Interview with a Toy Group AKC Judge Adam Stafford King
I started in dogs twenty-two years ago when I was given a Havanese puppy for Christmas from his breeder, Rita Stern. I handled him to his championship quickly as a novice owner-handler, and was immediately smitten with the breed. A second Havanese from Rita was added not long after, and she would become the foundation for Askin Havanese. Since that time, I have bred over 30 champions in a relatively limited breeding program, with several more currently well on their way toward their titles.
I have been a member of the Havanese Club of America (HCA) for over twenty years and currently serve on the Judges’ Education, Illustrated Standard, and Health committees. One of my proudest accomplishments is being instrumental in revamping and revitalizing the Judges’ Education presentation, which is available as a webinar on AKC’s website. In addition to the HCA, I am a member of the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever Club (USA), Miniature Bull Terrier Club of America, and the Kennel Club of Yorkville, Illinois.
Professionally, I am a veterinary ophthalmologist and practice in Chicago. I currently judge the Toy Group as well as six Sporting Breeds, fourteen Terrier Breeds, three Non-Sporting Breeds, and Junior Showmanship.
Where do I live? How many years in dogs? How many years as a judge?
Adam Stafford King: After growing up in southwestern Indiana and bouncing around the country for my education, I settled in the far western suburbs of Chicago, in Elburn, Illinois. Being a former junior handler myself, I started judging in 2006 when I became a Junior Showmanship judge. I began judging Havanese in 2017, and have since been approved for the entire Toy Group as well as a smattering of Sporting, Terrier, and Non-Sporting Breeds.
What is my original breed? What is/was my kennel name?
Adam Stafford King: My original breed is Havanese, which remains my passion, and I continue to breed under the Askin prefix. In addition to Havanese, I have also been involved in Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retrievers for the past 18 years and, more recently, English Toy Spaniels and Miniature Bull Terriers.
Can I list a few of the notable dogs I’ve bred? Any performance or parent club titles?
Adam Stafford King: The biggest winning dog that I’ve bred is GCHG Askin Steppin’ To The Bad Side, owned by Dr. Ernest and Lynn Curtis and handled by Andy Linton throughout his career. “Thunder” excelled in head type, outline, and movement, and was a multiple Group and Specialty winner. An up-and-coming dog that I’m very excited about is GCHB Askin Backstage Romance. In limited showing, “Christian” is already a Specialty winner with multiple Group placements in competitive Groups.
In the whelping box, without a doubt, the most notable dog I’ve bred is CH Askin Breakfast at Tiffany’s ROM. “Holly” is the single puppy produced by the bitch I owner-handled to BOB at Westminster (CH Los Perritos When Sparks Fly). Holly produced eight champions, five of which are Group placing (including two Group winners), and is behind every current Askin Havanese. The two bitches I kept from her have also proven to be important producers, each producing a BOW/BBE at a Havanese Club of America Regional Specialty.
While I don’t participate in any companion events, several Askin Havanese have excelled at Rally, Obedience, Agility, Trick Dog, and Fast CAT. Havanese are generally excited to do anything with their owners, and so can make excellent competitors in a variety of canine sports.
I have owned or produced two HCA ROMX sires and owned or produced three HCA ROM bitches. I have also earned the title of HCA Breeder of Distinction.
What are some of the qualities I most admire in the Toy Breeds?
Adam Stafford King: While not every Toy Breed is a “head” breed per se, a really beautiful head and expression in any breed is the cherry on top of the sundae for me. Maybe it’s because, as a veterinary ophthalmologist, I spend all day looking at dogs’ faces?
Have I judged any Toy Breed Specialties?
Adam Stafford King: I’ve been fortunate to have been invited to judge several Havanese Specialties in addition to Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Japanese Chin, Maltese, Papillon, Poodle, and Pug Specialties. I’m extremely excited to have been elected to judge the 2022 Havanese Club of America National Specialty.
Can I offer any advice to exhibitors regarding the presentation of these “table” breeds?
Adam Stafford King: Making sure that your dogs are trained to stand on the table while a stranger examines them is obviously key. They don’t have to stand perfectly still, but they should be able to be examined. Closer attention to dental health, by keeping teeth free of tartar, would benefit many Toy exhibits, especially as they get older. Beyond it being unpleasant to look at a bite and see diseased teeth, it is a significant health issue. Making sure that they are in healthy weight and muscle is also something that can sometimes be overlooked.
Some longtime exhibitors have “downsized” to Toys. In my opinion, has this had an impact on quality?
Adam Stafford King: Most times when longtime exhibitors get involved in another breed, their experience benefits that “new” breed tremendously. There may be a thought that breeders of “big dogs” may put a bit more emphasis on soundness than most Toy breeders, though I would argue most Toy Breeds are every bit as sound as the average large breed.
Toy Breeds can require special care. Do I have any advice to offer breeders, exhibitors, and judges?
Adam Stafford King: I would advise judges who don’t come from table breeds to approach the dogs on the table confidently and focus their exam on being light-handed and efficient. Use fingertips rather than the palm of your hand when examining the dogs. On the other end of the spectrum, they are still dogs, so getting down in their faces and baby talking them is equally as frustrating from an exhibitor’s perspective. Also, please don’t expect them to be little statues!
In my opinion, how do today’s exhibits compare with the Toy Dogs of the past?
Adam Stafford King: I think the highest quality dogs of today would be competitive with the best dogs of the past (and vice versa), but I think the quality of the average entry is lower today than it was even ten or fifteen years ago. This goes for all breeds though, not Toys exclusively.
Why do I think Toy Dogs can become outstanding Show Dogs?
Adam Stafford King: Toy Dogs are full of personality and often demand attention. They have no idea that they’re a fraction of the size of most of their competitors in the BIS ring!
If I could share your life with only one Toy Breed, which would it be and why?
Adam Stafford King: Without question, it would be the Havanese! As the standard states, it is “a small sturdy dog of immense charm.” They have a joyful personality that is a pleasure to live with, are small without being fragile, and are low-shedding without a natural odor. They’re really the perfect companion!
They have no idea that they’re a fraction of the size of most of their competitors in the BIS ring!