In our May 6th 2020 issue we had a conversation with Breeder & All Breed Judge Judi Elford & Blair Elford of Vanderbilt Samoyed fame.
Name: Judi & Blair Elford
Where you live: Millbrook, ON
Kennel name: Vanderbilt (CKC Perm. Reg.)
Email Address: email@example.com
1) How did you become involved in the Samoyed breed?
I (Judi) have always loved dogs but my parents wouldn’t allow me to have one because I was raised in an “eat off the floors” cleanliness culture.
So, I fed strays for years until they finally relented to allow me to have a dog when I was into my late teens. I had fallen in love with the Samoyed in a Colliers Encyclopedia graphic chart called “Dog Breeds of The World”. Once my parents finally gave the green light I wrote letters to 10 breeders listed in a Dogs in Canada Annual that I found at a pet store, and received replies from only 2. One response was from a breeder in Ontario who had puppies, and the other reply was from a breeder who didn’t have puppies but recommended the other breeder who had replied. We were able to obtain a puppy from the active breeder (Shebaska) in 1977. That first dog was Best in Match the first time shown (I was hooked!), and went on to become a group winning Champion and CDX titlist.
Blair got involved in the breed through me, however he was an avid fancier – and actively handled, trained, and sledded with our dogs for many years. Even today he is the primary groomer and we plan all the mating’s together. A supportive and actively participating partner, I’ve learned, is a critical element to success in the dog fancy.
2) Is the Samoyed your only breed?
Yes. We did own a Schipperke, years ago, and still love that breed.
3) How many years have you been breeding?
We obtained our first Samoyeds in 1977 and started breeding around the mid 80’s.
4) Describe the Samoyed in 3 words?
Eye-arresting. Smiling. Endurance-trotter. Sorry for the extra words
5) What to you is the ultimate hallmark of the Samoyed?
Definitely the “Sammy Smile”.
From the AKC Standard: “Expression is made up of a combination of eyes, ears and mouth. The ears should be erect when alert; the mouth should be slightly curved up at the corners to form the Samoyed Smile.” No Smile, No Sammy!
6) What are the “must have” traits you must have in your breed?
The Samoyed is a medium sized, just-off-square Spitz breed with 55% leg length/height ratio. He possesses a stunning wedge-shaped head with oblique dark eyes and the classic “Sammy Smile”. He has more bone than expected in a dog of this size. As an endurance trotter – his movement must be outstanding – head down with ground covering reach and drive. In the right light the Samoyed’s outer coat glistens with “silver tips”. These are actually “gold tips” on a biscuit colored coat.
7) Is exaggeration a problem in the Samoyed?
Yes. We have the overdone “chow” type with shorter legs and coarse heads in some parts of the world, as well as the racey, finer-boned, longer legged and short coated “husky” type. Sizes can also vary globally. These I consider outlier types but they do have large groups of support in some areas. Of course, people will interpret the standard differently as in any breed. Our interpretation of the various standard(s) is somewhere in the middle of the extremes, with a medium sized dog of stunning type, outstanding movement, balance, sparkling temperament – and free from exaggeration. We aim for a global breed type which is recognized as correct by domestic and foreign judges alike.
8) As a judge of the breed has the quality of the breed improved or declined?
I think most definitely it has improved. I don’t feel that the Samoyed breed was necessarily always taken very seriously in the working group when I first got involved in showing. That’s certainly not the case today. Years ago all we had to study in picking far away bloodlines were photos in book and magazines. It was extremely rare to be able to select dogs from video, so we had to travel to see dogs that interested us in person – or take a chance sending our bitches to dogs based on photos/records of them and their offspring. What has proved quite revealing to me is witnessing the frozen semen from some of the old time “greats” being used, and producing some surprisingly mediocre offspring. Maybe these long-gone dogs weren’t as good as we thought they were? Or has the bar been raised so much higher today? Interesting questions to ponder. I have 10 (and counting) of my past stud dogs frozen and am yet to use any of it, as it seems that better dogs keep coming along. Still maybe someday I will “reach back” and definitely want to keep that option open via the frozen. We are always cognizant of the fact that everything in the purebred dog fancy springs from the critical genetics that we select at every step. There is no more important action that one can take towards future success in dogs – not money, not handlers, not politics – than the critical choice of the foundation breeding stock and rigorous selection in the ensuing generations.
9) The current population of our sport is aging, we have so many successful breeders who are slowly winding down, are you worried about the future of your breed?
