Current Affairs in the Dog Show Scene

From "Success in Show Dogs," Dogs in Review, February 2012

Dogs in Review

The new AKC Judging Approval Process has been approved basically as originally presented and goes into effect March 1, 2012. Its contents have been covered in considerable depth both here and elsewhere throughout the sport so there is no real need to delve into the process again.

As I have said before, I see the process as a sincere attempt on the part of the American Kennel Club to improve the quality of judging. No process is perfect, nor has there ever been one in the past either in this country or in any other. Nothing is ever carved in stone and what doesn’t actually work this time around can always be amended in the future. Time itself will make that decision for us.

There is only one item that I can say I disagree with and that is found early on in the details governing the process. It reads, “The open design of this program places the responsibility for advancement in the hands of the applicant.”

The ultimate decision as to who is approved for what, who is “invited” to go forward and consequently for the ultimate success of this plan will in fact rest very much in the hands of those who are selected to make the decisions.

If those individuals, beginning with the Field Representatives and following through on to the Judges Review Committee, are able to approach their task with real knowledge of those judging aspirants who do in fact have ability, and evaluate these aspirants objectively on their ability to evaluate breeding stock, I see no reason why this process should do anything less than succeed well. If not, the process can be nothing more than any other antiquated old boys’ club.

It is only human to want the best for one’s friends. However, as I have written so many times in the past, there are few who would invite even those they love most dearly to come on in and take a whack at their open heart surgery. The individuals placed in positions of approval in this new process will have a great deal of responsibility placed upon their shoulders and bear meticulous scrutiny — as it should be.

There is one born every minute!
It seems we somehow aren’t able to convince American dog lovers that a mongrel is a mongrel is a mongrel. For as long as I’ve been in dogs, mixed breeds were the ones that came free — from the litter sired by the neighborhood’s local Lothario out of old Tricia who probably decided on the blessed event all on her own.

But America’s fascination with the canine “rare and unusual” seems to keep the door open to a constant flow of cockapoos, puggles and all the rest of the designer dogs which, as we all know, are nothing more than the same old free mutts that neighbors would beg you to take.

Unbelievably a cousin of mine told me that neighbors who reside in San Anselmo, an upscale Northern California enclave, have spent 6 months awaiting the arrival of their cockapoo. It appears there is a waiting list for the curly little fellows that is months long and prices begin at $2,000 (“deposits in advance, please”).

It seems cockapoos have out-distanced Labradoodles in recent San Anselmo popularity polls, but fear not. “Cockapoos also are known to inherit only the positive traits” of who knows what lies in their ancestry and as an added bonus, “they only grow as large as their smallest parent.”

P.T. Barnum sure knew what he was talking about when he uttered those immortal words, “There’s a sucker born every minute!”

Stop and enjoy the forest for a moment
One of the greatest shortcomings I see today among students of purebred dogs is a marked inability to appreciate the whole dog. There is obviously something wrong with the manner in which we teach each other in that we never seem able to impress our students with the importance of being able to pick out the best dog or dogs in a lineup.

I was sitting with a group of ringsiders at a very large show only recently and as one Group that especially abounded in quality came into the ring the conversation immediately turned to what was wrong with this, that and the other dog. “I know that one has done a lot of winning, but I just can’t handle that hindquarter.” “Well, if I were showing that, you can be sure it wouldn’t have 25 Best in Shows.” And on and on and on…

Am I saying the dogs in discussion were faultless? Not by a long shot. But on the other hand, I as a judge would kill to have any one of them in my ring at any time, any place.

Do people not understand just how hard it is to breed a really good dog and that none of them is perfect? Is it us? Are we falling down in the education department? I have to admit that at times I feel as though I’m a complete failure at getting points across. I’ve sat with students in several breeds I’ve been closely involved with and explained my brains away and yet watching what they breed and or select as Best absolutely mystifies me.

To take just one example: those who have bred Bichons over the years will have no problem in agreeing that short legs and length of body are the drag of the breed. It is a necky breed and Bichons need some leg under them. They don’t have to be storks by any means, but when a breeder fights dumpy at every breeding it does hurt to have their good one go down to some dwarf-looking thing. The rule is quite simple: dwarfy — no, elegant — yes. Now that doesn’t seem too hard to figure out, does it?

Where to put the emphasis
New dog breeds are entering our ranks faster as some say than they can keep up with. The question arises as to how to judge these dog breeds. Are they to be judged just like any other?

If it is a dog breed that comes to this country with substantial development and a strong gene pool behind it, quality will, or at least should, be very high. There is little trouble taking general soundness and showmanship into consideration.

That is the ideal situation, however, and many of the newly arrived dog breeds do not have that advantage. Overall quality can be scarce. One finds a few of the better ones here and there, but they perhaps sorely disappoint in soundness and the charisma that is admired so highly here in North America.

On the other hand, the poorest of the specimens may excel in the very characteristics that the better specimens fail in. They disguise their lack of true breed type with a sound way of going and charismatic attitude. They are able to pass themselves off as valuable to their breed.

Judging these breeds either in the ring or in the whelping box must take careful consideration and good judgment. When quality is reasonably high in a dog breed, selection can be less forgiving on faults of soundness and attitude. When real quality is hard to come by, the dogs adhering to the standard’s demands for breed type must be given priority.

This at first reading may not find as much agreement as it does when one stops to realize how difficult it would be to breed top-quality specimens from a pair whose only virtues were soundness and showmanship. On the other hand if a breeder were to start off with a pair of reasonably good type, some knowledge and effort could very conceivably work on the soundness aspects of a few generations and emerge with animals that succeed in both type and soundness.

We have many new dog breeds today, some coming from generations of brilliant breeding programs abroad. In many cases they will be in knowledgeable hands here as well. Other dog breeds have not been so fortunate and will require development here in our country.

The difficult thing in this situation is that in many cases the lesser-developed dog breeds will often fall into the hands of those who are devoted, but far less educated in canine matters. Theirs is a daunting task in that they must learn basic anatomy and general soundness while they learn how those important aspects apply to their dog breed or breeds specifically.

It is up to both those who judge and the more educated members of our sport to offer up assistance in any way we can to ensure that these new fellows do not become discouraged and give up their cause before it has really even begun.

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