Chow Chow Breeder/Handler Shares His Story
Michael & Linda Brantley were AKC’s Non-Sporting Breeders of The Year in 2013 for their Dreamland Chow Chows. Michael is a professional handler, member of the Professional Handlers Association, and has shown top ranked, multiple Best in Show winners in numerous breeds.
Breeding is the Art
“Still, the breeding is very important to me,” Brantley said, “probably more so than the handling. The handling is more the game, but the breeding is the art.”
While Michael says he’s never actually counted, Dreamland Chow Chows have produced more than 200 champions in last 40-plus years.
Brantley’s folks started in Pekingese and were breeding and showing them when he was born. His family acquired their first Chow Chow when Michael was in grade school and never looked back.
The first time Brantley was paid to show a dog, he was thrilled to realize he could “support his habit” with handling.
“I’ve been handling full-time for 40 something years,” Brantley said. “So that ended up (going) from a hobby to a career.”
To this day, handling and breeding, for Brantley, work hand in glove.
“ I think the handling of the other breeds has really helped me understand my breed better,” Brantley said. “It helped me understand structure and function tremendously. More than if I had just stuck with my breed and not sat around and watched these other dogs show or learn the standards of them before I showed the dogs. So, it’s been a double edged thing there where it’s taught me a lot.”
But the hobby, the breeding piece, remains the most compelling for Brantley.
“The show ring is just a mirror of the whelping box,” Brantley observed.
“… maybe 20-25 percent of the dogs that we breed will end up in the show ring,” he added. “Maybe. So, the rest of those dogs are going to go as companions to people. And in a breed that is very strong willed, very independent like Chow’s are, like our Tibetan Mastiffs are as well, it’s extremely important to have that proper temperament to where they end up as being great pets for somebody.
“They think for themselves. They’re happy you’re there, but they would rather go out by themselves. So, you’ve got to learn how to deal with that and it’s not something you learn overnight and it’s something that you’ve got to figure out.”
I hope you enjoy this great Talk with a man who brings a wealth of knowledge and wisdom.
And don’t forget to stick around for Allison Foley’s Tip of the Week on how to manage the male dog’s performance when bitches in season are in the ring.
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Michael Brantley Transcript
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LAURA REEVES: Welcome to Pure Dog Talk. I’m your host Laura Reeves and I have with me today my very good friend Michael Brantley. Also a PHA member, longtime professional handler, and an AKC breeder of the year for the Non-Sporting Group in .. 2005?
MICHAEL BRANTLEY: That’s a good question — It was 15 or so. <laughter>
LR: Yeah — I think it was — it was not too long ago — for his Dreamland Chow Chows. So, we’ve talked before on this show about breeders and professional handlers not being mutually exclusive. And I think Michael is one of the best people we can talk to on that topic. So welcome.
MB: Thank you. Thank you. Glad to be here.
LR: I appreciate it. So, give us the 4-1-1, we call it, the how/who/when/why/where – How’d you get involved in dogs?
MB: Well my parents were breeding Pekinese before I was born. And they were showing and when I was about five years old they got a Chow and just fell in love with the breed. So I helped my parents show their dogs as a kid and showed in juniors a little bit and just became a passion. Still the breeding is very important to me – probably more so than the handling. The handling is more the game, but the breeding is the art.
LR: Absolutely. We’ve seen that meme and I think it is so dead on.
MB: Yeah, it really is, that was on the mark.
LR: Absolutely. And you have something like 200 champions.
MB: I’ve never counted – I really have never counted. But it’s over 200 Yeah.
LR: Wow. And that’s since, what, mid 80s?
MB: Since the 70s, yeah, I kind of took over from my parents back in the late 70s.
LR: So you went from showing your family’s dogs <MB: Well, yeah I did> to then where did the professional handling come in?
