Interview with Ingmar Sioen, december 2008

 

by ELOY VERDU & Mª JOSE MANCEBO

Translation in Spanish:

Mr. José Luis López Banos & Yolanda

Credits: www.duvoboxers.com

 

1-                 Who is Ingmar Sioen?

 

Some may know me in person, some may have heard of me, some have never heard my name. I am the son of Johan Sioen and Mariette Poppe, founders of boxer kennel “Van Sapho’s Hoeve”, 30 years ago. I have lived between these beautiful dogs all my live and through my parents I was able to learn this astounding breed in detail. For the last 10 years or so all decisions concerning breeding are being taken after deliberation between me and my parents. So I can call myself a Boxer Breeder in the full sense of the word.

I also handle Boxers in the ring – both my own and others – and I am training Boxers. Mainly for IPO trials. Again: both my own and others. At the same time, here in Belgium, we have a boarding kennel for all breeds (even for cats!) and a small shop (food, toys...). This gives us the possibility to work independently financially. And finally, on our grounds we have an official IPO club, of which half of the members are Boxer owners. Lucky me!

 

2-                 Since when are you breeding Boxer and why?

 

I was born in 1977 and have lived between Boxers ever since. I do not know another life. To me, part of life is breeding Boxers and I want to emphasize that the help we get from my parents is still very important. They founded our “sister”-Boxerkennel “De la Finca Sapho” in Cervera del Maistre (Castellon, Spain).

 

3-                 What is the meaning/origin of Van Sapho’s Hoeve?

 

The first boxer my parents did own was called “Sapho”. “Hoeve” means “farmhouse”.

Sapho was a fawn female without white markings, closely bred on Witherford Hot Chestnut. For all kinds of reasons she left no traces in our breeding. 

As you can see the name of our spanish sisterkennel is as close a translation you can get, emphasizing the continuity in breeding.

 

 

4-                 What is your opinión about the actual breeding?

 

It really depends on the country. At this moment (2008), the situation in Belgium is not as good as it has been. The few established breeders we owned have somewhat lost their motivation or have stopped breeding: age and most certainly the cropping/docking ban played a mayor role. Now it is up to a new generation to prove they can follow the footsteps of this wonderful breeders. This will be most difficult.

The Netherlands and France are in a similar situation. Germany has lost its dominating position years ago. Italian breeders are holding on to their high quality breeding but at this point in time I fancy most the breedingwork that is going on in Spain and Russia. I hope that in both countries the breeders can stay focussed on their breeding and not get lost in the – all too human - trivialities of show- or club games. 

 

5-                 What do you think about the blood relationship in the breeding?

 

Close breeding is very important. It is necessary to fix and hold on to characteristics. Both in type in general as in matters of detail. This fixation needs time, it is a work of generations. It is even good to go far in this kind of breeding, but you must be aware of the risks and be prepared to take the consequences: you might end up with a lot of rubbish. But sometimes you get the high quality puppies you were looking for, the ones that carry the type you searched for. And you can be sure the females out of that combination will be good reproducers. For a breeder those females are fundamental.

To be clear: you can get excellent puppies out of open combinations too. No doubt. But here luck plays a far greater role. And the worth in terms of reproducers is a lot more questionable, unless of course one of the parents is part of a closely bred line.

 

6-                 Is it necessary to do open breeding?

 

Yes, of course. Breeding close over generations – even in the best of “blood”-lines –eventually will get you into (big) trouble. For by doing this you not only fix and reproduce the better points, but also (and often without knowing it) the negative points. At a certain point – if no “outcross” has been planned, or is planned too late in the scheme – this can mean the end of that line. Even very abrupt. You only have to study the history of the breed to find examples.

And even if the outcross (or more of them) is planned, you have to search very well. It is not enough to look for a male that has the characteristics ”your” line needs and is more or less similar with the type you want to hold on. You have to make sure this male comes from parents (or from a line) that transmits these characteristics. And even more: he should not show (or hide) some of the weaker points of your line. And these weaker points are always there!

That, of course is the theory and as a breeder you try to follow the principle as good as you can. In reality, nature will tell you if you played your cards well or not. In breeding deception is waiting around the next corner. But not always.

An interesting note, maybe: in discussions about breeding my parents, over the years, have come to stress more and more the importance of the quality of the Boxer you are line breeding to ( extremely few animals are worth line breeding to) and, secondly, the necessity to “open” the gene pool, before too many characteristics are lost for ever.

 

7-     Are the health tests necessary/important for you in breeding?

 

Ai..I was awaiting this question! To be clear from the start – and everybody knows my position, which is also the position of my parents: I am firmly opposed to every kind of obligation in breeding matters. The freedom of the breeder should only be restricted by his conscience. “Outside” information, especially scientific information and even more important, information from experienced colleague-breeders, is always welcome. But as “information” – not in a package of rules and obligations.

