When it comes to selecting a reputable breeder for a working line puppy, it is vital to ensure you’re working with someone who truly understands your training goals. You also need someone with experience who you can trust, with a proven track record of delivering reliable puppies that can be used for a number of working purposes.
Laurie McIntosh has been around dogs in a professional capacity for almost three decades. Whether it is training, competing or breeding, she can draw on a wealth of experience to provide exceptional guidance for anyone who requires a dog from working lines.
In this article, we explore the importance of puppy raising and building solid foundations. Laurie explains about the important fundamentals that are part of breeding a successful litter of working line puppies. She discusses how she became motivated to get into breeding, and which traits she feels are most important when assessing a new litter of puppies.
Laurie’s background in breeding
As you may be aware, Laurie actually started breeding German Shepherds in the early 1990s. She sold them to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), and although she enjoyed the experience of raising the puppies, the RCMP started their own breeding program. This meant that there was no longer a need to provide working line GSDs, so Laurie stopped.
As time progressed, Laurie started to acquire Belgian Malinois. She became more interested in competing in French Ring as opposed to breeding. Since her first French Ring competition in July 2007, Laurie has competed across the world, entering upwards of 100 competitions with five dogs – Asker, Myra, Mojito, Kaos and Kayenne.
In January 2019, Laurie attended the Master Dog Trainer program at the Main Campus of the School for Dog Trainers in Harmony, NC. During her six months at the School – accompanied by her three Malinois – staff at the facility started to notice their quality.
“When I first got there, the staff at Highland asked me incredulously, “you have how many Malinois?’,” explains Laurie. “Me and my three dogs lived together in a pretty confined space in my RV, and two of my dogs didn’t get along. The trainers at Highland told me afterwards that the fact that I could do that – plus the drive and confidence that my dogs had – meant that when they saw my dogs working, they wanted them. They knew they were good.”
Throughout her time at the school, the trainers continued to marvel at the quality of Laurie’s dogs. They admired the temperament, drive and work ethic they possessed. Eventually, it was the trainers at Highland Canine who were the main persuasive force that encouraged her into breeding.
After returning home to Canada, Laurie decided to move forward with the idea. A litter of puppies was born in 2020, and after spending time patiently raising the puppies and building their drive, focus and temperament, Laurie returned to Highland Canine – this time with four puppies in tow. They were each going to be evaluated to determine their suitability for working purposes as potential police K9s.
“You can make any Malinois bite, but you can’t make any Malinois environmentally solid unless you know what you’re doing”
Upon arriving at Highland Canine for the puppy evaluation, Laurie was understandably apprehensive. This was the first time her puppies would be truly evaluated – and this wouldn’t be just any evaluation. Jason Purgason and the team at Highland Canine have trained hundreds of working dogs over the past two decades.
“I was a nervous wreck,” says Laurie. “I didn’t know how many puppies they were going to take. I seriously expected to come home with two dogs. That was my lack of confidence.”
After the trainers put the puppies through their paces, the decision was made – and all four puppies were deemed as perfect candidates for various lines of police K9 work.
“When Jason took all four of the puppies, I was in tears – happy tears! I was in shock. Jason has high expectations for dogs. I’ve heard him talk about them at length. He has always said to me that you can make any Malinois bite, but you cannot make any Malinois environmentally stable unless you know what you’re doing; you only know what you’re doing by understanding the process. The success was based on good genetics and good foundations.”
The importance of genetics
Building a reliable and effective working dog doesn’t happen overnight. It takes years of experience to understand the process required to develop the desirable behaviors most working dog handlers are looking for – drive, determination, stability and – ultimately – being effective at the function the dog is trained to perform.
Laurie’s experience gives her a unique ability to raise working line puppies that have all of those attributes. The puppies chosen by Highland Canine have each been placed with police departments in the United States. Other puppies from the litter have gone to other disciplines, such as personal protection work. Her knowledge means she is able to discern which dogs may be a better fit for patrol work, or which might be better suited to search and rescue, and even which dogs may not be a good fit as working dogs at all. It’s all about being able to identify traits and behaviours, as Laurie details.
