Interview with a Toy Group Judge Richard LeBeau
I am a musician, author, and Toy Group judge, living in Pittsburgh. I received my BA in German after resident studies in Austria. A longtime breeder/exhibitor of English Toy Spaniels, I am a member and former AKC Delegate of the English Toy Spaniel Club of America, a founding member and past president of the English Toy Spaniel Club of Western Pennsylvania, and Life Member of the King Charles Spaniel Club (United Kingdom). I am a member of the Laurel Highlands Kennel Association, Beaver County Kennel Club, Morris & Essex, and the Brandywine English Setter Club.
My 2011 book, Count Noble: The Greatest Dog That Ever Lived, was published in cooperation with the Sewickley Valley Historical Society and is currently in its fifth printing. My articles on dogs and dog history have been internationally published.
A professional bass-baritone singer and member of the American Guild of Musical Artists, I retired after 20 seasons, performing in over 70 productions, from the Pittsburgh Opera. I was recently honored by an appointment as a Director to the Board of Pittsburgh Opera. I perform occasionally as a free-lance harpist.
I remain a Pittsburgh Steelers fan, in honor of my father, retired Steelers Defensive Coordinator and Pro Football Hall of Fame member, Dick LeBeau.
Where do I live? How many years in dogs? How many years as a judge?
Richard LeBeau: I was born in Ohio. I come from generations of chatty, small-town folk. From age six, I grew up in Louisville, Kentucky. Pittsburgh is my home now. I relocated to Pittsburgh 35 years ago. I’ve been approved by AKC since 2010, but had judged a few Open Shows in the United Kingdom a decade prior to that. I’ve been actively involved with English Toy Spaniels continuously for 34 years. I’ve had two re-homed and much-loved pet Boxers, “Ella” and “Heidi,” and until recently, I belonged to a very fine English Setter, Ch. Pemberley Upland Dreamer, called “Monte.” In addition to all Toy Breeds, I am approved to judge English, Irish, and Gordon Setters.
What is my original breed? What is/was my kennel name?
Richard LeBeau: I lived in an apartment for the first few years in Pittsburgh, so logically decided to look for a small breed. I went to a couple local all-breed shows and went again with the idea to find a show quality Italian Greyhound. As fate would have it, I saw a lady holding a Ruby English Toy Spaniel at the Western Pennsylvania Kennel Association Show in April 1988. I’d never seen such a captivating dog! He looked like the Cowardly Lion from “The Wizard of Oz.” I immediately approached her and started to ask all the typical questions. The lady said, “Here, you hold him,” which I did. This brief encounter led to a lifelong friendship with Rachel Pehr, and Ch. Brynmar’s Red Rye eventually became my dog, which we co-owned. Rachel taught me everything, and I must add the late Virginia Carlson Paine (Vica) and Linda Grahame Lockey (Darby) to the list of important, early mentors in the breed. I showed “Rye” to Best of Variety at Westminster Kennel Club under Miss Dorothy Nickles in February 1993. He got his name because he was the beautiful, reflective, golden-red color of rye whiskey in the bottle. I did not know our judge and had never shown to her, but Miss Nickles remarked that she couldn’t take her eyes off the pretty little red dog! It was truly a lucky day for us. It was a lucky day in April 1988 too, walking through the crowd at the dog show in Pittsburgh. The importance of being cordial at the dog show and being willing to share your dogs with excited spectators cannot be understated. Within a few short years, I started breeding English Toy Spaniels and using Beauprix as an obvious link to associate me with the dogs I bred. Beauprix means “beautiful prize” in French. My dogs are always housepets and live with me in my home.
Can I list a few of the notable dogs I’ve bred? Any performance or parent club titles?
