Interview with Ms Jilly Bennett
(kennel PELAJILO) - UK

How did the first bobtail appear in your life? Why was it specifically a bobtail? Please tell us a little about your first dogs.
At the time, in 1969, my then-husband and I owned a West Highland White Terrier and a little cross-breed Poodle. We’d seen photos of Old English Sheepdogs in magazines and thought them adorable – yes, we were seduced by advertising - although I make no apology for it because it introduced me to the breed that would change my life. One day, we saw an OES sitting in the front seat of a car and knew we had to have one of those ‘big fluffy dogs’. I saw an advertisement in the Evening Standard, a London newspaper, for an OES, six months old, whose owner said she was too big for the flat she lived in. I drove to the other side of London to see her and bought her on the spot.   She   was   called   Sloopy  and  we

Jilly Bennett with the Haddock`s Sheba 'en pension' in France.

thought her just wonderful. Later I realised she really wasn’t a very good OES – she had a long narrow head, long body, was leggy with no depth to her body, had a terrible coat but to us, she was always perfect. The problem was, we now had three dogs – three young dogs – and somehow one always broke up the games of the other two, so we thought we’d better get a fourth dog to even things out! Seems crazy now but at the time there seemed to be a logic to our thoughts! This time, we decided to go to a refuge and give a home to an unwanted dog – the only criteria was that it should be a big dog with a fluffy coat but we didn’t care if it was a cross-breed. That was a sad day. We visited the refuge in Buckinghamshire and saw lots of dogs, many tied to trees, all crying out for a new home but the owner told us that we had three young, well-adjusted females and really the ones he had available should go to a home where they’d be an ‘only’ dog. So we went home dog-less that day. Later, after much thought, we decided to get another OES. Once again, from a newspaper advertisement – not the right way to buy a dog but we didn’t know that at the time. She was 9 months old and called Tara, a name we changed to Muffin. It so happened that although Muffin was bought from a place that sold all breeds of dogs, she had originated from a good kennel, that of Colonel Bury Perkins, the Chairman of Bath Championship Show, and had excellent bloodlines. And so life went on. I’d walk the dogs several times a day in our local park in Ealing and became friends with a girl who also had two OES. She taught me how to groom the dogs and asked me one day if I’d like to go to a dog show and that was the beginning of a love affair that has never ended. Eventually, I mated Muffin, who was a compact typy bitch, to Ch. Shaggyshire Bumblebarn Caesar, and she produced Pelajilo Lady Peggotty, who started her show career in 1973 and later produced three champions. Peggotty and Ch. Bumblebarn Scramble of Pelajilo formed the basis of the Pelajilo kennel, along with Flockmaster John Barlycorn and Cobbicot Polly Flinders. Barney went back on Barnolby and Wrightway lines. Polly Flinders was of Wrightway and Gwehelog breeding with the famous Ch.Oakhill Peter Pan featuring in the pedigree.

Why is your kennel so-called? How did you choose the name for it?
I registered Pelajilo early on and it was simply a combination of my then-husband’s name and mine. Later it was obvious that a name, relating to our breed, would have been more appropriate. Never mind, it sounded exotic!

What do you emphasize in breeding?
I don’t breed OES anymore so these comments are for the past. When I used to breed, I’d spend hours looking at pedigrees, watching champions but also young dogs in the ring, trying to find a male to complement my bitches. In a puppy, I always looked for a showy dog and so a good front and reach of neck was important, as was good movement and of course coat. The angles had to be right with a good head atop it all. But really I don’t think one should ‘emphasise’ anything in breeding. You breed for the overall dog – for breed type - not to exaggerate any one thing and, of course, the dog must be able to move. Always x-ray, do eye tests and only breed from dogs with sound temperaments.

Pelajilo Garbo

Was there a litter that remains in your heart and of which you are especially proud?
There were several litters of which I was proud: I repeated the mating that produced Ch. Pelajilo Milly Mistletoe several times and every litter produced good dogs, several of whom became champions. I also loved the combination of Bumblebarn, of which I had several bitches (either from Ch. Shaggyshire Bumblebarn Caesar or my own, Ch. Bumblebarn Scramble of Pelajilo) with Flockmaster John Barlycorn and later with Ch. Pelajilo Dan Dare.

