Sara Reusche: Breeding Mixy-Mix Sports Dogs for the First Time

by Jun 22, 2020Dog Sports, Podcast, Sport Mixes0 comments

Jessica Hekman: Welcome to the Functional Breeding Podcast. I’m Jessica Hekman, and I’m here interviewing folks about how to breed dogs for function and for health: behavioral and physical. This podcast is brought to you by the Functional Dog Collaborative, an organization founded to support the ethical breeding of healthy, behaviorally sound dogs. FDC’s goals include providing educational, social, and technical resources to breeders of both purebred and mixed breed dogs. You can find out more at, or at the Functional Breeding Facebook Group, which is a friendly and inclusive community. I hope you have fun and learn something.


Jessica Hekman: Hey friends. Today I’m talking with Sara Reusche. Sara is the owner of Paws Abilities Dog Training, a multicentric dog training and walking business in Minnesota. Sara writes, teaches and is the happy owner of two intentionally-bred sport mixy-mix dogs, one of whom she bred herself. Sara is also one of the founding board members of the Functional Dog Collaborative. She’s a lot of fun to hang out with. So I hope you enjoy listening to us talk about her experiences with her first breeding.


So thanks so much for being on the podcast, Sara. I really appreciate it and I’m looking forward to talking to you.


Sara Reusche: Yeah, you’re very welcome. I’m excited.


JH: So I think the best place to start is generally what dogs do you live with right now? Who are your kids?


SR: Sure! So I have three dogs. And the oldest is Trout. So Trout is eight and a half. She was a foster fail. So she was found on a trout farm as a puppy. She’s a “Beagley-terriery” kind of something. We’ve actually had her DNA done by three different organizations and they all came back with you know, beagle/harrier, that sort of thing. And then two of them came back with Irish terrier, which just cracks me up. Because how many Irish terriers are there out there just indiscriminately breeding in Missouri? So Trout is eight and a half. And then I have my two, I call them “Brindle Weasel” dogs, but they’re purpose-bred sport mixes. So Pan will be five this summer. And he is a Jack Russell/border collie/Staffordshire bull terrier/whippet. There’s a couple other breeds further back. And he does Disc Dog and he has some rally obedience titles and we’re training in obedience and agility and flyball and he basically just does all the things. And then his daughter, Biz, just turned a year. And she is out of a rat terrier/Staffordshire bull terrier cross.


JH: Very nice. So why don’t you tell us about why you decided to get Pan and where you got him from and how you found him and all that kind of stuff. Sport mixes are what we’re here to talk about.


SR: Yeah, sure. So I have always had foster fails. I’ve always had rescues and adore them. Love them to the moon and back. I’ve also always had some serious health issues in my dogs that have sometimes prevented us from being able to have the good life that I want my dogs to have. So kind of looking at my last three dogs. My heart dog Layla was a foster fail and Layla was incredible. She was definitely, she was my everything. We did all the things together and she really took me on quite a journey. And she’s the reason I’m here today. I also lost her unexpectedly to Hemangiosarcoma when she was 10.


JH: That’s a tough one.


SR: Yeah, it was really tough. I also had Dobby. Dobby was a little pit cross. And he unfortunately had to be euthanized when he was four because of a seizure disorder. So we worked with a veterinary behaviorist and we worked with various veterinarians who kind of specialize in dealing with epilepsy and we just could not get on top of his seizures and his quality of life just went downhill so much from the time I adopted him when he was around one to the time we had to let him go when he was about four.


JH: So young.


SR: Yeah, yeah, he was only four. And then I have Trout. And Trout is still with us and Trout has a great life. She has a very simplified life, but she’s had pretty severe health issues kind of the entire time I’ve had her. So even as a puppy we were told by multiple vets that she wouldn’t make it to three. That she… there was just something… she was losing muscle mass and she was losing weight. And nobody could figure out kind of what was going on with her. So at this point she’s on prescription dog food, and she’s on seizure medication. And she’s on Anapril because she has a neurodegenerative disorder. And she’s just kind of held together with duct tape and well wishes.


So that’s kind of where I was at with dogs when I started looking into whether I wanted to add a puppy to my life. And knowing that kind of led me to consider a breeder because I just, I didn’t think I could do it again. I didn’t think I could go through the heartache again. And obviously going to a breeder isn’t a sure thing, either. You never know. But at least having that background and knowing how long all of my dogs relatives have lived, what they died of, what issues have cropped up in relatives, all of that helped to reduce a lot of the anxiety that I was feeling about bringing another dog into my life and whether we were going to have health issues with this next dog. So that’s where I was at.


