A spunky, fawn-and-white Smooth Coat Chihuahua named "DeeDee" personifies a big dog in a small package in a big way. In her third year on the campaign trail with breeder-owner-handler Gloria Johnson, the 4-pound 4 ½-year-old has become a pro.
Multi-BIS/Multi-BISS GCH Ayrwen Starkissed Delight is a typey Chihuahua with typey temperament. In other words, she depicts the breed standard to a tee, and she acts like a terrier. The winner of 15 Bests in Show, DeeDee doesn't mind standing alongside Great Danes, Golden Retrievers or any other breed bigger than she.
Ready with DeeDee's favorite toy — a yellow toy duck — tucked in her armband, Johnson brings out the best in her dream dog. "DeeDee has given me the opportunity to show at a level I only dreamed of attaining," Johnson says. "I realize how fortunate we are to have her."
The No. 1 Chihuahua in the country since 2009, DeeDee is a two-time winner of the Chihuahua Club of America (CCA) National Specialty and two-time Best of Variety winner at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. She has won 21 Bests in Specialty Show and one Toy Best in Show. Her show wins have accumulated, making her the top-winning Chihuahua bitch in history.
Only eight years ago, Johnson and her husband, Art, bought their first show Chihuahuas from breeder Pat Regnier in Rochester, Minn. "We went to buy one, a little girl, but when Art saw the little male, he said, 'We've got to have him,'" recalls Johnson. "They were Smooth Coats from different litters."
The little male, "Ricky," snuggled his way into Art Johnson's heart. Though professional Jim Lehman handled Ricky to his majors, Art Johnson went in the ring with the dog at most shows. AM/CAN CH Regnier's Lake Michigan Wave quickly finished in the U.S. and Canada.
Meanwhile, Johnson started her dog show career handling "Tricksy," who earned 7 points before retiring to the whelping box. "She just didn't care for shows," Johnson says. In her first litter, an outcross breeding sired by CH Dartan Grand Slam, Tricksy produced the Johnsons' first homebred champion, AM/CAN CH Ayrwen Way To Go Joe.
Married 38 years, Gloria and Art Johnson met in junior high school in Bovey, Minn. In their early married life, they dabbled in showing Golden Retrievers and Toy and Miniature Poodles, pets they owned at various times. Since they frequently moved — 11 times over 13 years — the Johnsons never had a chance to get grounded in the sport. That changed when Art Johnson, an executive with Sherwin-Williams, was transferred to Holland, Mich., in 1999. The Johnsons finally could get serious about dogs.
They began asking questions about breeding and whelping, taking advice from Regnier and Darwin Delaney, who bred "Grand Slam." They started attending dog shows, watching and learning from professional handlers. They practiced at home and enrolled in conformation classes.
"We've been very fortunate that so many people along the way have helped us," Johnson says.
Art Johnson agrees. "Going to a show is like going to school," he says. "There is always something to learn and a better way to do things. It helps when you love your breed, the competition and showing as we do."
Art Johnson created Ayrwen to be their kennel name. "Ayrwen sounded like a fairy-tale word," he says. "It has been such a fit for us. We have been fortunate to have had success since our first homebred champion, but when DeeDee was born, we began to realize a fairy-tale story."
In 2005, the same year Tricksy's litter was born, the Johnsons bought two puppy bitches from Delaney. "Paddy," a Long Coat, and "Sammy," a Smooth Coat, did well with Johnson as their handler. CH Dartan Star Queen of Ayrwen took Best of Winners in the Long Coat variety at the 2005 CCA National Specialty after winning Winners Bitch from the 9-to-12 Month Puppy Class. CH Dartan Samantha of Ayrwen took Best of Opposite Sex at the 2006 CCA National Spring Specialty and was ranked among the Top Ten Smooth Coats in 2007.
DeeDee was one of two pups from Paddy's first litter. It was a linebreeding back to Paddy's grandsire, Grand Slam. "When DeeDee was a puppy, nothing bothered her, except she didn't care for the leash," Johnson says. "She would scream and have nothing to do with it. At one point, I thought maybe she wouldn't make it as a show dog. "When she was 6 months old, we took her to her first show (Saginaw Valley Kennel Club) at Birch Run, Mich., and she won the BBE (Bred By Exhibitor) Class, Winners Bitch and Best of Winners for a 5-point Major. I knew she was nice and would probably finish, but I had no idea how special she is."
Since 2005, the Johnsons have bred or shown 20 champions. Johnson considers among her top honors being one of five people nominated for the 2010 Best Owner-Handler Award presented by Dogs in Review.
The Johnsons breed one to three litters a year with a focus on quality. "The breed standard is our goal, but we strive to produce more than just pretty heads, the defining characteristic of the breed," Johnson says. "We also want dogs with outgoing, solid temperaments, following the standard's call for terrier-like temperament."
All their Ayrwen Chihuahuas are fed Purina Pro Plan Chicken & Rice Puppy Formula mixed with Purina Pro Plan Selects Natural Salmon & Brown Rice Formula and a tablespoon of Pro Plan Canned Entrée. The toy dogs are fed one-quarter cup of food two times a day. "Chihuahuas like variety," Johnson says.
Though DeeDee will retire in 2012, other Ayrwen Chihuahuas are waiting their turns in the ring. Undoubtedly, DeeDee has left a mark not only on her breeders' hearts but also in the breed with her significant contributions.
"All my life I have wanted to do this," Johnson says. "It is a dream come true."