Interview with Lem Miller of Joshua Kennels

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This is the third in a series of online interviews with some of the more influential breeders within the American Bulldog community. This breeder is Lem Miller of Joshua Kennels.

1) Q: What is the biggest Challenge facing your yard?

A: We breed our males to many bitches around the world so, out crosses are at times challenging because of the chances you take with someone else's line.
However, at times it is most rewarding as was with a litter in Germany that Joshua's Ol Southern White sired.If I'm not mistaken 5 or 6 pups out of the litter have won in conformation plus being outstanding prospects. But, with out crosses consistency becomes the challenge.

2) Q: Name the two or three most influential dogs in your scheme?

A:1.Joshua's Sand Valley Sam aka "Cowboy" OFA Excellent, UCDIII (2) Joshua's Shunammite, OFA Good, UCDIII and their son Joshua's Ol' Southern White aka "Josh" OFA Excellent, UCDIII. Also, Imperial Sheba Girl of Joshua, OFA Excellent, UCDIII can't go unmentioned.

3) Q: What is the biggest mistake people make when they start their own yard?

A: breeding to a bulldog that simply looks good before making sure the bulldog carries the true characteristics of a real ol' southern bulldog.
That is the reason for such a wide variety of temperaments, sizes and types in our breed.

4) Q: What are the major challenges we face as breeders/owners of ABs?

A: Gene pool is too narrow, which causes breeders to line and inbreed continually, even without realizing.

5) Q: What are the most frustrating and rewarding experiences you have had with the breed?

A: Frustrating is some trying to breed bulldogs to have the temperaments of Shepherds and Malinois'. Rewarding, is anytime you see a smile on someone's face while with their bulldog. For me personally when ol' Cowboy snatched a wild boar off his feet that was attacking me.

6) Q: What are your goals for the next 24 months? 60 months?

A: I'm trying to stay consistent. I have farmed out many bulldogs that I have breeding rights too, so hopefully, I'll be able to produce the type working bulldogs I like, (farm raised) for a long time.

7) Q: Can you tell us exactly what you are looking for in your bulldogs? We know you are a very active hog hunter, but is that the only qualities you look for?

A: Intelligence, working abilities (catch, trailing, protection etc.) conformation (doesn't cost anymore to own a beautiful bulldog), structure and with living in Florida, the ability to take the heat, etc.

8) Q: If you have a real powerhouse of a bulldog that when you hunt that dog, it does extreme damage to the hog to the point that the hog can't be taken out of the woods alive, do you continue to hunt that dog?

A: Wild hogs are one of the toughest beasts in the world and usually are in pretty good shape at the end of a fight. However, there have been times when the bulldog(s) will kill a hog during the fight but those are few and far between. The bulldogs that are extremely ruff, I train to catch on the cheek or jowls as we say. That eliminates them from maiming the hog. A true ol' time bulldog when catching will not rip, shake and tare like a APBT but seize and hold or as we say "go to sleep". So, if you have a real bulldog you don't have to worry about the damage most of the time because it would be minimal. The other important thing is to be close to the bay when you turn the bulldog loose then the fight will not last long before you toss the hog.

9) Q: Do you think line breeding and inbreeding are proper tools/methods for a productive breeding program? If so, do you use these methods, and how tight will you breed?

A: Line breeding with some inbreeding is the only way to develop a strain of dog, not the only way to have a good dog. Every pure breed of dog has experienced this process.
In the bible, God had Abraham (referred to as father Abraham by the Hebrew or Jewish race) marry his half sister then had Abraham's son Isaac marry Rebekah his first cousin and so forth. Good enough for God I'll try not to improve.
I have a strain of "Florida Cracker Cur" that I have had for many years. The foundation sire was extremely genetically sound, which can only be proven through time. I ended up with a litter that was 14/16ths the original sire with no genetic flaws. The male pups looked almost identical to the foundation sire. So, if your going to do this you better have an incredible foundation. Not likely to find in bulldogs after so much line breeding and inbreeding in the past 30 years.
With bulldogs we have to understand that this has been done from the beginning here in America. Just how many bulldogs do you think were brought from abroad? Especially since the 70's with bulldog greats Alan Scott and John D. Johnson. These 2 gentlemen started with great bulldogs (although too few) that they line bred and inbred. Now for 30 years almost every line read about on web or magazine are descendants of these few bulldogs. However, in the deep south there are still strains of Old Southern Bulldogs that do not have the contemporary lines of Scott or Johnson etc. in them. Bulldogs like the ones these great bulldog breeders started with. My personal opinion is simply this. We better be looking for outcrosses if we truly want the breed to last and continue with any type of working ability and good general health.

10) Q: List the ten most important attributes a bulldog must possess to be in your program?

A: Intelligence, temperament, structure, gameness, working ability, conformation, agility, speed, power and most important a desire to please. Then hopefully they will be good producers.

11) Q: Explain in detail how you test for these attributes and how results are evaluated?

