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The All Purpose Dog magazine

Interview with Charly Rola

The All Purpose Dog magazine

Interview w/ Charly Rola (Austria)

(April 2015)

Charly Rola, the founder of Austrian kennel Power Brothers, is not just an AmStaff breeder but an all around dog trainer. A big Ruffian fan, he’s been in the breed for over twenty years and emphasizes health and temperament. Recently got into training his dogs to do therapy work.

Q1. You’ve been involved in cynology for quite some time now, both showing and working with AmStaffs. Would you say that, in itself and compared to other breeds you worked with or observed during this time, the AmStaff is the All Purpose Dog? Which do you think are the activities they excell at?

The American Staffordshire Terrier is a good working dog but, compared to German Sheperd dogs, it is harder to train and takes more patience to work with. The AmStaff is not the right dog for cold weather activities such as mountain rescue, but is, otherwise, a universal dog. Their work ability also depends on the breeder. A working dog is tougher and that’s why socializing is very important. They need an experienced handler with enough stamina, who’s able to understand them and keep them in the right mood. The thing is that, with the right person that knows how to work with them, they’ll be ready for anything and will always give 100 percent. I already worked with many dogs and I also trained IPO with AmStaff and I’m pleased with their performance.

 But it is not a breed for anybody. Too many dogs are only bred for show in Europe – this is the trend – thus they’re considered a bit soft. Dogs that are too heavy are also trendy, but they should remain terriers in appearance and temperament.

Also, unfortunatelly, there are many sick dogs nowadays because breeding plans only consider the champion titles, with no interest in health. In other countries, the pedigrees are full of HD-0, ED-0, ataxia clear but I know of more than ten dogs that have been imported to Austria and could not be used because of their bad hips and elbows. Something happenned with the healthy dogs, many health results are forged this is why the breed’s starting to have all these issues and also a bad name. The AmStaff should be a terrier and not mutate to a heavy bulldog. The fact that they want to work is a very good trait of our dogs and they’re different from other working dogs in that they’re friendlier and more sincere.

Q2. Was it always your dream to work with dogs or is it something you got into with time, an acquired taste, so to speak? What are the specifics of  raising a working prospect puppy, compared to a pet one?

My childhood dream was to have a dog, but, given that we were seven kids in an apartment, this wasn’t possible. I had my first dog when I had my own apartment. It was a German Sheperd that I’ll never forget. I got into AmStaffs by chance. I saw a strong, very friendly dog, simply charismatic. It was the mother of my first female, Tough Guys Emely. She was a daughter of the famous Rowdytown’s Dick Tracy and her dam was White Rock/Hagele line. I had yet another successful dog, a White Rock Popeye son, he was a very tough dog with a distinct fighting instinct. I loved the two very much. Emely was an Inter Champion and the first female I used for breeding. She was the foundation of my show and working line. In 25 years, I bred about 700 dogs. All my dogs were tested for hip dysplasia, which is the reason why all of them were healthy. The difference between a pet/family dog and a working dog is visible from the very first weeks. Every litter has different characters, I prefer to keep the more difficult dogs for myself. So I always had excellent working material. I continue to work with my dogs daily and, besides the ring training, I also train them for therapy work. I also worked as a dog trainer for several movies, dogs trained by me appeared in productions such as Bang Boom Bang, Tierarzt Dr. Engel , Medicopter and others. Looking back at the success I had, I consider this is the best breed for me, it matches my own character.

Q3. Most people get dogs because they make them feel better, be it simply mentally, with their presence or physically, by helping them have a healthier, more outdoorsy lifestyle. In other words, they find dogs therapeutical. But what’s it really like to have a (professional) therapy dog, both for their trainer and the persons that benefit from the therapy?

