Sighthound Review Breeders Forum: Steve Fisher, Shylo Afghan Hounds and Greyhounds
Q: How did you start in dogs? When and how did you fall in love with your breed (or breeds), and how did you go about founding your current breeding program? Briefly outline the most important breeding decisions you made and identify the most successful dogs you have bred. Do you believe in linebreeding or outcrossing?
A: Dogs have always been a huge part of my life and as a child my family had Toy dogs, including Pekingese, Chihuahua, and even a show Shih-Tzu, shortly after their AKC recognition in 1969. I wanted a “big” dog and was able to obtain my first Afghan Hound in 1970 while I was still in high school. I named him “Sultan Allah Casbah” as I thought that an exotic dog deserved an exotic name. He also got a rhinestone collar. I took Sultan to a match, where I was disappointed to discover that his huge white blaze and bright yellow eyes (as seen in the photo) were going to get in the way of the career that I had envisioned for him.
I found my second Afghan through a newspaper ad and purchased him on a payment plan. I was sure that he’d have to be a great show dog as his father was the famous Ch. Tully’s Big John that I had seen in Dog World magazine. My parents didn’t want me to have another Afghan so I had to hide him in the tool shed for a few days and sneak him out for walks. Once the jig was up my parents made me return him, and when the couple refused to refund my deposit my mother took them to Small Claims court. She won, because they couldn’t enter into a contract with a minor. I remember being somewhat embarrassed by the whole situation, but it didn’t stop me.
From another ad in the paper I found my next Afghan, who was living in a chicken coop at the time. My parents liked Sheba and took care of her while I went off to college in Tallahassee. She was a bit feral, as might be expected of a chicken coop Afghan …
Me at age 17 in 1970 with my first Afghan, “Sultan.” He didn’t have much hair, but I did. Now it’s just the opposite.
Dog shows finally started to go my way in the late '70s when my best friend Bruce Clark and I found that we had very similar ideas about Afghan Hounds and Shylo was born. The first Shylo litters were whelped in the early '80s and we quickly became the most successful “new” kennel the breed had seen. We were the top Afghan breeders in the U.S. for 1986-1991 (cumulative) with 34 new champions. In the years since, we have bred 128 American champion Afghans and have bred, owned, and finished for others almost 160. This includes 5 all-breed Best in Show winners, 15 Specialty Best-in-Show winners, and 20 different Group winning Afghans.
When Bruce and I decided to start breeding Afghans, we agreed that the pathway for us would clearly be by crossing the two top sires of the time through their children. The sires were Ch. Coastwind Abraxas and Ch. Mecca’s Falstaff. Their pedigrees and followers were generally in opposing camps, so the plan to combine the two was frowned upon by many. The results were usually what we had hoped for and quite satisfying.
From the outset we’ve always believed that correct Afghan Hound movement was the essence of breed type. The goal has always been a lofty, easy, open gait. We’ve learned over the years that predictably breeding the kind of movement that we wanted was the most difficult challenge, because movement isn’t a quality unto itself, but rather the interplay of other qualities working together correctly. In other words, you can breed a beautiful mover to a beautiful mover, but if they don’t cross-fault well structurally you’re not likely to get beautiful movers.
Multiple SBIS Ch. Linmara Lucinda of Shylo (b.1981) with Steve.
Our foray into Greyhounds is a bit more recent, with our first Litter having been whelped in the late '80s. Through very limited breeding we’ve had quite a bit of success and have been the breeders of two National Specialty winners and two All-Breed Best-In-Show winners.
I’m approved to judge Afghan Hounds and Greyhounds and have had the great pleasure to judge the 2016 Afghan Hound Club of America National Specialty, the 2018 Sighthound Spectacular in Santa Barbara, and the Swedish Sighthound Club show (South) in 2016, among others.
Q: How many dogs do you keep at home? Approximately how many litters do you breed per year? Are you planning on maintaining this level of activity?
A: We currently have two Afghans and two Greyhounds in the kennel and two Chihuahuas and a Pug as house dogs. In recent years our breeding has been limited to a litter every year or two. Essentially just enough for us to maintain our pedigrees and have something to show periodically. How long we continue breeding and showing has been discussed a number of times in recent years. Since Bruce does the large majority of showing, our longevity as a show kennel is directly related to his energy level and enthusiasm. Although he is 68 years old his energy and enthusiasm still seem boundless. We have staff that can take care of the dogs, but the passion will likely be gone once we can no longer exhibit ourselves.