As far as where I got Pan, I was originally looking at a pretty well known sport dog breeder called Blue Cedar Sport Dogs. I was on the list for a puppy from them. The breeders are phenomenal. So their names are Ian and Tooie. And I had spoken with them. I’ve been in contact with them for probably about five years before I got Pan, just asking questions and following their dogs and following their breeding program and really like what they’re doing, and really, really liked their dogs. I’d gone to several flyball shows, so I met lots of their dogs in person and just love them. So I was on a list for a puppy from Blue Cedar, and that breeding ended up not taking. So they repeated the breeding and that breeding ended up not taking either.


So I ended up going to Pan’s breeder. Now I’m not going to actually say where Pan came from because some additional information has come out about his breeder since I got him that I don’t agree with some of her practices. But Pan came from Blue Cedar lines. So that health history and that health testing history is there as you go further back in his pedigree, which is really helpful. And I will say, you know, for this breeder that I got Pan from, while I don’t agree with everything she’s done, she did a phenomenal job raising the litter. So when I got Pan I picked him up at CanAm, which is the flyball nationals for one of the two flyball organizations. So we went down from Minnesota to CanAm and picked him up and walked into this huge area with tons of dogs and people and shouting and activity and picked up this little like four pound puppy. And he was just great. He was just great with all of it. He just looked around like, “Yeah, this is normal. This is fine.” And just from the first day kind of hit the ground running, just ready to take on life, which was such a revelation for me coming from a very different background of puppy early experiences.




JH: Yeah, that sounds lovely. And having met Pan I can say he’s still like that as an adult as well, which is another whole separate thing, right? You can have these really nice puppies that show a lot of promise. But you also have to have that personality continue until they grow up. So and he’s a lovely dog. So what are you doing with him now?


SR: Oh, all the things. Honestly the great thing about Pan is that he’s thrilled to do any sports I want. We have only ever met one sport he doesn’t want to do which is dock diving. He overthinks it and he’s like, “No, I’m pretty sure I can’t jump into the water.”




JH: I think that’s fair. Not everybody’s cut out to do that.


SR: Right. It’s just not his thing. But, he has some Barn Hunt titles that we got. That’s kind of the most recent thing we’ve been doing. He does Disc Dog stuff. Like I said, we’ve done some training in obedience and agility. He’s ready to get back into rally obedience whenever we start doing trials again. So he does all the things, but probably the most important thing he does is he’s just our pet. So my dogs are first and foremost family pets, and I have some chronic health issues. And so he’s the kind of dog where he doesn’t need stuff every day to be happy. If I have a really bad week where my arthritis is acting up or my heart issues acting up and I can’t really get out of bed. He’s cool with that. He’s like, “That’s great. I’m going to just snuggle up with you, and we’re gonna binge Netflix.” And that’s, he is totally happy to do that, too.


JH: Yeah, that’s an important job, right?


SR: Yeah, his biggest job is just being a family member. And he’s phenomenal at it.


JH: So then you have Biz.


SR: Yeah.


JH: Yeah, you want to tell us where she came from?


SR: Absolutely. So Biz is Pan’s daughter. And this was the first time I’ve ever kind of dipped my toe into the world of breeding, purpose breeding. So it’s been scary. It’s been very educational. And I’m so, so pleased with this litter. So Pan was bred to our friend’s dog, who’s a Staffordshire bull terrier/rat terrier cross. And they raised the puppies, and did just a wonderful job. And this litter has been so fun to watch grow. So they’re 15 months old now. So we’re just kind of waiting and watching them mature before I make any decisions as far as whether we’ll, you know, repeat this specific breeding or whether I’ll breed Pan again in the future. But these puppies are just, they’re great. Half of them live with small children, and all of them are doing sports stuff with their people. And they’re just, they’re a lot like Pan, just family companions.


So Biz, specifically… I specifically said I wanted the naughty one out of the litter because I like spicy girls. And she definitely fits that mold. She does what she wants. She’s got a lot of opinions. But she’s also just insanely sweet. She is a touch junkie. She’s the first dog I’ve ever had that, while she works for food and toys and all of the traditional reinforcers, she’s also really thrilled to work for praise and petting. And really gets turned on by just telling her she’s brilliant, and rubbing her neck and rubbing her butt. And all of that is really, really important to her. So that’s been fun because she’s so easy to motivate and so easy to work with. But yes, she is just impossibly sweet.


