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For The Betterment Of The Breed: An Interview With Jadem Mastiffs

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Tina & Todd of Jadem Mastiffs have been breeding big dogs for 23 years and Mastiffs for 16 years and are committed to doing everything they can to improve upon the health and longevity of the Mastiff breed.  Tina and Todd live on the north rim of the Snake River Canyon on sixty acres in the heart of beautiful Magic Valley Idaho and were kind enough to spend some time with me to share their thoughts on the breeding and raising of Mastiffs. 

“Strive to breed better for the betterment of the breed”

~Tina Woods, Jadem Mastiffs

Big Dog Mom:  How did you get started in dogs?

Tina:  I have grown up with big dogs my entire life.  My grandma bred Great Danes and my first litter of puppies was a Dane litter 23 years ago.

Todd:  I have been an avid horse breeder for over 30 years and was drawn into Mastiffs by Greiner Hall Nicholas.  I hold him as a wonderful example of the breed standard and everything that a Mastiff should be in type and substance.

Tina: I fell in love with GH Nicholas as well and sat on the waiting list for over 3 years before getting a Greiner Hall dog.  The Mastiff breed overall somewhat lacks in type, bone, and substance and their boys have it and are very dominant in it.

Big Dog Mom:  How many years have you been breeding and showing mastiffs or other big dogs?

Tina: I have been a breeder for 23 years; 16 years with mastiffs.  I have been showing mastiffs for 14 years.

Big Dog Mom:  What other breeds have you owned, bred or shown in the past?

Todd: Rottweiler, Mastiffs

Tina:  Great Danes, Mastiffs, Bulldog

Big Dog Mom:  How would you describe your breeding philosophy?

Tina & Todd:  Breeding for the betterment of the breed with health and longevity as top priorities.  We believe a house is not a home without a mastiff!

Big Dog Mom: What would you say has been your greatest achievement to date as it relates to your dogs?

Jadem Mastiffs MCOA Breeders Cup Award
Photo credit to Tina Woods of Jadem Mastiffs

Tina & Todd: Breeding consistency over time.  Moose and Oliver hands down are two of our biggest show achievements as they are still the top winning litter-mate brothers in mastiff history.  Moose (UKC BIS AM BIS MBISS PGCH Jadems Rythm-n-Boo, CGC TD) was the first mastiff in the country to receive the Platinum Grand Champion (PGCH) title!  In 2010, Moose took Best of Opposite Sex (BOS) at Nationals at the very young age of 17mo.  He won our Mastiff National Specialty in 2011 and He won Best Champion in the Tournament of Champions at our Mastiff National Specialty in 2012, the same year his litter mate brother, Oliver (BIS MBISS GGCH Jadems Oliver Twist, CGC TDI), won the national specialty.

Both Moose and Oliver have received numerous Best in specialty Shows (BIS) as well.  We were honored to receive the Mastiff Club of America’s (MCOA) Breeders Cup in 2011 and 2012.  Moose and Oliver’s litter (Cienna x Zahar) holds the record for the most champions (9) out of a single litter in history.  Cienna was featured in an AKC Breeder magazine for having the most champions in a single litter.

Big Dog Mom: Did either of you have a mentor when you started out?  If so, who? 

Tina: Yes, Steven and Leah Napotnik from Greiner Hall Mastiffs.

Todd:  My grandfather was my mentor and taught me a great deal about breeding quarter horses and understanding pedigrees.

Jadem Mastiff's Moose Big Dog Best In Show
Photo credit to Tina Woods of Jadem Mastiffs

Big Dog Mom: Can you tell me one or two things your mentor shared with you that made an impact on you as a breeder/dog owner? 

Tina: They taught me to learn the old school methods of line-breeding to hold consistencyLearn everything you can before making breeding decisions.  Most of all, they taught me the importance of education.

Todd:  My grandfather taught me to never stop learning and always breed for the betterment of the breed.

