When it comes to some of our most popular, mainstream breeds, there has always been a chasm between the pet-owning public’s version of the dog and the show breeder’s counterpart. The typical Cocker Spaniel being walked on American streets is bigger, more generic and bears little resemblance to the highly stylized Cocker we see in the show ring. Yorkies are bigger, and invariably silver or black-and-tan rather than the beautiful steel blue so prized by the fancy. German Shepherds are more generic. And just about any large, spitzy-looking dog is called a “husky,” particularly if it has blue eyes.
Still, most show breeders and parent clubs tried hard to educate the public and present to the media what they considered to be worthy examples of these breeds. And if ever a film star or celebrity did a photo shoot for TV or a glossy magazine, publicists made sure the dog accompanying the star was a great example of its breed, often asking important kennels to borrow champions for the shoot.
If a publicist occasionally goofed and a poor representative was used, vigilant breeders and parent clubs howled over the gaffe, worrying that visibility in a newsstand magazine could trigger a market for dogs with serious and disqualifying faults.
Over the decades, the fancy has managed to weather fads like white Dobermans and grossly oversized, muscle-bound Rottweilers. Parent clubs stepped up to the plate, placing ads in newspapers and pet magazines to explain the genetic and health issues plaguing these poorly bred dogs.
Fast forward to today when we have several powerful forces working to undermine our breeders and our sport, and undervalue our carefully bred dogs. First, the Internet, where terrible breeders can reinvent themselves, boasting that they produce fine champions, mentor companion and show homes, and believe in mom and apple pie. Then a proliferation of dubious private registries to bamboozle the public and devalue the American Kennel Club. Then a fad for “designer dogs,” because apparently having close to 200 AKC-recognized breeds isn’t nearly enough for some people. And lastly, the opportunists who are willing to sacrifice their breeds by selling dogs with major faults for obscene amounts of money.
Given the passion and outrage demonstrated by parent clubs and breeders in decades past, it was disappointing to see a photo of a young celebrity recently on social media. His fashion accessory was a popular breed in a disqualifying color. Comments from active exhibitors and handlers were all about the shirtless young man but not a word about the DQ. One woman in the breed posted that “we see that color all over New York and L.A. Lots of stars have them.” So there’s a pet market for expensive purebreds with DQs and that’s OK?
Has the media become so saturated with designer mutts and bogus registries that parent clubs and good breeders have given up their duty to educate the public? Their frustration is understandable, but that would still be a sad state of affairs. The disconnect between pet owners and show breeders is especially worrying when we wonder where our next generation of dog fanciers is coming from.