JH: It’s also another fun dog to make out with.(laughter) I got to hang out with both of them for a while, a couple months back. So when you talk about getting into breeding and how it was scary, and it was challenging, I think it would be great for people to hear more about just what was that experience like? What were some of the resources that you used to learn what to do? What was stuff that was missing? What was hard? What was easy? What was fun?




SR: Yeah. So I actually have to go back a little bit if we’re going to talk about breeding because I do have a good deal of experience with whelping and puppy raising. Because I’ve been in the rescue world for 15 years, I’ve done a lot of whelping. I’ve done a lot of puppy raising. I’ve fostered and cared for pregnant dogs, whether that particular organization chose to stay aboard or chose to whelp the litter. So I had that experience. And because of that experience, I was already familiar with some of the puppy raising programs, like Puppy Culture and Avidog. And I have to say that I am a huge fan of both of them. They’re both phenomenal. I really, really like… Avidog has a lot of phenomenal information about kind of the breeding side as well. So not just raising litter, but the pieces to look into when you’re making decisions about breeding and the pieces to think about. Like they have a Fit to Be Tied program, which is so clever. (laughter) But about fitness. And I think all of those pieces that have really helped me to put together this puzzle of breeding. So I was familiar with those programs from whelping litters of puppies. And then I also ended up getting quite a few books and webinars and just basically diving in and reading all I could about all of this.


So one of the things that’s interesting with purpose-bred mixes versus when you’re looking at purebreds, is the health testing aspect. With most purebred dogs, the breed club tells you what you should test for. And when you’re breeding mixed breeds, there’s not that same level of guidance, and there’s very disparate views about how much you need to test and whether testing is necessary which, spoiler alert, I think it is. (laughter) But not everybody agrees with me. And so there’s everything from because it’s a mixed breed and you’re probably not going to double up on traits because you’ve got such a wide gene pool… There’s some people who will say, “Yeah, you don’t really need to test for health conditions, because you’re not likely to double up.” And then there’s the far other end of the spectrum where there’s people who think that you should be testing for every single health condition that every single breed in that dog’s makeup might have, even if it’s a very, very small amount. So like Pan has a, I want to say, great-grandmother, who was a farm bred, Miniature Australian Shepherd. But when we look at his Embark results, Aussie doesn’t come up. There’s not really any Aussie traits in his phenotype. You know the chance of having Aussie issues in him is pretty small. So we have to figure out like, do we test for Aussie specific issues? So that’s an interesting area that I think needs to be explored more when you’re breeding mixed breed dogs.


JH: Yeah, for sure. I think it’d be great to have guidelines or just, you know, some information to help people make some more informed choices. So you did end up doing some testing. So how did you decide where to draw the line? I mean maybe the Mini Aussie is a good example of like, did you decide to go ahead and test for Australian Shepherd issues? Was that where you drew the line?




SR: So what I ended up doing with Pan… We did OFA hips and elbows. I did a BAER. There was no indication that he couldn’t hear or that he had, you know, unilateral deafness or anything like that. But just because he has some white-headed dogs in his lines, and because it hadn’t been done on any of his relatives, it’s something that made me feel better. So we went ahead and did that. We did eyes. He does have eye issues in his lines. Nothing super close, but I think that’s something that we’ll be repeating (the CERF) before he’s ever bred again, and just yearly, because it’s a good screening. I think it’s an important screening for any of our sport dogs. Because if we have vision changes, as I’m working with my dog and training my dog, I want to know that sooner rather than later so that I’m keeping my dog safe and setting them up for success. So we did eyes, and we’ll continue to do eyes. And then we also did an Embark Panel. And that was… I know there’s a lot of kind of back and forth out there about Embark. I feel like it gives a good broad overview and maybe gives you some ideas of where you might want to do further testing. And because that tests for such a wide variety of health conditions, that was kind of where I drew the line for, “Alright. This is going to give us information on, say, MDR-1 sensitivity. Things like that.


JH: For a (indistinct) or something like that. Yeah.


SR: Yeah, exactly.


