About Fireside Fernweh
Fireside Fernweh is a small White Swiss Shepherd breeding program located on roughly 20 acres in central Illinois. While we do not have litters often, our pairings are carefully thought out, after a bitch has passed her health testing (minimum OFA hips, OFA elbows, PennHIP hips, and full DNA panels via Embark or Optimal Selection), been titled in show and sports, and we've conducted hours upon hours of research into stud options. We heavily emphasize the total dog philosophy. When we consider a pairing, we consider all aspects of each parent and the dogs within the pedigree. Health. Temperament. Structure. We are highly active in dog shows and sports, which is a large part of the reasoning behind keeping our breeding program small. It is our wish to devote adequate time to not only each litter, but each adult dog. Before my dogs are breeding dogs, they are my teammates and companions. Along these lines, you can see the amount of competing our foundation bitch, Furrari, has done. Anyone can say their dog is versatile - Furrari has proven it, and although our first litter is still young, four of nine puppies are already UKC Show Champions, and most of the litter is actively training in at last one performance sport, from dock diving to IGP to search and rescue. All in all, we aim to breed towards excellence in all areas - a dog who is driven, intelligent, healthy, and beautiful - and raise our puppies in a way that enhances the qualities we are looking for. After puppies are here, they are raised with Puppy Culture protocols (including ENS), and we spend a lot of time encouraging them to chase and tug on toys. For more about how we raise our puppies, please visit the "Puppies" page.
Before any other consideration, a dog must be healthy to be considered a breeding prospect. It simply does not matter if a dog is a fantastic sport dog or structurally beautiful, if their joints are not also good.
Health testing is different from a dog being vet-checked. As you can see, the hip (and elbow) joints are actually x-rayed and the views are then sent to the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA), where they are judges by a panel of specialists, and then an official score is given. These hips belong to our Furrari, who went OFA Excellent which is the best possible rating.
The passing ratings for hips are Fair, Good, and Excellent, and the passing score for elbows is simply Normal. You can also verify OFA health testing results on my dogs or any other dogs by visiting OFA's website and typing the dog's registered name in the search bar. For example, Furrari's registered name is Royal's Furrari Freedom Ride, and by searching her you will find all of her OFA recorded health testing, as well as results from her parents and offspring.
The White Swiss Shepherd Club of America (WSSCA) has set our CHIC (Canine Health Information Center) requirements to include testing for hips, elbows, cardiac, thyroid, eyes, and DNA testing for MDR1 and DM. Optional but recommended is dentition. The requirements for a CHIC number represent a fully health tested dog, but the minimum requirement accepted amongst breeders is to test for hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, MDR1 and DM. We are in the process of getting CHIC numbers on our own dogs - our Furrari only needs to complete eye testing to receive hers.
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, and with my graphic design skills and dog knowledge (obsession?), I am also the founder of the White Swiss Shepherd magazine known as WHITE SWISS WORLD. 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. Someday, I'd like to get into backpacking/overnight trips, but that hasn't happened yet. I am also a touch obsessed with photography...of dogs. That obsession also began when I got Athena, and spiraled my money into a dark hole of upgrades. Ha! Apparently I don't choose cheap hobbies!
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 truly 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.