James Smith sits with Ramona, a four-month-old Smooth Fox Terrier puppy.
James Smith’s idea of a perfect day is spent watching his dogs frolic in the afternoon sun.
The 71-year-old North Collins breeder has been raising show dogs for over 50 years. He was recently nominated as “Breeder of the Year” by the American Kennel Club.
Smith, whose specialty is Smooth Fox Terriers, will be up against seven other breeders in different categories (sporting, hound, working, toy, non-sporting and herding) for the prestigious title which will be awarded at the 2012 AKC/Eukanuba National Championship. The competition will be held on Dec. 15 and Dec. 16 in Orlando, Fla.
“From the seven of us, one will be chosen as Breeder of the Year,” said Smith, who also plans to show his dogs while he is at the national championship.
For someone who harbors a love for dogs, as a child, Smith had poor luck with them as pets.
“I grew up with a Doberman, but he died when I was away at summer camp in 1948,” he recalled. By the time Smith returned from camp, his parents had already acquired a Dalmatian puppy. Tragically, that dog died only a year and a half later.
When he and his family went to adopt a new Dalmatian, Smith noticed that the kennel was full of awards and ribbons from dog shows.
“It sort of intrigued me. I started looking into dog shows then,” he said.
Smith took his Dalmatian to compete in his first show in 1956. Though he was only 15 years old, Smith knew he discovered a passion that would last a lifetime.
Since his father was not as involved in the competitions, Smith’s dad found a family friend to take the teen back and forth to dog shows.
“His background was in terriers. I became enthralled by them,” Smith said.
An active, friendly breed, the Smooth Fox Terrier’s sleek coat is typically white with black and tan markings.
Smith said what attracts him to the terriers are their “independence and their cockiness.”
“They are very playful, but they are not demanding,” he said. “They won’t stand there with a ball in their mouth and keep hitting you so you throw it.”
Smith said that, while there is certainly a scientific way to approach breeding, it involves a lot of luck as well. His years of experience have given him a shrewd eye for what will make a good show dog.
“You need to know what you want and have an idea of what they’re supposed to be,” he said. He added that sometimes it takes him eight to 10 months before it is clear whether or not a developing puppy will meet AKC show standards. (Those who do not meet the requirements are adopted into good homes.)
“My biggest pleasure is watching them play,” said Smith, who also enjoys observing the dogs grow and evolve.
He said that breeding dogs is his “attempt as an artist.”
With another kennel in California, Smith depends on his dedicated staff to prepare his dogs for the ring.
“The real reason for my success is Donna Gabel (who runs his kennel in North Collins) and Eddie and Lesly Boyes (who are in charge of his California kennel),” he said
Even though his terriers are in good hands, Smith makes it a point to spend time at his kennels nearly every day.
Besides breeding and showing terriers, Smith is also a 26-year delegate for the Dalmatian Club of America and a representative for the Washington State Obedience Training Club. He is currently serving his third non-consecutive term as president of the American Fox Terrier Club, and once served as a board member for the AKC.
Though Smith’s dogs have placed Best in Show over 53 times in AKC regional and national competitions, he said it is not always the champion dogs that win his greatest affection.
“My favorites tend not to be the big show winners,” he said, adding that he places a greater priority on having a “sense of connection” with a dog instead of the awards it earns.
When it comes to Smith’s nomination as “Breeder of the Year,” he is pleased but humbled.
“Very honestly, there are other Smooth Fox Terrier breeders that I would place ahead of myself,” he said.
Whether or not he wins the award in December, Smith plans to continue breeding and showing dogs for many years to come.
Paraphrasing a breeder he admires, Smith said that “the satisfaction is wonderful if you win, but just seeing your dog in the ring is enough compensation.”