Bred for trials, Topbrass
Hard To Beat,
Above: A typical Topbrass puppy.
Left: AFC Topbrass Gifford of Valhaven, owned by Mary Mauer Martin, brings in a duck.
For the past 35 plus years, Jackie Mertens' "Topbrass" has been the dominant kennel name in field-bred golden retrievers.Within that timeframe, Topbrass goldens have chalked up an amazing record of achievements, including the breed's one and only National Amateur Field trial Championship (NAFC), 20-plus Field trial and/or Amateur Field trial Championships (FC and AFC), 100-plus "3-star dogs" (Qualified All Age goldens), 100-plus dogs with the highest Hunt Test titles from AKC< UKC/HRC, and NAHRA, and many, many dogs with lower Hunt Test titles and Working Certificates. Then, too, year after year, countless Topbrass goldens, titled and untitled, hunt waterfowl and every type of upland game bird all across America.
"No other breeder produces such consistent quality in field goldens. A few produce an occasional FC or AFC, but Jackie produces them consistently, year after year," said Judy Rasmuson of Connecticut, who has put FC and AFC titles on several Topbrass goldens over the years.
"I'm not a field trialer," said Roger Meyer of Oregon. "I just hunt my dogs. Waterfowl, pheasants, valley quail, chukars, I prefer Topbrass Goldens because I'm convinced that field trial breeding produces the best hunting retrievers. I've had three of them since 1978, and I've been delighted with each one."
"I've put AFC titles on two of my Topbrass goldens," said Mary Mauer Martin of Texas, "and I'm working on a third one right now. My husband's a professional water-fowling guide who uses our dogs in his work. Typically, they retrieve 1500 to 2000 ducks and geese a year for him. Being a field trialer myself, I find myself saying, "Boy, that's a lot of fliers!"
But back in 1968, when Jackie Mertens chose "Topbrass" as her
kennel name, field-breds were the furthest thing from her mind. A young
teacher at Wisconsin State University in Whitewater, Wisconsin, she had
just bred her show golden, Ch. Goldenloe's Bronze Lustre, and felt she needed
a suitable kennel name for the line of outstanding show dogs she intended
to develop. So she
And right from the start, she did indeed breed the best...in both
conformation and obedience. Before turning entirely to field breeding, she
produced more than 30 show champions. Both her show and her field goldens
have excelled in Obedience Trials. More than 15 have earned Obedience Trial
Championships (OTCH), 45-plus dogs have earned the highest non-competitive
obedience Trial title (UD), and hundreds of dogs have earned lower Obedience
Trial titles. They are now also excelling in the new and exciting sport
CoCo was so fast, so athletic, and so riveting that Jackie decided she
had to have such a dog. Thereafter, her interest in conformation and obedience
began to wane as her interest in field trials and field-bred goldens began
to heat up. Her timing was most fortunate, for about that time Barbara Howard
imported AFC Holway Barty from England.
Since then, she and her most supportive husband, Joe, have devoted their lives to field trials and field-bred goldens. Each year, they spend the warmer six months at their long-time home in Elgin, Illinois and the colder months in their second home in Madison, Florida. This allows Jackie to train her dogs almost every day.
Joe, a former obedience Trial competitor and AKC-licensed Obedience Trial judge, doesn't train retrievers, but he does whatever needs doing to help Jackie. Day after day, he plants blinds, throws birds and shoots fliers. A great hand with a shotgun, he has shot for several National Championship Field Trials . Most of all, he keeps everything in perspective with his insight and sense of humor. At a GRCA banquet I attended years ago, he have an entertaining after-dinner speech in which it was apparent that he understands both dogs and dog trainers-and he seems to like us anyhow!
Jackie has become the consummate field trial breeder, trainer, and handler. She has finished an impressive number of FCs and AFC's with dogs she has bred, trained, and handled. In 1985, she handled NAFC/FC Topbrass Cotton to the only National Amateur Championship any golden has ever won. (She insisted I state clearly that, although she bred Cotton and handled him to his NAFC title, original owner Jeff Finley trained and handled him to his FC and AFC titles. Thereafter, Jeff was unable to continue campaigning Cotton, so he offered Jackie a co-ownership in the dog, which she accepted.)
Since becoming a dedicated trialer, Jackie has bred field-bred goldens almost exclusively, always trying to produce truly competitive animals. The accomplishments of Topbrass goldens attest to the excellence of her judgment in selecting breeding stock.
Judy Rasmuson, who has had over a dozen Topbrass goldens, says this of Jackie as a breeder: "She isn't kennel-blind. She knows what her line has and what she wants to add to it. She doesn't hesitate to go outside of her own line when it makes sense.
"She can read pedigrees like few others. She knows all the dogs currently running trials, and she's been in the game long enough to know all the old dogs, too. So in reading pedigrees, she knows the dogs, not just the titles."
What Topbrass Goldens Are Like
Topbrass goldens look like most field-bred goldens, which means they vary in size, color, and coat texture. They look almost nothing like the show-bred type goldens you see in TV commercials and magazine ads, however.
"Jackie isn't trying to breed the dual-purpose golden," Rasmuson said. "She concentrates on breeding dogs that can do the work in the field. That's enough of a challenge without also trying to breed them to look like Newfoundlands, ala today's show-bred goldens.
"Ponderous goldens can't work, at least not well, and Jackie breed exciting workers. Let's face it; today we have two types of goldens, the show-type and the field-type. The two diverge more every year. One breeder, in fact a dozen breeders, can't change that."