MB: A friend came up and asked me to see if I could take their Chow to finish his championship. So, I took this dog and I finished it and they gave me money – and it was awesome! <laughter> I said, “I can support my habit doing this!”. So, started up part time, developed over the years, I’d show a few dogs here and there, and to the point to where I quit my regular job and handled full time. I’ve been handling full time for 40-something years
LR: As long as I’ve been in the game. <laughter>
MB: Yeah … yeah … so it ended up from hobby to a career.
LR: Well and I think for so many of us. That’s not dissimilar from my life path particularly and you are a member of the Professional Handlers Association. <MB: I am> So we’re going to take a little segue here and people ask me all the time, “How do I select a professional handler?” You know I had the interview we talked to Dinah Baggenstos who’s president of PHA. You have the PHA, the AKC Registered Handler Program. Talk to us a little bit, for our listeners, if you decide that you’re going to hire a professional handler, how do you do that?
MB: Well the starting point is to find somebody that’s involved with one of those organizations because they’ve had to meet the requirements of vehicles, of equipment. They’ve had people keep an eye on them for a few years to make sure that they are responsible with other people’s dogs. And from there I suggest just watching. Watching those handlers work. Watching how they take care of their dogs. how they treat their dogs. You don’t want somebody just to go out and win with your dog. You want somebody that’s going to love them like you do. So that’s my suggestion is pay attention.
LR: And it seems like we shouldn’t have to make this point, but we do love them like you do! <laughter> <MB: We do – We do!> “When was the last time you cried? The last time I sent a dog home.”
MB: Some of the dogs that we specialed through the years we’d had for two or three years. They became our dogs and it was hard to send them home. It’s hard, hard, hard.
LR: I just sent one home and it was ugly crying. <laughter>
MB: But now that I’m a grandfather I realize it’s a little more like spoiling the grandkids and then sending them home to mom. Let them deal with all the problems we created. <LR: Excellent> <laughter>
LR: We spoil them worse than you do. <MB: Yeah, yeah we do>
LR: OK. So from the breeding perspective. Talk to us a little bit about your mentors – who mentored you, who guided you, outside of your folks, both in the handling and in the breeding.
MB: Well, in the breeding aspect of it, we had an old time Chow person in Lubbock, Texas, named Hal Allen who I grew up in his backyard watching him raise puppies and he was one of the founding members of the Chow club and did a whole lot for the breed.
MB: So I had a very good start learning from him. There’s been a lot of people I’ve looked up to in my breed through the years. Most of them are gone now, but Hal gave me that start. He would let me sit in the whelping box and watch these puppies play and see which one we thought was going to be the big show winner. And that was a great thing to do. We also had a Bulldogger who I spent a lot of time with, who had some of the top winning dogs in the history of the breed. So, it wasn’t just the Chows. And that’s something I really want to impress is that I think the handling of the other breeds has really helped me understand my breed better. Helped me understand structure and function tremendously more than if I had just stuck with my breed and not sit around and watch these other dogs show or learn the standards of them before I showed the dogs. So, it’s been a double edged thing there to where it’s taught me a lot.
LR: I completely agree with you. And I think it’s something that we can offer to new exhibitors. You don’t have to go to your professional handler. No there is nothing stopping you from going and learning about other breeds and sit and watch them, and sit and watch them be judged, and read their standard.
MB: And when I was a kid Hal Allen and we would sit there and we would watch the breeds, we’d watch the groups, we’d watch best in show. We’d be there all day. And that taught me a lot – taught me to pay attention.
LR: And I think that, I don’t know how to say it any other way than listeners, pay attention. This is probably the 180th time you’ve heard this. This is how you learn.
MB: Yeah, it is. It is. And so far as people, when handling, I would find the breeders that were the most successful in each of those breeds. If I was going to take on a dog of a new breed, I would go to those people and I would look at their dogs. I would see how they groom them, see what they were looking for. You learn from the experts and rather than just going out on your own and saying, “I can show this dog just like I show every other dog,” each breed is different. There were a couple of professional handlers that old-time people that I learned from – Roy Murray down our way, was a big influence; Kenny Rensink – probably the biggest influence of my life. He’s one of the smartest people I ever knew and wisest. I mean, he had a lot of experience. He had shown a Chow to the top spot several times so he was kind of my mentor and pushing me to the next level in my brain.
