The Retrievers suited my character and way of life – community oriented, sociable, with absolutely no desire to fight.
During my military service I came across German Shepherds on several occasions, but these encounters did not motivate me to engage in dog breeding. In one specific incident, however, I saw two beautiful Labradors emerge from a building which supposedly housed enemy soldiers. The image of these two dogs stayed in my heart.
I left the army in 1982. Upon my release, I sought and found a place in Kibbutz Afikim which was perfect for establishing a breeding kennel.
The Labradors were the first to join. The Golden Retrievers soon followed.
At first, emphasis was placed on breeding healthy pedigree dogs who would be able to work with children. I soon realized that going in this direction meant we would need to meet the dogs' breed standards, have them participate in shows, provide hip x-ray data and so forth, otherwise it would be impossible to issue pedigrees.
Naturally, the dogs purchased shortly after the kennel's establishment could not produce offspring, and their performance in dog shows did not yield impressive results.
The growing hesitation about whether or not to pursue the direction of dog shows ended with a firm and wholehearted decision to, indeed, do so, and after making a significant investment in this project, top quality breeding dogs were purchased in Israel and overseas. By mating male dogs from Europe with select breeding bitches, we soon found our place among first-rate breeding groups.
Our dogs' bloodlines were based on English breeding kennels. The Labradors – the heart and soul of the kennel - included the Jayncourt, Rocheby, Sandyland and Poolstead breeds. The Golden Retrievers included Mrs. Parish's Scottish Goldens alongside the fine Rossgilde dogs. In time, we also brought dogs from France, Hungary, and Croatia.
It wasn't always a smooth ride, of course. At some point, the Golden Retrievers in the kennel exhibited over-activeness. One of the male dogs passed on an aggressive temperament to his offspring. This tendency has long since become extinct, and has not been displayed in the kennel for five generations. The Golden Retrievers' drooling problem has been resolved completely, and coat and skin sensitivities are treated as much as possible through diverse breeding. With the Labradors we first experienced skin problems and ear sensitivity. Yet we eventually reached the end of the problematic bloodline, and at the same time also familiarized ourselves with the appropriate Retriever feeding methods.
However, as any dog breeder, I was in need of an extensive pool of bloodlines, although these often create inconsistencies in morphological sequences, meaning the dogs frequently have different colors and sizes. I do not share breeders' ongoing dilemma of deciding between breed uniformity and diversity. Working for over 25 years as a dog breeder and behavioral trainer, it has become perfectly clear to me that despite its obvious aesthetic outcomes, breed uniformity is not the answer. By introducing more bloodlines, we shall achieve healthier dogs and will overcome the disabilities affecting pedigrees. Granted, we, too, have had our share of health problems, be it coat, hips, shoulders, eyes, bite or testicle- related phenomena. When working with pedigrees, one must perform the medical examinations which apply to the specific dog breeds in the kennel. We obviously cannot overlook the problems – we must confront them, and discover how genetic diversity can help us tackle them, hopefully with as few glitches as possible. At the end of the day, a dog should be docile, healthy, and beautiful; these are the qualities any dog owner looks for, preferably in this particular order… There are currently over 20 champion dogs in the Afikim Kennels who win numerous shows every year. All breeding dogs work in educational and rehabilitation institutions. The dogs that mate - both males and females – meet the required breed standards. As for me, I still believe in a better world, a world where people who breed Labradors and Golden Retrievers will eventually also determine the global agenda.
The writer, Yaniv Osem, is the owner and dog breeder of the Afikim Kennels.