Continuing breed education starts and continues with you as a lifelong learner, whether you are a judge, breeder, exhibitor, or owner. What you put into the additional learning experience, is what you get out of it.
In the last issue, we looked at the working aspects of the seminar day for the learner and seminar presenter, as well as the rest of the implementation aspects by the seminar(s) coordinator. In this last of the series, we’ll discuss continuing education for judges, breeders, exhibitors, and owners.
Knowledge of the evolution of a breed to what it is today is an ongoing discovery that encompasses not only the physical and mental aspects of a breed but also the influence of the cultures or peoples that developed a breed. As is often the case, societal and situational influences change over time and their effects on our canine friends is evident.
As of mid-2018, there were close to 350 recognized dog breeds in the world, with the AKC recognizing 202, the FCI recognizing 344, and the KC recognizing 211. Can one really know the nuances of 202 breeds, or 211 or 344? In breeds where there are strong situational influences, the differences between breeds truly turn on the nuance. To be able to recognize if a sole specimen is a good one versus just average, or to distinguish between similar breeds based on the nuances, makes one a better arbiter of dogs. In order to achieve that, continuing education is a must.
Let’s start with the breeder, owner, and exhibitor (B-O-E) and how continuing education plays a role in their development and the breeding and exhibiting of high-quality breed specimens. The assumption here is that the B-O-E has been well-grounded in their breed’s history, standard, and has one or more mentors in their chosen breed.
What do you, the B-O-E, do to gain additional insight or knowledge into your breed? Do you regularly attend your National Specialty show? Do you seek to discuss the breed with highly knowledgeable, longtime, and successful breeders? Do you not only study pedigrees, but do you also seek to gain an understanding of each ancestor’s structure, movement, temperament, strengths, weaknesses, and their propensity to pass on good (and bad) traits? A pedigree may look great on paper, but what is it really telling you? In order to breed and exhibit better dogs, the judgments begin before the whelping box, and more importantly before the mating even occurs.
If your breed is one that had a “job” or still has a job, be it herding, guarding, retrieving waterfowl or upland game, etc., have you attended those activities where your breed exhibits what it was bred to do, or a simulation of that? Moreover, do you participate in activities where your breed does its “job”? It is recognized that many of us do not live in areas that have ready access to observe and/or participate in these “jobs”. However, in order to truly understand and evaluate a breed, I believe that a good observational understanding of the work ethic and working manner of a breed is necessary. There are many Sporting, Hound, Working, and Herding breeds that still “work” for a living today. Sporting breeds can be found accompanying their owners on a duck, goose, pheasant, or quail hunt, for instance. Most Coonhound breeds actively and non-competitively night hunt for raccoon or day hunt for larger game. The community of Beagle and Basset Hound hunters that harvest rabbits for the dinner table exists throughout the country. Bloodhounds are active partners with law enforcement in searching for people.
If you’re fortunate to visit France, you can see some of the 33 scent hound breeds and may be able to tag along with one of the more than 300 hound packs in the pursuit and harvesting of deer, wild hogs, and hare. Law enforcement units across the country employ various Working and Herding breeds in all forms of seeking, guarding, and protecting. The owners of many goat and sheep herds, be they small or large, employ the guarding abilities of various Working breeds, and others utilize Herding breeds to assist them in gathering or moving their herds, including cattle. While horses and four-wheelers are great, they can’t beat the maneuverability of a well-trained Herding dog.
Then there are the simulations of all of the above “jobs”. These include, but are not limited to, field trials, hunt tests, Schutzhund, carting, weight-pulls, sled races, tracking, straight and oval track racing, earth dog and barn hunt tests, herding trials and tests, and water rescue to name a few.
Do you discuss form and function with those persons that use dogs that “work for a living?” What have you learned that will make you a better arbiter of your breed when it comes time to plan a mating, to evaluate puppies, to choose puppies to run on or to exhibit? Are you realistically evaluating yourself as to your respect for and acknowledgment of the work traditions and function of your breed? These are the questions you must ask your self to improve breed education.
As a current or former breeder, exhibitor, owner, and/or former handler with a depth of showing experience, you bring another perspective to the need for continuing breed education. It is assumed that in your own breed(s) you have become totally familiar with the history, function, purpose, development, and evolution of your breed(s). What about those breeds that are not your “home breeds”, those breeds with which you are not steeped in the experience?
In order to be provisionally approved to judge a breed, you have attended breed seminars, hands-on workshops, attended the National Specialty, been mentored by breed experts, made kennel visits to evaluate dogs of varying ages, perhaps looked at the old AKC videos on the breed, reviewed the parent club’s educational materials about the breed on the club’s website or in paper format, or even attended a breed-specific performance event such as a field trial, hunt test, or earth dog test.
You receive your provisional/permit approval to pass judgment on a breed or breeds where your continuing education persists. There’s a widely known quote by a well-known now-departed judge, that in essence says we judges get to practice while we are still learning. Isn’t that the truth? If all goes well, you will be regularly approved to judge a breed once your provisional/permit assignments are completed. Your quest for greater knowledge of regularly approved breeds should not end there.
For judges that have moved into judging territory in breeds/groups with which they don’t have the experience, it is incumbent upon them to continue to gain in-depth breed knowledge. This may mean checking with a breed mentor after an assignment to discuss the dogs and your rationale for placements. It may also mean discussing the dogs with a highly knowledgeable B-O-E on the day. How many times have we stopped to ask ourselves, “Did I do the right thing?” Having a knowledgeable mentor or B-O-E to ask and receive honest feedback from gives you reinforcement of your adjudication or the opportunity to better understand, and possibly correct, your prioritization of traits within that breed.
Do you discuss the breed with knowledgeable B-O-Es just for the sheer joy of learning and discussion? Continue to attend shows with significant entries of a breed and sit ringside with one or two of these individuals to watch, listen, and discuss, that will greatly improve breed education. The nuances of each breed that are gained through such exchanges are invaluable. Discussions of current fads, strengths, and weaknesses in the breed are of benefit to your future adjudication of a breed.
Want to really know a breed? Watch it do its “job”! In too many breeds there is a chasm between show dogs and “working” dogs. Coat and grooming frequently add to that divide. What a revelation it was to me to observe Poodles retrieving ducks on land and in water. For two years in a row, I attended the Working Certificate and Working Certificate Excellent tests while PCA was still in Salisbury, MD and Anne Rogers Clark was still alive. I distinctly remember watching a standard retrieve a duck from the lake and coming out with its head held high and that duck in his mouth. It was as if the light bulb went on. I turned to Annie and said, “now I understand carriage in this breed.” Her smile was all I needed as the reassurance of what she had explained in the seminar and workshop!
Have you watched a sighthound course live game versus an artificial lure at a lure coursing field trial? Do you understand the reconnaissance trot leading up to the chase is not one of tremendous reach and drive, but an effortless way of spotting game and saving the expense of energy needed for powerful, speedy, agile and enduring galloping during the chase?
Have you watched Great Pyrenees appear to be asleep or nonchalantly gazing away near to their herd of goats? What happened when an unknown dog approached the herd? The insight you gained from being a part of, or watching that interaction, gives you information about the character of the breed and how it does its job.
Understanding how form and function fit and act together makes us all better adjudicators, whether B-O-E or approved judge. We owe it to our breed(s), to those dogs upon which judgment is passed, and to ourselves. Be thirsty, be hungry for knowledge, always.