Rush Hill’s Spark in the Fire

| January 9, 2013 | 0 Comments
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A stampede of Rush Hill Golden Retrievers thumbnail
Welcome To Rush Hill Golden Retrievers thumbnail
GCH CH Rush Hill's Drama'geddon JH  thumbnail
CH Rush Hill's Rebel With A Cause JH thumbnail
MBIS/MBISS GCH CH Rush Hill Run'n Amuck At Aberlard, OA, OAJ, AXP, AJP, NFP, WC, VCX, SDHA, OS thumbnail
Rush Hill Golden Retriever's Rig thumbnail
Tonya Struble and puppies thumbnail
Is It Dinner Yet? thumbnail
Willis works out on the dog treadmill at the kennel.  Tonya uses the treadmill regularly in the winter months to help keep her Goldens in top condition.Willis works out on the dog treadmill. thumbnail
MBIS/MBIS GCH Am/an CH Rush Hill's River Road Payoff (
A stampede of Rush Hill Golden Retrievers
Welcome To Rush Hill Golden Retrievers
GCH CH Rush Hill's Drama'geddon JH
CH Rush Hill's Rebel With A Cause JH
MBIS/MBISS GCH CH Rush Hill Run'n Amuck At Aberlard, OA, OAJ, AXP, AJP, NFP, WC, VCX, SDHA, OS
Rush Hill Golden Retriever's Rig
Tonya Struble and puppies
Is it dinner yet?
Willis works out on the dog treadmill at the kennel. Tonya uses the treadmill regularly in the winter months to help keep her Goldens in top condition.Willis works out on the dog treadmill.
MBIS/MBIS GCH Am/an CH Rush Hill's River Road Payoff (

A stampede of Rush Hill Golden Retrievers

Welcome To Rush Hill Golden Retrievers

GCH CH Rush Hill's Drama'geddon JH ("Willis"), two years old, leaps to retrieve a duck dummy while training for the Senior Hunter test.

CH Rush Hill's Rebel With A Cause ("Lincoln") waits for Tonya to release him to make a marked retrieve.

Chaos, who is nine years old, sits at home with Tonya. Explaining his name, Tonya says, "Chaos has lots of exuberant energy. At times, he is like a bull in a china closet, and at other times, he is a gentle giant."

Featured prominently on the side of the 25-foot box truck that Tonya takes to dog shows is an illustration of "Rebel" (MBIS/MBISS CH Alderbrookes Rush Hill Rebel), the first dog she put points on and Rush Hill's foundation sire.

Tonya enjoys four-month-old puppies - "Towner", left, and "Allegra."

One of Tonya's Goldens wonders if it is dinner yet! Tonya feeds her Rush Hill Golden Retrievers either Pro Plan Performance or Pro Plan Chicken & Rice Shredded Blend, which are mixed with Pro Plan Sensitive Skin & Stomach Formula.

Willis works out on the dog treadmill at the kennel. Tonya uses the treadmill regularly in the winter months to help keep her Goldens in top condition.Willis works out on the dog treadmill.

Tonya with MBIS/MBIS GCH Am/an CH Rush Hill's River Road Payoff ("Vegas") at the 2010 AKC/Eukanuba National Championships.

 BIS,BISS, Am.GCh. Can Ch. Rush Hill’s River Road Payoff WC, JH (SDHF)

MBIS/MBISS, GCh. Am/Can Ch. Rush Hill’s River Road Payoff WC, JH (SDHF) – Vegas

An American Favorite

Though the Golden Retriever originated in Scotland in the 1830s, the breed is an American favorite ranked No. 4 in American Kennel Club registrations. The Golden’s cheerful, friendly disposition makes him a cherished companion. His biddable temperament suits him well for a variety of sports, including field trials, hunting tests, obedience, agility, and rally obedience.

Rush Hill Golden Retriever breeder Tonya Struble adores the breed’s playful nature and loving personality. “My Goldens hug with their paws wrapped around my waist,” she says. “It is a trait they pass on to their children.”