My opinion is that an AmStaff can’t be used generally as a therapy dog, like a labrador can. I think it can be used primarily for cancer patients for the simple reason because the AmStaff is the home’s antidepressant, for those patients that deal with the depression caused by learning their diagnosis and, on the other hand, for the situations where the chemo treatment weakens their body and spirit. The dog brings joy and a feeling of mutual care, they don’t need to understand anything, in fact, just be there and support humans with their love. The AmStaffs are very loving dogs that can cure a sick person, if only through this support that gives people a new perspective and meaning. For instance, a friend of mine got diagnosed with final stage cancer, and the doctor told him he only had six months to live. When he got the dog from me, he was devastated and looked terrible because of the disease and chemo. I gave him a young male and, at his next doctor appointment, the latter was mindblown. He told him it was a medical miracle, couldn’t tell him how much he still had to live, but could be as much as fifteen years. I can’t say this was only the dog’s doing, but I see a connection.

Q4. That’s a touching story! I figure the “pairing“ between dog and patient also plays an important role? You mentioned earlier 700 dogs were born in your kennel. So matching dogs to prospective owners, according to the canine temperament, human lifestyle and resources, but also your own plans in breeding and working must have been quite the challenge. How do you pick the humans for your dogs?

It’s pretty easy, I see if people are the right ones or not from the first few minutes. There’s also the questions I ask. Besides people from abroad, everyone must visit us twice before taking their pup.

 My plan for the future is to breed less, but strong litters. Dogs with everything going for them, and also continue to pay very much attention to temperament and health testing. I’ll never be kennel blind or breed only according to pedigrees. That paper is important to us breeders but not to clients. They want what they think it’s best but the human must match  the dog so I advice some of them to go somewhere else or get a different breed. Not everybody’s fit for an AmStaff. We shouldn’t be naive or sweet talk people. The AmStaff is a fighter and it should stay that way. Some people’s time, schedule and attitude is not fit for an AmStaff so they should rather go for a Border Collie or a Cocker Spaniel.

There are really very few responsible breeders. Most of them just do it for personal recognition and fame. I keep saying this should come last. Some of the best breeders I met here in Europe are Salvatore Chicchelli and Sabrina Rampi. They were one of the best teams. He bred dogs with a very good understanding of what the AmStaff really is. The Ruffian line was already well known, but it was revived by him and Jody Petiach.

I could name several other people that, along the way, have been valuable friends to me: Ermanno Coradda,Paco Zanoia,Stefano Perego,Frans Diaz, and I’m sorry if I’m leaving anyone out but they are successful breeders anyway. There are also some that I can’t name, that think they have the best dogs but are actually trash. They don’t have healthy dogs, they only have beautiful dogs. And the beauty’s always in the eyes of the beholder.

One’s gotta have respect for the likes of Dick Pascoe, Richard Gray, Gigi Sager, Lisa Jenkins, folks that kept the heritage alive for us.

My purpose is to keep the breed alive in times like these. It’s important to me that the right humans get the right dogs. Sometimes it happens that pups stay with me until they’re six months old or even more, because the right person hadn’t come along, but they always came, after all.

I can say I gave the best I had to my dogs, hoping that people will regard them with respect. That’s the most important thing. Our dogs are great; unfortunatelly, many people are not.

Q5. Do you think there’s been a change in the way people see this breed, over the years? Seeing as today this is a very popular breed, what do prospective owners want and expect from an AmStaff, compared to back in the day?

I must say it changed a lot, it became much more known and, unfortunatelly, it also became a trendy breed which isn’t right because a lot of dogs end up with people that simply harm the breed because they’re overwhelmed by their terrier temper. But, overall, it’s better, because many good things came out of the bad publicity, like the fact that nowadays almost everybody knows that it’s always the human that causes most dog problems, because most problems are rooted in the bad maintenance of dogs and in the mismatch between dog and owner. I keep saying this: it’s not a dog for everybody, but in the right hands, it’s a great example of kindness and love towards their owner and everything around them. And, like with every other breed, there are more dominant specimens that should only be with proper people or remain with the more experienced breeder until the right one comes along. Why would someone breed dogs in the first place, if they didn’t have enough space and availability in case some dogs must return or be kept for a longer time? In that case, one shouldn’t breed this breed or any other. But there are  always unscrupulous people that just hand out the dog to the first person that comes along, just to get rid of them.  The AmStaff is bred by way too many amateurs that don’t have any idea what they’re doing, and this is a problem in the long run because it affects the breed’s health and image.