LR: Absolutely. So we have a lot of young people in our sport that we want to encourage and we want to encourage them to stay involved. If they want to stay involved as a professional handler, we want to encourage them to do it in a good way. So what would your recommendations be on that?
MB: Well my recommendation is that you don’t just treat this as being a professional handler. You’re also somebody who can give advice to the breeders that you’re working for. We would show generations of dogs for people in other breeds, and we were part of their breeding program. We were the sounding board … we would talk back and forth to say, “Okay I think you need to bring this dog to this bitch and vice-versa because I think this could help.” You’re a big part of their breeding programs and you should be and you should have the knowledge to provide to those people. They may be the expert in that breed but you are a dog person and you should know which dogs structurally are correct. Which ones can do their job and so on and so forth in that respect. But to me you have to be involved in the breeding to be a good handler. It goes hand in hand and whether you breed yourself, or you give advice to other breeders, either way you have to be involved in that if you want to be successful at this.
LR: And I think that’s just such a really, really good point, Michael that there is synergy between the two, right? Like, we learned from one to give to the other and vice-a-versa. And I think that too often some of the people who are learning now haven’t learned all of the components. <MB: I think there is … there’s not as many kids …> And so how do we help them learn those components?
MB: The apprenticing is the big thing. If you’re not in there with somebody that’s well-respected, either in their breed or as a handler, and learning from those people, then going out and learning on your own is hard. <LR: Takes a long time> Takes a long time. Take advantage of the people with the knowledge and work for them for a year or whatever – more. But that’s how you learn. It’s not something you can just read a book and go out and do – you have to be in the trenches, know what makes those dogs tick, learn animal behaviour <LR: Safety> Safety, absolutely. And know what works and what doesn’t work. It’s a hands-on thing.
LR: And I think it is hands on with supervision and that’s the idea of the apprenticeship. <MB: That’s exactly it> You know, that that way you are learning. I’ve always loved the apprenticeship concept, you know, from when it was ancient, ancient, ancient concept of, “This is how you learned how to be a tailor or shoemaker or what have you – is you learn hands-on work by doing hands-on work with supervision.
MB: Right. It’s a physical business. It’s something that you do with your hands and legs and your hips and everything else. It’s an art form. It truly is and to master that craft you really have to spend the time to learn from somebody who has mastered it.
LR: Learn from a master craftsman. Yeah.
LR: Absolutely. So then taking the swing that 90 degrees to the breeding and talking to our breeder listeners, are people who maybe are just getting their first dog and they just want to learn how to show their dog. You know they don’t have any great aspiration – they just want to show their dog. What is some of your best advice for them?
MB: My best advice is learn your breed. Whatever breed you decide upon, Learn it. Study it. Understand what makes it that breed before you ever walk in the ring. You can walk in with a Bulldog and try to show it like a sporting dog and you’re not going to win. You have to understand that breed, and make sure that’s the breed for you. Make sure that it fits your lifestyle, that you can deal with the idiosyncrasies of that breed and make sure it’s a fit. But watch the handlers. Watch the people that are successful competing in that breed. Watch the people that are successful breeding. “I’ve got my dog from one breeder, this is how it is and that’s it.” No! You go learn from everybody whether you like their style of dog or not. Learned from them. Look and see why those people are going out and winning with their dogs. The show ring is just a mirror of our whelping box. We go out there and compete with our dogs to prove what we think we saw in the whelping box.
LR: I think that’s beautiful – a mirror of the whelping box – that’s a wonderful line! So, in brief, and I know this is hard to be in brief, when we’re talking about Chow Chows and a successful breeding program. Talk to us about Chow Chows. Talk to us about how you make, in your breeding program, really good dogs. What do your pedigrees look like? Are you breeding – do you have a specific breeding plan – that kind of thing.
