Breeder Spotlight – Piccolo’s Standard Poodles

Many of us start out bright eyed and bushytailed when it comes to breeding. But a true understanding of the nuances of breeding for the preservation of a breed comes with time. There is nothing more inspirational than reading the history of those who have come before us! The following blog post is from Evelyn Comer, long time Standard Poodle fancier and breeder.

What first sparked your passion for purebred dogs?

I grew up in an established successful sprint sled dog racing kennel so I was involved in breeding purpose-bred dogs from a very young age.  My parents began the Piccolo’s kennel in the 1970’s.  We raced and bred Alaskan Husky sled dogs from 1972-1996 winning numerous awards in ISDRA and the Mid-Atlantic Sled Dog Racing Association.  My first word was “dog”, and I was often found munching on dry dog food in the huge food bins as a child.  I won my first sled dog race at 4 years old and continued racing success for 12 years total.  

Sled dogs were great at their job, but they were not the best house companions so our family began our relationship with AKC Standard Poodles in 1975.  At 10 years old, I began training my brown Standard Poodle named Piccolo’s Eighties Lady in AKC obedience.  I earned my first AKC CD obedience title at 12 years old and first AKC CDX obedience title at 13 years old.  I helped deliver my first Poodle litter by myself as a young teenager.  With a focus on studying veterinary medicine, I worked in a couple veterinary clinics for several years.  

What is your breed(s)?  When did you start breeding?

I decided to continue the family tradition and begin searching for a brown Standard Poodle as a foundation female for a new line in 2005.  Piccolo’s Pretty Penny CDX RE TKN CGC Achiever Dog TDI VCX CHIC delivered her first litter in November 2008 which started my current Piccolo’s line.  Our kennel now includes myself, my husband Tom, and my mother Debbie Swartz.  This is our 16th year with our current line.  

Who was your mentor(s)?

My parents were my first mentors, and I learned about kennel management, canine nutrition, veterinary care, physical conditioning, genetic study, and canine behavior in our sled dog racing kennel.  My original obedience training mentor was Dr Sandra Woods of Black Magic Kennels in the 1990’s, but I’ve since also learned in the last decade from Jeannine Rash of Papillonia Dog Training Academy.  Through Facebook, I have been fortunate to connect with other respected breeders including Barbara Hoopes, Shirley Robertson, Bonnie Winings, and Lisa Kimberly Glick among others.  

Why was the kennel name of Piccolo chosen?

My parents came up with the name Piccolo because they were a small racing kennel. My grandfather was from Sicily and “piccolo” means little in Italian. I continue that tradition by being a small quality breeder.

We all grow and change as we learn more as breeders.  When you first began your program, what was your goal?

Originally, I focused on producing healthy brown Standard Poodle pets with excellent temperaments.  Drive and conformation were certainly areas of opportunity so that was my focus for several generations thereafter.  

What might you say is your focus for your breeding program now? How has your goal changed, and if it has, why has it?

As a breeder, you’re always trying to improve your line and contribute to the future of the breed.  Over the generations, I’ve concentrated on increasing performance drive, confidence, focus, health, and proper structure.  I want to see excellent temperament, solid energy level, perseverance in the face of challenges, and intelligence but not so wicked smart that the puppy bores easily.  I like to see food and/or toy drive, natural retrieving aptitude, biddability, and people focus.  I want an enthusiastic dog that is passionate about its job.  

I also want excellent health and proper structure to support all the fun activities a dog will do over a lifetime.  Solid conformation is imperative in any sport.  It reduces the risk of injury and allows the dog to perform more efficiently.  I’m passionate about health testing and research.  I test beyond the CHIC standards and all results are posted publicly on the OFA website.  I believe genetic diversity is important to reduce complex health disorders.  

Another goal of my program is to produce puppies ready for new experiences and trials in life.  We raise our puppies using Puppy Culture which includes socializing protocols, manding, emotional resilience exercises, problem solving, basic skills training, desensitization exercises, and environment enrichment.  We include Early Neurological Stimulation and Early Scent Introduction with neonates.  We expose the puppies to a novel item or challenge daily…they experience a huge variety from lots of different sounds to game bird wings to a huge ball pit to agility equipment.  We start puppies with early training including basic positions, body awareness, recall, agility basics, and potty training.  Basic grooming starts at a couple days old and the puppies experience the full grooming process many times with us.  We’ve noticed our raising protocols support confident, bright, social puppies that are ready for new activities and challenges.    

I want my breeding program to demonstrate the versatility of the Poodle breed from performance sports (including competitive obedience, coursing, rally, agility, nose work, trick dog, dock diving, Fast CAT, protection, disc dog, etc) to service and therapy work to snuggly companion pet while having proper structure to support an active long life.  I’m still passionate about bettering the brown Standard Poodle as there is a limited gene pool of quality dogs compared to other Poodle colors.  I love their fun personalities!  