Richard LeBeau: Ch. Beauprix Midnight Monarch was a nice black & tan grandson of Red Rye. We called him “Louie.” I realize now that I did not campaign him, and several others, as I should have. I was kept pretty busy with my work as a baritone at Pittsburgh Opera. A lot of my dogs were never campaigned, or even shown or bred. I bred a beautiful tri-color dog, multiple Group-Winning and BISS Ch Beauprix Baritone, R.O.M., out of a lovely, compact 11-pound imported Blenheim dam, Ch. Cwmhâf Bel Canto, called “Nonnie,” from Mr. & Mrs. Jeff (Rita) Lloyd of Wales, UK. “Baritone” was sired by a wonderful, top-winning tri-color dog I did not breed, Multiple Group-Winning and BISS AKC and Canadian Ch. Backroads Man About Town, bred by Susan Plance of Georgetown, Pennsylvania. We called him “Robby.” His sire was a terrific little Tudorhurst dog, Ch Tudorhurst Truly Edward, bred by Mrs. Pennington and imported from England. Like his sire, “Robby” sired lovely puppies, too. His son, Baritone, did a great deal of winning, including Best of Variety at Westminster under Mr. Fred Basett in 2008. His full, tri-color brother from a repeat breeding of Robby x Nonnie, Ch. Beauprix The Wildhart, called “Waldo,” was awarded Best Bred-By Exhibitor in Specialty at the English Toy Spaniel Club of America National in 2005 under British breeder-judge, Dr. Andreas Schemel. Most recently, I campaigned a great-grandson of Baritone, multiple Group-Winning BISS Gr. Ch. Beauprix Legend of London. A small, compact 13.5-pound tri-color dog, “Champ” won seven NOHS Best in Show rosettes and is a Bronze NOHS Champion. Champ was awarded Best Bred-By Exhibitor in Specialty at the 2014 ETSCA National under Mr. Peter Green. I’m happy to say that we do have puppies sired by Champ, but never had an opportunity to breed Waldo, sadly.
What are some of the qualities I most admire in the Toy Breeds?
Richard LeBeau: The Toy breeds offer something for every taste. All coats, from rough, silky, smooth, Nordic, or even hairless, and all expressions, from keen and alert Miniature Pinschers to soft, pouting English Toy Spaniels can be found in our Toy Breeds. They are devoted companions and easy to travel with, plus, they don’t hog the bed like my English Setter or Boxers always manage to do!
Have I judged any Toy Breed Specialties?
Richard LeBeau: In January, I judged the Toy Dog Fanciers of Southern California in Palm Springs, California. The setting for this show, outdoors on green lawns at the Empire Polo Club, mountains in the background, the hospitality of the hosting club including the capable ring stewards, and the superior quality of the sizeable entries there made this event an unforgettable pleasure for a Toy judge; truly a classic show like no other in the world. (I’ve heard it’s not so delightful if it is raining!)
Can I offer any advice to exhibitors regarding the presentation of these “table” breeds?
Richard LeBeau: Toy exhibitors are almost always adept and ready for the table exam. Novice exhibitors and/or novice dogs are to be given a little more time to settle. I always pause away from the table to allow the team to get settled and to see the presentation stack, showing proportion and silhouette. Face, eyes, and overall expression are best seen and assessed on the table. I also want to see feet and toes, obstructed in grass but easily checked on the table. I will reassess this controlled presentation again when the dog is off the table, standing and using itself naturally. I never rush table exams, but it’s always best to move on quickly if a dog is particularly nervous and antsy to get back down. I try to check what I must check as lightly and quickly as possible. Some breed exams at the table will take a bit longer; the newly recognized Biewer Terriers, for example, which must be lifted and held by the handler to allow the judge to check the color of footpads and the color and markings of the underside. The breed is coated, so it is necessary to part the coat to see these markings.
Some longtime exhibitors have “downsized” to Toys. In my opinion, has this had an impact on quality?
Richard LeBeau: The short answer is yes, I think there has been an overall favorable impact on our Toys from breeders downsizing. I think many of these breeders bring a keener focus on structure and movement from the other Groups, especially from the Working or Sporting Breeds. Whereas I completely agree with a traditional view that Toy Breeds are essentially non-functional and must look as close to an ideal as possible, it is most wonderful when the Toy Dog is not only beautiful to see but also beautiful to watch in motion because they embody a structural ideal. A naughty puppy or a dropped tail is a temporary moment in time for a dog, but it’s impossible to forgive lack of soundness.