MB: We do to an extent. I mean we breed pedigrees. Our pedigrees are very important because that tells us what we may get in that litter. Now that’s not a certainty – we’re dealing with a lot of genes. But it’s more than that. You can’t take two dogs with beautiful pedigrees and breed them together and if they were ugly you’re probably going to get some ugly puppies. You have to know what the strong points are of each dog, you have to know what the downsides are to where you can have dogs that complement each other when you’re breeding. We breed very closely. I mean we line breed, and maybe to the point of inbreeding at times. <LR: Ok> But we do that with health in mind. We test everybody to make sure that we’re keeping our dogs healthy <LR: And temperament> And temperament is very, very important and temperament is genetic, <LR: It is> As far as I’m concerned, especially in my breed, it is very genetic. We can look down a line of dogs and we see all these traits that come down from grandmother/grandfather/great-grandmother. I mean it just keeps coming down. That’s a big thing when you’re breeding. You can have the most beautiful dog in the world out there and if the temperament’s wrong and it won’t go out and be in public, then what good is it? It’s not even a good companion for a family. And as a breeder that’s the other thing we really look for. Maybe 20-25 percent of the dogs that we breed will end up in the show ring. Maybe. So the rest of those dogs are going to go as companions to people. And the breed that’s very strong willed, very independent like Chows are, like our Tibetan mastiffs are as well. It’s extremely important to have that proper temperament to where they end up as being great pets for somebody. And that’s the other thing we fight, is with all the anti-dog legislation, and they say go get a dog from the shelter or whatever – well we need to prove them wrong. We need to prove that the breeders are doing the work. We’re spending the money to do all the testing, we’re working with them, we’re dealing with the temperaments and developing better dogs than what they would get going to a shelter and picking up a dog.
LR: And this just kind of came into my mind as we were talking. I mean you’re talking about Tibetan Mastiffs and Chows – you’re talking about two breeds that are not known to be Golden Retrievers in temperament. We know what these dogs are. So do you have success educating puppy buyers? So it’s not just making a sound minded dog, you have to educate who’s buying the dog.
MB: You do have to educate them. My wife Linda is extremely good at screening people. She has an extensive application. She talks to these folks for months ahead of time. If she gets any inkling that maybe these people just don’t have the temperament to deal with these breeds then she’s going to say, “I don’t think this is the breed for you.” But we’ve been able to train and teach a lot of folks that we didn’t think we would.
LR: I mean, you’re talking about breeds with a lot of hair. They require a lot of grooming. They require training. You can’t just throw a Chow in the back yard and pat it on the head – this isn’t going to work!
MB: And the grooming is the easy part. I mean all the Asian breeds are very similar. The TMs, the Chows, the Sharpei, the Akita – they’re all very similar … they’re smart … they’re strong willed … they think for themselves. They’re happy you’re there but they would rather go out by themselves. So you’ve got to learn how to deal with that. And it’s not something you learn overnight, and it’s something that you’ve got to figure out that, “Yeah I’ve got to be tougher than my dog is.”
LR: I have to actually be the leader.
MB: I have to be the alpha in this pack.
LR: Well, the leader. I say with the Akitas, I always say, they need to trust me and respect.
MB: They need to respect you. Yes it has to be a respect thing and that’s you being –
LR: But they don’t trust without respect either. Those two things have to be there at the same time.
MB: And that’s one thing I’ve learned with our Tibetan Mastiffs is I have shown a lot of other people’s Tibetan Mastiffs and finished them and done okay with them. But, with that breed, in order to really do well it has to be a dog I’ve raised. They’re so independent and so bonded to their people that it’s very difficult to take a dog from somebody else and try to do as you would as a professional handler with other breeds.
LR: Well thank you very much Michael, I appreciate it. We’re here at the Tibetan Mastiff National. So I wish you great, good fortune!
MB: Thank you.
LR: We’ll be talking to a few more people today. So thank you very much.
Allison Foley Tip of the Week
LR: Alright, crew. We are back with Allison Foley from The Leading Edge Dog Show Academy with her tip of the week which we always love! Welcome Allison.