JH: Exactly. Okay, so this, that actually sounds like a great way of approaching it. First of all, if there’s a known issue in the dog’s lines, then it’s good to check to see if this particular dog has that. If there have been issues that have been previously screened for and ancestors have been clear, then that might be something that you didn’t have to screen for, although, obviously there’s some wiggle room there. And then if there’s something that just hasn’t been looked at, and there’s some reason to believe that it might be in some of those breeds, that it might be worthwhile looking into. Sounds like pretty useful guidelines, actually.


Alright, so health testing. You did a bunch of it. And I also think it sounds like hips, elbows, and eyes seem like, no matter what breeds you’re breeding, would be a pretty good thing to do.


SR: Absolutely. Yeah.


JH: All right. So you waded through figuring out what health screening to do. And how did you pick the bitch? That would be another thing that some people might struggle with.


SR: Yeah. So it was helpful. My friends Nicole and Darcy actually own Piglet and…


JH: Piglet is the name of the mom, yeah (laughter).


SR: Yes. They were the ones that approached me about this breeding. Our big goal with this breeding was that we wanted dogs that would be lovely family pets, first and foremost. Obviously, having dogs who could do sporty things is a positive and that was also a goal, but that was a secondary goal after dogs that are going to be really successful in a family and just fun to live with. You know, we wanted dogs that would be really nice to live with. So that was one of the big things with Lettie was that she is just a great dog. She’s, you know, a great dog to live with. She’s good with people. She’s good with other dogs.


She had health testing already. So they did everything that I did with the exception of BAER. They didn’t do ears, but they did hips, elbows, eyes, and the Embark panel. And then she also comes from a long line of health tested dogs. So we had that background on both sides with both of these dogs.


As far as other things that we considered, structurally these two dogs were really good matches. So structurally, when I look at Pan, Pan is just a little straight. So his angulation, his front and his rear is balanced, but it’s very terrier-like. So he’s a little straighter than I would like. That puts a little bit more strain on his joints. And it also… he’s just not as fast because he doesn’t have as much reach. So Lettie has really lovely angulation. We were looking at some of the trainability aspects. So Pan will work for food or toys, but he greatly prefers toys, which can make training a little challenging. Sometimes if I want a lower arousal behavior from him he will work for kibble. He doesn’t necessarily work for like, dog treats.


JH: Yeah.


SR: So I have to consider that in my training plan with him. Lettie will eat anything. She actually runs flyball for snacks. So we were hoping to increase on Pan’s food drive, and then Lettie will play. She likes tug, but she doesn’t really work for toys. And so we were hoping to increase toy drive as well. And we got that with this litter. We’ve got a litter where all the puppies will work for food and will work for toys and are really happy with both. We also got really nice angulation on the puppies. They’re just very functional little dogs, which is something that I love. You know we’ve got these puppies that hopefully their bodies will last their lifetime. They’re not going to have to deal with injuries and breaking down.


Of the six puppies that the two had, we do have one puppy that has had some health issues. So Duh (indistinct name?) had a really hard time being born. He was actually stuck for quite a while. He was born blue, and it took quite a while for Nicole to revive him. And he’s had some ongoing issues kind of related to all of that. So during his difficult birth, his jaw was fractured. And as he’s grown his maxilla, so his upper jaw, hasn’t grown with the rest of him. So it’s narrow. He has an underbite because of that. And then he also had some issues with, one of his testicles ended up torsed. And he was neutered because of that. So he’s had some ongoing issues, but they appear to be due to that difficult birth rather than due to anything genetically. And he is, I have to say of all six puppies, he’s my favorite personality-wise. He has the best, just funniest personality. And he’s a phenomenal dog.




JH: Awesome. Since you keep talking about how you did the Embark test with both of the parents, I have to ask, do you remember offhand what their coefficients of inbreeding are?


SR: I can actually tell you right now for Pan. Let me just pull that up.


JH: Just for fun. Not that it necessarily tells us directly how healthy the dog is, but I’m just curious. There’s a lot of published COI’s out there for purebreds, but not so many for mixed breed dogs. So.


SR: Yeah, so a lot of what I see with a lot of mixed breed dogs in, at least in the purpose-bred kind of flyball mixes, is pretty low. We’re looking at like around 2%. And I want to say that’s what Pan is, is right around 2%. He’s pretty, pretty low for that. So yeah, “Inbreeding and Diversity.” Let’s just pull that report up. I love Embark. Yeah, Pan is at 3%.


