“We still breed Staffies,” says David Graham, “but we were keen to have big dogs and settled on the Dogue de Bordeaux. The Dogue is a large French bred Mastiff, now an uncommon breed. They’re recognised for their huge head, the largest in dogdom in relation to body size.”
David and Vanessa moved from Auckland to a 10 acre block at Portland, 8kms south of Whangarei, in 2004. David had been a computer geek working as a network engineer, while Vanessa had just given birth to their eldest daughter, Mia, when the prospect of managing Paradise Quarry came up. Paradise specialises in oceanic schist. Here was the opportunity to change gear. Instead of keeping two dogs, they could increase the pack to eight, and increase the size of dog they kept. Now with a second daughter, Kahli, 4, the Grahams are living their dream.
“As with all big dogs you get an automatic guard function but the Dogue has nouse. Once its owner has let you in, they relax. The French used them as ancient war dogs and guardians of castles. They patrolled estate grounds, padded along the perimeter – a considerable deterrent – and raised the alarm.
“Our three Dogues can eat up to 3kg of food a day between them. As a standard, females weigh 45-55kgs and the males, 60-80kgs. They’re great family dogs because they’re even-tempered and they’re not high energy. If you want a dog to go running with you, don’t pick a Dogue, you’ll wear it out. They’re designed for the short burst and even though they’re a powerful animal, 2kms of exercise a day is sufficient.
“We take ours hunting, and they enjoy pulling the possums to bits as much as our Staffies do but they’re essentially a low maintenance dog. Like all giant breeds, they’re not long-lived, averaging a ten year lifespan. They’re slow maturers too, about 3 years, whereas a toy breed matures in one year, and the Staffie can take two.
“The Staffie (English Staffordshire Bull Terrier) was bred to fight. Due to adverse publicity people have become wary of them, but actually they’re the best family dog you can have, provided you raise them properly. They’re people-friendly, child-focused, and activity-oriented. Because they’ve been bred to fight, they have a high pain threshold which means that when the kid pokes it in the eye with a rusk, or tweaks its ear, the Staffie just turns away.
“All our dogs are great with kids, but if you want to find the Staffies, you have to find the kids – they just love them.
“We feed our dogs high-end dried kibble. They also get raw bones, eggs, fresh meat, and supplements, including fish oil tablets and diatomaceous earth. All of these are not absolutely necessary – we come at it from the perfectionist end of the scale but with eight dogs, we try to keep them in top health to avoid vet bills.”
The leap from computers to quarry management is not as odd as it might seem since the Graham’s other hobby is landscape development, and they manage a subtropical nursery on the property. Dreaming it and then doing it, has definitely worked for this family.