However, Jackie is very conscientious about the various hereditary health problems that afflict goldens and so many other breeds today: bad hips, had elbows, bad eye, heart problems, and on and on. She breeds only physically sound animals, those with all the appropriate health clearances (OFA, CERF, et cetera).
Perhaps the most noticeable trait of the typical Topbrass golden retriever is its athleticism. The dog is agile, graceful, and rhythmic. Roger Meyer says this about his Topbrass goldens: "My first one, Meg, was the most athletic dog I've ever seen. She did everything effortlessly and gracefully. My second one, Jocko, was also a great athlete. For entertainment, he used to play in the surf. He'd swim out and time the incoming waves, leaping over them at the last possible moment before they could swamp him under."
"Once when pheasant hunting, he noticed bird scent when he was high off the ground while leaping over a patch of cover. He whirled around in midair as gracefully as a ballet dancer and came down almost on top of a hiding rooster pheasant."
Mary Mauer put it more simply: "These dogs are the Olympic athletes of the breed. I don't know how else to describe them."
Of course, athleticism is synonymous with style. Thus, Topbrass goldens are great stylists, dogs anyone can enjoy watching. They perform with energy, enthusiasms, and elan. However, they are calm around the house. Meyer, Rasmuson, and Martin all stressed that they have their dogs in the house alot, and that they are a pleasure to live with...not the high-strung, hyperactive animals trial-bred dogs are often accused of being (usually by someone who's never owned one).
Topbrass goldens are great stylist, dogs anyone can enjoy watching. They perform with energy, enthusiasm, and elan. However, they are calm around the house.
Being bred for trials, Topbrass goldens are extremely birdy, and they have an extremely strong desire to retrieve. Thus, they tend to remain focused on their work quite easily and naturally. When working, they aren't easily distracted.
"I frequently train in city parks," Meyer said, "where there are a lot of distractions_people, other dogs, and so on. When I train with a friend of mine who has a Lab, his dog is forever forgetting about the bumper to run over to some kid or other dog. Not mine. When there's a bumper to retrieve, they think of nothing else."
"They have so much heart," Martin said. "They never quit. Even when you're having a tough time getting something across to the dog in training, and he keeps messing up and messing up, he doesn't quit. He seems to say, 'Okay, okay, let's try it again; maybe I've got it now.'"
"Intensity is extremely important to me," Rasmuson said. " I won't waste my training time on a dog that can't stay focused. My Topbrass dogs have truly excelled in their ability to concentrate."
As a breed, the golden retriever has the reputation of being extremely easy to train, In general, this is true, although the unconscionable growth of backyard fast-buck breeding over the past 25 years has produced an abundance of goldens that range from stupid to brain-dead. But serious breeders, like Jackie Mertens, still produce bright, eager-to-please pups that make training both easy and pleasurable.
"My three Topbrass dogs," Meyer said, "have been very smart and easy to train. They've all caught on quickly to whatever I've tried to teach them, and then, once they understand it, they do it willingly."
"It's their attitude," Martin said, "Whatever you're doing at the moment, they want to be a part of it. They want to be involved with you. They want to please you."
"They're smart," Rasmuson said. "By that I mean they catch on quickly, and more importantly, they generalize quickly. Dogs are very specific learners. What they learn in one place they don't automatically transfer elsewhere. So getting an average dog to generalize takes many repetitions in many places, and under many sets of circumstances. But I've found that my Topbrass goldens...and I've had a lot of them...generalize more quickly than most dogs. Needless to say, I like that."
Jackie breeds several litters a year. To allow herself enough time for serious training, she farms out some bred bitches to families she knows, especially families with children. She gives them written instructions on how to raise the litter, and especially on how to socialize the pups, at which children excel. Then, after the pups are weaned, jackie brings them to her place, where she studies them, tests them, and gets to know each pup quite well, so she can place each one with an appropriate buyer.
Jackie has each prospective puppy buyer fill out an application which gives her the information she needs to match the person up with an appropriate puppy. Like most serious breeders, she doesn't allow buyers to pick their own puppies.
"I used to do that," she said, "but I had to stop it. Families would come with all the children and each kid would want a different puppy, leading to utter chaos. Then too, beginners so often picked a puppy they just weren't right for. Like, sometimes a timid person would pick a puppy too dominant for him to train. A few months later, back the pup would come to me, but now with a bad attitude.
"I finally figured out that I know the puppies better than anyone else, so I should be the one to match them to new owners. I use the application form to help me understand what each person really needs in a puppy. This has worked out very well. Actually, experienced people prefer that I pick their puppies for them. But sometimes a first-time puppy buyer won't like the idea. Usually, that's the kind who needs my help the most."
Quite naturally, Jackie prefers to place her puppies with people who will work them in the field...field trials, hunting tests, or just plain hunting. With the demand Topbrass goldens have earned over the years, she can be very selective in where she places them.
For more information about Topbrass Goldens, you can contact Jackie by phone, by e-mail, or on her website. Her phone number, from mid-October through April, is (850) 929-7502; from May through mid-October, it's (847) 695-6789. Her two e-mail addresses are Jackie@Topbrass-Retrievers.com and Jackie@TopbrassGoldens.com.
Reprinted from the April/May 2000 issue of GUN DOG - The Magazine of Upland Bird and Waterfowl Dogs