JH: That’s pretty low. And so for those who don’t know, the average purebred dog is around 20%. But there are some breeds that are up in the 30-40% level, which is pretty scary. 3% is fabulous. So thanks for indulging my curiosity.


SR: Absolutely. And I can also tell you that Biz is 1%.


JH: Oh, cool. So you had her tested too?


SR: Yes.


JH: Nice. So what other issues came up while you were dealing with this breeding? How have people responded to you having, you know, intentionally bred mixes? I know that can be kind of controversial. Not as much in the world of people who know about sport-bred mixes, but you run a training center, so you probably have other people seeing.


SR: So there’s definitely been good and bad. Because I come from the rescue world that has been difficult. In the rescue world there’s definitely a lot of black and white thinking of, “Breeding is bad. Rescue is good.” And no gray area there. And so I did deal with a little bit of that. I have to say that the the leaders in rescues that I deal with, so the presidents of the different rescues that I work with, and that I still foster for, have been phenomenal and are very supportive of positive breeders, of quality breeders who do all the right things, because ultimately, rescue is cleaning up from the bad breeders, right? So dogs that are responsibly bred don’t tend to wind up in rescue just because they’ve got that safety net. All of our puppies, either the bitch’s owner or I would take any one of those puppies that we’ve produced back in a heartbeat. And it’s actually in the contracts that the bitch’s owners have first right of refusal if for some reason, somebody can’t keep one of the puppies. So we’ve got that safety net for these puppies.


And I think that rescue is coming to realize more and more that there’s a place in the world for both: for both responsible breeders and the rescues who are cleaning up from the less responsible breeders. That said, some of the other foster homes that I deal with, and some of the other people in rescue that I deal with, did have a lot of strong opinions. The fact that I was breeding my dog, and honestly, just strong opinions about the fact that my dogs are intact. So Pan and Biz are both intact, and there’s a lot of fear in the rescue world about intact dogs and living with intact dogs. And what that would look like just because it’s… I think because it’s new, because it’s different. And people, I think, have preconceptions about what living with an intact male is like. And I can tell you he is not marking and he’s not aggressive and he’s not out roaming. He’s actually my dog of the three that I live with, if we were to leave the gate open, he’s the one that would never dream of leaving our property because he knows, you know, he shouldn’t. And he’s just a good boy. He would not dream of doing that. But there are those preconceptions about intact dogs. Or like Biz being in heat. Preconceptions about, you know, how would I keep her from breeding if I also have her father who’s intact in the household? And it’s a lot of management.


JH: I suspect people would love actually to hear some specifics about how you manage that, because that’s definitely not a breeding you would want to have happen.


SR: No. (laughter)


JH: And you do hear about these “oops” letters happening from time to time. I think I feel like I hear of it more often in the sports world where we keep these dogs intentionally intact, and that sometimes stuff happens. So how do you manage? Is it, how hard is it?


SR: I think it depends on the dogs. Some dogs are easier to manage than others. I have had breed mentors who’ve told me if you have intact dogs long enough, you’re going to have an “oops” litter. Like, management always fails. As dog trainers know that management always fails. So the way that I look at it, we always have at least two solid forms of management in between dogs. When I say solid forms of management, I mean the dogs can’t get to each other on the other side of the gate. I have… In the rescue world I’ve known of dogs breeding through crates, through gates, going over fences. I just read a post on Facebook yesterday about an “oops” litter that happened where the male went over two eight foot fences.


JH: Wow. (laughter)


SR: Bred the female. Went back over those eight foot fences. So he put himself back in his yard. And they didn’t know that she’d been bred until she started showing and didn’t figure out who dad was until they DNA tested the litter. Because he put himself back in his yard. He was like, “Okay, job done. Go back where I belong.” So we always have a solid door and a crate or two solid doors or a dog tethered plus a closed door plus an X-pen. You know, we’re managing in that way. The heat cycle for her, she’s only gone through one so far and she’s due any day. So we’re just kind of playing the waiting game right now. But for her, her heat cycle, we had about three weeks where we were keeping them separate. There were about two days that were especially hard for Pan. Where he was howly and whiny and he had a special toy that he was using quite a bit. (laughter) But, you know, beyond that, it was no more management than what I would use if I’ve got a dog who can’t be around other dogs, which happens often when I’m fostering. So it’s the same sort of just common sense management of keeping dogs separate. The other alternative that we may use this next time, is that my parents enjoy having my dogs stay with them. They don’t have a dog. And they’ve offered to take Pan next time Biz goes into heat. So we may do that.