Note: This article is used with permission from Today’s Breeder magazine, Nestle Purina PetCare.

A rush of wind sweeps by as a gust of Golden Retrievers bounds to retrieve a ball thrown by breeder-owner-handler Tonya Struble. As they race to be the first to capture the ball and make the retrieve, their tails shoot up and their ears fly out. Their intense, playful energy ripples across the yard.

All show dogs, these Rush Hill Golden Retrievers are conditioned for a purpose, part of Tonya’s multitasking philosophy that this athletic breed does best when trained to work. “Goldens like the excitement of doing new things,” Tonya says.

The same can be said for Tonya, who has taken part in most of the performance sports offered for Goldens. “I like the spark in the fire,” she says.

On The Hunt

Earlier in the day, Tonya and a small group of like-minded enthusiasts met at Pepper’s Retriever Training Grounds in Carnation, Wash., to prepare for an upcoming American Kennel Club (AKC) retriever hunting test. The three-time-a-week ritual recently paid off when 6 ½-year-old CH Rush Hill’s Rebel With A Cause, NA, RN, WC, VC, JH (“Lincoln”) and 6-year-old Multi-BIS/Multi-BISS CAN CH/AM GCH Rush Hill’s River Road Payoff, JH, WC, SDHA (“Vegas’), the No. 1 Golden in 2010, earned their Junior Hunter titles. Now, they are training to become Senior Hunters.

Reaching back to throw a duck dummy into one of several technical ponds that dot the 200-acre training grounds, Tonya watches 2-year-old Rush Hill’s Drama’geddon (“Willis”) waiting eagerly on the bank.

Professional trainer Matt Nolan of Seattle stands nearby, offering suggestions. “Don’t take your eyes off him,” he says, calmly. “Make him know his game first.”

A specialist in training show dogs for hunting tests, Nolan explains, “Goldens are softer and take more time to train than Labradors with their high drive. Goldens have to work through what you want them to do.”

Though Tonya does the basic retriever training with her dogs, it is Nolan who will handle Willis in the Senior Hunter test, and potentially the Master Hunter test. Tonya will handle Lincoln and Vegas. “Willis responds well to Matt,” Tonya says, throwing the dummy and simultaneously releasing Willis, who dives with gusto into the water.

“Atta boy!” Tonya shouts excitedly.

When Willis reaches the dummy, she blows the whistle hanging from a lanyard decorated with duck bands earned by other Rush Hill Goldens for completing various legs of retriever hunting tests. It signals Willis to return to the bank.

“Here, here, good boy,” she yells.

“Everything is a work in progress,” Tonya says.

That may be true for fieldwork, but Tonya’s show-ring accomplishments are fine-tuned, particularly considering the fierce competition among the AKC’s fourth most-registered breed. Rush Hill has produced more than 80 conformation champions, including many Best in Show and Best in Specialty Show winners, a daunting achievement earned through hard work and insightful breeding.

The Once-in-a-Lifetime Dog

Early in her career, Tonya won 12 Bests in Show and five Bests in Specialty Show, including the 1989 Golden Retriever Club of America (GRCA) National Specialty, with “Rebel” (Multi-BIS/Multi-BISS AM/ CAN CH Alderbrookes Rush Hill Rebel, AM/CAN TD, OS, SDHA).

“I thought I would never have another Best in Show winner,” Tonya says, describing the Golden whose illustration appears on the side of her 25-foot box truck. “Rebel was my heart dog. I thought he was the once-in-a-lifetime dog.”

Then came “Kirby,” a Rebel grandson born in 1989. Multi-BIS/Multi-BISS AM/ CAN CH Rush Hill’s Haagen-Dazs, CDX, JH, AX, OAJ, WCX, VCS, OS, SDHA, CAN CD, WC, won 31 specialty shows, a record only recently surpassed. Kirby produced 134 Champions, making him the top-producing sire in breed history.

