The roots of this article were planted well before I had the opportunity to interview Nancy and John Miner of Miners Kennels and High Times Golden Retrievers. I was trying to find contact information for the 2010 AKC National Obedience Championship winner, Kathleen Rasinowich-Platt, and her dog NOC OTCH High Times Ris’n Above the Tide UDX13, OGM, RE, CGC “Buoy” so I could interview them for Retriever Life. Nancy was Buoy’s breeder so she was able to help me get hold of Kathleen. After I spoke with Kathleen, she and Buoy became the subject of our feature article “The Tao Of The Dog” in our April 2011 issue. I told Nancy that I wanted to talk to her more about her High Times Golden Retrievers for a future Retriever Life issue as I just knew there would be some interesting “tails” from Nancy.
Great dog breeders are artists and developing a great line of retrievers takes passion, dedication, integrity, patience, experience, and even a bit of luck. Yes, there is a lot of science involved (health clearances, DNA tests, line breeding vs. out cross, artificial insemination, etc.) which comes into play when planning a given breeding, but the ability to take all of that information and have the foresight to know that this breeding will somehow improve on an existing line (the goal of any breeder worth their salt) takes an artist. Nancy Miner is one of those rare individuals that can instinctively create breedings that consistently improve upon her foundation of High Times Golden Retrievers.
Admittedly, I was somewhat intimidated about interviewing Nancy because I knew she had been breeding a long time and that there would be a ton of information coming at me through the phone. I was not disappointed. At times it felt like I was drinking from a fire hose but I thirsted for more.
Nancy Miner’s fascination with Golden Retrievers began as a bright eyed 18 year old sitting in her living room on a cold November day. She watched two big yellow dogs playing outside and Nancy vowed to one day own a dog just like those dogs. Nancy’s keen eye for great dogs was already peeking through as these dogs turned out to be Indian Knoll’s Candy and her son Brutus. Indian Knoll Kennels was established in 1942 by Dr. & Mrs. M.E. Long and is considered one of the great kennels in Golden Retriever history.
It was not until two years later that Nancy got her first Golden Retriever – Bobby Of Sleepy Hollow. Like many of us she got her first dog from an advertisement in the newspaper. No matter what Nancy did, Bobby would not retrieve. So Nancy called her vet to see if he could help her get some help training her new Golden. Her vet got her in touch with the Golden Retriever Club Of Illinois who, in turn, got her in touch with Richard Kerns of Bonnie Brooks Kennels in Illinois. Bonnie Brooks was established in 1962 by Richard and was one of the premier kennels of its day. Bonnie Brooks founding sire was Jolly Again Of Quilmette*** (All Age Pointed). His sire, Holway Stubblesdown Jolly*** is from the famed Holway Kennel in England, who is from the most awesome Dual Ch.Stubblesdown Golden Lass. Every one of these great dogs are behind ALL of the High Times pedigrees and they appear in Luke’s pedigree many times over (more about Luke later).
That phone call led to a mentoring relationship between Richard and Nancy whose impact on Nancy’s career in Golden Retrievers is immeasurable and Richard’s influence still guides her training and breeding program today. Richard not only taught her how to train her dogs, but also about breeding ethics and the importance of being honest with yourself and your dogs.
The Early Dogs
To capture all of the great dogs at High Times Golden Retrievers would cover a lot of space given that Nancy has bred 60 + Master Hunters, 20 of which are also Field Trial All-Age Qualifiers. There are also 20 Obedience Trial Champions (including the aforementioned 2010 AKC National Obedience Champion “Buoy”) and a number of MACHs! And the list goes on!
Nancy bought Bonnie Brook’s Danny *** CD from Bonnie Brook in 1967 for $125.00. She had to make payments to Richard because that was a lot of money for a dog back then! Danny was an excellent retriever and Nancy trained him to an Open All-Age Qualified dog as well as his Companion Dog title. After Danny got his All-Age Qualification he was diagnosed with hip dysplasia. Back then, cutting the pectineus muscle to relieve the strain was a standard solution for helping with hip dysplasia and, after Danny’s operation, his field trial career was unfortunately finished.
One great Danny story is a training day that Nancy will never forget! She was pregnant with her second daughter, Bridget (Carlsen), and apparently Nancy’s pregnancy was a bit farther a long than she realized. She sent Danny on a water blind only to have her training partner, Helen Kerns, alert her that it looked like her water had broken! Nancy was surprised by this turn of events and whistled Danny back, after he completed his blind retrieve, of course. Nancy packed up my training gear and took everything home. She grabbed her hospital bag, drove herself to the hospital and delivered Bridget. Bridget was destined to enter the family business because, three days later, Nancy was back in the field training Danny with Bridget at her side!
