Renaissance for Rare Breeds?

Rare Breeds are Gaining Popularity, Editor's Note Dogs in Review February 2011



This column is being written a week after I attended the huge Rose City Classic shows in Portland, Ore., where an Icelandic Sheepdog made American history by winning an all-breed Best in Show in an entry of 2629. The week before, a Redbone Coonhound won a Hound Group First from the classes in a strong section of the country, and is placing in the Group regularly.

These wins come on the heels of 2010, a year that saw a multiple BIS Tibetan Mastiff place in the Top 10 Working Dogs. A Neapolitan Mastiff made AKC history by winning an all-breed Best in Show, then claiming at least one more.

If you judge the Miscellaneous Class, you should have prepared yourself for the arrival, on January 1, of such canine exotica as the statuesque Argentine Dogo, the wooly Bergamasco, the hairless Peruvian Inca Orchid (a coated variety exists as well), the Portuguese Podengo (Pequeno or small, athough the breed comes in three sizes and two coat types), the beguiling Pumi, a Hungarian herding terrier, and the Sloughi, an Arabian Greyhound.

Don’t refer to them dismissively as “new breeds.” They may be new to our shores but many boast ancient pedigrees in their homelands and long histories in service to mankind. And while “rare” is a handy term to describe non-AKC-recognized breeds, it’s also a relative term; some of these breeds are more plentiful in this country than the Sussex Spaniel or the Otterhound.

I asked some judges a few months ago how they were learning about the breeds poised for full AKC Group status at the start of 2011. They shrugged and asked rhetorically, what were the chances they’d be faced with more than one or two of these dogs at a typical show. Not exactly the attitude that will warm the cockles of the rare-breed community’s heart and generate a flood of entries. As the owners of the 17 Icelandic Sheepdogs who’d come to Portland from points as distant as Ohio, Michigan and California illustrated, passionate exhibitors will travel when they can be assured of a respectful reception.

There is a learning curve for both exhibitors and judges of newly recognized breeds. Having judged my share of rare-breed shows over the years, I always encourage owners to socialize their puppies early and never stop. As for an adult of a primitive breed that wants no part of the show ring, no championship is worth stressing out an already insecure dog, putting judges in harm’s way and tarnishing your breed’s reputation in the process.

Judges, for their part, should educate themselves about the newly recognized breeds and offer a kind word to novices who are helping to support our shows during lean times. At the end of the day, if a particular breed makes you nervous, you have the right — many would say the obligation — not to judge it. To see judges approach dogs fearfully and verbalize their trepidation to stewards and exhibitors is embarrassing.

Let’s welcome the newly arrived breeds and exhibitors of 2011. Judge them fairly, smile and do what you can to convince them to stick around. To meet the Class of 2011 — the Miscellaneous Class, that is, in word and picture — turn to page 84.

Allan Reznik, Editor-in-Chief

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