A funny thing happened on the way to writing this article. I read about GCh. Heywire ’N Highfield’s Hey Look Me Over, when I was proofreading Billy Wheeler’s Back Story for February 18 and went to the Heywire and Sure Shot website to double-check the spelling of her call name – ‘Heyleigh.’ As is typical, I found myself reading about the kennel and was impressed by the blend of conformation and fieldwork. Even after seeing Doug Ljungren’s name as one of the kennel owners, it didn’t dawn on me that he was the Doug Ljungren who is the vice president of performance and companion events for the American Kennel Club. (I know, I know, “duh.”)
The Heywire-Sure Shot story so fascinated me, though, that I got the go-ahead from Best In Show Daily Editor-in-Chief Dan Sayers to do a profile on Ljungren and his wife and kennel co-owner, Judy Cheshire.
The integration of their personal lives and canine lines wasn’t quite as random as my encounter with their website, but it comes pretty close.
Both got their first German Wirehaired Pointers in 1976. Both traveled to the German Wirehaired Pointer Club of America National Specialty each year, Judy to show her dogs in conformation and Doug to trial his dogs in the field. Judy points out that the GWPCA is one of the few clubs that holds its national conformation championship and its national field championship at the same event. So, their paths crossed – once a year, occasionally more often. He, after all, lived on the West Coast where he was the business-planning manager for the Port of Tacoma in Washington, and she lived on the East Coast, specifically on Long Island, and was a registered nurse.
But 13 years ago, their passing acquaintance turned into more. Doug explains: “Judy and I were acquaintances for a long time through our interest in the breed. She was primarily interested in conformation while I concentrated on field events. As time went on our situations changed, and we realized that it would be possible to share our lives together. As impractical as it was, since we were on different sides of the country, we eventually made it work.”
So, Judy moved to the West Coast, and upon merging their personal lives, they also blended their kennels – her Heywire and his Sure Shot.
Judy Falls in Love – with a GWP
Judy didn’t really plan to breed when she first fell in love with a GWP. “I was just looking around for another breed to see what I liked, debating whether I should just get another Airedale. However, they don’t like to be told what to do very well. I was looking for a dog that might be a better dog in obedience that I could go further with.” She had an Airedale that she’d put a CDX (Companion Dog Excellent) on, though she says she “wasn’t a very good trainer.”
Then she saw Ch. Hilltop’s SS Cheese Cake, also known as ‘Racket,’ at a show. That was it. Judy knew the GWP was the breed for her. She walked right up to Racket’s owner, Pat Laurans, and told her she wanted one of Racket’s puppies. Racket was the first GWP in history to earn a Best in Show, and Pat wasn’t about to give one of her puppies to a breed newbie.
“She wouldn’t give me a puppy,” Judy says, but she “tolerated” Judy’s interest in the breed and her requests for a puppy. Eventually, Pat allowed Judy to take home – “for a while” – one of Racket’s 2-year-old daughters, Ch. Laurwyn’s Cream Cheese. Pat told her, “If you can tolerate having a Wirehair, then I’ll let you have a puppy.” Judy says, “That took years.” She first saw Racket in the early ‘70s, and Pat finally sold her a puppy in 1976. “Pat’s been a wonderful mentor for me,” Judy says.
When Judy took Laurwyn’s Brie home, “I had promised to show her. Of course, I was very determined and stubborn, and wanted to do it myself.” Judy had wanted a “dark, fuzzy puppy.” Pat had two litters at the time when she decided to let Judy have one. She told Judy she could have any of the puppies, but she pointed her toward a “better puppy” that was light-colored and “didn’t have all that fuzziness on her face” that Judy wanted.
“I took Pat’s advice. It took me a while, but she was good and I finished her.”
By the time Brie had her championship and a CD after her name, GWPs had become Judy’s passion. “I looked at dogs and pedigrees. I didn’t do a lot of breeding, but on my second litter I got my first Best in Show dog, and I was hooked.”
Doug Hunts His Way to a GWP
Although Doug grew up hunting in Minnesota, he never hunted with a dog at his side. “My family had a pet Miniature Poodle,” he says. “I wouldn’t say we were a dog family.” Grouse were his quarry of preference as a young hunter.
When he was ready to get his own dog to help him hunt in the state of Washington, the versatility of the GWP drew him to the breed – and to Griff, his first GWP. “I primarily did upland bird hunting, but also some duck hunting. I thought a versatile breed would do the trick for both.”
Griff became a conformation and field champion – a dual champion – in both the U.S. and Canada, and he earned an obedience CD title. The lesson Doug learned? “Don’t ever underestimate what a driven dog owner can accomplish.”
Despite Griff’s success, Doug made sure that his second GWP was from a field line. “I was much more knowledgeable from all the mistakes I had made with Griff. This second dog turned out to be an outstanding field trial dog, earning both her FC (field champion) and AFC (amateur field champion) titles. I then got another dog from the same line, and she also turned out to be outstanding in the field. That is when I decided that perhaps I was a pretty lucky guy, and it might be a good idea to try breeding to see if I could keep this string going.”
And, so he has.
