Interview with Gunilla Ek, Attikonak

This interview was published in Scottish LRC Yearbook 2009 and is quoted here with author's permission.

What is your background in dogs, and how did you start out in Labradors ? Do you have any interest in any other breeds?

I have been around dogs for my whole life and my parents used to joke about me being born in a whelpingbox. I was brought up with Norwegian Elkhounds and the Swedish breed ‘Stövare'. I had a Min. Schnauzer p&s when I was 10 years old as I wanted to show, which I did and made her up to an Int.Ch.

Who were your original dogs and where did you obtain them?

As we moved to California in 1956 and couldn´t bring any dogs with us, there were some terrible years until 1959 when my parents bought me a Labrador , and from then on this breed has been the love of my life.This dog was a big black male, but to me the best looking dog ever. Unfortunately we had to leave him with good friends when we moved back to Sweden in 1967. So we obtained a black male instead with breeding going back to Sandylands. I did keep a few males and in 1971 bought a black bitch with all Mansergh breding, at the same time I met Didi Hepworth and the Poolsteads, needless to say I was hooked. Poolstead Pigtail who was born in 1973 and being the last Sandylands Tandy daughter came to live in Sweden and she was followed by P.Postmaster's litter sister, P.Past Participle and P.Premonition who was P. Preferential's litter sister. My first litter was born in 1975 as it took some time before I felt I had the knowledge to breed, and I am still learning!

How are you able to keep so many dogs and give them the appropriate amount of time and exercise?

That has never been a problem as I have always lived in the countryside with woods and fields surrounding my home. For the past twenty years all my dogs live in the house with me so they do get a lot of my time. Right now I only have got eight dogs, very easy to live with and to exercise.

How do you name your puppies? What system do you have?

I am not organized at all, when it comes to having a system. I can hear a song and fancy that or some other things that I do come across, so it´s not easy at all follow the naming.

What do you consider to have been your "best" litter or litters you've bred and why?

That is a hard question to give an answer to, as when the years pass by, one tends to forget and just remember the ones from the past ten-fifteen years. Pigtail's litter by Grock of Mansergh in 1977, produced bitches that went on to be the foundation for other breeders. Premonition's litter by G.of 1979 produced A. Khatrine –topwinner- Khatrine produced A.Margreth O'Kelley –BIS-winner- when mated to Surprising's Mathias, 1982. As I had to cut down and wasn´t able to breed for some years, I did loose some of my bitches, so once again went to Didi for a bitch, and I purchased P. Pop Socks. Pop Socks was the golden egg who produced a bitchline that is hard to get, she is behind all my bitches today. Her daughter A.Silky Stockings by Surprising's Rhufus, was as good as her mother in producing topwinning progeny. When she was mated to Guideline's Copy Right in 1996 I got A.Kaboom Shake The Room, another top winning bitch

Who was your favorite dog that you've owned or bred and why?

SwShCh Norw.Ch..Multi Winner A.Kaboom Shake The Room – aka Rosie - has got a soft spot in my heart. She was everything one can ask for, although she never had a litter due to her hipscore -0/2 – which of course was disappointing but she made up for it in every way for being just what she was best at, being Rosie. Rosie travelled Scandinavia, Europe and England with me, always the one who had to check if the hotelroom was suitable.She was also my untrained servicedog, as when I came out of hospital on crouches, she looked after me and kept the other dogs at a distance not to knock me down, and she also picked up things that fell on the floor. Rosie was my constant companion and when I lost her some years ago, I was devastated and I still miss her.

How do you choose a stud dog for a bitch, do you look at his pedigree, his type or something else? Can it happen that a well thought over combination doesn't work and you don't get what you expected?

I am trying to get a pedigree that will fit my bitchline, if that is impossible I´ll try to get a dog with a pedigree with dogs that are looking the same type as my own dogs. Yes, unfortunatley that has happen to, only shows that we are dealing with live stock and sometimes 'Mother nature' doesn´t play along.

What do you look for in a puppy when you choose your "pick of the litter"? What things can change in a puppy as he grows and what never changes?

I look at the whole puppy, conformation both standing and on the move, also head needs to come into consideration. Angulation to me is very important and if the puppy is lacking that, it will never change. Tailset - well if it´s low and sloping - it will never change. If tail is carried slightly high, it may change by age.

What is your long-range goal in breeding Labradors?

To breed healthy Labradors that look like Labradors with the right temperament.

Do you have a color preference?

Not at all when judging. Although the way I breed I very seldom do get any other color than yellows.

Do you think that that the 3 colors are relatively equal in quality?

Yes, I think today they are, as nowdays the colors are mixed a lot more than in the seventies.

Do you think there is a color preference in the all breed ring?

Sometimes I got a feeling that a chocolate appeals more as being ‘rare' and is forgiven for a lot of failings that wouldn´t happen to a black or yellow.

Do you find there is a difference in All breed Labradors and Breeder type Labradors?

There is only one type of Labradors –British/FCI Standard- and every judge should judge according to this

What do you look for in a Labrador?

Everything that is a Labrador according to the Standard. One can´t pick out certain points, as it has to be the whole dog, - if you favoured one part and forgot the rest, it simply wouldn´t be a Labrador.

What do you consider some of the failings in today's Labrador?

In some cases the heads have changed, being too heavy with too short a muzzle. There are some with very upright shoulders, some with too low set tails. Remember the Standard calls for a level topline.

What do you look for in a head and expression?

A well moulded head with a soft hazeleye.

How important is the head and eye in a Labrador to you?

I must admit quite a lot, as I tend to think –do I want to look at this head and expression every day?

Do you think that missing teeth are a serious issue in the breed today?

Not at all, there are so many other things to consider in the breed.

Are your breedings natural, assisted or A-I'd?

The matings are assisted both by me and the studowner. I haven´t used A-I so far, but would if necessary.

Do your males stand to outside females?

I haven´t had a male for so many years, but if I had, yes they would.

What do you require from the visiting females?

They must have been x-rayed for hips and elbows and have a current eyecert.

How many litters do you think a bitch should have (or until what age)?

In Sweden we are not allowed to mate a bitch after seven years of age, which also limits the litters to mostly five. To me it also depends on how the bitch is when in whelp and as a mother and how her progeny turns out.

Do you supervise your bitches during whelping?

Of course I do, I wouldn´t leave them for a second, other than see to the other dogs, which under normal circumstances goes very quickly.

What advice would you give new breeders just starting out?

Study and learn from someone you admire and you want as your mentor. You can never get enough good advice from an experienced breeder.

What kennels present and past do you admire, and why?

In the past there have been so many breeders who took care of the breed and left us a legacy –for example Sandylands, Poolstead, Ballyduff and I must say Mansergh with the dual purpose lines. These breeders continued to breed the same type for decades, and you could see a Labrador and know who had bred it, something to wish for and try to follow.

Do you have outside interest other than the dogs?

I did downhill skiing from a very young age until an accident in 1984 put an end to that. I still love to follow the skiiers, although now on television. I wish I did have more time, but it seems that everything goes hand in hand with dogs. Most long time friends are in dogs, at occasions we are off to the movies or other events.

Any last thoughts on your life with Labradors?

I wouldn´t have had such a rich life if it hadn´t been for the dogs. They have made it possible to meet so many interesting people and to be able to travel around the world. Every day is a joy with this great breed.