Photos courtesy of shibaguyz, Jenny Bowles and Jerry and Lois Photography
By Ranny Green
Each has a distinctive name, appearance and the wow factor, but if you were asked what the Belgian Laekenois, Berger Picard, Cirneco dell’Etna, Miniature American Shepherd and Pumik had in common, could you answer it?
If you attended the Seattle Kennel Club Dog Shows in March you’d probably nail it. All five are included in the American Kennel Club’s Miscellaneous Class, part of the registry’s pathway to eventual recognition in one of its seven conformation groups.
Miscellaneous breeds – of which there are 16 – may earn titles in Companion events and also select Performance events and are eligible for Junior Showmanship but are ineligible for championship points.
When the AKC board of directors is satisfied that a breed is continuing a healthy, dynamic growth in the Miscellaneous Class, it may be admitted to registration in the Stud Book and an opportunity to compete in regular classes and conformation group competition.
While the Seattle show entries were minimal for each of these breeds they attracted major attention around the breed and class rings, plus plenty of questions for the owner-handlers, each of whom is an ambassador for the breed.
Here are vignettes of each:
Miniature American ShepherdWhen Carole Hill, of Snoqualmie, went looking for a smart, athletic dog, the Miniature American Shepherd fit that to a T. “I liked that it is smart and portable,” she says. It was developed in the late 1960s and by the mid ‘70s Australian Shepherd breeders had their desired size. The result: A compact dog with a strong work ethic.
“My family had setters when I was growing up,” explains Hill. “I adopted a mixed breed that was super smart and athletic, and I was looking for a breed that had those same qualities. The fact that minis are super cute is a bonus.”
Hill learned quickly that the No. 1 thing an owner must recognize is that you have to be smarter than the dog. “If you think you have dog-proofed your home, think again. They are very clever. Plus, you need to make certain that you can channel their energy. A bored mini will make its own fun, and that is not always good.”
The standard reads: “He is a resilient and persistent worker that adjusts his demeanor and arousal appropriately to the task at hand. With his family he is protective, good natured, devoted and loyal.”
Hill cautions potential owners to make certain the breeder they are dealing with has had his/her dogs screened for hereditary eye defects and hip dysplasia.
From a maintenance standpoint, Hill says the breed simply requires weekly brushing, adding “they are pretty much wash-and-wear-type dogs.” The double coat of medium length and coarseness may be solid in color or merle, according to the standard, with or without white and/or tan (copper) markings. The breed traditionally has a docked or natural bobtail.
“Minis are terrific family pets,” she says, “but it is critical they receive plenty of exercise and interaction with family members daily.”
Males weigh 20-40 pounds and females 17-30. The life span ranges from 13 to 15 years.
Like its predecessor the Australian Shepherd, the Miniature American Shepherd is highly adept in herding, agility and flyball competition.
Berger PicardAfter viewing a Traveler’s Insurance Co. commercial in 2009 featuring “a unique looking dog,” the antennas were up and the internet search was on for Robert Anderson, a Seattle attorney. One forum suggested that it might be a Berger Picard. “I then went looking over the web for all the information I could find on BPs,” he recalls. Eventually, he began communicating with breeders in France via Google translate.
After several months, a breeder suggested he contact Grace Dufour, a Quebec, Canada, breeder who was expecting a litter later that year that turned out to number eight. In July 2011 Anderson and his wife, Janice, flew to pick up a male puppy the breeder had selected for them.
Because of distance and limited availability of quality puppies, Anderson had no first-hand interaction with breeders before taking possession of Guillaume, the puppy. “That said, I believe I read everything available about the breed before deciding it was the right dog for our family.”
Having formerly owned Border Collies, mixed breeds and a Golden Retriever, Anderson switched to the Berger Picard because of “its reputation for intelligence, ease of care and rugged good looks.” He was also intrigued by the “unanimous (internet) comment that the animals possessed a ‘sense of humor.’
“Like the dog in the commercial – and unlike most others – Guy will look you in the eyes when you talk to him. It’s as if he is trying his best to understand what you are saying. ‘Boss, work with me. My brain is small but I am trying as hard as I can,’ he’s pleading.“
This is not a good first breed for an owner, he emphasizes. “The Picardy Shepherd (Berger Picard) requires an owner that pays attention to its needs. They are very smart and will take advantage of a situation if given the opportunity. They have a strong prey instinct and can be easily distracted by a squirrel or a rabbit.”
