Claudia Orlandi on Education and Dog Breeding
An Early “Eye For a Dog”
Orlandi grew up with miniature and standard Poodles, but her first show dog was a Saint Bernard from Betty Roberts. When her family visited the breeder to pick a puppy, somehow the divider between the “show” dogs and the “pet” dogs had fallen down. With an “eye for a dog” at even an early age, the puppy her family chose led Orlandi into a life of dog shows. Eventually, shown by Bob Forsyth, that Saint Bernard became a Best in Show Winner.
“…structure and performance or, form following function, are the key characteristics of breed type and are what distinguish one breed from another.”
Horses and dogs were a passion she shared with her first husband, Dom. They acquired their first Basset Hound from a pack in Vermont. There they learned the functional aspect of their hound by following the pack on rabbit hunts. Orlandi now lives part-time in Spain, where she had just returned from a month of hunting with her hounds when we spoke for this interview.
“… I have to say that having had the experience of hunting with Emma (her first Basset) was a great starting point for really understanding the basset hound breed,” Orlandi said. “…structure and performance or, form following function, are the key characteristics of breed type and are what distinguish one breed from another.”
Orlandi attributes much of her knowledge of anatomy and animal husbandry to the 4-H program. In her shout out to the horse 4-H program she noted, “We had to pass difficult written and hands on tests on equine anatomy and movement, in addition to giving presentations and learning animal husbandry. All of this knowledge relating to horses, I was easily able to apply to breeding and showing dogs.”
But as she progressed in her breeding program, she came to understand that other breeders didn’t have the same good fortune.
“If we to learn about photography we can go to photography school,” Orlandi said. “If you want to become better cooks, we can take cooking classes. But at that time, we really didn’t have anything comparable if we wanted to learn to become better breeders.”
Knowledge is power, Orlandi noted, in everything that we do. So, she began to develop her education programs and books, including the fabulous Basset Hound University program she created and has shared with other Parent Clubs. She insists that breeders can be successful with some basic information to help them move forward.
Some of her best recommendations?
- …the concept of preservation breeding is an extremely important topic that deserves our ongoing support and attention.
- …one of the biggest myths is the belief that because breeding revolves around chance and randomness applying genetic principles won’t make a difference. Nothing could be farther from the truth. In reality, it’s very unlikely that a breeder can consistently produce healthy, quality dogs in which every generation the dogs are better than they were in the previous generations, without understanding how traits are passed from one generation to the next.
- …don’t purchase a bitch younger than 12 to 18 months. If you get a bitch much younger than this, they have not been able to do enough health tests and body structure might still be developing.
- …I think it’s really difficult, in a way, to find a good person to work with in a breeding program or to find a mentor. Because in a way it’s kind of like a marriage. I think you have to be psychologically compatible and you have to have a lot of the same goals and the same beliefs in common.
- … a few decades ago if people were honest about health problems they are absolutely shunned, many times, by their peers. Talking about health was considered taboo. Nowadays, we understand much more about controlling canine genetic disease and we know that if we’re honest about the health problems, about who the affected dogs are in our pedigrees we can control health problems in our breeding program very, very easily. But it all revolves around being honest.
Please enjoy my visit with this legendary advocate for breeder education in purebred dogs.
Transcript of Claudia Orlandi Interview
Pure Dog Talk is the voice of purebred dogs. We talk to the legends of the sport and give you the tips and tools to create an awesome life with your purebred dog. As strong supporters of the American Kennel Club, we talk about everything! From conformation to preservation breeding … from competitive obedience to fieldwork … from agility to therapy dogs and all the fun in between, your passion is our purpose.
LR: OK, crew, before we get into today’s show I am super excited to tell you about something new here at Pure dog talk. We know breeders are the lifeblood of our sport. We celebrate and honor our master breeders. So we’re bringing you Breeders Voice. Breeders Voice sits down with top breeders, sharing their secrets, how they got where they are, the joys and maybe even the heartbreaks. If you haven’t had a chance, click the “Don’t Miss an Episode” button so you’ll get these in-depth articles delivered free along with your podcast. Sign up on our Facebook page or at PureDogTalk.com.
LR: Welcome to Pure Dog Talk! I’m your host Laura Reeves and I am joined by a very, very special guest today, Dr. Claudia Orlandi, who many of you will have heard of her ABC’s of Breeding and Practical Canine Anatomy. She is a Basset Hound breeder and judge and she is going to bring us some really pretty cool information today. So welcome Claudia I’m glad you were able to join us.