A New Beginning
John and Nancy met in 1976 because of a mutual interest in Retrievers and Retriever training. John came to Nancy in search of a hunting dog. Although her Danny was ederly and long retired from competition he still had a glint in his eyes whenever there were birds around. Nancy thought Danny might make a perfect hunting dog for John so she suggested that John take him for the hunting season. John jumped at the opportunity to get such a nice hunting partner. On many occasions Nancy also hunted with John and Danny. John and Nancy enjoyed their time together so much that love bloomed and they were married 1977. John got himself a ready made family Nancy’s two daughters and several goldens!
John wanted to try his hand at field trialing and was ready for his first field trial dog. A nice Bonnie Brooks linebred litter was born to Chances R Milady (owned by Nona Bauer) and Bonniebrooks Mortimer (owned by Richard Kerns). There was one lonely left over four month old puppy that Nancy and John liked. They aquired Luke from Nona because he was line breeding on Bonnie Brooks lines and Mortimer was a dog that John and Nancy had long admired. This puppy became Chances R Cool Hand Luke *** CDX MH “Luke”. Luke won his first Derby at 13 months and the rest became history. He was on the National Derby List; Open All Age Qualified at under 3 years after he received a Judges Award Of Merit (JAM) at an Amateur All Age event; and Luke attained his Master Hunter title at the ripe old age of 12 1/2! An outstanding sire many times over, he produced some great retrievers including High Times Booker T *** MH, High Times Denny’s Trooper *** MH.
Luke’s great grandson, High Times Run’n The Roost *** UD MH “Rooster” has produced 30 Master Hunters making him one of the top producing sires in breed history. The influence of Luke is seen in many pedigrees of hunting Golden Retrievers. When Nancy and John speak of Luke you can tell that he holds a very special place in their hearts.
With Luke, High Times Golden Retrievers was born. I asked Nancy how she and John came up with the “High Times” kennel name and she told me that they were young and surrounded by the all of the things they loved – their daughters Tammy and Bridget, four great Golden Retrievers, and of course each other. These were truly high times for Nancy and John and they thought their kennel name should reflect this special time in their lives.
The breeding that produced Luke, Chances R Milady and Bonniebrooks Mortimer was repeated and Nancy and John took a nice boy “Butch” for their daughter Bridget. Bridget was just 11 years old at the time and signed a contract with her parents that hung on the refrigerator for years. It stated that if at any time if Nancy or John had to remind her to feed, air or train Butch that he would be sold. They never did have to remind her and Bridget was just 16 years old when Butch aka Chances R Wizard of Wonders UD WCX, became Bridget’s first Utility Dog!
Nancy and John got a girl puppy in lieu of a stud fee from High Times Run’n The Roost***UD MH and Belvedere’s Absolute***MH. They gave “Soupy” to Bridget and she trained her to become OTCH High Times Belvedere’s Duck Soup***UDX MH. When it came time for Soupy to be bred Nancy and John suggested breeding to a boy from conformation lines named Timberee At Monument Canyon**CDX MH whom they had helped train for three years. They enjoyed his excellent temperament, biddability and willingness to work and they were looking for a clean out cross for Soupy. Bridget was not sure she wanted to go that way with her very great dog but she trusted Nancy and John’s judgement. As a result, Bridget became the first breeder to produce SIX Obedience Trial Champions in the same litter (including NOC OTCH High Times Ris’n Above the Tide UDX13, OGM, RE, CGC “Buoy”)!!!!
This ability to look beyond the conformation vs. field debate was first crossed when Nancy and John bred their Open All Age Qualified girl, High Times Rumor Has It ***CD MH (A Rooster sister and 2nd top producing female of MH’s in breed history) to Canyon. That breeding produced High Times Indomitable You**UD MH “Indy”. Indy is the dam of John’s current competition dog, High Times Big Dog Daddy** CDX MH. Indy was only bred one time and produced 6 puppies they are 4 years old now – 2 master Hunters 2 senior Hunters and 1 OTCH. Nice work Indy!
Prior to the Rumor/Canyon breeding, Rumor was bred to High Times All R Money On Red CD MH ** MX, MXJ and that breeding produced OTCH MACH High Times What A Hoot UDX14 OM5 MH *** OBHF ADHF “Hootie”. To date, they believe Hootie is the only dog in the history of the breed to hold these combined titles. At the time of the breeding Bridget was not in the market for a dog and Hootie was in our litter of 11. Bridget would stop by to train her dogs at the pond and the litter would be out in four excercise pens in between the pond and the deck. All pups would be asleep as Bridget trained except for Hootie. He would run from one side of the pen to the other trying to be close to Bridget. At puppy pick-up day came and Hootie didn’t pick anyone to be his parents. Nancy called Bridget and said “he’s still here”. Bridget came over and got him and the rest is history.
