1. What are the main distinctive features of Fabracken dogs? How can we recognize them among other Labradors?
I hope they are recognisable as being typical Labradors, not modern day show dogs. For their overall conformation and unexaggerated build. For their correct coats and tails. And for them being capable of working all winter in the shooting field and making easy family pets.
2. You have been breeding and judging Labradors for many years. How does a modern Labrador differ from a Labrador of 20-30 years ago? In your opinion, has the breed improved over the years?
The modern day Labrador is quite different to what it was 20-30 years ago. Today’s Labrador is heavier built, with shorter legs and a deeper chest. With these changes comes lack of scope and flexibility. Things that are needed in a working dog. Its expression is also different being created by a broader skull and cheek, more stop, less length of muzzle and rounder darker eyes. I can't honestly say that I think the breed has improved. The standard of dogs may be more even in the show ring, but their abilities to function as a working breed must be in grave doubt. Many could go out and retrieve a ball or a dummy on flat land, but could they work day after day, for months, on all sorts of terrains, bringing back heavy birds and game over distances again and again.
3. What type of Labradors do you like most? What is your idea of a perfect Labrador? Who are your ideal Labradors of the past, and of today?
I like a middle of the road type of Labrador with not too much of anything. A dog who has scope, a typical kind expression, a dense coat and an otter-like tail, and who’s overall conformation would allow him to work hard and efficiently during the shooting season. Any Labradors who conform to this I can admire. As far as kennels I admire because they could produce a definite type of really typical Labrador then it would probably be the Manserghs of Mary Roslin Williams, and the Ballyduffs of Bridget Docking. I was also a great admirer of Janice Pritchard’s Charway kennel.
4. What problems of your first Labradors, if there were any, you were able to improve in the next generations, and what features you might have lost?
Of course there were many things I wanted to improve on with my first Labradors. With each generation I assess the individual bitch and look at her faults and her virtues. I then try and find a dog for her who is likely to improve where she fails, both in the way he looks and very importantly with what is in his pedigree. What is behind a stud dog is very likely to influence what he will produce. In trying to improve certain points it is difficult to also not lose certain things that you have bred to get over the generation.
5. What faults do you consider the most serious in a Labrador? Which of them are the most difficult to get rid of?
Physical and mental soundness in the Labrador are very important, as is working ability. Then how the dog conforms to the breed standard. If you are talking about breed standard faults and failings then type is all important, the dog must look like a Labrador and nothing else. The expression must be right (which at the moment it isn't), and the dog must have the correct coat and tail. These three things make a dog a true Labrador. In actual structure we have major problems with our fronts. Our fronts are far too upright, especially being short in upperarm. And we have too much angulation in the hindquarters in some animals.
6. As a judge, do you pay attention to a dog's presentation? Do you think good/bad handling can influence a dog's result in the ring?
Personally I’m not that interested in the dog’s presentation, either is whether he is well groomed or in how the handler presents their dog. A show is not a beauty event, a show is to find the best breeding stock for the future. Of course a well presented dog is good to see, proving his owner/handler takes care of him, but it does not influence how I assess that dog. However I am sure many judges are influenced by presentation.
7. How do you choose a stud dog for a bitch, do you look at his pedigree, his type or something else? Do you prefer to use linebreeding or outcross?
The 10 million dollar question! Choosing a stud dog is an absolute nightmare. How to improve on certain features, and yet not lose others. Having assessed my own bitch I then look at various dogs. I’m looking to see they are typical of the breed (not necessarily successful show dogs) and that they do not have the same faults as my bitch. Then I look at their pedigree. On occasions I have used a dog whose pedigree has what I’m looking for even if the dog is not outstanding himself. But he does have to have some quality to him. And of course acceptable health test results. And temperament, and preferably some known working ability or at least some known ability behind him. Easy isn't it……………………….. I prefer to linebreed but occasionally do an outcross mating to bring certain points in, though I like that dog to be of a similar type to my own if possible.
8. Do you think it is more difficult to breed chocolate Labradors? If so, why?
Yes it is. The obvious difficulties are breeding good eye colour and pigmentation, on top of all the usual things. When chocolates/livers first appeared they were very much in the minority, and not really liked. Gradually they became more popular and now they are significantly more popular, especially as pets. Because of this increase in popularity it is unfortunate that people have bred to just get the colour with not enough regard for the physical and mental soundness of the puppies they are producing. Coats are talked about a lot. Think of yellows, and even blacks, and the variation in the shading of the colour. So why is it that people go overboard about all chocs needing to be as dark as possible and their undercoat being the same colour as their topcoat. Having judged many of them around the world it seems to me that the totally dark coated dogs often have little undercoat. The texture of the coat should be far more important than the shade of the coat.
9. At what age do you choose the best puppy from the litter? What do you look for in a puppy in the first place? Do you believe it is really possible to see if a puppy has "show potential" at the age, say, 8 weeks?
I normally first look at my pups at about 6 weeks. From then until about 8 weeks I look at them constantly, watching them run and play and seeing how their proportions change. At 8 weeks I will let most of the litter go onto their new homes, and perhaps run-on a couple of pups. Between 8 weeks and about 6 months my pups can grow in all sorts of ways but in general I’m looking for the one who grows steadily. I don't mind some leg length and I’m certainly not looking for the finished product who can go into the ring at 6 months looking like a 12 month. I think at 8 weeks it is possible to look at a puppy and see if it has quality. But in no way can I look and say that it will become a Champion. Today’s Labrador is brought on to be far too mature too quickly. This isn't good for them, or good for the breed. We could do a lot of good if we could get back to the leggy adolescents that we used to think of as normal. Maturity should come gradually and the dog should not reach its peak until it is well into middle age.
10. What do you think is the most important in rearing a puppy?
Let the puppy be a puppy. Don't bring it on too quickly, let it physically and mentally mature gradually. Let it play and exercise within reason, and give it mental stimulation.
11. What would you advise to novice breeders?
Don't run before you can walk. Don’t collect a lot of dogs too quickly, especially poor quality ones. Spend time watching good dogs and talking to top breeders. You can only learn by absorbing information over a period of time, it doesn't happen overnight. In fact the longer you are in dogs the more you realise how little you do know. Aim to have the best quality dogs you can in your kennel. You can only do this by being critical of your own dogs. It’s no good ignoring their faults and failings, and in order to see these you need to first learn what they are. Then you can improve. And overall be patient in everything you do, and enjoy your dogs. That’s why we have them.