CO: Well thank you. It’s my pleasure.
LR: How is the weather in Spain today?
CO: Very cold. It actually snowed. It’s a little bit like being in Vermont right now.
LR: Oh wow. Very cool. So Claudia give us the 411 … you know, your background. What brought you to dogs even.
CO: Well my family always had miniature Standard Poodles as pets, so dogs were a part of my life from the very beginning. And when I was in my early teens my father decided we should get a St. Bernard. Fortunately a well-known breeder of saints, Betty Roberts, lives close by. And when a litter became available we all went to pick out a puppy. For a reason that I can’t specifically remember, the day we arrived at Betty’s kennel, she was indisposed and her husband Bill took us down to see the puppies. But as the saying goes, “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” and in this case the thing that happened was that the dividers separating the show prospects from the companion pets fell down. So we ended up looking at the entire litter. The puppy we finally took home was a male with a beautiful head and a lot of bone. My maiden name is Waller and for some reason my father wanted to name the puppy Bowser Waller. As luck would have it, a family friend who bred and showed Goldens thought Bowser was definitely show quality and convinced my parents that I should take them to handling class. When Bowser was old enough I entered my first dog show, showing in both conformation and Junior Handling and after that, as they say, I was hooked! I loved everything about the sport.
CO: Ironically it turned out that Bowser was to become one of the best Saints that Betty ever bred. And when I went away to boarding school we decided to offer him back to her. Bob Forsyth ended up showing him and he became a Best In Show dog which at the time was quite an achievement for the breed. <LR: Right!> Thanks to this wonderful experience with Bowser I ended up falling in love with the dog fancy. And every now and then I wonder what my life would have been like if that barrier separating the show quality and pet quality puppies had never fallen down.
LR: Well you know here’s a question for you Claudia. This to me indicates that even at a very early age you had an “eye for a dog”, if you will.
CO: Absolutely. Absolutely. And that carried on into my marriage with my husband because when I married my husband, Don, we were both passionate about horses and dogs and it was at a horse show hound that we saw a Basset Hound and fell in love with the breed and knew we had to have one <LR: Right.>
CO: The first Basset we purchased from a local breeder in Vermont by the name of Michelle Oluchi. Michelle was passionate about pack hunting with her Bassets. The puppy bitch we ended up getting from her, called Emma, became part of her pack and this was a wonderful experience for all of us because we learned the true function of the Basset Hound, which is to follow the trail of small game like rabbit and hare. When Michelle moved out of state a few years later we decided to start breeding Bassets for the show ring and that was in the beginning of Topsfield breeding program.
CO: But I have to say that having had the experience of hunting with Emma was a great starting point for really understanding the Basset Hound breed.
LR: And I think that that is so important, what you’re talking about, the function in forming the standard – the actual structure – and that that value there is so imperative so … <CO: Absolutely> … as you were involved in Basset Hounds you got involved, if I understand correctly, you were involved with judges education, breeder education, that sort of thing. And so what brought you to develop what became Basset Hound University?
CO: Well, The ABC’s of Breeding actually lead to the development of Basset Hound University.
LR: Oh, it was the other way! Okay, cool!
CO: Although my Ph.D is in Spanish Language and Literature, I started work on a second Ph.D in Psychology and as a result developed a great interest in genetics and specifically canine genetics. One of my idols was the late great Malcolm Willis from England. He was a brilliant canine geneticist who had the ability to communicate at a layman’s level, making genetics practical and easy to understand. And I was extremely grateful to him for his long distance support and encouragement while I was developing a lot of my educational materials. The more I progressed as a breeder, the more I realized that other breeders lacked a place to learn about breeding. If we want to learn about photography we can go to photography school. If we want to become better cooks, we can take cooking classes. But at that time we really didn’t have anything comparable if we wanted to learn to become better breeders. Many years ago when I became chairman of judges and breeders education for the Basset Hound Club of America, I felt that this was an opportunity to start providing education and breeding as well as canine anatomy.