Because Guillaume is only 22 months old, Anderson admits he is not qualified to comment on the breed’s adult behaviors.
When asked the No. 1 question he receives in public about the distinctive looking breed, Anderson replies, “ ‘What kind of dog is that?’ “
The Berger Picard is one of the oldest French herding breeds (9th Century), but became nearly extinct following World War II, after many battles were fought on its home turf. Some experts insist it is related to the Briard and Beauceron while others think its origin is from Dutch and Belgian Shepherds.
The Berger Picard Club of America notes on its web site that the 2005 release of the movie, “Because of Winn Dixie,” introduced the breed to the U.S. “The movie producers wanted a dog that looked like a mixed-breed mutt, but needed several that looked alike, so that production could continue smoothly. . . . It is this breed’s tousled appearance that has fooled many people into thinking ‘Winn-Dixie’ is just a mixed breed.”
Picardy Shepherds have coarse hair, not fur, meaning they don’t shed and seldom require bathing.
According to Anderson, the breed’s highest numbers reside on the East Coast and Northern Plains states. Its estimated U.S. population is approximately 300.
“I feel as if I have stumbled upon a secret dog,” he concludes. “And judging by the amount of interest at last month’s show – as well as all the attention wherever we go – I am inclined to think that’s the case.”
PumiKaren Beattie Massey, of Issaquah, starting competing in dog agility in 2003, and about four years later she began looking for a medium-sized dog to run, as she had an Australian Shepherd and Cavalier King Charles Spaniels previously.
She sought a breed that was exceptionally fast and would be able to participate in rough-and-tumble play with her Aussie, which needed a larger companion.
“I came across a Pumi in a video of the Agility World Championships,” she recalls, “and liked the feisty attitude, speed and independent obstacle performance I saw, along with the long stride and jumping ability.”
Things fell together rather quickly after she conducted a nationwide internet search of breeders. And voila! She found Chris Levy, of Salem, Ore., whose kennel had a litter of puppies on the ground. She was competing in a show in the area the following weekend, stopped in to look at the litter and meet the breeder’s older dogs.
Wanting to make certain, this was the breed for her, she returned home to view a wide assortment of videos of Pumik and other breeds, then returned to Salem three weeks later to spend a couple more hours observing the litter and to select a puppy.
With the breed’s athleticism and enthusiasm and its ability to have an “off switch,” Beattie Massey says it has fit well into the family’s pack.
Pumik are an extremely fun, active breed that excels in almost any type of dog sport, she says. “They catch on very quickly, so it challenges you as a handler to stay one step ahead of them physically and mentally. Pumik form a strong bond with their owners and will be cuddly and affectionate with the one or two people that are special to them. They tend to be more reserved with strangers.”
Like with most breeds, Beattie Massey says it is critical to socialize young Pumik early, preventing skittishness or shyness, a tendency evidenced in other herding breeds. Ideal weight in males is 27-29 pounds and females 22-24.
As far as genetic health concerns, hip dysplasia is the main ailment which reputable breeders test for in their litters.
The chief questions she receives about the breed in public are: “Do they shed? Do they bark?”
Pumik need to be combed out and their coat plucked or trimmed with scissors every one to two months to maintain the distinctive breed corkscrews or curls. When they are working or playing Beattie Massey says they can be noisy. At other times, they are calm and quiet.
Because of the breed’s need for human companionship and zest for exercise, she doesn’t recommend it “if you primarily want a companion to cuddle with on the couch and watch TV.”
The Northwest, California and the Northeast are the areas of chief concentration for the Pumik, whose U.S. population numbers only about 200.
The versatile stock-herding Hungarian breed’s history can be traced to the 17th and 18th centuries where pastures were small and livestock were driven to local fields for grazing.
Belgian LaekenoisFor more than a quarter century Karyn Cowdrey, of Bellingham, has owned and exhibited Belgian Tervurens, one of the four Belgian Shepherd varieties. Prior to that she grew up with sporting dogs, primarily the German Wirehaired Pointer and Airedale Terrier and always loved their wire coats with whiskers.
When she was first introduced to the Laekenois, it was love at first sight and the complete package. The distinctive-looking breed gives her the Belgian Shepherd personality, which is highly intelligent, easy to train, higher energy level and total bonding with her, plus she gets back whiskers and the wire coat she’s been missing.