Toy Breeds can require special care. Do I have any advice to offer breeders, exhibitors, and judges?
Richard LeBeau: I think the most important suggestion I could offer and which applies to all of the Toy Breeds is to urge socialization for our dogs. I realize it has been very challenging to get dogs out into the noisy world due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the interruption of routine life; however, it is a critical element of showing a dog and winning. They must be relatively happy and secure. It’s hard to know for sure if your dog is completely ready, but please don’t force your dog to show if you see signs of fear. Luckily, I’ve only had one dog suffer a meltdown. Take time to gradually socialize the pandemic puppies. It’s true that some of them could be nearly two years old now.
In my opinion, how do today’s exhibits compare with the Toy Dogs of the past?
Richard LeBeau: I think, generally, that the Toy Breeds are appreciably better, overall; not on every day or at every show, but overall, unquestionably better. We always saw outstanding, unforgettable examples in the past, but I certainly remember larger classes of mediocrities. It’s become very expensive to raise and show dogs, and it’s easier to learn whelping, grooming, and presentation techniques on the Internet. Serious and dedicated dog people can accomplish much, but the casual hobbyist with mediocre dogs has a hard time hanging on without recognition from judges. At a good show, I see smaller but more evenly competitive classes. The challenges over the past few decades have weeded out most of the dabblers, and so, I believe, we have a higher percentage of serious breeders who are breeding more carefully. I’m very optimistic about the quality curve, it’s going up at the shows on the whole.
Why do I think Toy Dogs can become outstanding Show Dogs?
Richard LeBeau: An exceptional Toy Dog must be considered as equal to an exceptional dog of any breed in the other Group classifications. You must have an outstanding Toy Dog and a judge who will actually recognize this excellence. Each Toy Breed is unique and the best dog must embody the essence of its distinct breed in order to be an outstanding Show Dog. I don’t believe there are judges today who would disregard the value of an excellent Toy Dog, although in the past there were judges who considered diminutiveness an amusing sideshow for ladies and disdained the Toy Breeds. I wouldn’t expect to encounter any judges with a dismissive attitude toward the Toy Breeds nowadays. Breeding beautiful, healthy dogs in any breed is an extremely challenging endeavor. No matter the breed, big or small, we all come from the same school of dedication, hard work, sometimes hard luck, and sometimes glory.
If I could share my life with only one Toy Breed, which would it be and why?
Richard LeBeau: The answer must be obvious. If only one breed, it would be the English Toy Spaniel, a devoted and gentle companion. The breed is sensitive, friendly, typically quiet, and easily trained. They are robust and can be athletic, but they are never hyper-active or busy. Centuries ago, they were known as the “Comforter Spaniels” because life was hard and their companionship was comforting. This still holds true, in my opinion!
Just for laughs, do I have a funny story that I can share about my experiences judging the Toy Group?
Richard LeBeau: I had a beautiful Toy Group come into the ring one afternoon. A nervous “cover handler” for a top Toy Dog approached me and asked if they could keep back in the Group line in hopes that the dog’s regular agent would be able to get to the ring in time. Naturally, I allowed this and, eventually, only the Pekingese and this dog with its cover handler were left for me to judge. It was agreed the Pekingese would go ahead. After the table exam, I jokingly told the Pekingese handler to go all the way out and back and to please take their time, which caused a big laugh and which the Pekingese handler graciously did, obliging the cover handler. Turning to the last dog standing, I said, “I’m sorry, the waiting is over. There’s no one left at all, not even the Pekingese.You’re up!” Happily, the dog moved perfectly for the cover handler and we all had a good laugh. In conclusion, you know it’s time to face the music if you’ve waited to go after the Pekingese!