CO: And I’d like to put a big plug in here for 4-H clubs! As a child, I had horses and I was a member of a fantastic 4-H horse club. Our club leader was extremely knowledgeable and dedicated to teaching us. We had to pass difficult written tests and hands on tests on equine anatomy and movement, in addition to giving presentations and learning animal husbandry. All of this knowledge relating to horses I was easily able to apply to breeding and showing dogs. It was absolutely invaluable. The teaching format that I learned when I was a 4-H’er was one I also wanted to use in developing educational materials and seminars for other dog breeders.
CO: The ABC’s of Dog Breeding started out as a two hour PowerPoint presentation at one of our all day education days, which were held during our Basset Hound National Specialty. My goal was to do a presentation that would be easy to understand and practical, meaning that any breeder could easily apply what we discussed to their own breeding program. The three topics I addressed were: How genes are passed from one generation to the next; What are the pros and cons of breeding systems that are available to breeders; And how much importance should we give to a pedigree when we’re planning a mating. The response was so positive and I eventually added four more topics to the seminar which were: The selection process, canine anatomy and movement, kennel blindness, and genetic defects. And I also made the decision at that time to write a home study program and provide a textbook that I wanted to be different from any other book on canine genetics with regard to how it was laid out. The goal was to make it breeder friendly.
CO: Both The ABC’s of Dog Breeding and Practical Canine Anatomy publications actually look a little bit like books for children. There are a lot of cartoon s and the type is extra large, but the content and topics are easy to understand so it’s not intimidating for breeders. And because we had such an enthusiastic response to our educational programs at the National Specialties, with members actually saying they didn’t want to wait another year to learn more about breeding and the Basset Hound, we decided to do it right and develop an ongoing school of home study programs in Basset Hound breed education. And this was how Basset Hound University, or BHU, was formed. In a nutshell, it’s a program in which courses on owning, breeding, judging and competing with dogs are offered year round by a parent club to its members and to judges. In conclusion. We also felt that BHU could be a model for any breed club and how great it would be to share materials and course outlines. So it ended up that any of our Basset Hound courses can be copied and used as templates by other Parent Clubs.
LR: And I think that is amazing. I have done not nearly as extensive a process, but we have, based on Basset Hound University, we started German Wire Haired Pointer University for my breed club. And we started it, at this point, with just – and it’s been going for a number of years now – an Education Breeder and Exhibitor Education at the National. You know and just even starting with that has been amazing. And so, now this program that you developed has now been incorporated into AKC’s Canine College, right?
CO: Yes it has.
LR: So talk to us a little bit about the correlation. We mentioned it earlier – that correlation between structure and performance. You talked about hunting with Basset Hounds and how do these relate to preservation breeding?
CO: Well structure and performance – or form following function – are the key characteristics of breed type and are what distinguish one breed from another. Each breed evolved and developed in a way that most efficiently allow it to perform its original purpose, and each breed standard was written based on what this original purpose was. Unfortunately today more and more breeds are no longer performing the jobs or functions for which they were originally bred. Throughout the world some dog breeds have become extinct while other breeds are in a state of great decline. Simply put, the job of more and more dog breeds in today’s world is that of companion pet. And this is a very precarious situation for purebred dogs. We need to be fostering and encouraging, in every way possible, a mission of preservation breeders. Because these are the breeders of purebred dogs who breed to the standards and who are devoted to protecting the existence, the history, and their breed’s original purpose while always trying to produce happy and healthy dogs. I feel the emphasis on producing healthy dogs is key, since world wide, researchers are finding that as some breeds are decreasing in numbers there’s a risk of reduced genetic diversity and as a result an increase in health problems. Informed preservation breeders know how important education is in understanding modes of inheritance for disease and how genes are passed from one generation to the next. In summary the concept of preservation breeding is an extremely important topic that deserves our ongoing support and attention.
LR: Absolutely. And I think that, you know, the work that you’re doing providing these resources is helping preservation breeders. I mean that’s our goal is happy, healthy dogs.
CO: Absolutely.Understanding the breed standard and knowing what your breed standard means is absolutely critical to being a good breeder.
LR: And why the breed standard was – I mean why these things are there, right?
CO: Absolutely, The structure applies to the function once again.
LR: So talk a little bit … we’re talking about the healthy piece. So, give our listeners some examples, if you can, of using genetics properly. We all kind of talk about it but how does that actually work in a breeding program? Maybe there’s – I know there’s myths out there. Let’s let’s kind of break that down a little bit.
