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Exclusive Interview with Butch Henderson of Liberty K9

February 22 2006 at 10:17 PM
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Vadim  (Login vadims)

For those don't know who Butch Henderson is, below is a quick bio. The interview below was conducted via email over the last 2 days. I look forward to everyone's feedback.

A special thanks to Kristina Carmody for facilitating the interview.


Butch Henderson has over 30 years experience training, breeding, and competing with his working dogs. He and his Doberman, Agir, won both the 2004 AWDF and 2005 DVG national championships and received high protection honors at the 2005 IDC World Championship. He has nationally titled multiple breeds in Schutzhund, including Bouviers, Dobermans, German Shepherds, and Rottweilers. He has completely titled several high-caliber competition schutzhund dogs from basic to Schutzhund III and has helped literally hundreds of clients reach their schutzhund and basic dog training goals. Agir is the first and only Doberman to be a DVG national champion and in 1996, Butch's dog Brinks became the first and only Bouvier to capture the same honor. In 2002, his German Shepherd Thunder was the Vice-Champion at the DVG nationals and Agir was DVG Vice-Champion in 2004.

Butch has been the training director of the Commonwealth Working Dog Club for 14 years. He's a member of the N. American Working Bouvier Association and the United Doberman Club. He also belongs to both the USA and DVG Schutzhund organizations. He was the 2001 Captain of the U.S. Rottweiler team in Italy, and was a bomb dog handler in NYC and Baltimore. Butch represented the U.S. 4 times in Germany at the Deutsche Meisterschaft, once at the IDC World Dobermann Championship, and was selected to be on the USA team at the 2004 FCI World Championship. He breeds and trains his working champion-line Bouviers and Dobermans.


Interview with Butch Henderson 2/22/06 with answers collected by Kristina Carmody.

1. When and How did you get started in dog training?

Over 30 years ago I started off training my own mutt and some non-working GSDs in obedience. I wasn’t pleased with the shepherds so I switched to American-bred Dobermans. After that I switched to Bouviers and that’s when I really first getting serious about protection work.

2. What types of training do you do today? What do you enjoy most? Why?

I primarily train for Schutzhund. I have done bomb detection training, will occasionally do personal protection work, and I work with some search and rescue people. I also have a full-time job as a pet-obedience trainer at a local boarding facility. I enjoy Schutzhund because of the relationship I form with my competition dogs through the process of training all three phases.

3. When and how and why did you get into competition training?

I got into competition training because I was doing some conformation showing with the earlier american-bred dobes and the bouviers, and it just wasn’t doing anything for me. Back then, Schutzhund was pretty much the only available working dog sport in any area I was in.

4. What do you enjoy most about Schutzhund as a sport?

Honestly, I like the competition.

5. What do you remember most about your first national championship?

The first national championship I competed in was at the SchH2 level with a GSD named Dick. I pretty much just remember the experience of being there. The following year is when I won my first national championship with my Bouvier, Brinks. The thing I remember most about that is I couldn’t believe I won. It was a total surprise to me (as it was for everyone else).

6. Who are some of the decoys that stand out in your mind as providing the best test of the dog? Why?

There are a lot of good decoys out there. But in my very biased opinion, I would say that you can’t get any better than my two personal decoys, Ron Marshall and Matthew Ford. Ron is outstanding because he’s quick, he’s safe, he can put a lot of pressure on a dog, and he can catch a dog on the courage test WITH PRESSURE as good as anyone in the game. Matthew is excellent because he’s big, he’s tall, he’s intimidating, he’s strong, and he can drive a dog faster than anybody I’ve seen. And both these helpers are experienced so you can get quality feedback from the decoy’s view, which is critical when training for competition.

7. How did you get into Bouviers? What do you like about the breed?

I got into Bouviers after I was done with my american-bred dobermans. Once I decided I wanted another breed, I did my research of working dogs and was between the rotti and bouvier. Rottweilers weren’t too popular way back then and I liked how the Bouvier couldn’t get a conformation title without being tested in defense work first. I bought an 18 month-old bouvier and didn’t need to look anywhere else.

8. Why did you choose Agir as your current competition dog? What do you like most about him as a working dog? What are your goals with Agir this year?

I was looking for another dog because my competition bouvier was hurt. Tony Guzman told me he had a dobermann that was a very nice dog, and I didn’t want a shepherd, and I didn’t want a malinois, and I told Tony that if he’s a GOOD dog, I’ll take him. Tony said he’s a VERY GOOD dog and the rest is history.

There really isn’t one particular thing that I can pick out that I would say I like most about him as a working dog. He’s the total package when it comes to a working dog… his confidence, his temperament, his drives, his nerves, and so on.

This year, we’ll be going to the AWDF championship in Alabama, the IDC championship in Italy, and then back to the DVG Nationals in Oklahoma. Hopefully we’ll be able to make the FCI team again, since we weren’t able to show in 2004 when it was cancelled. He’ll be 8 years old in a few months so this may or may not be his retirement year from Schutzhund.

9. What are some of the biggest differences you've seen between Dobermanns and Bouviers? Dobermanns and other working breeds?

It’s really not something I can answer in a few sentences. There’s so many variables that can affect the differences such as the lines the dogs comes from, the individual dog’s temperament, and the way they are raised. My bouviers are a lot different than most other lines of bouviers you will see and there really is a lot of variability in the different dobermann lines.

10. Are there any differences in the way you train Dobermanns vs other
breeds? Why?

Not really. I train the dog not the breed. I might end up training a Dobermann and a Shepherd more similar than I would two dobermanns from the same litter.


I hear you have a new up-coming competition dog. Tell us about him. Why did you choose him? What is he like? What are your goals with him?

I chose Apollo (Agir’s son and out of Von Rubenhof’s A litter) because all the drives were there and he had really nice confidence as a pup. What is he like? Well, he’s an *******. But that’s why I like him. The main goal I have with him is to follow in his father’s footsteps. Different dog, different personalities, but the same goal.

12. Tell us about your style of raising a puppy prospect. How old do you start the pup? why? At what age do you typically start competition with a dog? Why?

It varies. It depends on my schedule, depends on if I have any current competition dogs I’m focusing on, and most of all depends on what the particular puppy needs. In general, I don’t take the puppy out and first thing is grab a ball. Everything is about me and the dog first… nothing artificial, no tugs, no toys. It’s about establishing the relationship with me and bonding first, then we move to other things.

13. Do you work your Schutzhund dogs on the suit? Why?

Yes. It’s all about confidence. With everything else, it’s mental as well as physical. The suit is one way in developing a mentally strong and confident dog, plus it gives the dog an outlet different than the same old schutzhund routine.

14. Any chance we'll ever see you in a suit sport (French Ring, Mondio Ring, PSA)?

I’d like to put a Ring Brevet on Agir after he retires from Schutzhund. This dog will never want to all-out retire from bitework. J

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