Those of us who have bred a while know it can be a rocky road full of challenges.  Has there been a time in breeding you considered quitting?

Sure, I’ve experienced serious challenges…failing health tests, emergency c-sections at an ER vet in the middle of the night, sudden unexpected death of a young healthy dog, tube feeding an entire sick litter, key socialization loss from the pandemic, failed pregnancies, lost semen by courier, puppy developing a serious health issue, etc.  It is always scary when we care so much about our dogs.  But we breeders have the ability to help so many families by providing a loving companion.  The messages, photos, and updates from those special families help during times of struggle.  

What was one of your high points as a breeder?

I’m proud to demonstrate the versatility of the Poodle.  There are so few breeders that truly focus on the well-rounded dog that has success in performance sports, conformation ring, and service work.  I believe a dog should be able to go from performance sports to the conformation ring to snuggling on the couch during movie night.  It is always a high point when my puppies succeed in the show ring or provide independence for their handler through their service work.  I’m also proud of the way we raise our puppies.  I literally take off work for 2 months to raise a litter because our program is very demanding, but I know it pays off for the rest of each puppy’s life!  There is nothing better than watching your puppies truly validate the flexibility of this wonderful breed!  

In the years to come, when someone is writing the history of your breed, how would you like to be remembered?

I’d like for Piccolo’s Poodles to be remembered as contributing to the versatility of our breed by demonstrating success in performance sports, conformation ring, and service work.  I strive toward the reputation of healthy, versatile, confident puppies.  

We, obviously, are a company that empowers breeders to be conservators of their breed’s long term diversity and viability.  How do you use genetic diversity in your breeding program?

I’m passionate about bettering the brown Standard Poodle as there is a limited gene pool of quality dogs compared to other Poodle colors.  We VGL test every potential keeper puppy in each litter to aid in our final selection.  I’m always on the look out for quality stud dogs that fit my demanding criteria, and I run a test breeding on BetterBred for each possible match.  Sadly, I have turned away amazing dogs because even though they don’t look related on paper, the genetics are very close in brown Poodles.  Alternatively, occasionally a close match on paper ends up being a nice breeding genetically.  I believe genetic diversity is important to reduce complex health disorders.  

Since using BetterBred, have you had any exciting keepers you would like to brag about?

I’m currently on my third generation using BetterBred.  When I started using BetterBred, I had numbers like 0.20 OI and 0.16 IR.  Two generations later, my last keeper puppy Pixel is 0.28 OI and -0.20 IR.  Pixel is a smart, petite girl with great performance drive but a nice off switch to enjoy snuggles.  She has high prey drive and loves coursing, Fast CAT, and dock diving.  She also does well in obedience, rally, and tricks, plus she’s one win away from her Championship.  She is a nice solid dark brown color.  My litter sizes were around 5 puppies when I started using BetterBred while my latest litter born last week was 10 puppies.  Obviously, the goal is to produce more healthy puppies using the VGL tool.  

Do you have plans you’d like to share about your breeding program?

I’m always open to supporting puppy families that want to demonstrate the versatility of the Poodle breed in performance sports, conformation, hunting, and/or service and therapy work.  All my puppies come with a commitment to lifetime support, and I keep in touch with the families of all our puppies. I host early socialization outings, an annual summer pool party, and support families new to dog sports.  But in addition, I hope to continue to impact more families through breeding and showing mentorship.  I’m planning to open up our co-owner and Guardian home program a bit more in the coming years.  

And finally, do you have words of wisdom to impart on those who have not been in the breed for long?  Something you might have liked to have heard, or maybe should have heard?

Some random ideas:

-The top priority is the health of your puppy so always verify every health test of both parent dogs personally on the OFA website at least to CHIC standards.  A breeder should always be proud of the health testing completed on their dogs and be forthcoming with this information immediately.  Breeders should keep up on current health research and contribute whenever possible.  

-Start with the absolute best dog you can get and consider co-owning so you also get the support of an experienced breeder.  

-Don’t underestimate the impact of a good camera and proper lighting to get nice puppy photos.  When in doubt, hire a professional photographer.  Each dog is only in our life a short time, so cherish the memories and document the fun so you can look back after they are gone.  

-For those who are looking for a future puppy companion, do a lot of research and give yourself at least a year or two to explore options, build a relationship with your choice breeder, and prepare for your new puppy.  Be patient for the right puppy.  You are about to make a commitment for approximately the next dozen years so become an educated puppy buyer and ask a lot of questions.  

-Support the future of dog events.  Get involved in your local dog clubs.  Enter trials and volunteer at shows whenever you can.  Encourage Junior handlers and people new to dog sports.  Build a network of supportive dog enthusiasts that you can reach out to during times of uncertainty.  

-Responsible breeders should work together for the improvement of the breed, not tear each other down.  Let’s all support each other, celebrate our successes, and help during challenging times.  We all want our beloved purebred dogs to have a bright future.  We need more well-bred, healthy, sociable purebred dogs out there.   

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