CO: Absolutely. I think we start by talking about the myths using common misconceptions that a lot of breeders have because they have not been exposed to classical genetic breeding principles. Let me start out by mentioning that one of the biggest myths is the belief that because breeding revolves around chance and randomness, applying genetic principles won’t make a difference. Nothing could be farther from the truth. In reality, it’s very unlikely that a breeder can consistently produce healthy quality dogs, in which every generation the dogs are better than they were in the previous generations, without understanding how traits are passed from one generation to the next. The bottom line is, breeding is a science. And when we apply a few simple and easy-to-use genetic principles we have a shortcut to breeding better and healthier dogs.
CO: Another misconception is that the sire is more important than the dam when doing the mating or vice versa. The dam is more important than the sire. The reality is each parent passes on 50 percent of its genes and each has equal importance from a genetic point of view. An additional myth is that the pedigree is more important than the individual dog. A lot of research in livestock species has proven that it’s always the individual dog you are mating that is the best predictor of what he or she is likely to pass on to offspring. We need to remember that mating two pieces of paper. I always tell breeders a bitch from your litter may have gone Best of Winners at the Nationals and you therefore believes she has a wonderful pedigree. However there may have been four of her litter mates who were placed as companion pets who had the same wonderful pedigree. So there are many other misconceptions – these are just a few. But having an understanding of genetic principles and primarily of how genes are passed from one generation to the next will help breeders understand why these are simply myths – why they are not something that is realistic.
LR: Right. So when we’re talking about – talking to breeders – give us some recommendations for people that are just getting started. Maybe they’re planning their first litter. Even people who have been around for a while. Give us some of your best recommendations in terms of why education is the key to everything.
CO: I’ve always believed that knowledge is power in everything that we do and people who are getting started in purebred dogs will have much more success, more quickly, if they follow a couple of guidelines. So, some of these include: Don’t breed your first pet bitch. Find a mentor before purchasing breeding stock. A good mentor is someone who is knowledgeable, has a good reputation in the breed and has been successful. They also have a knowledge of genetics and are honest about health problems. Study your breed and your breed’s standard and have an idea in mind of the dog you are trying to breed.
CO: Join a breed club and if possible become a member of your breed’s Parent Club and attend as many educational seminars as possible. Purchase the best that you can afford. This actually sounds easier than it is because most breeders don’t want to part with their good bitches. But if you can establish a good relationship with a breeder it’s often possible to co-own a bitch that you will whelp and give a puppy or two back to the breeder. Don’t purchase a bitch younger than 12 to 18 months. If you get a bitch much younger than this, you may not have been able to do enough health tests and body structure might still be developing. Don’t acquire a bitch without temperament and health scores on her and her close relatives. And finally, don’t start a breeding program based only on pedigrees. Continuing education is always important and in this regard I’d recommend somebody just starting out take advantage of the American Kennel Club Canine College courses for breeders. They’re free of charge and if you wish to get a certificate of completion, this can also be done by testing your knowledge and paying a small fee. And lastly, I also recommend informative websites like Pure Dog Talk which has a wealth of information for anyone new or experienced.
LR: Well thank you for that plug – I appreciate it Claudia! <laughing>
CO: I really mean it! The presentations are phenomenal, Laura – they really are.
LR: Thank you. And I think the Canine College – you know, AKC has been working on building this and I think they’re doing a really great job. I mean legitimately I think they really are putting in a lot of effort and I love that they’re able to incorporate your books in that learning process, right?
CO: Absolutely. Absolutely. I’m extremely grateful the AKC has supported The ABC’s of Dog Breeding seminar for many years and I’m extremely grateful for the support. I’m thrilled that they’re putting more emphasis on breeder and judges education so there’s wonderful committee of people that are working on this. Leslie Seltzer is doing a phenomenal job. She has an excellent background in education methodology. I think we’re extremely lucky in the American Kennel Club that we have such great, talented people.
LR: Excellent. Very very good. I just wanted to go back and pull out this one thing that I heard you say just a little bit ago, when you’re a new person looking for your foundation bitch, and that is to buy an adult dog. And I love that suggestion. Legitimately love it. And I think it applies to buying a … you know I always have clients, “Oh, I want a special … ” I’m like, “Well go buy a grown up dog that you know what you’re getting.”