 Today, most of the AmStaffs are more social, and this is only because in their motherland USA, they were bred with care to eliminate the aggressive ones – because there is, in fact, a difference between drive and aggressivity. Probably dogs nowadays are less aggressive and we have the right selection made by several breeders to thank for that.

Q6. Aside from the temperament, what do you think changed in the breed over the years? You mentioned dogs nowadays being larger and heavier, but do you think there have also been overall improvements? And how about your own breeding program, what do you feel were the improvements that have been made, where structure and health are concerned?

The dogs got better overall, still, it’s just because we got our missing blood from the US. Indeed, in some cases, dogs got larger, but there always were larger dogs, that’s not exactly a problem, but the fact that many people breed without any consideration for anything, sick and non conforming specimens – I don’t want to name examples but there are tons.

Also my breeding plans are influenced by the USA, more specifically the old lines that fomed the breed – the Ruffian dogs – but I believe there aren’t other options, the standard must remain the same and we must always remember we’re talking about terriers not American bulldogs. What I breed is by default health checked, without exception, this is the direction I always followed – to breed healthy dogs, fit for many activities.

The AmStaff is a dog with many qualities, unfortunatelly people nowadays changed and they call themselves breeders just for mating two random dogs. The popularity harm the breed, yet we have more good breeders than before. I foresee a future for our breed, it will definitely get better and, as per usual, the healthy dogs will prevail and the old blood will act to preserve and sustain the breed. If breeders, in their ignorance and arrogance, reach a dead end, we’ll be glad there’s still the old blood we can all fall back on.

Q7. What about mentorship’s role in preserving the breed? Do you think nowadays, with all the technology, information available and easy communication between people, new, aspiring breeders count on mentors as much as before?

 Mentors still play an important role, they are the models of successful breeding plans and the preservation of the breed type, as well as a guide for newcomers. The example they should set is that of people who understand that this breed is not just for show, and this can’t be done by those that don’t value this breed, but only see it as a source of income. It is absolutely essential to train the dog in many disciplines, so that the public image that is built is that of a useful dog. The communication through Facebook and the Internet, generally, is very helpful in this respect. Kennels like Esoteric AmStaffs, that are successfully involved in several working and sporting activities, should lead the way for other breeders. There is now increasing emphasis on the dogs to be good ambassadors fighting successfully against prejudice. Unfortunatelly, there are many breeders that breed specimens that can significantly damage the breed’s public image, because they do not care about these things. The AmStaff should remain a terrier and not a bulldog, both in their appearance and in their behaviour. The shows in some of the European countries are damaging to the breed, because the standard is often wrongly interpreted by judges that don’t have a clue – this is how undeserving dogs get their titles and then, of course, these specimens are used for breeding. Also, there is too little emphasis on the hips and generally the health of breeding AmStaffs.

Q8. You are one of the founders of the recently established World Ruffian Club – can you tell us more about it, its goals and expectations? Speaking of mentorship, does the Club also intend to organise breed seminars and other events for aspiring breeders to get a better understanding of this particular bloodline from knowledgeable old fanciers?

The Ruffian World Club is something like a counter-movement against today’s random breeding where it is all about appearance and success in the show ring, while health and function no longer play a role. Everyone should breed to the best of his knowledge, but always take into consideration the health of the dogs meant for breeding.

Pure Ruffian is a debatable term, but what is most important are the old dogs, their blood lines, because those preserve the original breed.  I dont breed for trends, I breed for the preservation of the old gene pool, experimenting in this direction only.