“Kirby had beautiful structure, breed type and gait, and he also was my first Junior Hunter,” says Tonya, recalling “The Big Man,” a nickname for the Golden on the Rush Hill sign that hangs on her house. “He was a strong producer and was known worldwide. Pictures of him were used to help educate judges about the breed.

“He was dark golden, and when I first started showing Kirby, the lighter blond was favored. He broke the color barrier. By the time Kirby was a Veteran, it had turned around.”

Then came “Pharley,” a Kirby son and Rebel great-grandson born in 2002. Multi-BISS CH Rush Hill’s Phar-Lap, SDHF, became Tonya’s second GRCA National Specialty winner in 2005. “All his points came from big specialty competitions,” Tonya says.”Pharley had the same beautiful gait and breed type as his dad Kirby.”

Then came “Chaos,” a Kirby great-grandson on his sire’s and dam’s pedigrees born in 2003. Multi-BIS/Multi-BISS GCH Rush Hill Run’n Amuck at Abelard, OA, OAJ, AXP, AJP, NFP, WC, VCX, SDHA, OS, is a two-time GRCA National Specialty winner, having won in 2009 and 2010. In 2011, Chaos took Best of Opposite Sex to his daughter, BISS GCH Scion Hott Pants, RN, SDHF (“Groovy”), bred and owned by Kathy Whipple of Boise, Idaho, and handled by Clint Livingston of Brighton, Colo.

“I remember driving home with Pharley and Chaos after the 2009 National Specialty in Enid, Okla., where Chaos won his first National Specialty under Jeffrey Pepper,” Tonya recalls. “I was so proud to have those males sitting at my side. When Chaos won again the following year under Swedish breeder-judge Henric Fryckstrand, it was really amazing.”

The epitome of a perfect show dog, Chaos “possesses it all,” she continues. “Chaos is a great mover, who has a very clean coming and going. His side gait is strong, and he covers the ground with long, powerful strides. He has an excellent front assembly and rock-solid topline. There is nothing better than being on the end of the lead of Chaos. He is a dog who truly loves the sport.”

While Tonya was campaigning Chaos, the pair also competed in agility, often dashing from the conformation ring to agility, then to Group judging and finishing with fast agility. “He had such exuberant energy that I knew he needed a job,” she says.
Then came Vegas, a Chaos son and Kirby great-grandson born in 2006. Tonya campaigned Vegas to the lofty ranking of No. 1 Golden Retriever in the country in 2010. She and Vegas won Bred-By Exhibitor Best in Show in 2009 at the AKC National Championship and were chosen to represent the U.S. in the World Challenge the following year.

Throughout the year, Tonya and Vegas shared many show rings with two other Chaos children: the No. 2 Golden, GCH Gaia Of Yoshida Enterprise (“Gaia”), a male owned by Kazunari Oshima of Japan and handled by Laurie Jordan-Fenner of Elk Grove, Calif.; and the No. 3 Golden, GCH Dalane Doizaki Buckingham’s Pride, SDHA (“Lexus”), a female owned by Hisato Doisaki of Los Angeles and Jane Jensen of Bellingham, Wash., and handled by Bruce Schultz of Bonita, Calif.

It was the first time Tonya had campaigned a No. 1 Golden. “I was home 12 days from August to October,” she says. “At one show, my good friend and professional handler Larry Fenner said to me, ‘Tonya, you’re not meant to do this.’”
She agreed. “It’s too important for me to stay at home and enjoy the dogs I have there,” she says, smiling. “I’ve crossed it off my bucket list and moved on. I don’t have to have the No. 1 Golden.”

Not one to boast about her accomplishments, Tonya reflects humbly on her success. “I am lucky to have had the dogs I’ve had,” she says.

No Idea Where It Would Lead

It was a Rough-Coated Collie — a “Lassie” dog — that Tonya dreamed of owning as a teenager in Anchorage, Alaska. Her stepfather was adamantly opposed to a big-coated, fluffy dog. When her father sent her money from the sale of her horse, her stepfather agreed she could buy a Golden Retriever since this was a sporting breed.

