Aspiring to Become a Student of Dogs

Dog shows aren't just for competing, they're for learning. From "Editor's Page," Dogs in Review, January 2012

Dogs in Review

Someone asked me recently what I mean by a “student of dogs?” I consider that phrase a huge compliment and I don’t use it lightly. I’ve known judges, breeders, handlers and even admirers of dogs who didn’t own one that I’ve described using those three words. Someone who never stops learning, whose curiosity is endless, whose passion knows no bounds certainly qualifies. Above all, I think the phrase presumes a deep interest in the sport beyond one’s own dogs and breed.

The best breeders, handlers and judges are always comparing dogs, evaluating the competition and weighing strengths and weaknesses. Greatness does not exist in a vacuum; to be considered great you must possess qualities lacking in your contemporaries. That applies to dogs and people.

In light of all the newly recognized breeds that have arrived in our AKC conformation rings, it was revealing to stroll the recent AKC/Eukanuba National Championship show in Orlando and watch lots of breed judging with various acquaintances.

I was amazed at how many people were unfamiliar with breeds currently competing against them in their own Groups. Often I had to correct someone who assumed it was a Miscellaneous breed we were watching. “Nope. They’re in. Official. Recognized. Stop brushing for a minute and look behind you the next time you’re in the Group ring or, better yet, watch the Group from ringside.”

It’s disrespectful to your fellow exhibitors who’ve jumped through all the hoops, met eligibility requirements and gone from the Miscellaneous Class to full recognition to call their breed “one of those speckled hound dogs,” or “some European mastiff,” or a “spitz from Scandinavia that climbs trees and has too many toes.” Disrespectful and shortsighted, too! That new dog could kick your butt at next weekend’s show so you should find out if it’s a good one.

I’ve never been able to understand the people who fly across the country to New York for Westminster, but then are in and out of Madison Square Garden in an hour or less. Once their breed has been judged they’re off to shop! Sometimes the exit is earlier than Best of Breed, if a particular dog hasn’t made the cut. How about shopping any other Monday or Tuesday of the year?

Early morning, while the shoppers are planning their strategy, the students of dogs are planning theirs — with a bright yellow marker in their hotel rooms, highlighting ring numbers, all the breeds they want — no, need! — to watch, deciding on the best places to position themselves to view multiple rings at the same time. During Westminster, their shopping tends to happen at the vendors’ booths in the benching area.

To those who are fascinated by the newly recognized breeds as well as the exciting young dogs of established breeds; who attend seminars; read books voraciously; ask questions of knowledgeable breeders and parent-club officers at Meet the Breeds: keep doing what you do. You’ve earned the honor of being called a student of dogs.

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