Thursday, November 12, 2009


A few years ago, I sent an e-mail over some of the German Shepherd dog lists suggesting it would be nice for the German Shepherd Dog Review to do interviews on breeders, handlers and judges. It wasn’t done at that time. Then I thought I’d like to conduct some interviews myself for an on line magazine I was planning on doing. I decided against doing the magazine and did this blog instead. Now the Review will be doing interviews in the magazine and I’m very happy that that will be done. It should be very informative reading for everyone. I was asked if I would do the first interview that they were planning for the magazine with one of my favorite people in the breed. I had to decline because of my own obligations and restrains. So for all these past few years, my friend Marilyn Smith of Darby Dan kennels has heard me tell her that I wanted to do my first interview with her. So she and I spoke over the telephone yesterday and I finally conducted my interview with her and with her permission, I’m sharing it with you. Periodically, I will interview other people as well. I want to focus on some of the other people in the breed that are not necessarily connected with any big kennel name, but have done some wonderful things in our breed as well, just maybe on a smaller scale.

Darby Dan kennels has been home to 20 champions, 7 American Selects, 1 Grand Victrix, 1 Futurity Victor, and 2 ROM’s.

Darby Dan kennels is nestled in the woods in up state New York in a town called Saugerties. You won’t just happen upon it as you drive down the road. But call up Marilyn and she’ll give the best directions on how to find her little “peace of heaven” hidden away on an old country road. Look quickly or you could miss the drive way over on your left. Follow the long drive way hidden in the woods and in the clearing you’ll pull up to the front of the home of Dan and Marilyn Smith. Look straight ahead and you’ll see the climate controlled kennel building surrounded by lawns and forest trees and horse trails all tucked away on about ten acres or so. This is where the Smiths share their home with their German Shepherd dogs, two cats, two horses and many wild creatures that graze on their property.

This interview was conducted with ½ of Darby Dan’s team and that is Marilyn Smith.

Me: So Marilyn, how long have you and Dan been in the German Shepherd dog breed?

Marilyn: I’ve been in the breed since 1980 and Dan has been in the breed since 1961.

Me: Let me ask you Marilyn, why the German Shepherd Dog?

Marilyn: Well Barbara, I always wanted to own a show dog so I looked in the AKC Purebred dog book. I looked through and found a couple of dogs that I liked and read the information about those different breeds, but they didn’t have the type of temperament that I wanted because I was raising my three children. Someone suggested that I might like the German Shepherd. Like most people I started in obedience and like most people I found it very hard to get a show dog. Because I didn’t know any better, I wanted an 8 week old puppy. And like most 8 week old “show” puppies, none of them turned out. I met and married Billy Rossi (a professional dog handler) and he didn’t want to own a German Shepherd because he thought it was a conflict of interest with his clients’ dogs, but I still wanted a show dog. So I went out and bought myself a black Cocker Spaniel. Billy didn’t care about that because he didn’t show this breed. Long story short, I ended up finishing five Cocker Spaniel champions.

Me: So your goal in German Shepherds was??

Marilyn: To have a show dog that could also be a family dog. I didn’t have that until I married Dan Smith. (Marilyn’s husband Billy Rossi had passed away and then she met and married Dan).

Me: Who were your mentors in this breed?

Marilyn: The first one was Barbara Amidon. She took me under her wing. She would always challenge me after educating me about what a good dog was and the ones that weren’t. Then I watched her judge several Nationals and I could see what it was that she was trying to teach me. Then there was Joe Bihari. He was great to learn from. He would constantly question me to make sure that I knew what I was talking about. He could explain things and the reason for it like no one else. And then there was and is Dan (my husband). One of the most important things that he has taught me is patience. He would tell me when you raise puppies, look at the pups who have the best attributes and wait until they grow up to look for balance and this is exactly with they did with their Select Ch Darby Dan’s Eve ROM.

Me: Compare the dogs then with the dogs now.

Marilyn: Probably the biggest difference I see in the breed today is in the way that they are shown. Back when I first got started, the dogs weren’t shown on 15 foot leads so therefore, they were shown at a slower speed. You didn’t see the dogs racing as much as you do today because of the shorter lead; the dogs were more under control in the ring.

Me: OK Marilyn, you and Dan have gotten many titles on your dogs. Let me ask you this, would you rather own a Grand Victor or a Best in Show Dog?