ALLISON FOLEY: Hi Laura. How are you today.
LR: Other than the zombies I’m pretty good. So what are we talking about today?
AF: Well today I thought we would talk about bitches in season at a dog show and a couple different tricks I use to manage a boy dog that won’t let that idea go.
LR: That’s a great one.
AF: I was hoping you’d think so.
LR: I think that’s a great one. So what happens when you have that naughty, sort of pimply 15 year old boy in a dog suit?
AF: So first of all I mean bitches – that’s going to happen – they’re going to come in season. You know we are there to adjudicate breeding stock. So these things have to happen. So clearly you’re going to, especially this time of year, you’re going to have your eye out for it and you know you’re going to keep your dog away from bitches you might suspect that are in season. Hopefully exhibitors of bitches who are in season are courteous enough to warn you of that if you’re showing a male. So I have kind of two things I do to distract them. So one is the tried and true Vicks Vapo Rub my tack box. And you know the idea is that you rub a little bit under their nose and then they can’t really smell the bitch in season or they don’t smell her as strongly. So they’re not as excited about it.
AF: My other trick is I also use liquid vanilla that you would use for baking.
LR: Yep that’s what I use.
AF: Yeah I find that sometimes they get a little bit used to the Vicks. If you switch over to the vanilla or honey, use two of them back and forth that kind of helps you out. Right?
AF: So those are my two distraction methods.
AF: So I had recently campaigned a Kerry Blue Terrier who, when there was a girl in season, he was gone. No matter what bait I used, it didn’t matter what I did – how I stood on my head – if he had an idea that a bit c h was in season there was no controlling him. <LR: Unmanageable.>
AF: He was almost unmanageable. And so I went to my tried and true trick of get a squeaky toy – a fluffy squeaky toy – and use it only for this purpose and find a bitch in season and kind of wipe her nether regions with it – rather lavishly. <LR: Preferably with the owner’s permission.> <laughter>
AF: Yep definitely with the owners – and the bitch’s – permission and get it so that it smells like a bitch in season. And then I always use like a different kind or different color squeaky toy because I really don’t want to be holding on to that if I don’t have to be. And when you’re just, you’ve lost that dog, a lot of times I know with my Kerry it did work like a charm. I could show him that squeaky toy and let him smell it and then he just totally paid attention to that squeaky toy – like that was his girlfriend. He was like – and it really made him actually come right up on his toes. <LR: I bet it did!> It was phenomenal. Yes he showed some of the best he ever showed!
AF: And then I also recommend that you keep that toy like in a Ziploc bag to really like kind of preserve that scent in there. Because not always is there going to be a female in season that’s going to allow you near her, and you know it’s just a good thing to have around. And also like I said you just don’t want to be picking up that squeaky toy willy nilly when you’re not expecting it. So I kind of < inaudible>.
LR: I love that. I would do that with a squeaky toy and I would keep it in the freezer, just like you would, you know like if you’re trying to collect a dog or something – you have your bitch rag, for lack of a better term.
AF: Exactly. But you know those are the things that you use to try to distract your dog, on one hand, or you know if you just need that absolute peak performance. You know I use the squeaky toy and actually a weekend ago I had a new exhibitor – a student of mine – and she actually went Reserve Best in Show with her Bouvier, and in the breed there was a Bouvier in season and she couldn’t get his – like she was losing her mind and she came over and asked me for help. And we used that trick. and she’s like, “Oh my God that worked so good, like it da-da-da-da-da” and then they ended up going Reserve Best In Show which made me look really smart <LR: Super smart!> Yeah – she did a great job with her dog and that’s another leading like that.
LR: Well there you go. So The Leading Edge Dog Show Academy, right there. <AF: There you go.> And don’t forget to put your Pure Dog Talk 25 for a 25% discount off your courses and that will save you a few bucks – buy a cup of coffee on us!
AF: That sounds like a great idea.
LR: And thank you Alison.
AF: No problem at all Laura.
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