JH: Yeah, I was gonna say, I’ve heard that from a lot of people that just having the boy go stay elsewhere is often the easiest thing to do. And it certainly, in terms of management, probably the safest thing.


SR: Yeah, for sure.


JH: When you have someone.


SR: Yeah. (laughter)


JH: Yeah. So, you talked about the possibility of breeding again. So you would breed Pan again, maybe to the same bitch, maybe to another bitch?


SR: Yeah. So the way I look at it, I want to make sure that if I’m creating puppies, that I’m only creating puppies that are going to be really successful in our world, and that are going to be good, easy, healthy pets for the lifetime with their family. So the reason I haven’t bred Pan again at this point is because his puppies are only 15 months old. And I know that a lot can change at social maturity with dogs. I want to see what these puppies look like, once they’ve hit social maturity before I make any further breeding decisions. The first time he was bred he was a little younger. Now that I know more, I probably wouldn’t have bred him at three. I probably would have waited until he was closer to five, which is, he’ll turn five this summer. Just because I think we get more information that way.


JH: Yeah.


SR: Right? So because he’s a male, I think waiting longer to breed him is better. And I just want to see what this litter grows up to be like. I am also considering that I may breed Biz in the future. Obviously, it’s way too early to tell at this point. She’s 15 months. And I’d like a lot more information on what she and her littermates are like, as well as making sure that she’s been shown. That she has some titles. That she’s had all of her health testing. All of those pieces as well. But if I were to breed her, I would definitely be looking for an older male. And kind of the older, the better.


JH: In terms of them being well known.


SR: Yes.


JH: Or well understood. What their behavior was? And what, sort of, how that dog turned out.


SR: Yeah.


JH: Do you think you’d breed her to a purebred or to another mixy-mix?


SR: Honestly, I’d be open to either. My goal would be to find the right temperament, and then complimentary structure, complimentary lifestyle. So she’s a little bit busier than Pan. She’s still very much within the realm of an easy pet. You know, she’s so snuggly, but she does have to move her body every day, which could partially also just be her age. But she definitely settles nicely and has a nice off switch. That said, I’m not sure I want to breed her to another busy dog because I wouldn’t want to necessarily lose that off switch. I think that’s a big, key important piece in having a dog that’s easy to live with.


JH: Yeah, for sure. And I think it’s something worth looking at as well, that I think a lot of sports people are concerned that if a dog is a good pet, then that means that they’re not going to be a good sport dog. That having that ability to settle down and be a snuggle buddy on the couch means they’re going to be unable to run fast in flyball or, you know, be high energy in agility. And it sounds like it’s a little early to answer that with Biz. But maybe with Pan you could speak to that a little bit.


SR: Absolutely. Yeah, I think that there’s a lot of misinformation out there about, we hear “high-drive dog” and what a high drive dog is and what that looks like. Because I think a lot of the breeders are breeding frantic behavior. And breeding dogs who can’t turn off, thinking that that’s “high-drive.” To me drive is the ability to focus and complete a task. So for example, with Pan when I get a frisbee out, he is in 100%. That’s all he cares about. Everything else fades into the background. He’s unfortunately even been rushed by other dogs when he was playing disc and he completely ignores all of that. It’s all about the disc. He will do anything in his power to get that disc and to perform whatever I asked him to do in order to get the disc. And to me that’s usable drive, right? He’s not in his crate screaming, waiting for his turn to play disc. He’s in his crate, usually napping or just quietly watching. And so he’s saving all of his energy for when he comes out and plays, which is, I think, much more usable, from a performance standpoint, than a dog who’s wearing themselves out waiting for their turn.


So yeah, I think that the idea when I’m looking at a really functional sports dog, from a behavioral standpoint, ideal is a dog who can turn off and then can turn on really easily, because those are the dogs that are going to give you the best performance during the day, right? Because they’ve got everything that they need for their performance. And then they can rest in between.