CO: Absolutely, I can’t tell you how many calls we get at the kennel. A person who says, “I want a foundation bitch. I want it to be show quality. I don’t want it to be over 4 months of age.” And it’s something that’s extremely unrealistic and it’s just a matter of that particular individual not having enough education to start planning a good, well-thought-out breeding program. But it happens very frequently.
LR: Right. Well, and I think, too, the other point that I would bring forward from that final conversation about the recommendations is establishing a long term relationship with a mentor and I just have been going through this. I have my own particular line of dogs that I’ve been working with but I’ve wanted to bring in a new bitch line. And so I, you know, have tried a couple different ways, but I finally have established a working relationship with another breeder that I can do that. And I think that that’s something that we need to understand – is that our peers in our breed may be competitors but they’re also resources.
CO: Absolutely. I think it’s very difficult in a way to find a good person to work with in a breeding program or to find a mentor. Because in a way it’s kind of like a marriage. I think you have to be psychologically compatible and you have to have a lot of the same goals and the same beliefs in common. So it’s something that’s a little tricky you need to feel really comfortable working with someone else and you need to more or less believe in the same thing. So I always tell people that come to the seminars look carefully for a mentor and look for somebody who really has a good reputation, who has a lot of experience and who hopefully understands genetics. And, for me, an important piece is, who is honest about genetic defects. One of the biggest problems that attendees talk about in the seminars is that they want to be honest about health problems but a mentor that they’re working with does not want them to say anything about health problems that may be present in the particular bloodlines they’re working with. And that’s always a very difficult conflict for a younger breeder who is working with an older mentor. Extremely difficult.
CO: And I usually tell people, I can understand the point of view that a lot of the older breeders have because a few decades ago, if people were honest about health problems, they were absolutely shunned many times by their peers. Talking about health was considered taboo. Nowadays, we understand much more about controlling canine genetic disease and we know that if we’re honest about the health problems – about who the carriers and the affected dogs are in our pedigrees – we can control health problems in our breeding program very, very easily. But it all revolves around being honest.
LR: Absolutely. And I think that that is such an important piece and one of the things that we can really point to in terms of, you know, you hear a lot of static about, “Oh, the good old days, the good old days.” Well here’s a place where the current days are better, I mean the fact of the matter.
CO: I absolutely agree! That is such a great statement and I agree completely. The good ol’ days were better in many many respects. But one area in which I feel there has been a big improvement has to do with this honesty and this openness about health problems that appear in our dogs. We have a lot more tools that are available. We have a lot more DNA tests that are available and I find that the younger breeders are much more open to being honest about health problems that might crop up in a breeding program. <LR: Absolutely.> So you’re right … sometimes I think we look with rose colored glasses at things in the past.
LR: And some of those things legitimately were pretty amazing. But this I really do think is a place where we have made such tremendous progress and we need to give mad props to these breeders that are working right now because they are working harder with more tools and willing to really sort of, if you will, push the envelope and say, “OK here I have this carrier bitch and I need to find a non carrier dog. Let’s talk about that.” I think that that is so valuable.
CO: And I think that George Pagett, who is no longer with us, he did so much to foster this concept of how important it is to be honest about health problems and to give breeders confidence about the many ways that we can control canine genetic disease in our breeding programs. So he’s another one of my idols quite frankly. He and Malcolm Willis. Those are two greats that have contributed so much to the welfare of the pure bred dog.
LR: I would absolutely agree and I would also put a shout out to the Canine Health Information Center that was developed between AKC and OFA <CO: Absolutely … CHIC> Yep – that CHIC program, to me, has applied <CO: Phenomenal> Yep – more positive pressure, right, in this direction than anything I can think of.
CO: As well as the Canine Health Foundation. So we’re really functioning … moving into much more positive area, as you said, with regard to health issues in the pure bred dog. It’s encouraging.
LR: Absolutely. And you are encouraging. You are one of my idols, Claudia, so I very much … I’m not kidding that’s an actual factual. I appreciate your time tremendously. Thank you so much for agreeing to join us from your beautiful home in Spain.
CO: You’re very welcome.
LR: I hope that our listeners find value here and run out rapidly and buy these books if they don’t already have them.
CO: Or take the courses in the Canine College program. It’s really worth it.
LR: Absolutely. We will provide links on the web site so that people have this information available.
CO: Excellent excellent. Thank you very much Laura.
LR: Thank you, Claudia.
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That’s all for today.