Eager to learn all she could, Tonya participated with “Sam,” a curly coated Golden with four white feet and a splash of white on his chest, in Junior Showmanship. Next was “Sonny,” a Golden she showed in Juniors and 4-H shows who she also handled to Companion Dog and Companion Dog Excellent titles.

“I had no idea at the time where this would take me,” says Tonya.

When she and Mark Struble, an oil engineer, married in 1980 and bought a home in Anchorage, she started looking seriously for a show-quality Golden Retriever. She bought three Goldens from a local breeder and realized later they were average-quality dogs. “From those dogs, I learned what I wanted,” Tonya says.

One of them, a bitch, had “Rush Hill” as part of her name, from which Tonya adopted Rush Hill for her kennel prefix. Though not original, “it has been unique,” she says.
Tonya embraced all the Alaskan dog community had to offer, enrolling in obedience classes and taking part in Alaska Kennel Club conformation classes and fun matches. Dog shows were held eight times a year. “I learned as much about dog structure, movement and handling from Basset, setter and spaniel people as anyone,” she says. In time, Tonya taught conformation as a fundraiser for the kennel club.

In spring 1982, Tonya and Mark traveled to Washington to attend their first dog show outside Alaska. Used to smaller shows, “I was amazed at the sea of motor homes,” she recalls.

Impressed with the quality of Golden Retrievers entered in the show, Tonya reflects, “I had been working with what was in my backyard, and then I was able to put my hands on dogs that really were great.”

Tonya met Carole Johnson Kvamme, who bred Alderbrooke Golden Retrievers. “I fell in love with her male, ‘Doc’ (AM/CAN CH Tri Valley’s Doc Holiday, AM/CAN DCX, WC, OS),” she says. “I loved his charming personality and darker golden coat. I also liked his pedigree. Doc was of East Coast breeding. His sire, ‘True Bear’ (CH Goldwing True Bear, OS, SDHF), was owned by Leslie Dove of Virginia.

“A couple of years later, I saw True Bear in California at the Nationals. It was the last time he was there. I waited my turn to talk to Leslie. She was respected by so many people, and they all had questions for her.”

Tonya got a Doc son — a True Bear grandson — in 1982. It was Rebel. “He was the first dog I put points on,” she says. “I loved Rebel’s sweet personality and his desire to please. He started our foundation.”

Tonya began loosely linebreeding on True Bear. “I took Rebel’s grandkids and would breed a True Bear daughter to a True Bear great-grandson,” she says. “I put things together by visualizing them in my head. I’m a common-sense breeder. For me, it’s the vision and knowing what I want. It is not always something that can be taught in a book.”
In 1990, the Strubles moved to Arlington, Wash., one hour northeast of Seattle. They bought a five-acre property in the foothills of the Cascades, transforming it into their home and Rush Hill kennel. A sign in the foyer of their home says it all: “Some people dream of success while others wake up and work hard at it.”

Tonya picked up where she left off in Alaska: breeding and showing dogs, training in performance sports, and handling a few dogs professionally for clients. She handled the No. 1 Labrador Retriever in 2006, GCH Sharay’s Nicholas of Whidbey, owned by Ron Perry of Seattle and Sharon Edwards of Clinton, Wash.

Mark, who now is with MI Swaco in Bakersfield, Calif., works two weeks and is off two weeks. While Mark adores the dogs — going to shows when he can — the Rush Hill Goldens are Tonya’s passion.

Tonya counts many friends as important to her success. One is Suzanne Rapier of Snohomish, Wash., co-breeder of Vegas, with whom she frequently travels to shows, including the 2011 World Dog Show in Paris. Others are professional handlers Laurie Jordan-Fenner and Bruce and Tara Schultz. “All my really good friends I have met through dogs,” Tonya says.

When the Strubles moved to Washington, Tonya was showing Kirby. “I wanted to improve our working relationship, so I signed up for obedience class two times a week,” she says. “I also did agility with him.”

