French Brittany Fanatics! A Father and Son Team Raise Superior Dogs

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Jeff working Lulu on Pigeons–Lulu had terrific boldness for a three month old dog

As I pulled my rig, Hi Ho Silver, into the Ruiter farm yard, I stepped out of the truck and watched as Josh worked an energetic three-month-old French Brittany (more accurately titled Epagneul Breton or EB), Lulu, bust through cover, hunting a couple of planted pigeons. When she hit the scent cone, she stopped on a dime and leaned into the scent in an intense crouch. My thought was that if all the Trinity Kennels dogs had this kind of prey drive and focus, then I had found great dogs and fantastic trainers.  Everything I saw and heard confirmed my first impression.

Back to Lulu- she could not have weighed 15 pounds or stood more than 12 inches at the shoulder, but she tackled the three-foot-tall brush with all the joy and élan of a seasoned hunter. Her intense steady point was such a perfect model of what my larger more experienced EB’s Tex and Chaco, do that I had to laugh. My only sadness was to hear that the owner was picking the dog up that week to hunt her in South Dakota. Although Lulu was a great three-month-old dog, I don’t think any pup should be hunting for a group in a pheasant hunt.

This was my introduction to Jeff and Josh Ruiter, a father and son team who make up Trinity Kennels. I spent a delightful afternoon at their Iowa farm home and kennel. They had an ideal training set up with a couple acre patch of tall CRP-like grass, large mowed lawns and acres of corn and beans around them. They train right out their door. Immediately I felt a strong affinity with this capable duo of bi-vocational lovers of French Brittany’s and bird hunting. Jeff, when not training, works in business for a technology and fulfillment company, and has five children. Josh is in his early 30s, has a M.Div. and has pastored in DC Anglican churches, has a long mane of hair and is incredibly passionate about his dogs. They were open about their lives and we shared many of the same values and interests. We clearly shared midwestern Christian values, a passion for family, and a love of the hunt. 

Jeff, dad, was thoughtful, strategic and having fun working with his son to create a great line of EB’s. Josh brought passion and the willingness to research to improve their line of dogs. Their goal was to build the best EB possible and had travelled twice to France to purchase French EB’s and to watch how they train their dogs. They had beautiful dogs, one of the new French dogs was a spitting image of my Tex, and they believed they were seeing better dogs with each generation. 

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“Table work is a productive place to develop steadiness,” explained Josh.

Their love for EB’s was obvious. Josh explained, “these dogs want to train with you. We just orient their natural hunt drive. The dogs are wonderfully biddable and willing partners. Our line of dogs will have the whole package—great people and family dogs who love to hunt. We are seeking repeatability in our breeding and following the French vision to create a consistently great family bird dog.” 

For 28 years the Trinity Kennels dogs have been family dogs. Their five children all participate in the care and training of the dogs and over the years the dogs have been 4H projects and a part of everyday life. Jeff’s wife, Lisa, takes special care of the pregnant females giving them special walks and TLC. All their dogs, including the dogs they train for others get time in the home as part of their work to build great family dogs for their clients. 

Training Methods 

“Dogs think in pictures,” explained Josh,” think old school cartoon slides. They build associations in pictures and connect them to experiences with birds.” George Hickox, a current bird dog guru whose dogs have had tremendous success in the Field Trial circuit, built the model for their training system. It features few verbal commands, uses clickers to reinforce right behavior, makes training exercise fun, low pressure and with lots of birds. “We think it is a great system and has helped us build great young bird dogs quickly.” I watched them work several dogs and the dogs all exhibited great enthusiasm for the hunt and solid points-not always steady– but clearly their dogs knew what to do. 

Dog Insights from Jeff and Josh 

Male v. Female 

“We have discovered that female EB’s are committed to a place. They protect the place and are oriented to it and the people around the place,” said Jeff. “They are also moodier, and we must pay more attention to their focus on any given day.” The males are loyal to people. They are not like a Chesapeake Bay Retriever who are just loyal to one man or a family, but they are oriented toward people. All my favorite dogs have been males.” 

This reflects my experience. I have two male EB’s, Tex and Chaco. Tex, my 6-year-old, lives in my shadow when I am around. At home he may be my wife Laurie’s or son Jason’s shadow, but he always keeps an eye on me. Chaco, my one year old, is everyone’s friend with a delightful warm personality. They have adapted well to my three-month journey, seemingly never to weary of being in a different setting almost daily as long as they get to be with me and hunt. Matt Keller, our EB breeder, recommended males for us saying they were less emotional and easier to live with. I cannot imagine a difficult EB since they have such Golden Retriever personalities in social situations. I love them for their personalities and their drive and athleticism in the field. 

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Lulu on point.  The next day her owners brought her to the South Dakota Pheasant opener where she pointed five birds and had her first retrieve.

Picking a Pup 

Josh told of his experience visiting French EB breeders. “The French choose EB pups much differently than Americans. The most common idea in America is to choose a dog that is outgoing, bold, curious or maybe people prefer the dog who chooses the owner. In America we lean toward the strong individual dog expecting it to have more drive. In France, they prefer the mellow dog that may be staying by its mother. They trust the genetics to provide the hunt drive and think the best dogs will be biddable and a good family member.” 

My insight here was that we may choose puppies in America who reflect our cultural values of individualism, strength and self-reliance. The French choose dogs based on their relationship orientation. It never occurred to me until this conversation that we may choose our dogs based on our cultural values. 

We finished our afternoon drinking beers in their barn/kennel. We had so much in common: strong Christian faith, Christian colleges (they went to Dordt, me Wheaton), traditional family values, broad international experiences and passions (Josh is married to a Jamaican woman), a crazy passion for EB’s and a love for hunting and the outdoors. I really wished I lived near Jeff and Josh because I could imagine many great days in the field together.

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