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A Wealth of Knowledge in One Book: ‘Keys to Top Breeding’

If your hobby is breeding and showing dogs and you’re not learning something new almost every day, you’re probably not paying attention. But some sources of information about our hobby and the sport of dogs are superior to others, and I recently discovered one that is almost exactly the kind of book I would put together if I were going to tackle that kind of project.

“Keys to Top Breeding” was published in Finland in 2011, and the idea behind the book, according to Pekka Hannula, who compiled it, is very simply “sharing.” As he notes in the book’s introduction, “Every breeder makes sometimes right choices, sometimes wrong ones, and afterwards one can only…ponder what could’ve been done otherwise. The definition of belated wisdom is to write a book about dogs and only then realize that one should have also listened to good breeders from other breeds – because if you had, how much wiser you could be now!”


And helping people who are devoted to doing a proper job of raising dogs to become wiser through the experiences of other breeders is exactly Pekka’s mission in creating “Keys to Top Breeding.”

The 344-page volume features 22 successful breeders from the U.K., Scandinavia, Europe, Australia and the U.S., all of whom share their backgrounds in dogs, their views about their own specific breeds, as well as their experiences, ideas and theories about how best to keep, breed and raise dogs successfully. These men and women share how they planned their breeding programs, the importance of pedigrees, what makes good breeding stock and how to care for and place puppies. Perhaps more importantly, they share the specific details that have helped them become good breeders along with their personal experiences with the unexpected.

A teacher by profession, Pekka says, “It has always been my desire to arouse curiosity and interest in various things, to give a glimpse of them from an angle that inspires people to think for themselves and to discover something new.” His book affords breeders all over the world that glimpse into the kennels and whelping boxes of their peers, and allows us to benefit from their experience in a way that wouldn’t otherwise be possible.

Not one of the people Pekka contacted to contribute to the book refused. “They understood that sharing their knowledge with others will help raise the level of breeding and will ultimately work for everybody’s benefit,” he explains.

Pekka Hannula and Marjo Nygård.

Pekka Hannula and Marjo Nygård.

Pekka bred German Shepherd Dogs for many years and also judges the breed. Today he shares his life with two dogs and is focused on writing instead of breeding. He has contributed to approximately 20 books, including a five-part, 1,000-page biology textbook series, and has several more books currently in the works. “I believe that writing is the best thing I can do to try to influence how this world is turning,” he says.

Marjo Nygård, who has been in dogs since 1991, was the translator for the book, and, Pekka says, “Without her, this book wouldn’t be what it is. It’s great to be an excellent translator, but even better when you also know dogs and have the ability to bring each speaker’s own voice to the pages.” Marjo and her partner have Dandie Dinmont Terriers and for 10 years also had a Boxer. In addition to having “bred a few litters over the years,” she has tried obedience and agility with the Dandies and is a judge of a number of Terrier and Hound breeds. She divides her work time between an international technology company, where she is a translator and document coordinator, and teaching oriental dance.

“Keys to Top Breeding” is chock full of advice and information. Espen Engh, of Jet’s Greyhounds in Norway, offered this advice when asked why he has been so successful in breeding: “The key is selection. We don’t let ourselves be fooled into thinking that the dogs are any better than they really are. You must be absolutely objective about your dogs. Don’t overestimate them, but don’t think that they are worse than they are either. Put your dogs in the right perspective and see them as they are: recognize what is good about them, what is not good, and what you can improve on in the next generation and further down the line.”

Ch. Kryn of Drakesleat and Ch. Sovryn of Drakesleat, a photograph that accompanies the section on Zena Thorn-Andrews Drakesleat Irish Wolfhounds and Miniature Dachshunds.

Ch. Kryn of Drakesleat and Ch. Sovryn of Drakesleat, a photograph that accompanies the section on Zena Thorn-Andrews Drakesleat Irish Wolfhounds and Miniature Dachshunds.

An abundance of valuable advice makes the book well worth purchasing, but there’s so much more between its covers. In relating their backgrounds and experience in dogs, these breeders often unwittingly give readers a look back at the history of dogs and dog people, and they remind us all that everyone is new to dogs at some point and that we all have a great deal to learn. Juha Kares of Finland, who has been breeding Lhasa Apsos and Löwchen under the Chic Choix prefix for more than 30 years, tells this story about his start:

“The turning point was our second show where quite a few Löwchens were shown. The leading breeder of Löwchens was also there and said to me, ‘Poor boy, what an ugly dog you have!’ I asked her what was wrong with her and the answer was, ‘Her foreface is too long, the eyes are too light, and she has such scrawny legs!’

Back in those days the shows were a little different than today: in between two dogs the judge went to have a cigarette with the leading breeder, who also took the opportunity to point out my dog to the judge. When we eventually got into the ring, Diana was deemed ‘Satisfactory,’ and everyone told me it was a very poor grade. At home that day I told my parents that I loved my dog dearly but she was ugly, and the very next Monday found me sitting next to the telephone. As soon as the Finnish Kennel Club’s office opened, I called and ordered the breed standard for the Löwchen.”

More than 130 photographs of dogs from all over the world, as well as their people, are also included in “Keys to Top Breeding.”

“The book aims to bring dog breeders together,” Pekka says, “and it has succeeded in this.” To date the book has been distributed in 42 countries and has or will be published in seven languages, including Russian and Chinese.

Everyone who has an interest in showing, breeding, handling or owning dogs will find a great deal of interest in this book. You can learn more about the book at the “Keys to Top Breeding” website, and it can also be purchased at amazon.com.

Written by

Christi McDonald is a second-generation dog person, raised with a kennel full of Cairn Terriers. After more than a decade as a professional handler’s apprentice and handling professionally on her own, primarily Poodles and Cairns, she landed a fortuitous position in advertising sales with the monthly all-breed magazine ShowSight. This led to an 11-year run at Dogs in Review, where she wore several hats, including advertising sales rep, ad sales manager and, finally, editor for five years. Christi is proud to be part of the editorial team for the cutting-edge Best In Show Daily. She lives in Apex, N.C., with two homebred black Toy Poodles, the last of her Foxfire line, and a Norwich Terrier.