Probably one of the greatest frustrations for exhibitors of competitive class dogs and bitches is feeling it is a foregone conclusion that Best of Breed will be awarded to a special of however much or little quality. No one objects to a worthy representative being given the nod, but a mediocre champion that earned its title by avoiding the competition and has little to offer except chronological age should not arrive at the show with a built-in advantage.
In Great Britain there is no specials class and champions are shown in Open together with class animals. Champions are not identified as such to the judge nor given any preferred status. Foreign dog show judges in general seem to be less concerned about the class from which their winner is chosen.
And so, given our judges’ reluctance to rock the boat, it’s interesting to see what appear to be more class dogs and bitches going Best of Breed lately. I haven’t kept statistics but in merely attending shows and checking weekly results, that’s been my observation in recent months. It’s also interesting that those putting up class dogs and bitches for Best of Breed have been solid, conservative, longtime multi-Group dog show judges, not young, brash up-and-comers who want to shake up the conformation establishment by bucking tradition.
It certainly reflects greater confidence on the part of our judges and a greater willingness to recognize and reward quality wherever it is found. When aspects of breed type are lost for a few generations, it takes courage for a breeder to bring out the lone dog he believes is correct, knowing it will look different. It takes equal courage for a discerning judge to find that one correct dog and send it to the head of the line. If, for example, the trend in breeding generic show dogs is to produce a short-backed square dog even when the standard requires off-square, the correct dog will stick out. It’s easier to choose your winners from among the pack of incorrect, square dogs that all look alike, but what a disservice that is to the breed and to the sport.
Perhaps the cynics will say there is a correlation between more class dogs and bitches winning Best of Breed these days and the judges having Selects to hand out to the specials. I sincerely hope that isn’t the case. Any owner whose champion is being consistently defeated for Best of Breed, whether by other champions or by class animals, would do well to have their dog evaluated objectively by a breed expert. Is the dog worth showing as a special? Winning Selects shouldn’t stop that conversation from taking place.
Seeing a typey puppy or class animal judged on the day, deemed superior in quality to an average champion and sent to the Best of Breed marker without a thought given to how it will look in the Group ring is an encouraging development. Such out-of-the-box judging could invigorate our sport, gladden the hearts of disillusioned exhibitors and pull the rug out from under the skeptics’ feet.