Interview with Ray Owen
(kennel AMBLEGAIT) - UK

How did the first bobtail appear in your life? Why was it exactly a bobtail? Please tell us a little about your first dogs.
An old mongrel pet died in 1968 and in trying to find a replacement for this furry friend we decided on the OES. The temperament was similar, solid and easy going, and although much larger we wanted a dog full of life and vigour. My first dog was from Miss Tilley's Shepton Kennels, a pet bitch, a little long in the back, but she produced a few good litters. My second OES was a male sired by Champion Rollingsea Viceroy. He was a "star" and appeared on numerous television programmes and adverts, as well as a top show dog and sire. He was the cornerstone of my breeding programme and was one of the first dogs to be x-rayed clear of hip dysplasia "0-0" through the Kennel Club scheme.

Why is your kennel called just so? How did you choose the name for it?
Amblegait is obvious - it's the ambling gait, the sailor's roll that traditional bobtails use when resting muscles used on the regular movement. I have always believed that a dog that is built correctly, moves correctly and when judging I place high regard on correct movement.

Where do your dogs live?
My dogs live in the house as part of the family. This benefits their temperament and guarantees full enjoyment of owning such a beautiful breed.

Do you have assistants in the kennel? What is their task?
Never, - dogs is my hobby and I enjoy every task. The family all help in the kennels and they and friends move in when we go away on holiday.

What kind of breeding dogs, in your opinion, should be:
- male,
- bitch.
How do you explain beauty or emotion or taste? It is in the eye of the beholder, it is how I interpret the Breed Standard for me a male should look masculine and a bitch should be feminine, without any doubt, one look and you say that is a proud , upstanding male specimen larger than the bitch who compliments him with her character and female charm. They should both be typical of the breed and measure up to the Standard in every way. The coat colour, quality overall balance, strength in body, bone and temperament should be of the highest order. Remember the perfect dog does not exist even though every breeder believes that they have the best sitting in their kennel. I love judging and many times I think I have come fairly close to finding that special dog, the one you would die to own and take home with you if possible. I am a positive judge and always look for the good points in every OES I handle. I use the scale of points laid down in the early breed standard to give me guidance on how important each feature is.

What do you emphasize in the breeding?
The most important point is breeding to type. Look for all the characteristics laid down in the standard and do not settle for second best. Use top quality stock to breed super puppies, insist on x-rays, eye examinations and health checks in bitches that want to use your stud dog. Study her pedigree and make sure they "fit" together. Refuse poor quality bitches or those owners that refuse to cooperate and ensure the strength of the breed.

Was there a litter which remained in your heart and which you are especially proud of?
I have bred many litters that have brought me pride. The 1982 "Argentine" litter was fabulous with 3 international champions. Ch. Amblegait Atlantic Conveyor was a special bitch. I always look for good homes for my pups as top priority, so some potential champions have lived their lives as a pet and never seen the inside of a show ring.

How important is the eye pigment?
Eye pigment sets the dark brown eye colour off in much the same way as mascara and eyeshadow in a lady's make-up. Without it, the pink rim looks insipid and not so appealing. I prefer to see full pigmentation round both eyes.

Are the champion's titles obligatory for dogs' breeding?
No, definitely not! Many breeders have used the brother of a champion and achieved better puppies, and the litter sister of a champion can have a better quality litter. It is the overall quality of the pedigree, the bloodstock, the depth of breeding that should be the main consideration, rather than the single title of champion.

What do you do with a dog which gets too old for breeding?
Pension him or her off to a life of retirement, enjoy its later years in the home as always, as a senior family member.

What is the happiest moment in your life concerning bobtail?
Having my first litter, the joy of watching the tiny pups grow to the day they make champion, another great day. Being asked to Judge the OES Club Championship Show in 1989 and getting an entry of 271 Bobtails in 22 classes, a very busy days judging, and the 2nd highest entry ever. Writing my first book on OES for Faber & Faber in 1980 and selling 10,000 copies.

Did you experience misfortunes and how did you avoid them?
Everybody will experience good and bad luck in the dog world in unequal amounts. You can minimise misfortune by good management and husbandry. Be vigilant, alert, trust your instincts and set high standards. Go to the best breeders for top quality stock, and be honest with yourself at all times. Never become "Kennel Blind", be aware of your dog's strengths and weaknesses.

What criteria do you use to choose the best puppy in the litter?
Puppies should be chosen and assessed when they are still. They will always return to the promise they showed at a few hours old when they are six months old. Look for a good length of neck that balances the length of back. The head should be solid with an air of substance. I always look for a bumble bee" scrabbling in the nest.

What forage do you feed your puppies and adult dogs with? Do you give them additional forage and what kind of?
Complete feeds and tinned meats are so readily available and prepared to such a high standard that you can easily feed to appetite. Personal preference rules, the dog's taste, ease of use and storage. I use many brands and regularly change, my dogs therefore eat anything and adapt readily to what is in their bowls. The best tinned meat is Pedigree Chum in my opinion. I also give all the family meals leftovers to the dogs.

