I’m ready to rant again. But then if I wasn’t carrying on about something, you’d have no idea who was writing this, would you?
This time it’s about our lack of intestinal fortitude - having the courage to go ahead and do the right thing in spite of what every Tom, Dick and
Harriett might be doing. And it’s about putting at least some emphasis on selecting the best breeding stock in our litters and in the ring. We
already have enough dogs that look like “the rest.” How about at least once in a while giving the occasional one that can really do something
for a breed an even break? I’m talking about that one really correct dog in the
line-up that all too often gets tossed out with the trash because it doesn’t look like “the rest.”
At a show I was at recently, a veteran breeder-exhibitor of Soft Coated Wheaten Terriers
entered the ring with a bitch of really exquisite type.
Now, mind you, this wasn’t just an any old someone who has hung around dog shows for a bunch of years without contributing a thing. This
person has been a mainstay in the breed for over a quarter of a century, someone who knows what a good one is and has produced good dogs
over the years.
Even for those totally unfamiliar with the Wheaten, you could guess from the two big clues in the breed’s name that coat and color are of major
importance. The breed standard itself states very clearly, “Coat - is a distinguishing characteristic of the breed which sets the dog apart from all
other terriers.” Regarding coat type the standard goes on to say, “soft and silky with a gentle wave.” And again further along, space is given to
the fact that while the breed is presented “to show a terrier outline...sharp contrasts or stylization must be avoided.”
But back to said exhibitor’s young bitch. She was truly a standout in the
class - a standout for a number of reasons: her conformation was outstanding, her coat was of the correct type, texture and color, and she was properly groomed. Because of all this, she looked like nothing else
in her class.
Was she Best of Breed? Winners? Reserve?
None of the above. She was out of the ring quicker than you could shake a stick at!
Among the spectators at ringside was a “friend” who was standing with those who felt the bitch in question had been entirely missed. When
this friend pointed out the difference in coat type and lack of tonsorial stylization, those who know the breed well assured him that both coat
and presentation were exactly what was correct.
Friend’s response was, “Well, if they plan on ever winning with that bitch, they’d better get with the program and have her dog look like the
And you know what? Friend was probably right. If you want to get anywhere in the
day-to-day dog game, your dog had better look like the rest, or if not like the rest, at least like the one that’s doing all the current big winning. And that’s irrespective of how right or wrong that
popular “look” might be!
At another show, the last of a four-day cluster, I was the judge in charge and the breed was American Cockers--a breed that has held my
interest since before Hector even thought of being a pup.
A handler came into my ring with one of the loveliest young bitches I’ve seen in years. But it was immediately apparent that the two had not
worked together for any length of time. The young bitch was sporadic in what she was more capable of doing well.
Nevertheless, her beautiful type and general conformation (one off the best fronts I’ve seen in ages!) was such that she could have nothing
less than Best of Variety. (I must admit that her competition was less than formidable--far less!) But the bitch would have stood out like a sore
thumb in any company.
Had she won all of the previous three days? Had she won any of the previous days?
None of the above!
She didn’t show to perfection, but her movement was completely correct. She didn’t fly around the ring as though her feathers were on fire, but
what she did was correct. She hesitated now and then, but the tail was going and it was easy to see that her problem was stubbornness rather
than timidity. The bottom line of it all is that her type was drop-dead gorgeous and because of it, she looked nothing like her competition.
I can name you half a dozen instances I’ve observed recently that the “odd man was out,” not because the dog was wrong but because the dog
was entirely right, but the only dog in its class that was really correct.
The last word?
So, am I attempting to convey that I know everything there is to know about everything there is to know? Or that everyone should be putting
up the same dog? Not by a long shot. But I do know that half a dozen wrongs in a class or in a breed do not make a right!
Being right is a lonely place in today’s dog game. It’s conforming that has obviously become
more important. In truth, you’ll have scores of friends as a judge, and probably as many wins if you’re an exhibitor, if you learn to conform, but who of those who really know their breed want
to conform to what they know in their heart is wrong?
I know that at times it takes great courage to acknowledge what is right, but especially in your own breed or breeds--who will if you don’t? You
may think following the drifts and the trends will maintain your status as “one of the guys,” when in reality it just marks you as one of the herd.
