I did not anticipate breeding dogs when I first began training dogs. In fact, when we purchased a German Shepherd Dog puppy in 1979, I did not anticipate training dogs for a career. My extended family had GSD’s and for me, I couldn’t fathom living with any other breed. We followed an ad in the local paper to a backyard breeder or ‘BYB’ in Illinois. I had no idea what BYB’s were or that there were such things as health screenings or working titles. When the ‘breeder’ mentioned she had bred her American bloodline female to a German import male and the astounding awards he had, that information went in one ear and out the other. My brain briefly settled on the 'Wow' factor of a German Shepherd Dog actually coming from Germany. In 1979, that was unusual.

Vashka, as we called her, was brilliant. Entirely too brilliant for my limited experience. She also suffered with horrible hips and health. Our second dog was purchased almost two years later as an adolescent with not much more success. She was of sturdy build but had been kenneled with siblings at a large training facility. Training had been harsh and learning remained difficult for her no matter how many treats or how much fun I tried to make it.

Purely out of necessity, I was becoming a competent dog trainer, seeking out effective as well as humane methods. When we decided on a third dog, (Three’s a charm!) I searched for almost three years, going to shows, visiting breeders and asking questions of health and temperament in my search for a healthy and mentally sound German shepherd. I, briefly, considered another breed until Peter confided he really only wanted a shepherd. So did I, to be honest. I just wanted one who was healthy.

In the obedience rings, I saw GSD’s who were eagerly complying with their humans’ directions, leaping over jumps, joyously racing to them on the recall and happily wagging their tails greeting people. This was the character I wanted but their looks were not what I was accustomed to seeing. Remember, this was in the early 1980’s and German import bloodlines were still uncommon. My eye, like most Americans, was familiar with the show lines of the American Kennel Club lots of black with silver or light tan pigment, long bodies, extreme angles and that all-important (albeit, exaggerated) ‘side-gait’.

These German dogs were square-ish with blocky heads that actually looked course compared to the refined heads I was used to seeing in the show rings. They had deeper tans, some with deep red pigment, or were sable. What won me over was the enthusiasm and frankness of the owners of these German dogs. They talked about hips, health and mental soundness. These dogs loved to be active partners in training and life. We eventually became such fans of these German dogs, that we decided to breed them so others could enjoy resilient, joyful, healthy German shepherds, too!

This world of the shepherd from Germany opened up for us and we enjoyed many years traveling to Germany, training and competing with our dogs there and cherishing relationships with people who shared their heritage and knowledge with us. As I soon discovered, breeding dogs does not add to one’s wealth. We did not breed large numbers of litters but indulged our dogs – and ourselves - with enriching experiences to prepare pups for their futures. I took on the hobby of breeding as a research project in many ways, always experimenting with rearing pups, the diet we fed and monitoring behavior and health as well as how best to assess adoptive families and the placement of pups.

The name of our kennel, Framheim, comes from the combination of Peter’s distinguished involvement as Antarctic explorer and research scientist and Joan’s Norwegian heritage. ‘Fram’ is the name of the ship which served as the base camp for Roald Amundsen, the Norwegian explorer who first reached the South Pole.

My initial exposure to professional dog training was in 1979 with Vashka. Training methods at that time were not much fun for the dog. This didn’t seem logical to me.

As a pianist, I began studying with Adele Marcus of the Julliard School at age sixteen and finished graduate school with Donald Walker at Northern Illinois University. I taught piano from university to pre-school aged students and knew that happily motivated students progressed furthest. Past generations who underwent their knuckles being whapped with rulers by their piano teachers retold these stories not with memories of endearment but as survival of their piano lessons much like a soldier retells war stories. Why should learning be any different for dogs, I wondered?

Watching my shepherd mothers with their litters taught me much, too. Mothers give a lot of leeway to their pups, encouraging them to explore, play and interact – leading them in games and setting up learning opportunities. Corrections were few, fair and fast, followed with a wash or a quick lick or invitation to play. No anger. No vengeance. No hard feelings. Lesson learned and life merrily continued.

Using food, toys, play and affection motivates dogs to want to interact, learn and try new challenges. When a dog is tuned in and trying, rarely do they decide to ‘just be bad’. Most often, they are reacting to confusing cues, distractions that overwhelm them or are just not ready for the particular task. As I began to see dogs as partners in learning, their learning improved. (And so did my teaching!)

In the mid 1980’s, a rare event occurred. I went to a hair salon to have my hair cut and styled! As serendipity would have it, another person who rarely had her hair styled was seated next to me. She was a veterinarian and as we chatted about dogs and training, she asked if I would be interested in teaching obedience to her patients. She, like me, did not like harsh and adversarial training methods. My career in training and behavioral counseling had begun in earnest! I built my practice by networking with veterinarians so they referred their patients for obedience classes before problem behavior took hold.

In 1987, a husband and wife team of veterinarians and I were among the first in central Ohio to offer classes for puppies as young as 8 weeks of age. The classes were held in their clinic for their patients. The results were gratifying. Pups and their owners built strong relationships and good manners easily and quickly. The starting point for training pups is fun and games. As pups invest themselves in the play/training, obedience behaviors like sit, down, come can be introduced effortlessly and disobedient deeds avoided.

Puppies are learning magnets – they will learn ‘something’ whether we consciously teach them or not. I use this knowledge with our litters so they are well grounded with crates, coming when called, walking on leash, riding in cars, having ears and nails handled, house-training and generally being good canine citizens.

In my training practice, I noted that many of the training and behavior problems people had with their dogs were based on two main issues: 1) Puppies mismatched with their families, 2) puppies unprepared for ‘life after the litter’. Puppies who were unfamiliar with stairs, crates, leashes, car rides, the commotion of kids and hubbub of towns – basically, unprepared for their future lives in human society. Families were baffled. Reactions piling up on reactions until humans and dogs felt overwhelmed.

Our program of rearing litters greatly reduced these worries so families could get on with training and building strong bonds. As far as monitoring pups, we developed a survey of health, medical and behavior assessments that families filled out, many sending the medical records as well. I knew the best way to screen what we were producing was to actually collect as much information on progeny as possible. This is why we eventually required x-raying of joints and providing us with on-going updates with the survey as part of our contract. It was effort and expense by our adoptive families and something we are very grateful for. Alas, our breeding program was better for it and I could utilize real and comprehensive data for future litters and adoptive families. Health screenings on parents are just one piece of the breeding puzzle. What is actually produced is of critical importance.