About Fireside Fernweh
Fireside Fernweh is a small FCI White Swiss Shepherd breeding program located on about 20 acres in central Illinois. For some, dogs are a hobby. For us, dogs are our lifestyle. We are constantly expanding our knowledge and improving our breeding program based on the latest available science and information. Our dogs are extensively health tested and titled, and our training experience gives us a great advantage in raising puppies. We breed toward what we believe is the ideal White Swiss Shepherd: an active and sporty medium-large dog who is social, stable, and healthy. Our processes include very thorough research of pedigrees, an incredible amount of time with each dog evaluating their behavior in a variety of situations, and pushing for as many of our progeny as possible to complete health testing so that we have the data to make better breeding decisions. Our breeding program was established in 2020 with the birth of our RIDE litter. Since then, multiple of our puppies have earned their show championship title and multiple are in training for sports such as IGP, nosework, obedience, etc. A couple are also working towards search and rescue certification. Outside of breeding, our dogs are our companions and teammates. We enjoy hiking when we have time available and spend a lot of time training one on one with each dog. We also compete extensively with our dogs to prove their versatility and capability.
Though White Swiss Shepherds are a generally healthy breed, breeding dogs should be tested for a variety of ailments. Health testing is more than just a vet-check. The joints are actually x-rayed scored and tested by PennHIP, the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA), or by Fédération Cynologique Internationale (FCI). We also perform cheek swabs to collect DNA and test for genetic issues utilizing Embark, Optimal Selection, and Paw Print Genetics.
Unfortunately it is impossible to eliminate the risk of ailments which are tested phenotypically, we can reduce the risk by avoiding crossing lines which have a high occurrence of the same issue. For issues that are very prevalent in the breed, such as hip and elbow dysplasia, this is easier said than done. In this instance, heritability becomes a factor because only so much variation in phenotype can be attributed to variation in genotype.
Autosomal recessive genetic issues such as Degenerative Myelopathy (DM) are much easier to eliminate since it truly is as simple as not breeding two carriers together. Because it is recessive, dogs with one copy are not affected, thus they are fine for breeding to clear dogs only. Fireside Fernweh tests all puppies with Embark DNA so before they go home, we know if they carry any genetic ailments. Often our pairings are clear by parentage, but that is not always the case.
Our dogs are tested for a minimum of hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, cardiac, and complete DNA panels. We are in the process of adding additional testing as we progress through our first generation of Fireside Fernweh dogs, so please check individual dog pages to see their health testing.
The next concept we consider is temperament. Titles in shows and sports are huge when we consider temperament, which is why proving our dogs in multiple venues is highly important to us. Shows prove a dog can be in a ring with multiple other dogs and allow a stranger to examine them in a way that puts a lot of pressure on the dog.
Sports prove workability in different ways dependent on the sport. Agility proves athleticism and intelligence. It requires a dog that gives into pressure to be directed through the course. Obedience and rally prove a level of biddability and a strong desire to work. Obedience and rally are not inherently fun for dogs like agility is, so the dog must have a strong relationship with their handler and really want whatever reward the handler is using. Sports like IGP require a dog that is willing to push through pressure from the helper, and a dog that is not sensitive. Therapy work requires an outgoing and calmer dog to be successful. Each of these sports tells us something about the dog's temperament.
Unfortunately, not everyone trains and titles their White Swiss Shepherd, so sometimes we have to meet dogs and form our own opinion of them. When possible, it is great to be able to meet the parents of your puppy. I am always willing to meet people or have people over to meet my dogs.
In my opinion, the ideal temperament for a White Swiss Shepherd is one that is composed of low arousal paired with med-high drive and high sociability and confidence. This is not something that is easily achieved, but it is our ultimate goal. Dogs of this temperament make an excellent choice for all walks of life. These are the types of dogs who are content to sleep all day, but who also love to be active with their people.
"You can't build a great building on a weak foundation. You must have a solid foundation if you're going to build a strong superstructure." - Gordon B. Hinckley
Even if you're not looking to show your dog, their structure is still vitally important. The way a dog is built will affect the way their body absorbs shock for the rest of their life. From bouncing around the house like an idiot to a high impact sport like agility to everyday walking, running, and jumping on and off of things, your dog will be impacting their joints for the rest of their life.
That being said, there are no dogs with perfect-to-the-breed-standard structure. However, by being cognizant of structural flaws in the parents of our litters and breeding dogs that compliment one another, we can produce dogs are structurally better than their parents, which is ultimately the goal. A breeder's true success is when the puppies outdo their parents.
A BIT ABOUT ME
Okay, for the boring part now - a bit about myself and how I got to be involved in this crazy dog stuff!
I am currently a student at Millikin University, majoring in Arts Tech. I don't really participate in much outside of the dogs. I've centered my entire life around them since I began competing with my white coated German Shepherd, Athena, in 2014. Aside from training and showing dogs, I also enjoy hiking...with dogs. Outside of her show and sport career, Furrari is my adventure companion, and we have done some fun, short trips to hiking trails all over Illinois and Indiana. I am also a touch obsessed with photography...of dogs. That obsession also began when I got Athena, and later photography of dogs became design of dog breeding ads (and even websites!).
Back to dogs - or how I got into them. In 2013, I wanted a horse sooo bad but my dad said absolutely not (at the time we lived in the suburbs with a yard that was mediocre by dog standards, let alone a horse). We settled on getting a dog, and I soon learned about the sport of agility. Upon seeing it, I knew I wanted to compete in the sport. However, at that time, our only dog was an aggressive mastiff mix...not exactly cut out to be my future agility dog. So I begged and begged my dad for a Border Collie, to which the "absolutely not" answer returned. One day, I sat down and was flipping through a book of dog breeds and asking "how about this one?" or "what about this one?" Eventually, I came across the German Shepherd, and we landed with Athena, the first white coated German Shepherd I had ever seen. Next thing you know, we're enrolled in classes at the local obedience club and the rest is history. While some may learn the sport and be done, I never got enough. If I wasn't running agility or reading about agility, I was watching videos of high level competitors or thinking of possible training solutions to whatever issues we came to next. The obsession never ended, only the subject matter has changed. Nowadays, I am nonstop researching about dog training, breeding, health, conformation, genetics, breed politics, or whatever else I feel is important at a particular time, but ultimately, it is always something.
HOW WE GOT OUR NAME
FIRESIDE (n) - an area around or near a fire/fireplace
FERNWEH (n) - translating to "far sickness," it means a pain to see far flung places beyond our doorstep
Our original idea had been to call the kennel "Wanderlust," however, the name had already been used a number of times by breeders of various dog breeds. I went on a hunt to find a new word which aligned with the love of adventure, but that hadn't been used a bazillion times. Voila! FERNWEH. Said to be an even stronger feeling than the English "wanderlust," it was perfect. However, I wasn't settled on using it alone. I had a list of contenders, but ultimately settled on FIRESIDE because of it's relation to being around or near a fire, in my mind, a campfire. I felt the combination spoke to the breed's natural need for companionship and their desire to be with their people all the time. Whether at home, or on the next great adventure, White Swiss Shepherds wish to be by your side.