'...learn the old school methods of line-breeding to hold consistency... and to never stop learning...' Click to Tweet

Big Dog Mom: Switching gears a little bit.  Describe your expectations for people who adopt one of your puppies.

Tina & Todd: We prefer all puppies go to pet homes and expect that our puppies will be inside dogs and loved as members of the family.  Also, we pick the puppy for each family.  We don’t allow people to pick their puppy anymore.  The primary reason for this is that every puppy has a unique temperament and not every temperament is right for every home.  We try to carefully select which puppy goes into which home based on the puppy and what the family is looking for.   We have a waiting list, but people aren’t on there in any particular order.

Big Dog Mom: Tell me about your process of screening homes for the puppies you produce.  What are you looking for?  What are some deal breakers for you?

Oliver Twist Mastiff
Jadem’s Oliver Twist – Photo credit to Tina Woods of Jadem Mastiffs

Tina & Todd: We have a very comprehensive puppy questionnaire which helps us screen families.  One red flag for me is when people are overly focused on size.  People don’t necessarily have to have had a Mastiff before, they just need to be aware of what they are in for with a Mastiff; higher vet bills, slobber, shedding, will need a big vehicle, size, etc.  I [Tina] used to do home visits and bring one or two of my guys to see how people behaved around them and reacted to the slobber and hair, but now that is more difficult.  We use phone conversations, emails, Facebook, etc. to get to know people.  If I have any reservations, I do not move forward.

Big Dog Mom: Walk me through what you do for your puppies in terms of stimulation & socialization from birth until they leave for their new homes.

Tina:  I use a biosensor method called Early Neurological Stimulation starting on Day 3.  Yes, there is a genetic link with temperament, but it also starts in the whelping box.  Mastiff moms generally aren’t the greatest which allows us the opportunity to have a lot more one-on-one time with the puppies.  When their ears open we start with the slow desensitization of different sounds (vacuum, music, dogs barking, and use sound socialization CD’s which I play at different levels depending on their age.  We have other people and kids come over to handle and play with the puppies, we take them for several car rides to give them exposure to the car.  Our Mastiff puppies get lots of outside exploration time as well.  Also, we expose them to a variety of surfaces such as, (wood, tile, laminate flooring) and carpet so they can feel and get used to different textures.  I play Disney movies for the puppies so they can hear all the different sounds that would be heard in a home with kids.  We also give them baths several times and as needed.

We provide the puppies with numerous interactive toys (with different sounds, textures, movements, etc.), and items such as tunnels, tents, crates, etc.  With respect to temperament tests, there are several different methods out there.  We don’t use any one particular method. When I have done formal testing on a litter of puppies, it hasn’t really shown any more than what I already knew.

If a certain puppy is fearful or more insecure, I consider keeping him/her longer and until that fear/insecurity goes away.  I will also try to do more with a puppy, like that which will help to desensitize them and condition them to not be fearful or insecure.  In our last litter, we had one puppy who, when the vacuum came out, would hide behind the other puppies every time.  I kept that puppy two weeks longer than the others and he has had no issues in his new home.  He is a perfectly well-adjusted and confident boy.  Sometimes the puppies just develop at different speeds.

Big Dog Mom: What advice would you give to someone new to Mastiffs?

Tina & Todd: Just accept the slobber – it comes with the breed.  Also, always be your dog’s biggest advocate and voice for your dog with professionals (vets, specialists).

Jadem Mastiff's Moose Ad
Jadem’s Rythm-n-Boo (Moose) – Photo credit to Tina Woods of Jadem Mastiffs

Big Dog Mom: What advice would you give to someone new to breeding?

Tina & Todd:  As our mentors taught us, learn everything you possibly can; research different lines, talk to as many breeders as you can and develop relationships with other breeders to build a network.  Learn by other peoples’ mistakes.  Strive to breed better for the betterment of the breed.  And, most of all, BE PATIENT – don’t be in a hurry.  Take your time and learn everything you can. 

