Chege Kiuna’s journey as a dog breeder began over three decades ago, a time when black dog breeders and trainers were rare.
But focused on his goal and keen to learn how to rear pedigree dogs, he would seek out the exclusive Nairobi based East African Kennel Club. There, he met Dr Bob King a breeder of show line dogs who would teach him how to select and rear good dogs.
Lesson learned, he would create a rapport with the police from the Police Dog Unit and there he would glean all there was to learn about training guard dogs. That led to Kiuna Dogs, the venture that serves both local and international clients with all types of dogs: pets or guards.
First things first. How much would a trained dog cost me?
Prices vary in the dog industry. However, our prices range from Sh40,000 to about Sh80,000, depending on the quality and age of the dog we have. Family dogs are at the lower end of that scale. Working dogs are pricier.
Who are your clients?
I receive calls from all over the world, thanks to the internet. Locally, my clients are people who want to enhance their security; families that want pets that they can live with (the dogs I breed can double for security and pets).
What led you down this path?
In 1984, thugs came to my compound at night and stole my stuff. That is when I felt the need to enhance my security. I got two dogs, which weren’t pure (German Shepherd) breeds. That same year, I also acquired two more, this time, registered pure breed German Shepherds.
Your journey as a dog breeder, initially, wasn’t a smooth one…
Yes. I started off on the wrong foot. The person I bought my first German Shepherds from persuaded me to buy a male and a bitch that were related. I bought a brother and a sister – that would have caused in-breeding. However, the university lecturer who I would take the dogs to for treatment advised me to ensure they do mate. The best choice was to sell one and get another one from another source. I started with a black and tan German shepherd but to set myself apart, I diversified and now I breed solid black German Shepherds.
What other challenges did you face?
When I started, there was virtually no source of information about dogs, unless you talked to someone who had, or had heard about, dogs. We didn’t know what to feed the dogs – in our culture, dogs are fed table scraps. I tried that with my first dogs, and the food was not good for them. I didn’t know what food was good for the breed I had – I’d feed them ugali and cooked meat that I bought at the slaughterhouse in Dagoretti. Some of the dogs were infected by the meat and died; others stopped reproducing. Back then, there were few veterinarians. Fortunately, I live next to the university and the vets there were helpful. Also, initially, people didn’t have a lot of faith in Africans breeding dogs. Breeders were mainly Caucasian. The lack of trust in Africans persists even today because we have poor breeders who focus on quantity and not the quality of dogs. Thankfully, that’s one of the challenges that the Kennel Club is trying to overcome.
How did you market the dogs?
When I got puppies, I advertised in the newspaper and customers began trickling in. One of them challenged me to take my dogs to the dog show at the Kennel Club and that was the start of a new level.
What role did the Club play?
Back then I didn’t know about dog shows. I started asking questions about them and pure breeds, during my visit to the Kennel Club. Two ladies – one was called Mrs Matthews –took pains to educate me on how to raise a good dog. She took me through the process of training and registering German Shepherds. Additionally to learn about good guard dogs, I talked to the police at the police dog unit. Some came to help me with training as I felt that I needed dogs that could protect. That’s how I learned to train dogs.
Dr Bob King, even though he was mainly interested in show line dogs, taught me how to select and raise good dogs. He still breeds dogs in the United States or the United Kingdom, I think.
How important is the Kennel Club today?
We take our dogs to the Kennel Club for two reasons. Firstly, to register our dogs. There are three categories of German Shepherds: Pure breed registered, pure breed unregistered and mixed breed. The records for the pure breed are kept at the Kennel Club and you can trace their lineage back to the 1890s. This helps in identifying the dog’s capacity; knowing if the dog you are buying will be a good working or show line dog. Secondly, the club’s dog competitions are important. As the dog progresses, it’s taken through competitions until it reaches the highest level where it’s declared an obedience champion and its trainer an obedience champion trainer. I haven’t reached that level yet, but I have trained dogs that have reached Test C, the highest in obedience training.
How have things changed at the Kennel Club over the years?
Back in the day, there were only four Africans, but now there is a good number. Africans’ interest in dogs is increasing due to the demand.
What assumptions do people have about dog-breeding business?
There are those who believe that they can learn to train dogs through watching videos, which at times is misleading. At the Kennel Club, people are taught to approach training in a softer, friendly way which makes the dogs learn faster with little to no resistance. When I realised that I was advancing in age, I decided that my gift in dog training should not slow down because I am getting out of the field. Therefore, I began inviting youngsters from the neighbourhood who are interested in dog training, took them through the steps free of charge, after which they were able to go out and look for jobs as trainers, in security firms or the police force. The last group I had was in February and we had to cut short the training due to Covid-19
How many dogs to you keep at a time?
At the moment I have 13 bitches and three males. We have 12 puppies. We like having them spread throughout the year.
How has the pandemic affected the business?
Covid-19 has been disastrous. First, I reduced my breeding stock - I had about 30 - because of the lockdown. I feared getting caught up in the lockdown with no food for the dogs, so I disposed of a good number to other people and sold others at low prices. Second, I don’t know if this is pandemic related but when the lockdown was lifted, I started mating my dogs because demand for puppies rose. But I have tried mating all my dogs twice and none has fallen pregnant. Several breeders I’ve talked to have told me that, since the beginning of the pandemic, they’ve made the same observation. I’ve talked to the University of Nairobi and asked them to come and do a study on my dogs as this seems to be a widespread issue.