Two years ago, she was approached by a friend who had been working with the American Belgian Laekenois Association, the parent club of the breed in the U.S., to help seek AKC recognition of the breed into the Miscellaneous Class, largely because of her longtime experience and success with Tervurens in AKC competition.
Cowdrey first learned about the Laekenois in 1986 and met her first one in the early 1990s while showing dogs in Canada. Eventually, she obtained Arson (the dog she entered at the Seattle shows and co-owns) from a breeder in Portugal.
“This was not the first time I’ve imported a dog, so I was used to the idea that you won’t be meeting the breeder face-to-face,” says Cowdrey, “nor get to see the parents of the litter or any of the puppies. It takes a high level of trust between the breeder and the buyer.” She and the breeder, however, had telephone conversations and numerous e-mail exchanges before Arson was shipped.
The Laekenois isn’t for everyone, Cowdrey emphasizes. “It is a very loyal breed and tends to be a one-person dog. It can be very protective, but if not trained to understand when it is appropriate and inappropriate guardy issues can arise.” As a result, early socialization is critical.
They require an “owner who is consistent with training for what he or she expects for behavior,” adds Cowdrey. “They need a person willing to drive the car. In other words, if they feel you are not in control of the situation they will try to take control and this is when issues can crop up. But if you are clear with how you wish them to conduct themselves in your home and out in public, they are very happy to follow your commands.”
Add to that a high energy level, which means daily owner commitment to run and play, says Cowdrey. “This is a breed that needs a job. Even if that job is to walk every day with you a half mile to the mail box or to simply pick up dog-food bowls after each meal.”
Cowdrey cautions future owners to deal only with a breeder who has orthopedic and eye screening performed on all parents and litters.
Weekly grooming is required because of the Laekenois’ rough and coarse coat, which means combing and hand plucking, to avoid undercoat matting. The breed’s weight ranges from 55 to 65 pounds.
Originally a field herding and guard dog, the Laekenois also served as a messenger dog during World Wars I and II, which reduced its population. There are fewer than 200 registered Laeken in the U.S.
Cirneco dell’EtnaAvid hunters of small game, particularly rabbits, the Cirneco dell’Etna is an ancient European breed but relatively new and still rare (roughly 200) in the United States. Named in part from Mount Etna, the largest volcano in Europe, it is found throughout Sicily. Its rich history is believed to date to between the 5th and 2nd centuries B.C. when hundreds of variations of coins were minted throughout Sicily depicting a dog similar to the Cirneco.
For Nancy Lee Wight, of Potlatch, Idaho, the alert and hardy Cirnechi have become the center of her life on the family’s 70-acre farm. Their charm, gentleness and unparalleled ability to love their owners have brought incredible joy to her family for nearly a decade, after receiving her first one, Cliopatra, from a Norwegian breeder.
“It was love at first kiss,” she smiles. “Because of the rarity of this breed in the U.S. 10 years ago, the opportunity to get to see these lovely dogs first hand was limited.” The first “colony” of purebred Cirnechi was established in the U.S. in 1996.
When friends ask Wight why she has become such a huge proponent of the breed, she replies, “They are the calmest, kindest and least neurotic breed that I have ever had. I have four adult males and five adult bitches and they all get along amazingly well.”
A breeder and obedience instructor, Wight ships puppies both nationally and internationally and guarantees her dogs for life. “If at any time you are unable or unwilling to care for it you may return it to us. A happy, loving home for life is our goal with all of our dogs.”
The Cirnechi is known for its longevity, which often reaches the mid teens. Its weight ranges from 18 to 27 pounds.
Wight has had Belgian Tervurens for 33 years and later Pharaoh Hounds before obtaining Cliopatra.
The low-maintenance, short-coat is a major appeal of the breed. “I bathe and groom, in other words, towel dry, nine Cirnechi in one-tenth the time it takes to bathe and brush out one furry dog,” laughs Wight.
Being a hound, it covets interaction with its human family both in the field and the house, she says. In other words, from your lap to lure coursing, the Cirneco dell’Etna is right at home. Early socialization is critical, adds Wight, from the standpoint of separation anxiety and building a positive relationship with other household animals.
A newcomer to the AKC’s Miscellaneous Class – it was admitted in 2012 – the fawn-colored dog is also known as the Sicilian Greyhound. It does, however, have the appearance of a small Pharaoh Hound.