Ch. Pelajilo Dan Dare with his daughter, UK and Australian Ch. Pelajilo Nifty Nancy

Is a champion title necessary to breed dogs?
Absolutely not.

Jilly Bennett on Bondi Beach, Sydney with UK and Aust. Ch. Pelajilo Nifty Nancy (the first dual UK and Australian champion)

What is the happiest moment in your life concerning the bobtail?
If the question relates to wins at a show, there are several: the first CC you win is never-to-be-forgotten and that was with my little Ch. Bumblebarn Scramble of Pelajilo, bred by Corinne Pearce. Later, when Mistletoe won Best Bitch at Crufts in 1981, that was, of course, an amazing moment. But more than anything I was a breeder and so, for me, the proudest moment, was at Bath Championship show in 1981 when Pelajilo bitches took the first three placings in a strong Open bitch class, taking the CC and Reserve CC. Another time was at WKC when Pelajilo’s also gained the CC and Reserve CC in bitches, and won Best Puppy Dog and Post Graduate Dog on the day. These were in the ‘80s when entries were enormous with up to 200 and more OES at a show.
However, if you mean outside the show ring, then of course, it’s the day-to-day life with my dogs. Perhaps my happiest moments were when I lived in Wales and where the dogs enjoyed a 5-acre field, running free in the snow. And friends – I’ve been lucky to have made many life-long wonderful friends thru Old English Sheepdogs.

Did you experience misfortunes and how did you avoid them?
Like most breeders, some matings didn’t work. I produced some cleft palates with one particular mating and knew not to double up on those lines again. We all try to get it right by studying pedigrees and hopefully putting the right dogs together, but I do think luck played a big part in any success I was fortunate to have

What criteria do you use to choose the best puppy in the litter?
Wet from the mother, with the puppy in your hand, you can see the angulation and often the one you choose then, ends up the best but of course you have to wait until you can see the puppies move. You’ve got to get the angulation right, fore and aft.
Between 7 and 8 weeks was always the time for me to assess movement. I’d look for a puppy, short in body who moved well - with a good reach of neck and good head and that had that little extra something – style, call it what you will – a quality that said ‘hey, look at me’. This counts for a lot in the show ring, provided everything else is right, of course.

Could you give a piece of advice to beginner breeders?
Don’t breed unless your bitch is of sufficiently good quality. If she isn’t, learn how to present and show with your first bitch, make the mistakes we all make, and then buy a better bitch to start your breeding programme. And when you decide to breed; don’t use the current top winning dog unless you are sure he’s right for your bitch. Before anything, learn, learn, learn. Read everything available, ask questions, ask owners if you can go over their winning dogs (and also those that don’t win so you learn the difference between a good and not so good OES), watch videos, understand breed type, structure and movement so you know what you are aiming for. Learn to see, in your mind's eye, the ideal OES. It’s always helpful to have a mentor in the breed, one you can trust implicitly and who is passionate about our breed and not just about winning. You need to have in mind what you are breeding for – an ideal, as it were. Develop an eye for a dog. Some people have it, some never get it.

What is your opinion about what had happened to the breed in the world and your country for the last 15 years?
There have been massive changes in the breed. First of all, in the UK at least, we don’t have the numbers of dogs in the ring anymore and there is a lack of depth of quality. That isn’t to say there aren’t good dogs. There are. But it used to be that you could easily find five good dogs in a class, any of whom could have won it. Now it can be hard to find a winner in some classes, let alone sort out the lower placings.
Many bitches are bigger than they used to be and many dogs and bitches are simply too long in body to be typical. Overdone grooming and trimming is used to disguise bad movement. We don’t see that typical driving movement so much these days and more’s the pity. It’s harder to find a good quality coat too – often they are too soft and tending to brown.
There are other changes too – the world has become a much smaller place with frontiers opened up which means we see dogs from other countries at many shows, opening up the possibility of foreign dogs being used in breeding programmes. This can be both a wonderful thing and a danger, as doing a total outcross can cause problems. It all depends on the knowledge and experience of the breeder, knowing the strengths and weaknesses in his or her line and knowing when to bring in new blood to improve the stock. The problem often arises in the next generation when a novice, with a puppy from an outcross, just doesn’t know where to go to mate his or her bitch.
There also seem to be far more health problems in OES than there used to be.
It also seems that nowadays emphasis is placed more on breeding a dog for the big ring (i.e. Group and BIS) and not on preserving and/or improving our breed.
There seem to be two types of people who show OES these days – those who are passionate about the breed and who strive to breed the best OES possible and there are those who breed to win. Unfortunately they are not always the same thing.

