Kennel produces award-winning terriers

Tibetan dogs a rare breed for Wisconsin, surrounding states
Ivy, a Tibetan Terrier who recently won a Select Bitch award from the Westminster Dog Show, relaxes with the sun beaming in from the window as she looks at her owner, Nikkie Kinziger, who operates Ri Lee Kennels between Oconto Falls and Abrams. (Lee Pulaski | NEW Media)The ribbons of more than 100 champion Tibetan Terriers fill several rooms in the home of Nikkie Kinziger, showcasing a lifetime of breeding and showing a breed of dog not commonly found in Wisconsin. (Lee Pulaski | NEW Media)Nikkie Kinziger recently welcomed some puppies into her home in July. For the dogs she shows, training and exposure to humans starts shortly after their birth. (Lee Pulaski | NEW Media)
Lee Pulaski
City Editor

Northeast Wisconsin is known for its cherries, its cattle farms and plenty of tranquil waterways, but there’s one other claim to fame that the region has — award-winning Tibetan Terriers.

In one part of Nikkie Kinziger’s home between Oconto Falls and Abrams, the dogs provide a friendly atmosphere. In the other part are rooms full of ribbons won by the terriers both past and present, a testament to Kinziger’s 42-year history of raising them and showing more than 100 champions.

Kinziger recently came back from the Westminster Dog Show with a couple of those ribbons. Ivy was named the Select Bitch for the breed, while Vivienne won Best of Opposite Sex. Kinziger took five of her dogs to the Kennel Club Dog Show in Tampa Bay, Florida, and all came home with awards.

She was the breeder of merit from the American Kennel Club with the Tibetan Terriers and has the top winning female in the history of the breed, which broke a 30-year-old record for the number of best of shows won that has been held for 12 years. Kinziger has many times had to go up against celebrity dog owners in order to come home a winner.

“Bill Cosby, he was very big into his show dogs,” Kinziger said. “Martha Stewart and Greg Louganis. There’s Jane Firestone of Firestone Tires. When you’re competing against people of that caliber and money, and you have a small-town girl from Oconto Falls, Wisconsin, going to New York and winning, it’s quite an honor. I don’t have the pocketbook to spend on the advertising and all the magazines. My dogs have won on their merit.”

Kinziger noted that what makes the victories so much sweeter is the fact that Tibetan Terriers aren’t as popular a breed as cocker spaniels, Irish setters or golden retrievers.

“They always say that when you win, you have a target on your back, which I do,” she said. “That’s OK. I earned it the honest way. I’m not the child of judges, and I did not work for a professional handler.”

For Kinziger, showing animals is in the blood, with her parents showing race horses and other dog breeds. However, Tibetan Terriers are not a common dog in Wisconsin or any surrounding states, so bringing the breed to the frozen tundra was a bold move.

“My mother had wanted to find a breed that was, at the time, not around here, and there are still very few and far between of this breed,” Kinziger said. “We had our first couple imported from Missouri and then one from Illinois, and that started us in the breed.”

Kinziger was gifted a Tibetan Terrier when she graduated from high school, and from there, she has raised dozens. She recently welcomed new puppies into the home that will eventually go to homes, but their training to acclimate to humans and prepare for the shows starts almost immediately after emerging from their mother’s womb.

“I start from two days old, starting to do their toenails and things like that, handling them a lot so they get used to the manipulation,” Kinziger said. “When they get to be four or five weeks, I stack them on the tables and start looking at structure, because with Tibetans, what you see at five weeks is basically what you get as an adult.”

She also gets them used to various stimuli, including a kiddie pool with an assortment of balls that allows them to adapt to noises and tactile sensations.

“I’ll leave empty dog food bags on the floor,” Kinziger said. “They’ll look at it and be like, ‘What is it?’ They’ll kind of stalk up to it and then they’ll start pouncing on it and crawling in it. If you leave a grocery bag in the middle of the floor, this breed is so perceptive. If they see something that’s out of place, they know it.”

Getting the dogs used to unknown factors prepares them for exhibiting the proper behavior at dog shows, with Kinziger noting there will be things like chairs dropping or babies crying.

“You want to get them so that, when they’re in the ring at the exact moment that the judge is looking at your dog and the baby starts screaming or the chair gets knocked over, that the dog isn’t freaking out,” she said.

Kinziger also starts getting her dogs accustomed to bathing and grooming rituals at a young age, getting them used to hair dryers and laying them on a grooming table.

The Tibetan Terriers can be aloof with strangers at first, according to Kinziger, but once they realize that she’s not in any danger, they will be friendly and welcoming. However, first impressions are key when the dogs meet certain humans.

“If they don’t like you when they first meet you, they will never like you,” Kinziger said.

Running a dog kennel in a wooded area on County Road E during the day allows Kinziger time to work with her own dogs while providing care for others. She also occasionally substitute teaches in the Oconto Falls School District.

“I’m very fortunate. I’m not saying it’s an easy job. It’s definitely a lot of work, but it beats a nine-to-five clock job. I’m lucky. I’ve got that to look at every day,” Kinziger said as she pointed to Ivy, one of her award winners, “versus sitting behind a desk or that kind of thing.”