Definitely worried. Just today I was involved in a discussion thread on Facebook where mentors were lamenting the lack of the right people with the desire and dedication to take over their work. It’s a big deal to pour your heart and soul into mentoring someone, only to have it not work out due to various issues – but usually a lack of effort, dedication or loyalty. Most people these days want overnight success and think they can learn everything needed online, instead of putting in the time and taking their hard knocks in the real world. Over the years one can tire of taking the risk. So yes, there’s a real possibility of no one to take over the reins of many important breeding programs when the time comes. Such a pity as a properly motivated and committed newbie could literally take over the “Keys to the Kingdom” of a superior breeding program if they played their cards right. And more importantly – the intimate knowledge of the lines that goes with it. It’s been proven time and time again that empowering people with good bloodlines is no guarantee of future success if they don’t understand how to combine faults/virtues by understanding the strengths/weaknesses possessed by the ancestors.
10) If you could give a new judge to your breed one piece of advice what would it be?
Try to attend specialties or large entries where the quality easily rises to the top – although a caveat here … sometimes you have to ignore the placements and just judge the dogs yourself. Perhaps most importantly when being mentored in ANY breed – consider the source of information. The world is now sadly full of modestly accomplished breeders and breeder-judges eager to mentor anyone who will listen. Before you take any guidance seriously, including those “parent club approved” advisors, try to assess what those people have produced/accomplished in the breed if you can by looking at their own dogs if still showing. And those one-hit wonders who have produced or owned one BIS or National winner do not necessarily great mentors make either. The bar to become a parent club approved breed mentor is frighteningly low in many breeds. You will see more oversized than undersized Samoyeds – neither is correct. A good Samoyed is extremely hard to ignore if you have a good “eye for a dog”.
11) What current health testing is required for the Samoyed breed?
Well “required” is relative. The American OFA/CHIC program requirements are dictated by the US parent club “SCA” and IMO currently includes some non-relevant testing for issues that are not viable threats to contemporary Samoyeds, and excludes some extremely important active ones so we don’t support it, and in fact consider it dangerous. It’s always more important to think than to conform! Standard testing here includes hips, eyes (including gonioscopy), FEH (familial enamel hypoplasia), and cardiac (doppler where available). We are also starting to do some genetic diversity testing through EMBARK, as the Samoyed is descended entirely from about a dozen survivors of expeditions. Diversity is an ever more important emerging topic as purebred dogs have had their stud books closed for so long and some breeds are in real trouble with genetic disease. We have always maintained several parallel bloodlines that we weave and braid together and most of our dogs make a very limited contribution. But this extra layer of diversity evaluation can be quite surprising and believe it is the frontier that all progressive breeders will embrace going forward. We are keenly aware of the detrimental role of the ‘Popular Sire Effect’ in the downward spiral of purebred dogs, and believe that possibly we have the largest stud force (both live and frozen) of any current Samoyed kennel anywhere. We feel that this provides our breeding program with a huge advantage and is one of our most important strategies.
12) What dog of the past in your breed would you have like to have owned?
Several come to mind, but probably MBISS CH Winterfrost’s Gyrfalcon (Br/Ow L. O’Connell) who held the breed’s BISS record in the US for many years (see attached photos). Happily, we do have this stunning dog in some of our pedigrees.
13) Describe the routine of a dog you are actively showing?
If we’re talking about campaigning, then the routine is weekly bathing with the right products. Striker who campaigned in 2019 was groomed with Chris Christensen Spectrum One system, lots of free running exercise to keep fit, and of course superior nutrition. Happily, Samoyeds don’t require any specialized grooming and are shown in a natural state. Trimming is limited to the feet, and whiskers are left intact per the Standard.
15) How many Best in Show Winners have you bred to date?
I think we’ve bred 11 All breed BIS winners and purchased/owned 5 others. Several of these have been Canadian National Specialty and World Show winners, but we’ve never won a US National.
The dog we campaigned last year “Striker” (CAN AM CH Vanderbilt ‘N Printemp’s Lucky Strike – co-owned with Marc & Correen Ralsky) broke the World BIS record of 54, ending 2019 with 58 Best in Shows and then adding 3 Best in Shows in the USA in early 2020 with his handler Laura King, prior to the shows being cancelled for the Covid-19 Pandemic.
16) Besides conformation what else does your breed excel at?
Sledding, herding, and therapy work are their forte. They can also very much enjoy fun challenges such as agility and Rally. Obedience – not so much LOL. As most Spitz breeds they tend to have a mind of their own! We have worked our dogs in most of the above areas, and did achieve a CDX level in obedience.
17) What type of home do you require for your puppies sold as family companions?
We look for a family that does not need to leave the Samoyed home alone for long periods as they are socially needy pack dogs who can object quite strongly to a lot of home alone time. The family should also be committed to a good exercise routine and have a grooming ethic to keep the dog looking good. Samoyeds are ideal family dogs and can be best friends to small children, seniors and all in between. They are not inclined to be guard-y in any sense and are more likely to show a thief where to find the silverware and jump into the getaway car with them! Children can safely bring their friends home and the Samoyed welcomes pretty much all comers with his “the more, the merrier” party attitude. And unlike some Northern breeds, “the cat” is generally safe around Sammies too!
Thank you ShowScene.
Judi & Blair Elford