JH: That sounds like magic. (laughter)


SR: It’s really nice. So I’ve done dog sports with all of my rescues as well. And I’ve definitely had the gamut. My Layla competed quite a lot. And she was a dog who couldn’t do the turn off piece. So she was just on all the time, and she was exhausted at the end of the day. I mean, she was a little machine. She loved working, and I could bring her out, for like in a rally trial, she could do six runs in a day, and still be sharp on the sixth run. But it took her a couple days to recover because she was spending the entire day on, versus Pan who’s just spending that two minute time in the ring on and then turning back off and relaxing.


I’ve also had the opposite of when I competed with Trout. Trout doesn’t really turn on. (laughter) And so with Trout, getting her up was really difficult. And getting that focus was really difficult. And that’s also not a lot of fun to run, right?


JH: Yeah.


SR: It’s been really, I think educational. It’s been enlightening to work with Pan because it’s so different than anything I’ve had in my wheelhouse before. That you can have the best of both worlds, and it’s not a problem.


JH: Yeah. So. So you see this in Pan. Are you starting to see this in Biz as well?


SR: Absolutely. Yeah. So Biz has been along to trials, and I get a lot of the same thing. So obviously, she’s not competing yet. I’ve been pretty sick this last year. And I’ve got to say that I’ve got some guilt about I’ve got this dog who I think could compete at a national level in any sport that I wanted to do with her. And I just haven’t had the ability to do much with her. But what I’ve seen of her so far, taking her along to trials with Pan is the same sort of thing. She chills out in her crate. She watches the other dogs. She takes a little nap. She works on a Kong, and then I pull her out and she wants to work.


JH: And was that something you were able to see in the mom as well? So as you’re thinking about the breeding. Mom’s name is Piglet, right?


SR: Yep. Yep. (laughter) Piglet or Lettie. Yeah. So like when Lettie lived with us… While we were doing the breeding she stayed with us for a couple weeks.


JH: Oh nice.


SR: She was just easy, right? So we had Pan and Lettie in the house. And it was I think the easiest two weeks I’ve ever had with dogs and that was while she was in full standing heat and Pan was really excited about getting to breed her. (laughter) But it was still the easiest two weeks I’ve ever had for managing dogs because she was the same way. She was, you know, snuggly and happy when she was out of her crate. When we would crate her she’d just settle in. She was happy to go out and play in the backyard and then happy to come in and plunk down on the couch, too.




JH: Sounds lovely. Alright, so that sounds like the qualities that are important to you. And they… You know, different qualities may be important to different people with their breeding programs. But for you it sounds like this ability to turn on but then to also turn off. You seem to like the snuggly dogs. Athletic and able to perform hopefully throughout their lives without injuring themselves terribly. What else am I missing? I guess there’s the obvious ones, right? We don’t want them to be biting other dogs or other people.


SR: That’s exactly what I was just gonna say. So, social with people. Social with other dogs. That’s something we also kind of improved on with this breeding. So Pan is what I would consider very terrier-typical for an intact male. He is delightful with puppies, and with females he’s great. When we foster he is the best puppy uncle that you could ask for. He’s almost tolerant to a fault. (laughter) So he won’t tell puppies off if they’re being bratty with him.


JH: Oh, no! He has to teach them how to interact with other dogs. (laughter)


SR: No, no. (laughter) They’re not going to learn any boundaries from him. But if we have a shyer foster puppy coming in, he’s perfect. Because he’s going to give them space and flirt with them. And he’s just lovely. Same thing like we foster, you know, puppy mill mamas and things like that. And he’s a really good bridge to help those dogs start to think about maybe I might be someone they would, they could trust and that they might be interested in interacting with because they can watch him interact with me. That said, he doesn’t like other intact males on his property. He does okay with them if we do a slow introduction. It’s very, very workable. But if I brought another intense male onto his property and just like loose them in the yard together, he’s not going to be a big fan of that. So if I’m fostering a male, we do a little bit slower introduction over the course of several days, and then he does okay. He’s totally fine off leash around other dogs like when he’s working. That’s not a problem. If he gets rushed by another dog he comes to me and he’s like, “Can you fix this so we can go back to playing Frisbee?” But there is that dog/dog selectivity and Lettie lives with 26 other dogs.


JH: Wow.


SR: Yeah, they’ve got a houseful. And so she’s phenomenal. And that’s a lot of what I’m seeing with Biz now, too. Biz has been just phenomenal with other dogs. Very, very easy to introduce her to other dogs. And she does well with everybody she’s met. She’s good at adjusting her playstyle. Things like that. So, yeah, good with dogs, good with people, good with kids. We do have terriers. So small animals are a little bit of a different story. That’s not something that’s a big priority to me. But I know that’s a priority to other people that they would have dogs who are safe around small animals. That’s definitely not my dogs. 