What is an exhibition for you?
Again, I write in the past. I used to LOVE going to dog shows. Of course it was nice to win but really it was a social occasion for me. I loved seeing everyone, luckily made many friends, and if I didn’t win, there was always the next show. I appreciated the quality of other people’s dogs and loved looking at the new male puppies with a view to perhaps using one at stud in the future. It was always fascinating too, to look at what puppies had been produced by any particular combination of breeding. The need to win didn’t seem to be quite so important as it is now and I do think people were nicer to each other and behaved properly and in a sportsman-like way but then the world has changed, it’s not just the dog world. Don’t I sound old? But then I guess I am!

Beginning from what age should a dog start being prepared for a show career? What is the best way to do it?
From birth and even before, with the correct feeding and care of the mother. I’d begin by regular handling of the puppies when they were still in the nest with the mother. Then, when the puppies were about 3 or 4 weeks old, I’d start very gentle grooming, just so the puppy got used to the brush. I’d lay it down and gently run the brush all over him, including his feet, so that it was an enjoyable sensation. I’d do this every day. I also started standing the puppy around this age and looking at the mouth regularly, so he got used to this. Early training to move on a loose lead is very important and once the puppy has been vaccinated, then it’s important to go for regular trips in the car and to go to busy areas like shopping centres so the puppy will get used to people and also not be car sick. Later, ring-training classes were essential. All this should be done in a spirit of fun and then you won’t end up with a shy, scared puppy in the ring. Every visitor to my house was asked to ‘go over’ the puppy – again so he’d get used to being handled. The more you can do when the puppy is young, the better these lessons are learned.

Which of your dogs performed most successfully at the exhibitions?
Ch. Pelajilo Milly Mistletoe in the UK with others having great success abroad. 1981 was a great year for Pelajilo OES who won the most top awards in the UK that year.

What is your attitude toward professional handling?
This is not something we are familiar with in OES in Britain or in France, where I now live. Personally, I can’t see the pleasure in owning a dog and having someone else take it away for weeks on end to achieve its title. However, if I wasn’t able or capable of showing my dog, and if the handler was to meet me at a show, then perhaps a professional handler is the way to go. It wouldn’t be for me tho. For me, the whole pleasure of showing was the partnership between me and my dog – where I showed the dog to the best of my ability in terms of handling in the ring and in presentation of coat. I looked upon it as an art, which I believe it is – and very satisfying too for both owner and dog. I love to see a dog moving in unison with the owner, enjoying his day out and looking good too.

How long is it since you became an expert on OES?
Is one ever an expert on anything? You learn forever, don’t you? However, if you are talking about when I first started judging, then it was in 1977 at Open show level and in 1982 at Championship Show level. Going back to the word ‘expert’, it’s one thing to know and understand a breed but it’s quite another to stand in the middle of the ring and put it into practice. They say ‘any fool can judge good dogs’ and certainly it’s easy and a pleasure to do so. The difficulty in judging is when you can’t find what you are looking for and have to sort out not-so-good dogs. You like the head on one, the rear on another, the coat on another, the good mover doesn’t have breed type etc., and you have to make a decision in a very short space of time.
Judging the American National Specialty in Rhode Island 1999.

Do you remember the first time you took an OES into the ring?
I can’t remember which of two shows was my first. One was in Kent, where Pelajilo Lady Peggotty won the Puppy Class. I was so proud and excited, I rushed off to find a telephone to call my husband without realising I had to take her back into the ring for the challenge. Felt a mighty fool that day! The other show was in Monmouthshire. I think Peggotty was placed second in the puppy class that day. It was an Agricultural show and so, once the judging was over, I went and looked around the rest of the show. I found the Rabbit section with hundreds of exotic rabbits in cages and I thought ‘how peculiar that people would want to travel miles to show a rabbit’ – little did I know that I’d spend the next umpteen years travelling the length and breadth of the UK showing my dogs. I’ve no doubt rabbit exhibitors think dog exhibitors are crazy too.

