Are We Really Evaluating Breeding Stock?

From "You Said It," Dogs in Review, April 2012

So often we in the dog show world hear the phrase that the purpose of dog shows is the “evaluation of breeding stock.” Well, let’s explore that concept.

Webster’s Unabridged tells us that “evaluation” means “to determine the worth of; to find the amount of value of; to appraise.”
Is that really what is done in dog show judging? Does merely placing four dogs in an order of 1, 2, 3, 4 really tell anyone anything about the value of the animals? Especially as 4th in one class may well be a far better example than the 1st in another? Value for what purpose?

Placements are only an indication of relative rank, not any information as to the individual’s worth, or its individual qualities in respect to the standard. For that sort of information, we should look to programs such as the Briard Club’s Rassemblement, or the Golden Retriever Club’s Certificate of Conformation Assessment program, where actual critiques are provided.

As to what constitutes “breeding stock”: “breeding is the producing of young; the raising of animals or plants, especially for the purpose of improving the stock.” “Stock” is a “strain, race or other related group of animals or plants.”

So then, the animals being “evaluated” at our shows are to be considered not for themselves, not for their own quality, but for what they have produced? Or even for what they might produce in the future? (If you have the secret to that, there are many breeders who would pay much for getting in on it!)

If that is the purpose of shows, then shouldn’t the premier classes at all shows be the Stud Dog and Brood Bitch classes, where it is the progeny that are exhibited in order to demonstrate what the parent has produced?

If the purpose of breeding is paramount (as expressed in the phrase “evaluation of breeding stock”), why then bother with Group and Best in Show competition? Why then the relentless emphasis on presentation and showmanship? Unless, possibly, the intention of breeding is only the production of more show dogs — more dogs that will be amenable to the “enhancements” now so common, and performance of the art form that is modern dog showing in this country.

Now assuming that you are a serious person looking for someone to honestly evaluate your potential breeding stock, wouldn’t you prefer someone with depth and breadth of experience in your breed; someone whose opinion is respected? Surely you would expect more than just a wordless indication to the effect that “I think that your dog is better than that one, but I prefer this dog today,” which is about all an exhibitor actually gets from their time in the show ring.

A breeder with serious interest in upholding the breed’s purposes, temperament, soundness, function and adherence to the historical ideas of the breed, would probably not choose someone to do this evaluation who has seen no more of the breed than a limited number of show dogs, nor a person who might be doing their first provisional assignment in this breed. Why would they? Well, of course there is the chance of winning ribbons, points, etc., which is likely the primary motivation for many.

In order to truly evaluate breeding stock, a valid evaluator should have a wide experience in this breed; an understanding of the conformation, structure, temperament, etc. in this breed; understanding of the breed’s history and purposes; and, it would be hoped, the ability to give an informative and accurate verbal or written critique of each dog. Obviously, very few of our present-day judges fulfill those requirements. And it is really not possible, nor really necessary, that they do so. Because we are not really evaluating breeding stock.

That’s right, we are not — at least not directly. The AKC itself says right in the beginning of the Rules pertaining to dog shows, that the purpose of dog shows is to “demonstrate the progress that has been made in the breeding” of purebred dogs.

The key here is “…has been made…” Not to select candidates for future breeding, but to assess results already accomplished. We cannot judge what is yet to be. As many experienced judges have said, our job is to judge only what is before us on that particular day; not what a dog was, nor what it might be or produce in the future. Only the dog as it stands before us.

And that is entirely sufficient. A judge’s duty is not to be directing anyone’s breeding program, only judging the results, from which capable breeders should be able to take their cues as is appropriate.

We may also keep in mind that not all exhibitors are, or intend to be, breeders. Their dogs may well never be “breeding stock.” Even so, and very importantly, they are all exhibiting the results of someone’s breeding program, and that is very much in accord with the stated purpose of dog shows.

Many people show dogs as a hobby, perhaps to fulfill a need for a type of competition, or simply to “show off” dogs that they have pride in. All are valid and sufficient reasons. The judges are there only to indicate the relative merits of the dogs before them, as guided by their individual perceptions of the demands of that breed’s standard. To do that well is certainly a demanding task.

Some of the top-winning dogs in AKC history have never produced offspring — how could they be considered “breeding stock?” Still, they are no less valuable, because they do show the results of what produced them, and also because they serve as models of what can be achieved. Is that not reason enough to recognize them?

(1) Full quote from the forward to the AKC’s Rules Applying to Dog Shows: “Competition in conformation and performance events can best demonstrate the progress that has been made in breeding for type and quality, and/or for practical use, stamina and obedience. The American Kennel Club has therefore adopted bylaws, rules and regulations by which to govern and administrate these events; the clubs that wish to hold them; and the individuals who exhibit, compete or take part in them.”

Do you have something on your mind regarding our sport? We’d love to hear from you. Send your 1,000-word think pieces to We cannot confirm receipt of entries nor guarantee publication.

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