A: We temperament test our pups first of all which will tell you the results of both intelligence and temperament. Naturally you want a smart stable pup. So picking a good pup is first and foremost. After the basic temperament test I look for a pup that will look me right in the eye when I'm talking to him. That shows a willingness to please. I want a pup that has good bone, extremely straight front and back, tight feet, tight reverse scissor bite, good pigment, straight elbows. good ear position (not houndy) and not hyper. I want my pups when I pick them up to be calm in my arms.
A true southern bulldog temperament is calm, quiet and confident and when asked to work then 100% commitment. For the southern rancher and farmer a bulldog that couldn't be calm & quiet in the back of a truck or behind a horse were quickly culled. I let the pups play tug with each other in order to find the gamest pup.I toss balls or use a rag on a string to find the prey in a pup. Then I make sure of boldness and his ability to deal with loud noises. I take a plastic bottle and place 8-10 pennies in it and shake it everytime I feed my pups so the very loud noise becomes a dinner bell. I don't have time or money for a gun shy bulldog. I then test for pain tolerance. I need a bulldog that can take the pain, if a cow stomps him or bad boar cuts him etc. No whimpy warriors! The pup I keep will catch his first pig at 11-12 weeks and will catch about the head. This will tell me if he's full of prey and a real bulldog prospect. It is simply a test and he'll not do much of it. Then at 5-6 months after he has his adult teeth, he is offered another opportunity to catch. This time on a 50-80lbs shoat of true wild stock. Now I will teach him to catch the jowls if I plan on keeping him for myself. A bulldog that catches the jowls will not get cut as often as bulldog that catches the ear. Reason, they can control the head better. I also sweep this pup back on the hogs body to teach him to lay against the hog. This will keep him from getting cut. A bulldog that stays out front will get cut regularly if he is used often. I also teach him that when I reach to grab the back legs of the hog to go to the front in order to stretch the hog out. This little move is quick and precise and will keep the hog from spinning on you. Most folks think that takes a lot of training, but I've found the good ones do it naturally. Now up to 1 year I am giving him plenty of opportunity to catch because it builds great confidence in a bulldog. Normally at one year I will game test my pup. I ask him to catch a wild boar that I know will whip him or a least give him the fight of his life. If he passes this test I know I have a bulldog that won't let me down in a bad situation. Catching wild boar can be very dangerous so you need to make sure your bulldogs willing to die for you. The good ones will never let you down, the more extreme it gets the more they wag their tail. They are the Quintessential Gladiators of the canine race!! Usually from 8-12 months I will x-ray my pups hips in order to find out if he is structurally sound then repeat at 2 years in order to certify the hips. I prefer the OFA method of evaluation.
If I am going to use my pup in protection work I will play tug and ball with the pup with some basic obedience up to one year but I begin the serious training after he is one year. I get questions all the time asking if a catch dog can do bite work etc. The good ones can and will. Not as well as the bulldogs that are being bred specifically for sport training, but oh yes, if you come in my home or yard there will be more than one bulldog that will bite you. As I have mentioned the modern day sport training breeder is after a different type temperament than I am but, both make good bulldogs, just different directions which is certainly ok!
As for conformation, time to mature is the important thing. Concerning the ability to produce, that is the hard part. I bred my first bulldog in 1967 and since that time there have been few who were good producers. Oh you can get a good pup now and then from most any breeding but I'm talking about a bulldog that is consistent with 80% of the pups.

12) Q: What are the signs that a young dog or a puppy will grow up into a good catch dog?

A: Bold and tenacious with a desire to never give up!

13) Q: How long have White English's been breed in the Southeast? Are there lines that are relatively pure reaching back over a hundred years?

A: I'm not old enough or smart enough to answer the first part of this question. However, in my book "American Bulldog Stories, Facts and Legends" there is a story in the book about a bulldog named "ol' Brag" who was owned by Perry Driggers in the 1920's. Brag was out of my Grandfathers stock. My grandmother told me of bulldogs she had, she was born in 1890. She said her father had them long before then. There are families in my county that have been farming since the early 1800's and many have told me they've always had bulldogs. The second part of your question has to do with the word relative. I think that is indeed the correct word. For I would not begin to say that any of these bulldogs are pure. For the simple fact that in times gone by accurate records were not kept and a good man would breed to a good dog sometimes regardless of breed. I know for a fact that the rough stock cowboy's of my area would cross. For instance if their "Cracker Cur" was not gritty enough they bred to a bulldog in order to get a pup with enough grit to stop a rank cow.
However, there are lines that are relatively pure. My "gyp" Joshua's Shunammite aka Baby is out of such a line. I believe there to be 80 plus years of breeding behind her of nothing but ol' southern white bulldogs or as some say "White English". Uncle Ralph a fine Christian man told me so, so, I believe him. I do know this for sure, she throws the most consistent litters of any of my females. She is a complete outcross to the contemporary bulldogs of today with no Scott or Johnson in her pedigree. At least not for 80 years I'm told.

14) Q: How important is gameness in a catch dog? Will gameness come into play to varying degrees depending on the boar being caught?

A: Just about any dog will fight a dog with the one that is the best winning. But a dog that will put his life on the line with an animal that may out weigh him as much as 600 plus lbs as was the case with the 705lbs. boar I and my son Joshua caught with a bulldog has to be game. So, in answer to your question gameness is extreeeeemely important and always comes in to play with a bad boar.

15) Q: Does it take a different type of dog to effectively catch cattle as opposed to catching wild boar?

A: No. Usually the cowboy, farmer, rancher wants the bulldog to do one or the other and not both. Because if your in the woods on a horse trying to find woods cattle and the bulldog comes across a hot track of a wild hog you've just lost your bulldog maybe for several hours. That can ruin a working day when your’e getting paid to find and round up cattle. However, Joshua's Tabatha and her sire Cowboy were very good at both. But, I could call them off cow or hog due to much time and experience.

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