“Let me give you a couple of examples from the 2020 litter. There was a puppy who, to start with, we thought would make a great candidate for search and rescue. However, as we saw him develop, it became clear that his bite drive was really progressing. At that point, it makes more sense to continue to enhance that natural skill.
At the other end of the scale, there was only one puppy that I sold as a pet. We watched him closely, and by six weeks old, we could tell that he probably didn’t have the bite drive. He preferred to be hanging out with people. As a result, we decided to place him with an active retired couple as a pet. They love him, and it’s a perfect match. We just knew he wasn’t cut out for bite work.
At six weeks, we have a pretty good idea of which dogs are going to be best suited for which purpose.”
To some extent, a lot of the natural behavior of any dog is driven by its heritage. Good working line puppies are more likely to develop if you’re drawing from a strong genetic pool. Genes are an often overlooked aspect of working line development, particularly when dealing with less knowledgeable breeders. For this aspect, Laurie draws on her own knowledge and combines it with help from her decoy, Saul Garcia, of K9 Educate. Saul has assisted Laurie in training each of her Malinois, particularly in harnessing the skills required to be successful in French Ring and with protection dogs.
As Saul explains, knowing a dog’s history – understanding the health and behavior of its parents and grandparents – is vital when it comes to developing working line puppies.
“Genetics isn’t always a guarantee of anything, but if we know where the dog is coming from and what type of lines it has, it’s definitely easier to succeed. We can construct a training plan and set up a program because we have some idea of how that dog is going to develop and what it is going to need. That’s far easier than when you’re dealing with a dog, and you have no clue about their background.”
Building solid foundations
With good initial genes and an idea of what they might be suited for, Laurie moves onto the next stage – building those foundations and establishing environmental stability.
“Environmentals are the key. When you expose puppies to different environments, you get the chance to learn about them. Every time you take a dog out in a different place, you can learn something about them. You understand how they react and how confident they are.
With the 2020 litter, after they had received their first set of shots, I took them to places like my friend’s farm. The farm has other dogs and other animals, so you can see how the puppies react to those external influences. You also get to see how they deal with different terrain; the farm has a small creek. I took them as a pack, because in that pack mentality, they tend not be as fearful.
These are small things, but they are all factors that help to develop a well-rounded, dependable working dog.”
The process of developing those environmentals is constantly evolving, but Laurie explains that the key is to expose them to a number of new environments to create the necessary stability.
“Once they are old enough, we take them downtown,” says Laurie. “We walk on the pedestrianised streets. They’re soft, and there are no cars. There are also bars down there with lots of people. In fact , there is one bar that is completely pet-friendly, so we took them in there. With last year’s litter, there was a horse show, and I took them there too.
It’s all about variety to build up that environmental stability, which is absolutely essential to creating a reliable working dog.”
If you’re looking for a working line dog, it’s so important to do your research on breeders. You really have to evaluate if the breeder has the knowledge, expertise and processes in place to help meet your requirements – a reliable working dog, who can perform in any setting and in any situation.
With the puppies from last year’s litter now placed with police departments across the United States, it is clear that these puppies undergo the care, attention and development required to perform effectively in operational situations.
“Because of the success we have had, it really increased my confidence for this going forward,” says Laurie.
“Hearing amazing feedback from people like Jason Purgason – in addition to actually seeing my dogs graduate and be placed with police departments – it truly made me realise that I know what I’m doing. It wasn’t just luck.
I am so excited to work with our latest litter, and I can’t wait to see what they go on to achieve in their careers!”
For more information on working line puppies, or for further details of current and future Soldat d’Elite working line Malinois puppies, contact Laurie McIntosh on 1.403.710.9555 or firstname.lastname@example.org.