Strive to breed better for the betterment of the breed. And, most of all, BE PATIENT – don’t be in a hurry. Take your time and learn everything you can. Click to Tweet

Big Dog Mom: Do you have any specific resources you use for breeding/breed/dog-related information?

Tina & Todd:  Facebook, internet, all mastiff books, Veterinarian (especially our reproductive specialist), mentor or fellow breeder with more experience or who have been breeding longer.    The Facebook group Mastiff Health has been great for some health-related information as well.

Big Dog Mom: Tell me about your goals as a breeder?  Where would you like to see your breeding program in the next 5 – 10 years?  Where would you like to see the breed go in the next few years? 

Tina & Todd:  To continue to improve upon health and longevity and work to diminish genetic cancers.  We have to be getting closer to finding a genetic marker for a DNA test.  That DNA test could be used to screen and know which dogs are carriers with the gene for, say, osteosarcoma or lymphoma.  With that information, breeders could make decisions in their breeding program that would ultimately decrease the prevalence or eliminate those types of cancers in mastiffs. There is no reason, with as advanced as we are with other diseases and in other breeds, why this can’t be done.

Jadem Mastiffs - 2

There is the National Canine Cancer Foundation that is always looking for donations and DNA samples to be sent in from dogs with lymphoma and osteosarcoma so they are working on trying to find those markers.  Each breed is unique and has its own genetic makeup.  When you find a DNA marker in one breed, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it will be the marker in another breed.

A potential opportunity for garnering more information specific to cancer markers in Mastiffs would be to have our parent club, Mastiff Club of America (MCOA), work together and hire a lab [and they have these all over so it wouldn’t be that hard] that works along with the National Canine Cancer Foundation.  If the membership and mastiff community then donated to that laboratory to find these markers, it could absolutely be done!  They have DNA markers in humans for breast cancer and colon cancer.  The science is there!  We have to use science if we are going to get anywhere.

Todd:  We have to use the science to improve the science.  We need to get the club [MCOA] to focus on this.  In prior cases, such as finding a DNA marker for PRA [progressive retinal atrophy], the club worked together, there were tons of donations sent in, and we found that marker.  MCOA used one specific lab for this.  And now we have a marker that is recognized by all the labs.

In the case of Cystinuria, the club has been working with Penn State, but the marker that has been found is not approved by any other labs.  It is only specific to Penn State.  This brings up a few red flags and they have also found more than one marker for cystinuria.  For example, a dog can be DNA clear, but still, carry that gene that forms the stones.  There are so many unanswered questions as it relates to cystinuria, but it all comes down to funding.  If people would focus on that and if there was enough funding for a lab to research it, it can be done.   There is no reason we can’t find a marker for lymphoma.  It is the number one killer of this breed.  If everyone worked together, we could easily find a marker and have that DNA test available.  It’s just getting people to work together and make it a priority!

We have to use the science to improve the science. Click to Tweet

Big Dog Mom: Do we have a lab that could take this on?

Tina & Todd: The National Canine Cancer Foundation has labs they have worked with already that have a wealth of information.  For example, canine lymphoma is very different from human lymphoma.  And then, of course, it is different for each specific breed.

'If everyone worked together, we could easily find a marker and have that DNA test available. It’s just getting people to work together and make it a priority!' Click to Tweet

Big Dog Mom: Do they have a marker for lymphoma in other breeds? 

Tina & Todd: No, not for any type of cancer, unfortunately.  The challenge is that the money isn’t there.  If you compare this to horses and horse breeders, you can send in a few pieces of hair and get back a composite DNA panel with all of the diseases that plague the breed. There is no reason we can’t do the same thing in dogs.   Many diseases in quarter horses have been eliminated due to the extensive testing that is done.  There is a lot of money in horse breeding and huge numbers of donations that come in to the labs for research.  If we had this type of funding and research focused on finding a marker for, say, osteosarcoma, it could be done.

Big Dog Mom: Very interesting!  You’re giving me some great things to think about in terms of possibly how we could maybe raise funds for research.