I do not believe in pedigrees  from countries where there is nothing but HD-A,  when, in fact, there are entire litters with bad hips. There is something wrong and it has to do with corruption.

Once time allows us to, we will of course organise seminars and shows conferences , which would help more people understand better the importance of going back to the origins of this breed. It is very important this is understood, because the breeders are divided into two camps: there are countries where the AmStaff has absolutely nothing to do with the dog he should be.  You do not go with the times, there is no fashion trend, there’s just the standard that dictates how our dogs should be.  will not give names because as a human being I think everyone has the right to do what they think it’s right. But the real success and fulfillment doesn’t come from shows, but it’s measured by the age a dog reaches in good health and the way people live day by day, happily, next to their dogs.  What good is the most beautiful dog when theirs or their parents‘ health tests have been tampered with? Ataxia clear is very important for breeders who can’t or refuse to understand, while the carrier dog is as healthy as the free. It is much overrated, much misrepresented, there are only a few that deserve to be called breeders. Also, we witness aggressive behaviour in the show ring and some simply breed those dogs however they want. Dogs are being merchandised up to the point where a whole litter is imported from one country to another for a few hundred bucks because they’re worth nothing in their land of birth. Sick, not properly dewormed or unvaccinated dogs come to Austria, for example. They are sick all together. None of these dogs were ever bred here because the HD ED results were disastrous. That’s why we founded the club, to inform people about how things are supposed to be done.

Q9. How are the shows in Austria, regarding the competition and what judges look for? Especially since cropping has been forbidden for quite some time. And how is it for you to show your dogs? How do you combine working and showing the same dog, for instance?

The shows are important but not the most important. I think my breedings are gonna produce many good show dogs, I just don’t breed for trends. And there are good judges that prefer the right type.

Showing and working are easy to combine because the show training requires the dog to know things that he has to know in order to work as well. So there is no difference, I’m working with Lobotown Puppy for IPO just like with any other dog.

Regarding the choice of a show puppy, I’m interested in the dog mirroring the pedigree they have. I know the line very well and I always expect the most outstanding dogs to come out of it.

Roxi Ruffian Joanidis

The ear cropping is forbidden in Austria since 2008 but it has no effect on the quality of the dogs. On the contrary, a good dog is a good dog with natural ears as well. I also have cropped dogs but they come from abroad.

Q10. Speaking of ear cropping, this falls in the larger category of anti-cruelty towards animals law – how is the Austrian law regarding AmStaffs? Is there some sort of BSL, are they considered dangerous dogs? And if so, does it affect you, primarily as an owner of such dogs; did you ever feel discriminated against by fellow citizens for having AmStaffs?

I don’t feel discriminated in the public space because of my dogs, I go out with them just fine. I worked as an animal trainer for movies and I was always welcomed. I always do my best in order to make the public appearance of my dogs a positive one, so I feel rather admired than discriminated against. From one county to another, the laws regarding owning dogs are different. In Vienna, there are inspections conducted by authorities because there are many dogs which, because of their poor quality give the breed a bad name – dogs imported from Serbia and the East. In such a big city, this sort of problems are normal. There’s a list of breeds deemed dangerous, but in reality it’s just the opposite. People are very aware of these issues, for where there’s much light, the shadow is deep. There’s been a lot of public debate on this and obviously the positive things about the breed came out, and the fact that there are people that harm their reputation everywhere.

Q11. You have quite a few stud dogs in your kennel. Do you have some criteria – from health tests to bloodlines – for the bitches they breed outside your kennel, and if so, what are they?

Whether it’s dogs in or outside my kennel, I have the same rules: no breeding without testing! I always inquire about the female’s tests before moving forward. I don’t breed unless they’re right for each other – no exception. I breed White Rock and Ruffian dogs. White Rock line dogs don’t necessarily have to be pure Ruffian. Ox Bomber produced some really good dogs – see Frans Diaz’s case.

In my own breeding program, I emphasize the old breed and old lines, to which I pay tribute by trying to continue the development of this old blood. This kind of dogs are the best and most healthy for me.