Do you do make selection among the future owners of the puppies from your nursery? What can be a reason to refuse to sell a puppy to a particular person?
I always select the potential owners very carefully. I have a waiting list, often more people waiting than I have puppies, so I can afford to be choosy. I let the potential owners know that I am choosing them rather than them choosing one of my puppies. I fit the temperament of the puppy to the owner, so a boisterous male will go to a young couple, the doting bitch will go to the young family and the shy one will go to the older couple who will give it confidence. I turn people down who want the dog as a fashion accessory or brush the hairs off their smart clothes, or refuse to let the dog go near the car's new upholstery. Spiteful children are also to be avoided as are owners who just want a breeding machine to make money.

The dog breeding for you is:
- your life;
- a hobby;
- an art;
- a way to earn you living?
Dog breeding has been a hobby - that's why I have lasted 33 years. I am still in love with the bobtail and the friends I have made who share my love. My wife thinks it is my life as I have written 2 books and this year we have had 7 judging appointments around the world from Australia, Norway, Germany twice, France, Holland, Hungary and England - South West Club Show. The phone never stops ringing with requests for help and information. The internet has spawned bobtail chat-rooms and requests for interviews from as far away as Russia would you believe ?!! I am the breed representative for OES at the Kennel Club and am Patron for the East Anglian OES club, I run dog shows and do my share of dog rescue, which is re-homing OES. So perhaps, yes, it is my life.

Could you give a piece of advice to a beginner breeders?
Yes, never get as involved in OES as I am. Seriously, stick to the breed standard, breed to type, listed to all the advice from all the people, then do the correct thing that you believe in, be honest in all you do in and out of the ring. Buy the best dog you can get your hands on to make your foundations. Keep the breed traditional.

What is you opinion about what had happened to the breed in the World and your country for the last 15 years?
The political correctness that has led to the banning of docking in many countries has seen the "bobtail" pushed to the edge of extinction. Despite every effort to explain that no cruelty has taken place we may soon find that tails are being worn and our traditional docked breed is no more. We are also losing harsh coats and correct driving movement. Far too many dogs have very soft, cotton-wool coats, the coats are getting longer in length and shorter in quality.

Breed clubs. Are they necessary in your country? Why?
Breed Clubs are very necessary. In the UK we have 12 clubs, some may say that is too many. In the 70's when the breed was strong in numbers (and quality) there was a demand for puppies and help and advice. Today the numbers are down and clubs are less well supported. We now have a Breed Council that some, not all, of the clubs belong. They are necessary to act as a forum for like-minded individuals to come together to exchange views and share experiences. The Breed Council is a safety net to keep the breed strong and act as a voice-box to the Kennel Club. Breeders come and go but Breed Clubs hopefully stay forever. They also organise the best shows and help the pet owners.

What is an exhibition for you?
A dog show is the chance to get together with friends and put your dogs in the shop window. At the East Anglian Club we try to achieve a party atmosphere with good company, good food, a good atmosphere and we attract the best judges who bring in a good entry. We also worked hard to find the best venue in the region providing good roads and easy access. Once the show management has the basics right the exhibitors will support the show.

Beginning from what age should a dog start being prepared for a show-career? What is the best way to do it?
As in every walk of life the earlier you start the more ingrained good habits become. I start my show dogs as soon as they can stand up. I handle them regularly and encourage others to do the same. This socialises the pup and provided the handling is gentle is a positive way to strengthen the pup's personality. Once vaccinations are in place get the puppy to ringcraft classes at the local canine club to socialise the dog in a wider sense. Keep the dog around you in the home to get used to household noise, the radio, television, vacuum cleaner. Take the dog in the car, to the shops anywhere that is noisy and has a hustle and bustle. Lead-train early and never teach the dog to sit, only stand and show-off.

What of your dogs did perform most successfully at the exhibitions?
A difficult question to answer, as performance does not always equate to reward in the show-ring. I showed King Hotspur of Amblegait through the 70's in the hey-day of top OES and stood second over 80 times behind some great champions. The next dog I showed in the early 1980's took his first ticket (Challenge Certificate) in Junior Classes and was a champion soon after. Although an excellent specimen this young dog was not in the same class as King Hotspur. I look for "sparkle", that magic ingredient that few dogs possess, it is a "ring presence" that equates to "star quality" in a pop singer or actor. A dog that stands out and screams at you "look at me", "make my day", "I want to be a champion".

What is your attitude toward professional handling? Do you use services of professional handlers?
My pleasure in dog shows comes from handling my dog and achieving success by my own efforts. If you are handicapped in any way then I can understand the use of a handler whether professional or a friend. I have heard the arguments that say you will get more success using a "pro" and if a judge believes that the best dogs are worthy of the best handlers. But are they always the best handlers? A well trained dog that has bonded with his owner will always perform better than with a stranger. I have never used a "pro".

Please let us know your attitude to usage of lacquers during the dog's preparation for an exhibition?
A simple answer is read the standard. Nobody should cheat in this way and when I am judging if I find my hands are sticky from lacquered coats then I penalise the exhibit. What is allowed in the rules should be enough to prepare a dog succesfully.

Would you like to wish something to the Russian OES owners?
I wish that all the Russian owners could read English and I would send them a copy of my latest book "The Very Old English Sheepdog" which talks of the history of the breed and contains extracts from all the antique collections of writings on our breed from all the great dog people over the past hundreds of years. You are welcome to view my web page on.


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