Nancy and John have a straightforward, no nonsense approach to breeding. They only breed one litter a year. They only breed Spring or Summer litters. They do not keep brood bitches in their kennel. This is a personal choice. They prefer to keep boys and then lease back the girls for their breedings. Nancy and John believe that to create a great field trial, hunt test, or hunting dog, one needs a dog that is a structurally sound. Conformation and structure play a significant part in how well a dog will perform in demanding field trial or hunt test conditions. But hereditary diseases and other genetic components also affect their breeding decisions and bidibility and brains can make or break a dog in the field. So how do they produce these traits consistently in their breeding program?
When planning a litter at High Times, Nancy and John tend to focus on the girl first. They prefer that the girl be a Master Hunter or All-Age Qualifier as she will be more apt to produce bidible puppies who have an aptitude for the field. Titles are also helpful on the boy but it is not a make or break situation. Getting their hands on the both the sire and dam is a requirement for their program so they can experience the temperament, conformation, attitude, etc. of the dog. Nancy and John like fast, focused and intense retrievers, who can swim with the speed of an otter. This started when they were running field trials back in the 70 and 80′s. When you are asking for 300 and 400 yd land and water marks and blinds a dog that is slow especially in the water has to much time to think about stopping or deviating from his line or shoring early from the water. A fast retrieving dog is also pleasure to watch as it makes a clear statement that he is really enjoying his work. This is why they breed for speed!
Health is also a very important factor in the High Times breeding program. Nancy tests for hip and elbow dysplasia, Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA), heart, thyroid. Pigmentary Uveitis and cancer cannot be directly tested for (yet) so that requires a keen understanding of the pedigrees of both the sire and dam. Obviously all of this testing and pedigree analysis puts Nancy and John in a position to have the greatest probability of having healthy puppies but, like all things in nature, there are no guarantees so the best any breeder can do is to make sure they have eliminated as many variables as possible. Nancy and John have the added benefit of knowing their lines very well and because of lots of experience they also know many other lines. This helps them make better breeding decisions.
Nancy and John are not afraid to cut a dog from their breeding program if it will not somehow improve upon their line. Nancy told me about a two year old girl that they had with all of her clearances and a Master Hunter title. Nancy and John asked themselves if they would want a puppy out of this girl and they said “no” so they placed her into a new home. Some might question this decision but this is really what it takes to go from a good breeder to a great breeder.
High Times puppies are raised in Nancy and John’s kitchen. The whelping box is set up with some x-pens to keep the puppies contained. Once they are old enough Nancy makes sure to wake up before the pups in the morning and she picks them up and takes them outside to the puppy play area where they spend the daylight hours. This helps build a great house training foundation.
Once the puppies are about three weeks old prospective puppy parents are invited to come and help socialize the puppies. This early socialization creates a healthy, confident, happy puppy that is ready to begin the path of a field trial champion or Master Hunter. Now Nancy and John get a bit mystical on us. There is no choosing your puppy when you get a High Times Golden Retriever. Your puppy picks you! Now this may sound “a bit out there” but they believe that for every dog there is a perfect owner. Nancy and John believe that the puppies energy will draw it to the correct future owner. This technique has not failed them in all of their years of breeding.
Sink Or Swim
At High Times swimming lessons are an adventure. John piles the puppies in the row boat and rows them out to the island in their pond. The puppies are left on the island and then everyone on shore encourages the pups to take the plunge! It works every time!
Nancy and John do not believe in spaying or neutering dogs. They feel it leads to diminished muscle mass and less competitive drive. Nancy also spoke to me about early spay/neutering interfering with growth plate closure which leads to long legged dog with poor coats and unattractive heads. All High Times puppies are sold on limited registration which can be lifted assuming the dog has proven itself in the field either through hunt games or actual hunting and it is a specimen that is worth breeding.
When I asked Nancy about what she recommends to our readers with new pups and she said Bill Hillman’s Training A Retriever Puppy most closely resembles her training philosophy and is something that she now recommends to all of her puppy buyers. She is also a firm believer in keeping things fun. It is very easy to get too serious with a young puppy and pushing things too fast with too much pressure is a sure way to ruin a great dog. So take it easy and have some fun with that new bundle of energy!
Wrapping Things Up
I have to say that I did not want to stop talking with Nancy. I barely scratched the surface of her knowledge. Maybe someday down the line I can do a follow up article with her and John , but in the meantime I hope you have enjoyed getting to know Nancy, John and their High Times Golden Retrievers.