 

This being said: if a health problem occurs in the breed, a breeder can choose to ignore it or he can choose to take the steps he thinks necessary after he has informed himself.

The one who ignores the problem will run into trouble very soon. He will be “out of business”. Morally and otherwise. And so will his dogs.

The other one will struggle with the problem and overcome it sooner or later– depending on the nature of the problem. It is possible he will suffer big losses ( see for example the “axonopathy” problem in the UK population, 20 years ago!) and it is even possible the problem can only be held between boundaries, not being eradicated entirely.

In either case: compulsory testing and consequently exclusion will not help.

Voluntary testing – if there exist a reliable test! As for example in the case of axonopathy – will certainly help. For the individual breeder knows best – or should know! – his dogs and can, after testing, make the appropriate decision.

Voluntary testing – again, if there exist a reliable test!– is the only sure way, for here the breeder has no interest at all in manipulating his own results and consequent breeding decision.

Every imposed and compulsory testing – in dogs or anywhere for that matter – will inevitably lead to manipulation of results – or even worse: to the making of rules based on either corrupt data or on inadequacy of the test or, in the worst case, on a misinterpretation of the initial problem.

Up to this day, my father is convinced that Boxers can (of course) show problems in the hip region (although far more often in the knee-region), but that the entire “HD-institution” has been erected on extremely poor scientific theory formation, inadequate testing, inadequate interpretation of test results (we have results of the same x-ray in three different countries tested officially with three different results) and very naïve translation of this “results” (which he – and others- qualify as “self-fulfilling prophecies”) in breedingrules.

 

On the other hand, a problem we monitor very closely is the hart condition in the Boxer breed. Especially Subaortastenosis. For this is a real problem, sometimes a fatal one and most certainly a hereditary one.

We test our Boxer since about 1990. Far before any obligatory testing came into existing and far before the nature of the problem was known. In that period we had used frequently a beautiful Belgian male from outside our kennel. His children were excellent. But several died very young and many others rapidly showed signs of fatigue and remained thin. After exhausting research we were able to narrow down the possible causes to some kind of a hart problem. We – our vet and my parents - consequently set up a self defined testing scheme with a gradation of hartmurmors combined with the results of an electrocardiogram. No Doppler was available at that time.

At that time we were ridiculed both in Belgium and by officials of the German boxerclub, for “seeing ghosts”. Although we knew very well that cases of sudden death in young boxers occurred everywhere, in every country and in every “bloodline”. Only the English gave us support at that time. In short: we succeeded in diagnosing Subaortastenosis, learned to appreciate its grading and possible outcome. Some years later we found a vet who had bought a black and white Doppler machine from a hospital and were able to perform the more reliable Doppler testing. During those years this costs us a fortune, but it was a voluntary choice we made, we were present by every single test and retest ( 8 weeks, 26 weeks, and 52 weeks) and we could bring the problem in map. As a result we were able to master the problem on our breeding, far before the official clubs started shouting about “obligatory testing”.

 

The really immoral part of this compulsory testing debate, is that there exists one simple test (already mentioned by Frau Stockman) that can give a very good indication if an individual Boxer is fit enough to breed from. And it does cost nothing. (This of course is a problem for the vets, faculties, etc..). And the test – officially -already exists: let a dog run near a bicycle for20 km, let him rest for 10 minutes, and see how he consequently plays with you. Does he behave as before? Well, you can be pretty sure there is nothing wrong with his hips, knees, elbows, shoulders, spine, kidneys, hart, longs or liver. And if you want to be surer: repeat the test every six months. You do not need a vet, or a judge: you see for yourself. 

 

8-      What is your biggest challenge, now, as a breeder?

 

What it always has been: trying to breed Boxers of good quality, good type and construction and a true boxer personality.

That is difficult enough.

If I succeed in doing this, other things such as making a boxer up for a championtitle will follow – in time.

 

 

9-     Could you tell us your experience with natural short tale Boxerbreeding?

 

It is one of the most exciting – and scientifically sound – possibilities to keep the original Boxer (short tailed), that was given us by the research and the work of Dr. Bruce Cattanach, a professional geneticist and outstanding Boxerbreeder.

As most breeders did look upon the project as a simple cross between breeds and did not understand the underlying genetics (they didn’t want to or simply could not), it was almost impossible to have accepted the natural short tailed boxers.

Clubofficials were not ashamed to declare publicly they did not even want to look at them.

For the sake of simplicity they forgot for one moment that every breed is built on a mix of other “breeds”. Even our beloved Boxer. And this project was not even about a cross but about a very detailed and supervised (by the English KennelClub) attempt to introduce a well-defined gene (the one responsible for the shortness of the tail) into a known and controlled genepool.

