Why did I become a breeder? A personal story

Diting

I believe there are an infinite number of answers to this question. If I had been asked this question 4 years ago, my answer would have been completely different from what it is today. At that time, I thought it would be a great idea to get a Shar Pei, suitable for breeding, from China and contribute to the expansion of the low genetic diversity in Europe.

Every start is a beginning 

China
A farmer taking a break 

While living in China I had seen different Shar Peis, some with more wrinkles and some with less wrinkles and I had heard stories about the breed, from old farmers in the Yunnan countryside. I learned that a lot of what I thought I knew, was just isolated pieces of a much larger and complex puzzle.

I loved my little meatmouth Shar Pei, that I bought as a puppy, at a dog market in Kunming.  I thought it would be a good breeding goal to breed such a Shar Pei.  He was healthy and without the breed-typical diseases, which visually correspond to what is known and popular here in Europe.

Today I have to smile a bit about my naivety and acknowledge that a beginning is a beginning and every step on the path is important, because it leads to the next step.

A look at China

Awang
Awang, Ditings father

At that time, I had seen a lot of Shar Peis, in Europe and in China, but I often could not say more than "I like" or "I don't like" about each dog. I had also seen pictures of so-called “traditional” dogs from Hong Kong, which, with very few exceptions, did not look good to me.

Through a Chinese friend, I got in touch with Chinese breeders on the Chinese messenger program WeChat. At that point in time, there were only very loose contacts, with whom I could talk about one or two questions at a time. I had a lot of questions because I wanted to learn more and more about the breed.

I was fortunate to have contacted Matgo Law, from Hong Kong, a few years earlier. He was always very patient and answered my many questions in detail by email. He gave me a solid basic knowledge of the breed, for which I am incredibly grateful.

Matgo Law
Short meeting with Matgo Law in Milan 2019

In 2017, Matgo Law visited us in Switzerland for a week. Thanks to the many, intensive discussions we had, I felt I really understood the breed for the first time. Matgo Law was also one of the first people who motivated me to pursue my breeding concepts, goals and visions for the Shar Pei.  His advice is fundamental to me to this day.

I slowly began to build my knowledge in a serious and structured way. I knew that in order to understand more, I had to look to China, because there was a lot we just did not seem to know. In one of my conversations with Matgo Law, about Shar Peis in Yunnan, I told him about the stories shared by the old farmers and about the dogs I had seen. Matgo Law shared a story about the first dog show in Kunming, where he was a judge, and that he had asked those responsible there if there were Shar Peis in Yunnan. They said “no”.I promised Matgo Law that I would find out more about Shar Peis in South China, since we all seem to have far too little information.

Time of intensive studying

And that is exactly what I did. I have been in contact with all kinds of Shar Pei breeders in China, from Guangdong to Yunnan. I also got to know many local breeds, which visually seem to have had an influence on the various Shar Pei populations in southern China.

I spoke to Indian breeders of rare Indian breeds, one of which, known from ancient records, is descended from the Shar Pei, and had traveled to northern India via ancient trade routes.

China Shar Pei
PanHu with some members of the  Dali Shar Pei Club

I started reading dog evolutionary studies.  I read every Chinese study that delt with local breeds, their distribution and their ages.  To understand these studies, I had to gain a basic understanding of genetics. Since a solid basic genetic knowledge is indispensable for every breeder, it was twice as useful to me.

The more I read, the more I realized that I need to look at this project more scientifically. I asked the Chinese breeders more intensively and more specifically about various aspects of the breed.  I asked questions not only regarding history and culture, but also with regards to health, longevity and the breed standard. Collecting, comparing, evaluating and merging all this information and data into a larger picture was and is very time-consuming, but I found above all, that I really enjoy this work for the breed. Whenever you think you know a lot, new information emerges that sometimes rounds off the picture, sometimes changes it.