Tina & Todd: Part of the problem with getting folks to donate money for research is that it is SO expensive to breed dogs.  When we do a breeding, we don’t know if we will even get a litter, let alone, the size of the litter.  For one litter, we are into the breeding at least $10,000 depending on the litter size.  Granted, we breed mastiffs, which are one of the more expensive breeds because they aren’t often allowed to breed on their own, who don’t often whelp on their own, so there is a lot more money and hands-on work involved.

When I bred my Dane litter, the dam had 14 puppies and she whelped them all and took care of them all by herself with very little human intervention whatsoever.  Danes are amazing moms.  I feel as though Mastiffs need to get back to that or they are going to die as a breed.  Ideally, Mastiffs would be able to breed naturally on their own, but, unfortunately, that is not the case today.  We need to help get them back to that.

Big Dog Mom: Has this been a progression in your opinion?  In other words, were mastiffs better able to breed on their own years ago?

Tina & Todd: Part of the problem is that we haven’t allowed them to do it.  I know some breeders still do natural breeding and natural whelping of mastiffs, but they generally don’t produce as many puppies on average.  We have tried to do natural breedings.  But so often the dogs just look at us as if to ask “now what are we supposed to do?”  We have tried an at-home AI [Artificial Insemination] kit twice, but getting the timing right proved very difficult for us.

Jadem Mastiffs Moose And Oliver
Photo credit to Tina Woods of Jadem Mastiffs

Big Dog Mom: What is the most rewarding and most challenging thing about being a dog breeder?

Tina & Todd: Hands down, the most rewarding part is the families and the joy that the puppy brings to them.  I love getting pictures and hearing stories from my families.  Our biggest challenge is that so many other breeders don’t do health testing.

Big Dog Mom: How does other breeders not health testing impact you?

Tina & Todd:   Despite the fact that we have extensive experience with Greiner Hall lines and they don’t health test, all of the dogs we have gotten from them or offspring of litters we have done with them have all been completely health tested and all of them have passed for every available test.  Even the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of these litters have been health tested and passed beautifully.  Because I am so familiar with those lines, I am comfortable using them.

With unfamiliar lines, it’s another story.  It is necessary to do line crosses for genetic diversity, but we struggle with finding what we are looking for in a fully health tested dog, not just partial testing.  Some people pick and choose what tests they do or others make excuses for why certain tests aren’t done.  For us, this raises red flags.

Health tests are wonderful tools that are available to breeders and there is no good reason not to use them.  You don’t have to base your breeding program on them, but you do need to take the information into consideration and breed forward selectively.

For example, if you have a dog with PPM [Persistent Pupillary Membranes], depending on the severity, you could choose to still breed him/her, but would want to breed with a clear so that eventually you would breed the PPM out of the line.  I have had one dog with iris-to-iris PPM and one of the requirements for breeding to him is that the female has to be CERF [Canine Eye Registration Foundation]  (now through The Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA)) clear.  On the other hand, a dog with PRA [Progressive Retinal Atrophy] is one that you would NOT breed.  By doing health tests, you can use these tools to improve your breeding program, the health and longevity of the puppies you produce and, ultimately, better the breed as a result.

“By doing health tests, you can use these tools to improve your breeding program, the health and longevity of the puppies you produce and, ultimately, better the breed as a result.”

Thank you again to Tina and Todd for their time and willingness to sit down with me for this interview. They are a wealth of information!  Here is a recap of some of the highlights…

  1. Breed for the betterment of the breed.  Period.    
  2. Breeders should begin desensitizing puppies starting on Day 3 to give them the very best start in life.
  3. Education is Key!
  4. Primary Goal: To improve upon health and longevity and work to diminish genetic cancers.  
  5. Breed clubs and members working together can make tremendous strides in the area of DNA research.  It has been done before, and when people are committed, can happen again!
  6. Health testing is a tool.  Comprehensive testing allows breeders to make more well-informed decisions for their breeding program.  

For more on Mastiffs and big dog ownership, read:

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