Ofcourse, no one would have been interested in this project if the dog world in general and elected officials specifically had not accepted that Politics interfered with dog standards in the first place. It was their moral duty to stop this interference. They did not. As a result the actual Boxer standard is a Political Standard, no longer a cynological one. It is all the more cynical that the European legislation itself foresees in a note that the entire legislation can be officially ratified without the paragraph of the tail docking ban! Many countries have done so. It was cynological officials that went further than their own governments! Few people know this. Or should I say: most dog people do not care?

Anyway eversince I am left with one question, on which no Boxer men of –woman has give me an answer: If a Boxer with a long tail is so much better/nicer/more natural -why did no one keep long tailed boxers before the docking ban?

 

We were – and are – convinced we should give this project a chance. So we set up a separate program and made several combinations starting with a short tailed Norwegian male (originating from the Cattanach project) that was Spanish owned: Dahlina’s Lexus. A brindle male with white markings, short tailed, English lines and a true Boxer in every sense of the word. Lexus proved to be an able and very fertile male. We kept several of his children and grandchildren. Without anyone knowing these were naturally short tailed boxers, we entered some of them in expositions, both all breed and boxer specials, under all breed judges and under boxer specialists. Most were graded “excellent” and with one male we got “best junior in breed”, twice and under boxer specialists! This speaks for itself,doesn’t it?

Of course there were things we didn’t like. Just as with any other Boxer puppy. And no, the Big Champion was not (yet) in these litters from the seventh generation. But we felt we moved in the right direction. First we had to widen the gene pool (include all lines present in our kennel), secondly we had to continue selecting on type and expression ( try to get rid of some of the specific English traits – remember the project started with UK-boxers) and then, in a third and final phase, we could select specifically on the exact tail length. This was really what was breeding about: the first generations of Boxer breeders must have felt a similar excitement. Not the one outstanding puppy that would win it all, but the gradual moving into the direction you foresee.

Righ tat the moment we had some rather spectacular improvements in our last litters,we received the news that the FCI once again changed the standard. In all thei rwisdom the Germans had succeeded introducing a new line: natural short tailed boxers were to be disqualified! 

In anticipation we had delivered the Standard committee of the FCI, via its (now:former) President, a full and detailed rapport of the project: the science, the history, the progress, the difficulties, the possibilities, the future. Documented with pictures, X-rays, results, names of participating kennels (all of which were open for inspection, if so desired), etc.

Not one word. Just a dictate: disqualification. This is what is called Powerpolitics. And there is nothing that can be done about it. Or rather, there is. First of all, the project continues in America,UK, and Australia. Secondly: one could start a juridical procedure. Thirdly: you could go on with the project as standalone project without official documentation.

We discussed it all: nor my parents nor we have the energy (or the money!) to follow up either of the last two options. At this point we leave it to the “open countries” and have semen of a few of our best short tailed boxers frozen in. You never know.

 

And now I am stuck with a second question :

What was wrong with giving this project a chance?

Even if it would have been placed under supervision of the boxerclubs?

Isn’t this “ breeding”?

 

 

10-Is the character the same in natural short tailed boxers as in other boxers?

 

I did not notice any major difference in the behaviour of the dogs. The only thing that was obvious, was that the first combinations of natural short tale where done with English bloodlines. And as anyone knows, these Boxers are a slightly different temperament. Not as hard as the continental lines. This came through in these first combinations we did, but only in the first. And still, I talk about details, not of major differences.

To be clear: I’m convinced I could have passed the German ZTP with all of these natural short tailed boxers (except for the short tail of course).

 

 

11-What is for you a complete Boxer?

 

The appearance of an athlete, the behaviour of a perfect family member, and this very special expression...an expression that gives you the feeling to have found the companion you can tell your live to.

 

 

 

 

12- What are your preferred bloodlines and why?

 

First of all, I respect all breeders who achieved establishhing a distinct line of closebred quality Boxers ( the term “bloodline” is bit outdated, for blood has nothing to do with it). Especially those lines that can be followed on the mother-side and that keep on reproducing along this side. When speaking of “lines” nearly always it is understood: the line via the male-side. Female lines are underestimated. For example, if you look at the breedingprogram my parents did follow, you will notice that they always tried to hold on to the same type of female. And each time – for whatever reason – this type tended to slip away,several different males were used to “re-conquer” the type. (In reality, three different types, three different females were “used” to slowly mold the type they wanted – but that would be too long a story).

And for the male influence, one could say three major influences.

One: theFred/Plato van de Hazenberg component, in itself referring to one of the oldest belgian lines, “Van het Dennedaal”.

Two: as in every continental breeding theinfuence of Xanthos vom Bereler Ries, but maybe more so that of his son, “Bossvom Bereler Ries”.