Multiple SBIS & Multiple Group-winning Ch. Shylo Sebastian of Patmar (b. 1984) with Bruce.
Q: Is it easy to find good homes for the puppies? What are your requirements for a suitable home? What's the average litter size in your breed/s? Terms for sales, co-ownerships, etc.? Is there an average price in your breed/s for a pet vs. show quality puppy?
A: Since we have puppies so infrequently we have an easy time finding good homes. Show puppies are almost exclusively placed with trusted, longtime friends or clients, and I can’t remember the last time that we actually received any money for a puppy. Finding pet homes is also easy in both Afghans and Greyhounds. We receive a couple of calls a month from people looking for a pet Afghan. Many have had Afghans for much of their lives and developed an affinity for the breed during the halcyon days of the '70s, like we did.
This demand for companions has made for the very desirable situation of easily finding homes for retired show dogs. In our minds this is a huge win-win for all involved. The dogs live out their lives as adored couch pets, the owners get a high-quality, beautifully bred dog at no cost, and we get to have dogs to show and have fun with, and then not have to worry about caring for them for the rest of their lives.
Q: What about health concerns in your breed/s? What do you test for?
A: Afghan Hounds are a pretty clean and healthy breed compared to many. We always x-ray hips, have eyes checked, and check for thyroid issues with any dogs that might be bred. With Greyhounds there is the concern of Canine Neuropathy, which we also test for. Additionally, Greyhounds are a breed quite prone to torsion and bloat. This tendency tends to be more common in some lines than others.
SBIS Ch. Shylo Darktown Strutter (b.1987) with Bruce.
Q: If you have kennel facilities, please describe them. Do you have property where the dogs can run? What is your daily "kennel routine" — sleeping, feeding, exercise, grooming, socialization, etc.? Road exercise? Show training? Do you have kennel help?
A: We live out in the country near Denver on 40 acres. We have a separate kennel building for the dogs and approx. 5,000 square feet of play yards covered with artificial turf. Since we keep so few dogs these days our routine is simple: as much outside time as daylight and the weather will allow. We do have kennel-help, but Bruce still prefers to be involved with the dog care to some degree.
Q: Approximately how many shows do you go to per year? How do you select those you show at? Are you willing to travel some distance for certain judges? Do you have favorite shows you attend no matter who's judging?
A: I don’t go to too many shows these days and when I do it is usually an Afghan Hound specialty or a few Colorado all-breed shows. A notable exception is the perennial favorite, Santa Barbara Kennel Club. Bruce is a member.
Bruce, on the other hand, still enjoys going to dog shows 20 or so weekends a year. He almost always drives these days, generally to Colorado and the surrounding states. The days of flying to dog shows with six or seven Afghans as excess baggage are no more.
SBIS & Multiple Group-winning Ch. Shylo Suspended (b. 2000) with Bruce.
Q: Roughly what percentage of the judges do you feel can offer a reliable assessment of your breed/s?
A: I think that the large majority of breeder-judges are capable of competent judging and generally do so. While there are some spectacular non-breeder judges, many are not well versed in the finer points of an Afghan or Greyhound, and in lieu of that will invariably defer to rewarding “safe”, middle-of-the-road dogs.
Q: If you are involved in any field or other performance activities, please tell us about them.
A: I’m afraid that all of our time and energy has always been focused on conformation.
Q: Please mention some dogs of your own breed/s, not currently being shown and not owned or bred by yourself, that you admire. Which is the best one you yourself have bred? Any favorites in the other Sighthound breeds?
A: I was fortunate to have seen the Greyhound Ch. Aroi Talk of the Blues (Punky), who was a lesson in side-gait. In Afghans there are several that were spectacular. Ch. Kabik’s The Challenger (Pepsi) was near the top, as was Ch. Coastwind Axinitra.
Of the dogs that we have bred, choosing the “best” one is difficult. The best quality was not the best Show Dog. Perhaps my favorite was an obscure dog that Bruce and I both adored and we never bred to, Ch. Shylo Sumatra. Another was Ch. Shylo Sassoon of Enigma Dreams.
My favorite Greyhound that we’ve bred is an easier choice: Ch. Shylo the Party Spot. From an inbred father/daughter breeding of two of our own top producers, she was a National Specialty winner and that rare combination of spectacular type and spectacular movement.
National SBIS & RBIS GCh. Shylo the Party Spot (b. 2010).