From the January 2020 issue of ShowSight. Click to subscribe.
2020 marks the 75th anniversary of the American Brussels Griffon Association. Brussels Griffons are a relatively new breed on the grand scale of breeds, having been “put together” from Pugs, Affenpinschers, and English Toy Spaniels among others in the late 19th century. In the late 1980’s, when I acquired my first Griff, there were very few of them being shown, or even kept as pets. The saying was “a live Griff is a show Griff”. This pejorative comment referred both to the belief that the puppies were very hard to keep alive for the first few weeks, and to the lack of quality Brussels Griffons in the ring. Attending the National in Louisville for the first time in 1992 revealed a lot of well-loved but not well-socialized dogs bellying around the ring with tails down—unhappy to be off the couch.
We’ve come a long way. Breeders, guided by pioneers like Marjorie Simon, worked hard to improve temperaments and socialize their puppies. We no longer had the judge standing in the middle of the ring pronouncing “Winners Bitch is the first one who gets her tail up”. And while there were some noteworthy winners back in the day like Zorro, Richard, Charlie Brown and others, we now find competitive Griffs being specialed in all areas of the country. There are Brussels Griffons routinely up in the national standings, not only in Toys but All-Breed as well, in part due to the influence of the Terrier handlers becoming more and more involved with the breed. It was a natural progression since the coat is hand-stripped much like certain Terrier breeds, but along with this came a more stylized Griffon. The handlers tended to put a tighter Terrier-type jacket on a dog, and when those dogs were winning, the desired “look” changed. Gone is the slightly rumpled street urchin in favor of the labor-intense tight jacket and lavish furnishings. On the positive side, the desired self-important Brussels Griffon attitude is being displayed in the ring weekly.
Over the years other more subtle changes have taken place, some good, some not so good. “Bad fronts” have been mostly overcome by dedicated breeders doing the right thing. The same is true of small eyes, prevalent for a while but not so much anymore. As the dog world became more knowledgeable about health and genetics, the ABGA took up the problems specific to the Griffon, with attention directed to cataracts, luxating patellas, dysplastic hips, thyroid, and syringomyelia. A very active health committee encourages health testing and genetic screening in an effort to eliminate or at the very least control these most common of problems in the Brussels Griffon. If there is a problem still to be addressed, it’s the size of the breed. The standard says eight to ten pounds, not to exceed twelve pounds, but there is no disqualification for a dog outside the desired weight. The myth of the “group dog” has been propagated. Supposedly a bigger dog is more noticeable in the group, and so the race to the aforementioned national standings, which revolves around group placements, is causing bigger and bigger Griffs to be shown, and becomes evident in the whelping box. It is time for breeders to focus on the cobby dog with lots of bone, instead of the tall, substantial “group dogs.”
So, now, seventy-five years later, Brussels Griffons are in decent shape. There have been some outstanding Griffons in the modern ring. Lincoln, a group winner at the Garden, put smooths on the map. They are no longer second-class citizens to the general public, and never were to breeders. Lincoln holds the record for the most Best In Shows by a Brussels Griffon. The breed weathered the damage done by the movie “As Good As It Gets”, which caused mill dogs to abound. They emerged from the Low Entry list, possibly a result of “the movie”. NBGR, the national rescue organization is quite active across the country—a blessing and a curse.
This year we will celebrate our seventy-five years with a Diamond Jubilee not only at the National Specialty in Louisville in March, but across the country with multiple supported entries. Look for them at the Delaware Toy Dog Fanciers in New Jersey in March, Mt Baker in Washington in May, at Woofstock in CA in June, at Piedmont in South Carolina in July, and then the Roving National Specialty at Morris and Essex in October. Come and help us celebrate!
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