The dog is standing in the ring waiting for the judge. What do you look at and go over first of all?
After I’ve looked over the line-up of dogs before me, I ask the handlers to move the dogs around the ring once or twice, depending on the size of the ring. Then when I inspect each dog, I first look at it from the front, then side and then rear and then go over the dog’s head, looking at eyes, bite, size and shape of head and jaw, including width of jaw and depth of underjaw, set and size and shape of ears. Then I run my hands down the dogs neck to the withers and then feel the front assembly of the dog, down to elbows and down the front legs to the feet, assessing quality of bone at the same time. Then I run my hands from the withers over the dog’s back assessing topline. My hands then feel the body, assessing depth of brisket and spring of rib and up to feel the length and strength of loin. I then feel the hindquarters running my hands over the dog’s rear end and down the rear legs, feeling for angulation in the stifles and strength of hock. I also assess muscle tone and of course if a male is entire. Finally I take a look at coat – colour, texture and profuseness - and then I asked the owner to move the dog in a triangle. Sometimes I additionally request the dog to be moved up and down if I’ve not seen enough in the triangle.

Assessing shoulder placement.

How do the OES of today differ from those living in the last century? What qualities have we lost and what have we gained?
It`s hard to talk about dogs from the last century in one paragraph. Every decade sees changes in a breed – some good and some bad. In the `80s I remember (in the UK at least) that you could look around the ring and know which kennel a dog came from. You could recognise the breeding and so you knew where to go when you wanted to improve say heads, coat, movement, reach of neck, whatever. Now you don’t find this so much anymore.
As I said earlier, there is a lack of depth of quality although good ones are still about but not in the numbers there were. Some dogs win a class these days that wouldn’t have had a fifth placing in the ‘80s.
The world is so small that it’s hard to make a general comment here but at the moment, I think the dogs in the USA have, overall, the best rears. There are some good coats in north America but they are generally in the minority – you need to go to the UK for a good coat but again, you don’t, sadly, see as many as you did in the past.
And you'll find top quality OES in Europe and Scandinavia, some of whom have topped the lot at big shows in recent years.
See also the response to Question 10.

What would you like to say about the tails?
In many countries where docking is banned, tails are here to stay. I applaud those who are fighting the docking ban in their own country, but where there is a tail, it truly doesn’t bother me any more. I do think the standard for the tail needs consideration before we start breeding for the correct tail set and then losing the rest of the dog. At the moment, when I judge, I’m inclined to ‘cut off the tail’ in my mind’s eye but I couldn’t, even mentally, penalise a dog for having a tail – the same as I don’t feel a splash (as they have in America) is a bad thing although it is not accepted in the UK standard.

Do you think an expert is influenced by the renown of the dog's owner or handler?
No. Or rather he or she shouldn’t be. Two types of judges can influenced by a dog’s reputation – those who simply don’t have enough experience of the breed and so play ‘follow my leader’ and those who lack integrity. However, it’s worth saying that if a dog has done a lot of winning, there’s got to be a reason for it and he may well be the best and possibly is and there is no merit in a judge putting down a winning dog just to be different. You judge a dog regardless of its reputation.

Is there anything in the OES standard OES that you would like to change or to make clearer?
I always read the 1888 standard and the two later standards, including the current one before judging as I feel this gives me a better feel of what the OES should be.

What should an ideal bobtail be?
As close to the breed standard as possible.

Do you consider that judges, when they make a choice in the ring, have a big influence on the development of the breed as a whole?
I think a judge’s choice can influence less-experienced exhibitors and breeders but the more experienced breeder will make up his own mind as to whether or not a dog or bitch is good and will not necessarily agree with the judge and that’s how it should be.

Do you enjoy going to exhibitions as a spectator?
Absolutely. I love it. I love meeting up with friends and I equally love seeing what is in the ring. I was always a passionate breeder, rather than an exhibitor although of course I loved exhibiting. And I still love going to a dog show and seeing the dogs thru a breeder’s eye. As a spectator, when I see a dog I like, I can’t wait to know the dog’s bloodlines.

Would you like to wish something to OES-lovers?
Learn from others – never stop learning – and then ‘TO THINE OWN SELF BE TRUE’.



Jilly Bennett with 'Ashley' before he went to Australia