Marilyn: I would rather own a Best in Show Dog because I’ve never had one of those types of dogs before. My dogs are not that type of dog because they have a high energy level and are used to showing like that and are used to being shown in specialty rings although we have shown in All-breeds as well. The all-breed judges are not as good now as they used to be. There was a time that they used to pull majors at some of the all breed shows.

Me: How important are the futurities?

Marilyn: Not important at all! I don’t think that they proved to be what they were supposed to be. Many of these young dogs don’t turn out the way that you had hoped they would. In the last several years I don’t think it is something that I’m interested in doing anymore. I think that there are too many rules and too many ways to skirt around those rules we already have.

Me: What is the most important thing that you have ever accomplished in the breed?

Marilyn: I never thought anything that I did was that important, but it is my passion and my hobby but it’s not that important and afterwards it won’t be important what I’ve done. I just hope that we have had good dogs and that they didn’t carry too many problems and that they have contributed to the breed.

Me: You and Dan have owned both American and German bred dogs. What’s the difference?

Marilyn: The German dogs are raised differently. They are raised as companion dogs that live in the house with their owners. These dogs are taken everywhere with them. They go to training classes 3 - 4 times a week. They are a part of the human population. The German dogs have a different ability to think. You can almost see their minds working. If we raised our dogs differently they would be like that as well. We just don’t have the availability here to go to a breed club 3 - 4 times a week.

Me: We know that breed type and movement is very important in our breed. If you had two equally good dogs in the ring but one was drop dead gorgeous and the other was the best moving dog you have ever seen, who would be your winner and why?

Marilyn: The mover because we have a standard that puts the most emphasis on movement. The only thing more important is temperament.

Me: You’re married to a well respected top AKC licensed German Shepherd Dog judge (Dan). When watching him judge, do you always agree with his choices?

Marilyn: Not always, but most of the time. The times that I didn’t, I would say to him, “What the heck was that?” But Dan remembers every dog and he’ll tell me exactly why he liked the others better. I have to remember that I don’t get to see what he’s looking at in the ring, like missing teeth, temperament, etc. As the years go by, I find I disagree with his choices less frequently. At the last National that Dan judged I knew he’d pick the open bitch for his Winners. I also knew that he would pick the 9-12 puppy for Reserve Winners bitch. That same puppy is this years Grand Victrix!

Me: Who normally decides on which stud dog to breed your bitches to?

Marilyn: Sometimes I’ll say to Dan that I’d like to breed one of our bitches to “so and so” and I’ll explain why. And Dan will do the same thing with me. I picked Honky Tonk for our Eve before we finished her. At one of the shows, he was winner’s dog and Eve was winners bitch. We did the breeding and it produced us three champions! She was four weeks in whelp when she went Select at the National and he finished his championship at that same National!

Me: Who was the best dog you ever owned and why?

Marilyn: Jim!!! (See the picture at the top of this article). 2 x VA Can Sel Am Ch Jim vom Fiemereck SchH3 TC ROM KkL 1 a OFA and let me say that his daughter, Sel Ch Darby Dan’s Eve ROM (see picture at top of this article)is a close second to her father. What made Jim so special is that he was better than a person only with lots of hair! (laughter). Eve is the best show dog that we have ever produced! (Note: Eve was just awarded Can Select from the Veterans class at the Canadian National this year at the age of 10)!

Me: Marilyn your dogs always look so healthy and have beautiful coats. What do you feed them?

Marilyn: I feed them Pro Plan and add meat to their meals and supplement them with Vibrant Pets Canine Athlete or their Show Dog formulas.

Me: When you no longer can do this anymore, what do you want to be remembered for?

Marilyn: I hope that I’m remembered for being a good wife, a good mother and grandmother and a good friend. I also would like to be remembered as a person who had a couple of good dogs along the way.

Me: It’s getting better all the time or do we still have a long ways to go?

Marilyn: It’s getting better. We have made tremendous strides in temperament, soundness, and health because we have become more conscientious breeders. We used to have to deal with dogs dying younger. The dogs now live longer. My last three dogs died at almost 14 years old! We used to think if dogs lived to be ten that that was great. Now we expect them to live longer.

Me: Anything that people don’t know about you that you’d like to share?

Marilyn: Well I’m a die hard Yankee fan!!! I love to cook. Oh yeah, I have two horses that I adore and having horses is something new for me.

Thanks Marilyn for letting me interview you and to use your pictures!

My rating: Darby Dan dogs: (4)


  1. One of my females came out of the son of Ch.Darby-Dan's Audi. Was a wonderful GSD. (now deseased)

  2. Yes, the Darby Dan kennels have produced some wonderful representatives of the breed!