“I have been lucky enough to have owned and bred many good field dogs,” he says, including 11 field champions that either he or his immediate family have owned. “I can’t really say which one was the best or most successful. I believe what is more important than any one dog is the family of dogs that a breeder is able to develop. This has a more lasting impact. It provides a base for others to build upon in the future.
“The line that I was fortunate enough to inherit and which was further developed from my breeding program has been successful in field trial competition for over 30 years. I have been fortunate enough to not have any major health problems. Several of the good field dogs have also been show champions. Other owners have enjoyed the benefit of this effort. I enjoy watching these dogs succeed and find it quite satisfying.”
On Having ‘The Talk’
So, when two people who have each been in a breed for more than 20 years separately get together, how do they decide who to breed and when? And do you breed the lines to each other?
As it turns out, Judy discovered that there’s one dog behind both Heywire and Sure Shot, so the two lines “complement each other pretty well.” She explains that early breeder Louise Faestel of Haar Baron German Wirehaired Pointers did a lot of interesting linebreeding. “She had a bitch she bred to two different dogs, producing an amazing number of dual champions.”
Heywire and Sure Shot is all about duality – dogs that can win in a ring and in the field.
“Doug always thought that the dogs should be able to look the part as well as have talent in the field,” Judy says. He’s had “at least six other duals and other dogs that were field champions,” as well as at least two national field champions with master hunter titles.
“We’ve been very fortunate,” Judy says. “We’ve only bred four litters, and we bred a dual champion bitch top gundog for 2011 and 2012.” That’s ‘Sonora,’ DC Sure Shot’s Sonora Gone Heywire, Judy’s first dual champion, though Doug’s had a number of them. The couple also bred Heyleigh, who “goes back to where we bred the lines together,” Judy says. Heyleigh is Judy’s fourth Best in Show bitch and Doug’s first.
When it comes to deciding about breeding, “We agonize over the pedigrees,” Judy says. Because she and Doug only have a litter every three or four years, “it’s critical to do the very best we can.
“We usually have an idea when we keep a puppy or when we sell a puppy with the idea that we’re mentoring some new people. When that litter is born, we already have an idea in our heads, ‘this is a place we could go.’ You can’t breed just by title for field dogs,” she says. Field champions must have “desire, drive, style, range and a cooperative spirit. Plus, what does it look like? There’s a lot of time to talk about it and nail it down. Sometimes it works; sometimes it doesn’t.”
A Good Breed and a Good Team
“It helps that we both have this passion for this breed,” Judy says. “They’re our sole focus. We don’t have other breeds that distract us.”
Doug adds, “We complement each other with our different backgrounds while sharing the same broad interest in the breed.”
Judy likes the breed’s intelligence and the fact that the dogs think for themselves. She also appreciates GWP’s “sense of humor,” which, when pressed, she says is the dogs’ inventiveness. “They think they can amuse you, so they do a lot of things their own way. When you think they’re being naughty, they look at you like, ‘You just don’t get the joke. This is fine; I’m not doing anything wrong.’” Judy recalls one dog who would lift a soaking pot out of the kitchen sink. “If I scolded her, she’d look at me like, ‘What? I was hungry.’” They don’t have much of a sense of guilt, she says, proving another example of a dog that gets bored taking the same jump over and over again during obedience training. It will do what you want, she says, but might take a different jump, run around the ring, then come back and do as directed.
While GWPs like to do things their own way, they’re also “very intuitive and very sensitive to your feelings,” Judy says.
“We both believe in line breeding,” Judy says. “We also believe that we have to watch the dogs work to make a decision. Doug is certainly more of an expert in the field, and I sort of keep a tighter rein on what the dog looks like, though he has an amazingly good eye. All of his duals he’s shown himself.
“I think our views about dogs are pretty compatible. We each have certain things we’re more knowledgeable about than the other. And so, I think in that respect we complement each other. In the end, we don’t argue too much about who the dogs are bred too. We’re pretty compatible about that.”
Judy admits, though, that Doug “probably gets his way more than I do.” However, she says, “We’ve never had a decision where one of us absolutely hates what’s been done. This conversation goes on for a very long time.”
Doug confirms: “We don’t breed very often so the discussion goes on for a long time. This is where being involved in parent club activities becomes valuable. We can stay in touch with other breeders and see many dogs worked in the field and shown. We consider many possibilities before we settle on how to proceed.”
The Heywire and Sure Shot dogs are much more than show and field dogs, though. “We certainly have more dogs than we breed,” Judy says. “Our dogs are our pets and our house dogs. I only feel comfortable keeping a limited number of them.”
Doug and Judy moved across the country to Bahama, N.C., when he took a position with the American Kennel Club. With it came some sacrifice on both their parts: Judy can no longer show dogs in conformation, and Doug cannot complete in field trials.
But Judy’s retired from nursing and is now in charge of their kennel.
And while Doug admits to wishing he could trial his dogs “on occasion,” it was really more the training he was enjoying before moving to North Carolina. He says he will go back to trialing “at some level” when he retires one day.
In the meantime, both are happy to see dogs they’ve bred and their progeny performing for – and succeeding with – their new owners.