None of us show our dogs to lose. Of course we want to win, but I think I can speak for most conscientious breeders and exhibitors in saying
that winning with something you know isn’t worth the powder to blow it away is no win at all. We can go out and buy one of those ugly winged
victories for a whole lot less than it takes to schlep 14 tons of grooming equipment to a dog show half way across the country.
However, in all fairness, I guess you can’t help but have a certain degree of empathy for breeders who eventually do conform and breed to
“what wins.” but stop and think - will our young judges and new breeders and exhibitors ever have the opportunity to see a good one if
everyone conforms to a popular but misguided trend? I mean, how much can you blame a judge for not recognizing a good one when it comes
into the ring if he’s never seen a really top one before?
Is this the first time in American show dog history that some breeds have ebbed or drifted to a point in which real quality is all but nonexistent?
Not so. However, our situation today is unique in such a way that it is increasingly more difficult to emerge from these lapses into mediocrity
that some of our breeds are experiencing. The reason is that ours has become an exhibitor’s rather than a breeder’s game. Now it’s , “the more
the merrier.” Wins that is - more wins.
The bottom line in what it takes to be a winner in today’s game is much different than what it was. In order for a dog to win ‘big,” its most
important quality is endurance. After all, of what consequence is a dog not capable of standing up to at least 100 Bests in Show? And it’s
definitely not which shows but how many that is of consequence.
Winning big has taken precedence over winning well.
We mustn’t forget that if dogs of average or questionable type receive all the
acknowledgment, it is also they who set the unwritten standard - the standard to which the novice breeds and the inexperienced judge judges.
The only time that doesn’t happen is if there is someone in the respective breed that has the knowledge and the clout to nip the problem in the
bud and remind the breeding and exhibiting world at large that win records no longer necessarily equate with what is correct for a breed.
Understand, there is absolutely nothing wrong with aspiring to accumulate lofty
records - on the contrary. It’s all a part of the dog show
“game.” Why not? It’s fun! But we must all - judge, exhibitor and
breeder - take great care in our lionization of the dog that wins most.
Acknowledge the dog as top winner - that’s completely deserving. However, that winner must also be made of what is correct for the breed
before he deserves accolades for quality and type - for what is correct for the breed.
Win records do not produce quality. Quality is produced in the whelping box by the amateur element of the dog game--the breeder.
AKC Helps little
Alas, the AKC is proving to be of little help in our plight. Decisions, such as awarding a $75,000 prize at the organization’s forthcoming show,
do little to slow down this shift toward lionization of the mega-winner. If anything, this only serves to exacerbate the drift.
The AKC’s decision is ill-advised in so many ways, not the least of which was captured in another publication so succinctly by long-time judge
Mr. Ralph Del Deo. Del Deo, like many others of us, question using one man’s (or woman’s) opinion, as educated as it might be, as the deciding
factor in making the $75,000 award.
No successfully jumping through a hoop, or crossing the finish line first, or achieving the greatest number of home runs or anything else that
can be counted, or contested, for that matter. Simply put, one person’s opinion will prevail and you can rest assured that the person rendering
that opinion will not be put in the difficult position of having to decide if the award should be given to a complete unknown, no matter how
perfect, should an unknown ever get that far in the first place.
We can only hope that this coming AKC event won’t be one of those occasions when the ultimate award goes to what is one of the best-loved
and least deserving of the seven dogs competing. You would think the AKC might have learned this lesson.
As long as the dog game continues on as a game of numbers, the individual breeds will be influenced by
numbers - the greatest number of
look-alikes will prevail.
In the case of breeds where the quality is high, this will serve to the breed’s benefit. When this is not the case, it may be necessary for the breed
to be reduced to rock bottom where quality is all but nonexistent before the lone dog of quality is recognized sufficiently to be able to step forth
and exert its influence over the breed.
Is there no hope? Must we give the dog game over to the numbers game? i don’t think we have to. We as judges and breeders have the solution to this dilemma at our disposal.
Reversing this trend can begin by asking ourselves a simple question. The breeder needs only to ask himself, “Which dog would I breed to if I didn’t know which dog has been winning?” The judge would have to ask, simply, “Which dog would I put up if I didn’t know which dog has been winning?”
The answer might be the dog that is currently winning most. If so, how fortunate for the breed! If not, it becomes our responsibility to find the dog that answers the question best.
By Richard G. (“Rick”) Beauchamp
Dogs In Review Magazine, October 2001