but also to all the regulations for breeders that the SV (Sch�ferhund Verein) and WUSV say that ALL Shepherd clubs in the world must adhere to. Including registration/breeding disqualifications for dentition, size, hip status, and other problems. In the GSDCA/AKC, you can register and breed a purple-eyed, long-coated, dysplastic, spooky-shy, gun-shy, toothless, 30-inch monorchid!
TRC: Do the two clubs work together at all?
FL: The USA has no relation with the GSCDA, much as they have tried to find common ground. They have been rebuffed by GSDCA several times. The GSDCA, playing on the growing strength of the "import dog" movement, and on the disaffection of many USA members who found the politics or leadership within the USA not to their liking, set up a USCA-like organization for the schutzhund sport people, and call it WDA, Working Dog Association. It is a committee or subsidiary of the "parent club", and they invite German (SV) judges for German-style shows and performance trials, the same as USA does. In fact, they have done USA one better, because USA is now using a non-SV judge for half their classes at the annual "Sieger Show".
TRC: Shouldn�t the USCA still have the upper hand for taking the lead with the German-style GSD, schutzhund, etc?
FL: In real life, the good guy doesn�t always win. And the good guy is not 100% good, either! Today, thanks greatly to the USA club, the presence and use of the international style (true type) GSD has been promoted in the United States. But WDA is starting to surpass them in size of their Sieger Show and in the number of conformation events. USA started as a schutzhund organization (not having their first national breed show until 1990), and still has more SchH shows than its rival. The fact that most members were totally "schutzhund guys and gals" is one reason they dropped the ball on the WUSV thing. Membership in either group is based mostly on personalities and politics. It is a house divided against itself.
TRC: It is very interesting to hear of the USCA and the newer WDA. In Rottweilers we have the American Rottweiler Club, which is an AKC member club and two main German-style breed clubs, the American Rottweiler Verein (ARV) and the United States Rottweiler Club (USRC), both of whom are developing registries. Can they have a strong, widespread influence on the breed, being a �house divided� as with the USA and WDA?
FL: Well, politics and personality will likely continue to keep them separate as long as both exist. And progress is infinitely more difficult if people are not united.
TRC: Is this detrimental to the breed?
FL: Not necessarily; it does have a detrimental impact on sportsmanship, but not necessarily on the breed. Both clubs can make contributions.
TRC: There also seems to be a growing split in the AKC Rottweiler people and the "German-style" people.
FL: The working factions of MANY breeds, not just the Rotts, are putting on German-style shows and trials, and demanding world-class standards. Look on the Internet for the AWDF (American Federation of Working Dogs) and you'll see about a dozen breeds: Dobermans, Airedales, AmStaffs, Malinois, etc. etc. in the same boat. They can have a very definite advantageous effect on their breeds, just as the SV-Standard-honoring GSD club(s) has. A dog is not just a picture or a movie... Character and ability are just as much a part of the canine, if not more. The total dog is what people want, for the most part. In spite of the popularity of gowns and tuxedos and spiffy grooming in the Westminster or AKC-type ring scene, the majority of dog owners are not looking to be a part of that relatively small segment. Most want a temperamentally stable dog to befriend the kids and protect the property (or at least alert the owners).
TRC: Well, now the AKC has instituted a working dog title modeled after schutzhund. Will this have any effect on the working breeds?
FL: It's too early to tell if AKC's game of "catch-up" will mean anything. It's my guess that it won't. Remember when they outlawed it in the `80s? As in everything else the AKC does, when the pile of greenbacks gets high enough (agility, schutzhund, "new" breeds, registering puppy-mill production, etc.), they will jump to get their mitts on the dough! As far as I'm concerned, I've long since given my last dollar to the AKC except for registering dogs, and only because we're backed into a corner... if you miss a generation, all future descendants have a lower market value here without "AKC papers"... as worthless as they are, and as fraudulent as they often are.
TRC: Many people on this site are new to the breed and trying to find out where to begin in acquiring their first Rottweiler. As a knowledgeable dog person, what advice would give to this person?
FL: I would strongly suggest that they go to some shows and trials, and look for the type of dog that appeals to them. Some want a working dog, others just want a big-teddy bear. Also, do some research as to how much the breeder knows about the hips and elbows in the dogs background. Especially, elbows. Elbows are a big problem in Rottweilers.
TRC: You mentioned this earlier. You�re saying elbows are a larger problem in Rottweiler than in other large breeds, working breeds?
FL: Certainly, yes. It�s a huge problem and in some others such as the Bernese Mountain Dog also. And even if the parents are normal, I would still check back two to three generations because even a normal Rottweiler will produce 20-30% bad elbows.
TRC: That high a number? A normal dog might produce that high a number?
FL: Yes! A great resource for the breed is a woman I have done a lot of work with, Dr. Jorunn Grondalen, of Norway. She and her husband are two of the top orthopedic experts in the world, especially in regard to the Rottweiler. They have done a great deal of study on the orthopedics of Rottweilers. She estimates that �70% of Rottweilers that don�t limp still have elbow problems�.
TRC: I would like to explore this and many other subjects further but I don�t think we have the time or space. Do you have any final words of advice for the reader?
FL: I hope all will check out my website articles and do more reading and research. And remember that you have been entrusted with the welfare of a magnificent creature, and that carries much responsibility. Do the best you can for your dog, your sport, and your breed.