And three: the dutch component firstly via “Bello” (wellknown in Spain) but especially via Bandolero.

And as a special outsider: “Carlo v. Sankt Barbara”.

 

 

13- Please, could you say the name of your best two boxers?

 

I would not be a boxer lover if I gave you only two names. So, even if you push me…I won’t give you two names. Sorry.

 

 

14- If you have a boxer in front of you, what are you looking for first of all?

 

The expression in the face. A split second after that: the whole boxer.

 

15- What is the worse defect in a Boxer?

 

I have lots of problems to accept a boxer if he is afraid. Still there is always the question: is this dog afraid from the start or is there a bad history behind him. The history of a dog is always part of his personality (the “why” he is what he is, or seems to be); this fact should always be remembered when looking at a dog.

It is very hard to see the beauty of a boxer if he/she is afraid.

 

16- What do you think about the Dog Beauty Shows?

 

At this moment I see it as a game: sometimes it is unbelievable what happens in a show ring.

I respect very much the idea to compare dogs and to look for the best. When this comparison is done with respect for the breed, I’m really positive on shows. Unfortunately there are way too many judges that simply have not enough experience with our wonderful breed.

The Atibox world dog show is very important for our breed, even when the judging is not always as it should be. The main thing is that this organisation gives us the chance to compare our own boxers to others, to see if there are interesting new dogs, to have an overall view on the quality, on the negative and the positive trends and to share information between breeders.

 

 

17- Do you think that it is necessary to get the IPO I before to be a Champion?

 

IPO is a sport, not a behaviour test.

In IPO there are exercises that go really against the standard of a boxer. Think about retrieving…our boxer is not a retriever. Does a Boxer champion need the quality to retrieve? No. Nevertheless: without a good retrieving behaviour you will not pass the obedience part and as a consequence not the IPO trial.

I train boxers for a living and still I say that this is a sport and that it has very little to do with breeding.

Of course, we can ask ourselves if a championtitle has anything to do with breeding of good boxers.

The books are full of “Champions” that have left no trace in the breed – and not because they had no matings…

 

Let’s take another example: you sell a good behaving nice puppy. For whatever reason the new owner does not give that puppy/young dog the socialisation/basic education it needs. A year later you see the young dog again. From a nice puppy he grew to be a very beautiful boxer but when you move to quickly or he hears a loud sudden sound, he shrinks.

You knew the puppy wasn’t like that when you sold it, and you even can guess what did go wrong. But with this two, or even with one of these behaviour traits he will never succeed an IPO trial, maybe not even a BH trial. And still for you, an experienced breeder: this Boxer is every bone a champion.

He is a champion and at the same time he will never be one.

And in the actual situation it is highly probable he will never mate, never have the chance to prove himself.

Sometimes in breeding the genes are more important then what you actually see, but you can only see a glimpse of the genes if you also have the knowledge of the history.

 

 

18- Do you think the best boxers are in the Beauty Dog Shows?

 

Maybe, maybe not. Maybe the best boxer of the moment is somewhere on a sofa…we can only speak about the dogs that we see, not about all boxers.

 

19- What is  your future project?

 

My future has changed a lot because of important changes in my life, especially the last year. At this moment I am only sure about one thing: the fact that as long as I am breeding boxers, I wil do my best to breed excellent Boxers.

Not sure about the fact if I will ever work again with one dog to achieve the top in working trials...lets say I don’t say no.

 

20- What advises do you give to the young people who begin in Boxerworld?

 

Never forget what the breeders before you did do, if you have the chance to listen to them and to learn…then learn.

No matter what is said about one or the other known breeder, always think what did he/she do for the breed…use this as a measure of his/her value.

Forget breeding to have champions, breed to breed good boxers. The rest will follow.

 

………………………………………………………………….

 

PS:

 

As I was trying to answer these questions, I received the news that Señor Manolo Izquierdo passed away.

I, together with my girlfriend Vicky and with my parents, want to express my condolences to his wife, his family and his friends.

We had the privilege to speak with him on several occasions and to be invited in his home.

And I mean: privilege.

This is the time all the Good and Big Words will be used. And they should be spoken. All of them. For he really was one of those men that – later – will be recalled as Monuments in the history of the Boxer.

From outside Spain it is easier to see: he was the man who made it possible for the Spanish breeders to take their Boxers to a level of quality that now is recognised all over the world.

Señor Manolo Izquierdo was a great man.

.........................................................................

 

"We want to show our gratitude to Mr. José Luis López Baños for without his help this interview would not have been possible.

Of course, I would like to thank to Mr. Ingmar Sioen and his family, all their time and effort that they have done to give us all the answers.”

 

       

ELOY VERDU & Mª JOSE MANCEBO

 

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