I love my dogs more than anything, I spend a lot of time with them, my day is scheduled around them. They need me like I need them. That’s why I work with them a lot, because they want to keep busy too. When there are several dogs, each of them needs a special routine. They free me of the day to day problems and they take up all of my life.

Q12. Different countries have different regulations about the minimum breeding age. As a breeder, when are you usually convinced that all your expectations regarding them were met – in other words, when does a dog prove breeding worthy?

 After the age of 18 months for females, and the age when we can diagnose HD ED – so about 15 months, for males. It always comes down to health, not just show. Show is important too, but what good is the most beautiful dog if you don’t know whether they’re healthy or not? That and it’s also a matter of being convinced they’re good quality and good representations of their line and pedigree – it’s a matter of principle for me. My clients are my future friends so for me it’s normal to only give them the best I can.

Q13. Nowadays many of us are shocked at the very large, continuously increasing number of puppies and litters registered across Europe, especially considering that the vast majority is represented by either commercial, non-health-tested or simply breedings that aren’t part of a long term plan. You currently have a pretty large breeding stock, but how did you start in this adventure as a breeder? Can you tell us more about the breeding plans and dogs you started with?

That is true, there are many dogs being bred, but a lot of them get to good homes where they’re kept as members of the family. This says a lot about the breed, the fact they’ve become so integrated in our society.

 Back when I started, things were a bit different, I didn’t understand so many things. The experiences most AmStaff owners have are different, just like the human characters.

The AmStaffs are naturally sentient animals, often misunderstood. That’s why the AmStaff isn’t  a dog for anybody. For the future, I plan to continue to analyze what’s best and where it comes from and not breed a lot, but breed with thought.

Q14. You’ve been invited to judge a fun show in France soon. After breeding and working with dogs, what are your expectations regarding judging? And what will you be looking for?

I am very honoured by the fact that people trust me to judge their dogs. I think this is due to the fact that I like oldfashioned dogs like you can see my own are as well. My dogs prefer working to showing. For the future of our breed, I hope there will be young people willing to forward our work with the old lines. They are and forever will be the root of our breed, that’s why it’s important to maintain them.

The modern breeding is headed to a dead end. The old blood got too diluted through matings made exclusively based on champion titles, and it can’t easily be found in the modern lines. The temperament took the hardest fall, the dogs are more compliant, but this still shouldn’t be a breed for anybody. That’s why today we must fight corruption and politics. Then there are people that don’t care about the breed, only about selling profitable show dogs. The shows encourage this, thus are the death of the AmStaff type as we know it. I hope more and more people that understand the beauty of having something special like a Ruffian bitch with a great pedigree will come forward.

I always liked the White Rock line, of dogs that shine with type and beauty. But are White Rock (which happens to be Ruffian as well) and Ruffian and any other old line worth keeping in a world where old school has no value anymore? We must learn, out of respect for those who dedicated their entire life to obtaining and maintaining the old blood clean and healthy.

When my work as a breeder will end, I’ll continue to serve the cause, to help clarify things, to help young breeders establish themselves in an environment where things are going in the wrong direction.

It’s difficult to evaluate a dog one only gets to see for a short time. Experience makes the difference in this, because only someone who has an AmStaff at home can judge them correctly. That’s why the rating a dog gets in the ring is not part of my criteria. I don’t wanna become a FCI judge, I can’t help with these things. If there will be something for me to do, it will be a platform to explain how to work with an AST. I’m sure many people would be interested in getting advice from someone experienced with this breed. We can’t change the world, we can only see that our community and things around us are all right. I myself have dogs that will keep me busy for many years to come, so my place is right there with them.

Q15.  Do you plan to further pursue judging, maybe even as a FCI judge? Thank you very much for your time and knowledge.

Thank you for your questions, hope I could help a bit in creating a proper picture of this breed. Nope, I won’t become a FCI judge. Greetings from Austria!