This is the time when we celebrate the great winners of the past year. Some truly amazing records have been achieved by the top show dogs whizzing back and forth across the country, covering thousands of miles in search of glory and rankings success.
If you’re waiting for me to tell you that these dogs really aren’t that good, forget it. All highly visible top winners become targets of sometimes exaggerated criticism, both from competitors and an occasional judge. When you watch the same dog winning week after week it’s hard to see the tree for the forest, so to speak, and view the dog objectively. (That works both ways: some judges follow the road of least resistance, like lemmings, and point to the famous dog without more than a cursory glance at the competition. This is, of course, as harmful as the opposite extreme.)
On balance, however, I think most serious dog people would agree that the top dogs in the US are a pretty outstanding group. They wouldn’t have gotten where they are without some very knowledgeable people believing in them from the start. It’s no reflection on the quality of these dogs if what determines how far they can go from there is so largely influenced by ambition, stamina, money and showmanship.
What I’m questioning is not the dogs but the rankings. There just has to be a better, more equitable way of tabulating who the top dogs are than the current systems, all of which take into account wins at every single show throughout the year. The result, of course, is that to earn a top placement you need to go to as many shows as possible. The seven group leaders each won Best of Breed 150 to 176 times last year, and since even the top dogs were defeated on occasion, they were probably shown around 160 to 190 times, perhaps more, almost every week of the year. So far it’s only rarely possible to win two Breeds in one day, and if you figure two days’ travel per week, these dogs — and their handlers — must have spent about 250 to 300 days of last year either at a dog show or on the road.
Let me quote a professional handler here. Asked what she most wanted to change in our sport, Valerie Nunes-Atkinson responded in the DR Annual (p. 180): “The ratings system, without a doubt. … The present systems and the dramatic increase in the number of shows have completely changed our sport. Competing at the highest levels requires a major bank account/backer, a slick advertising/design campaign and a handler without a life. There’s no way to be competitive unless you are at a show getting points. … Constant travel is a must.” Can it be put more clearly?
If somehow we limited the number of shows where ratings points can be gained, I’m sure the current leaders would still feature prominently. What we would gain is that a large number of outstanding dogs that are more seldom shown would get the credit they deserve. Nobody except perhaps the most inveterate point-chaser would lose.
Other countries have their own systems. In the UK there are only about 25 huge annual all-breed championship shows. In Sweden only each dog’s top 8 results count. In the US we’ve got to do it differently. Do we count points only at the country’s top 100 shows? The top 10 shows in each state? Count only each dog’s 50 best results in a year? Have qualifying regional competitions and a year-end finale at AKC/Eukanuba?
I would love to hear your thoughts. Please email me at email@example.com. Finding a solution won’t be easy, but I think we can all agree that going to 150 or 200 dog shows per year is not “normal,” and not good for anyone: not the dogs, not the handlers, and certainly not the sport.