One of the most interesting aspects from the beginning, was the different appearance of the breed in China and in Europe and above all the very different health of the breed. Both the Chinese version and the European version were very important to understand from the current state of known knowledge and research.

Understanding the vastly different history of the breed in China, Hong Kong and the rest of the western world was very important to me, and I found, at times, a very emotional issue for some of the Chinese experts. I also found it was very important to understand what led to the sometimes very different developments.

Reflection

horsecoat
Little Dragon Girl, Ditings mother at a young age

In 2018 I thought about my original breeding idea for the first time and realized that my vision had changed due to everything I had learned up to that point. If I originally wanted to expand the genetic diversity here by importing a dog from China, it was now a different idea that I was pursuing.

I have spoken to many breeders in the world about what they do and why they do it and it was the older Chinese breeders that resonated with me.  They shared what was most important was their deep connection with the breed and the passion with which they pursued their goals, despite all the sometimes difficult circumstances.

The breeding scene in China is also diverse.  Ideas and visions vary from breeder to breeder, however, they all have one common goal: to protect the Shar Pei as a cultural asset in its original form. Supporting this idea with my small contribution gradually replaced my original motivation. Because the passion and connection that the older Chinese breeders feel for "their" breed has seized, touched and finally infected me.

China Shar Pei
Big Dragon, Ditings grandfather

I have already found and imported my female dog Diting. I brought her home to Switzerland in January 2019. At that time, I made the decision to register my kennel with the China Kennel Union (CKU). The reasons for this were varied, but the main reason was to assure the CKU of my support in their work to protect Chinese breeds.

In order to preserve and protect a breed, however, it takes more than just practical breeding knowledge. I see understanding of the breed as elementary, something that Matgo Law had taught me years ago.

In order to understand a breed, one not only has to know the history and the culture of the breed, but also the standard, which should be a fundamental tool of a breeder.

I learned a lot thanks to my Chinese friends. Not just a general knowledge of the breed, but a deep understanding of its roots. An understanding of the cultural value of the breed and a real understanding of the standard. Matgo Law once gave me the advice to read the FCI standard every day to really understand it.  This advice has proven very valuable.

Outlook

So far, I have been able to add many individual puzzle pieces to the picture, but there are still some missing that will certainly come with a little time. Some through further genetic studies and some through future real field research in China.

China Shar Pei
TV appearance in China in autumn 2019

Not only have I learned a lot in recent years, but I have also gained something priceless, my new friendships with people from all over the world, with whom I have an intense connection, due to our shared passion for this unique breed.

Later in 2019, I started searching for a male Shar Pei in China. I followed many dog matings and studied many pedigrees. I found my male, PanHu and I owe the fact that I got him to the warm-heartedness of his breeder, Huang ZhuHua.  Huang ZhuHua has become not only a friend, but also an important mentor to me.

His willingness in selling PanHu to me is a gesture that I will not forget anytime soon, and which is a clear sign of our future cooperation.  I promised myself that I would not disappoint the trust he has put in me by his show of support. 

Insight

Looking back on the last few years, I have learned an important lesson: never get stuck in your own thinking and incorporate all new knowledge in order to reflect and adapt your own breeding visions and goals.

Shar Pei China Panhu
PanHu

2020 was decisive. The pandemic has changed the lives of all of us, mixed up our plans and resulted in great personal losses worldwide. For me, 2020 meant that I have not yet been able to pick up my male dog. At first, I stood still, but it quickly became clear that this was also time that I could use positively. I keep learning, have stimulating conversations with befriended breeders in China and Europe, think flexibly, set myself the goal of never getting stuck and adapt to the current conditions.

Why did I become a breeder?

Everyone will probably answer the question differently.

For me, after a process of learning that has now taken several years, I clearly know why I want to continue pursuing my breeding plans. I would like to keep the passion and connection to the SharPei that I learned to experience through my Chinese friends.

I want to inspire others as much as I was inspired and because the Shar Pei is more than just a dog, it is a piece of culture!

 

 

 

 

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