JH: Yeah. 


SR: And I have actually turned people away who were thinking they might want one of my dogs because they have you know, pet rabbits or pet chickens or, you know, something like that where it’s like, honestly, probably not the right fit for you.


JH: Yeah, that sounds entirely reasonable and the dog selectivity sounds entirely reasonable. I think we often have very high expectations that our dogs love everybody that they come across and no one on this planet is like that with absolutely everybody else on the planet.


SR: Right? Yeah.


JH: Yeah. So speaking of turning people away, so how hard was it to find homes for these puppies?


SR: Oh, it was not. (laughter) So the puppies ended up kind of all over. So this litter is born in Saskatchewan. And two of the puppies stayed up in Canada. Three of the puppies are here in Minnesota. And then one is out in Oregon. And they were all just kind of word of mouth. We didn’t really do any advertising. It was people who knew our dogs and wanted dogs like our dogs. So that was kind of how we placed these puppies. And it was very much just an open conversation about, “What are you looking for?” Making sure that it was a good fit.


JH: Yeah. Did they all end up in homes that have sport hopes for them? Or are some of them in sort of pet only homes?


SR: They’re all in sport homes. I’m probably the pettiest home. (laughter) So I’ve probably done the least out of the litter. One of the puppies is a future agility dog. And then the other four are future flyball dogs. I will probably do some obedience with Biz. I think she would be ready to go into an intro level rally trial at this point. She’s got all of the skills and she’s very easy to work different places. So I think that we could definitely do that piece. She just got her novice trick title. So we’re doing little things with her but I think that there’s a lot more I could do with her in the future, too.


JH: Oh you should, you could do the new virtual AKC rally.


SR: You know what? That’s actually something that’s good to bring up because I can’t. So one issue with having intact, sport-bred mixes is that we can’t do AKC. So if they were spayed or neutered we could. AKC does allow spayed or neutered mixed breeds, but because they’re intact that is something that, I think, is a consideration for people looking into getting purpose-bred mixes. We were not allowed because they’re intact. And they’re mixed breeds.


JH: Yes. And I actually knew that and had forgotten. Somehow in my mind rally was this separate thing even though I said AKC. But yeah. No, that’s true. And it is frustrating, although there are a lot of other venues out there. So most of us are happy competing in those other venues. By the way, I don’t have an intentionally-bred mix, but I do have an English Shepherd who’s a UKC breed and not an AKC breed. And so it’s exactly the same situation that as long as they’re not an AKC breed, they’re sort of considered, you know, mixed breed or a purebred doesn’t matter. It needs to be spayed or neutered before they can come compete. So.


SR: Yeah.


JH: Yeah. All right. Well, so I wanted to end on a slightly more cheerful note (laughter) than that, but I do wish you the best of luck with figuring out, seeing where your dogs go in the sport world, because it sounds like they’re both fantastic dogs. And I for one am looking forward to seeing where they end up.


SR: Yeah! Yeah. Me too.


JH: So if anyone wanted to know more about you, or what you do… We didn’t even talk about your training business at all. So do you want to sort of just give a quick summary of what you do and where people can find you?


SR: Sure. So I own Paws Abilities Dog Training in Minnesota. And we do classes in the Twin Cities metro area, in southeast Minnesota areas. There’s about 40 of us total at Paw Abilities. So it’s this big collective of people who like people and like dogs, and that’s kind of our thing is that we are kind to both ends of the leash. So we help people enjoy their dogs. You can find us online at Or if you search Facebook, it’s Paws Abilities Dog Training on Facebook. And I do actually have to put out a plug for… my logo is actually based on my heart dog, Layla. So when you see that logo, that’s my Layla.


JH: Lovely. All right. Well, thank you so much for being on the podcast. I hugely appreciate it. It was a lot of fun.


SR: It was fun. Thank you so much for having me.

Thanks so much for listening. The Functional Breeding Podcast is a product of the Functional Dog Collaborative and was produced by Sarah Espinosa Socal. Come join us at the Functional Breeding Facebook group to talk about this episode or about responsible breeding practices in general. To learn more about the Functional Dog Collaborative, check out Enjoy your dogs.

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