By the mid-1990s, Tonya had resumed teaching conformation classes. She teaches three classes each Wednesday at the Country Classic Dog Training Facility in Arlington. “We work through scenarios that happen at dog shows,” she says. “I teach owners things like how to work with their dogs and bring about their best features.

I enjoy watching people learn to handle their own dogs. This is not a ‘show ‘n’ go’ class. It’s a hands-on learning experience.”

Tonya breeds about two litters a year. Her sires and dams are a minimum of 2 years old, the age when they become eligible to receive the Golden Retriever health clearances and certification for healthy hips, elbows, eyes and heart.

Puppies spend the first four weeks in a whelping box in the house decorated with colorful mobiles. Music and household sounds help acclimate them. When they move to the kennel, they enjoy spacious 10-by-10 foot indoor and 25-by-30 foot outdoor areas that include a jungle gym and tunnel for climbing.

Training starts when puppies are 5 weeks old. “I put them on a table and start stacking them so they get used to standing,” says Tonya.

“Every line develops differently,” she says. “At 3 to 5 months, puppies go through the ‘uglies.’ They lose their baby teeth, and their calcium level is off. I don’t worry about a sloping topline because it will level out. If there is no bend in the stifle, it will come later.”

Next to the puppy kennel is space for four adult dogs in two 5-by-6-foot indoor kennels that open to a 100-by-85-foot outdoor exercise area. The kennel has an exercise treadmill that is used regularly in the winter and two grooming tables. Across from the kennel building are two shady, covered outdoor kennels, which are 15-by-20 feet and 20-by-22 feet. Shaved cedar provides a soft ground and helps repel fleas. Several Goldens enjoy romping and playing with balls and toys in these paddocks.

Tonya’s belief that the Golden Retriever is an athletic breed carries over to her grooming practices. “I don’t use powders or chalk,” she says. “My dogs have plenty of bone. I also don’t blow their coats excessively or do much trimming.”

Stacked high in the kennel are two pallets of Purina Pro Plan dog food. “I feed Performance and Chicken & Rice Shredded Blend formulas, both of which are mixed with Sensitive Skin & Stomach Formula,” she says. “Before I fed Pro Plan, I tried lots of brands. I didn’t like how they looked.

“One of my Goldens from the East came here. The dog was fed Pro Plan Sensitive Skin & Stomach Formula and looked great. I talked to Laurie Fenner, Bruce Schultz and Lynn Heidinger from Purina. Lynn sent me some food to try. I’ve been a Pro Plan believer ever since. I really like the fish oil in Sensitive Skin & Stomach for their coats.”
Tonya feeds her Goldens two times a day. High-energy, young dogs like Willis, who is training for the Senior Hunter test, are fed eight cups of food a day. Most receive six cups, and older dogs receive four cups.

As she looks around the kennel, Tonya sees two puppies playing together. “Allegra,” a 4-month-old female from a frozen semen breeding of Kirby out of Lexus, already is training for hunting tests. “Liam” is a male from a repeat litter sired by Chaos out of CH Rush Hill’s Ruffles Have Ridges, a breeding done for dear friends who longed for Chaos offspring. Tonya realizes the importance of giving back to the breed by sharing her dogs and the qualities she has worked so hard to develop through breeding.

Not one to linger on achievements, Tonya’s bucket list is short. “I’d like to win the breed at Westminster and see one of my dogs get an MH (Master Hunter),” she says. “I also eventually want to judge dog shows.”

Meanwhile, getting Lincoln, Vegas and Willis ready to perform the blind retrieves and double marks needed to pass the Senior Hunter test is Rush Hill’s latest spark in the fire.

Category : Breeder Spotlight

Barb Fawver

About the Author ()

Barb works for Nestle Purina PetCare as the Editor of Today's Breeder and Rally to Rescue. Today's Breeder goes to dog breeders, and Rally to Rescue is sent to people who work in dog and cat rescue.

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