Interview with a Toy Group Judge Tammy Jackson
Where do I live? How many years in dogs? How many years as a judge?
Tammy Jackson: I am originally from Philly, but I have been in New England for over 20 years and I currently live in Bristol, Connecticut. I have been in the dog show world for over 36 years. I started judging in 2002, so 20 years, roughly.
What is my original breed? What is/was my kennel name?
Tammy Jackson: My original breed is the Shih Tzu. I predominantly handled, and only bred a few litters of Shih Tzu, (Delago), Pekingese, Chinese Crested, etc. I have lived and worked in Poodle, Min Pin, Chihuahua, Bichon, Lhasa, and Mini Schnauzer kennels, to mention a few, lol.
Can I list a few of the notable dogs I’ve bred? Any performance or parent club titles?
Tammy Jackson: I bred several Shih Tzu champions, and showed at many National Specialties.
What are some of the qualities I most admire in the Toy Breeds?
Tammy Jackson: For me, personally, I am in awe by the versatility of Toy Breeds! Regardless of the original function of each Toy Breed (some used as ratters, some as “ merry monarchs” or royal members of dynasties, even working functions, etc.), when it comes to the ultimate companion dog and the ability to “read” human emotion, the Toy Breeds are uncontested! (Okay, I may be a little biased, lol.) For me, personally, I have been blessed to watch Shih Tzu work with me as part of therapy teams for children with autism, veterans, outpatient mental health clinics, hospitals, schools, etc. These animals have made unprecedented changes in so many people’s lives, and the convenience of size allows for therapy work with very physically fragile individuals who may be confined to hospital beds and adaptive equipment.
Have I judged any Toy Breed Specialties?
Tammy Jackson: Yes, I have been honored to judge many Toy Breed Specialties, and in June, I am exceptionally honored to judge one of the ASTC (American Shih Tzu Club) Regional Specialties.
Can I offer any advice to exhibitors regarding the presentation of these “table” breeds?
Tammy Jackson: First and foremost, you don’t need to have, nor should you ever have, heavy hands on a Toy Breed—whether a judge or exhibitor. With the exception of certain heavily coated breeds (Shih Tzu, Peke, Maltese, Yorkies, etc.), a judge can see structure on the move! But even with the above-mentioned coated breeds, examinations for structure and headpieces that may be “groomed on” should always be gentle and without resistance. As far as the exhibitors, as with any dog, your nerves travel down the lead! So, if you aren’t enjoying showing, neither will your dog! Do not pick up a Toy Breed by the neck and tail! I see this all the time and I will counsel exhibitors on not placing their hands on the dog’s throat or the tail, which is part of the dog’s spine! Our dogs’ happiness, health, joy, and companionship come before any competition or win. I was once asked what the most important characteristic is for a judge; I answered, “You must LOVE DOGS!”
Some longtime exhibitors have “downsized” to Toys. In my opinion, has this had an impact on quality?
Tammy Jackson: This is a difficult question, as it is so subjective to the handler, the breeding programs, etc. I think the better question is, “What is the intent of ‘downsizing?’” If a handler chooses to incorporate Toy Breeds into their string of dogs, there are several variables to keep in mind. While certain Toy Breeds may have ancestral underpinnings to larger breeds, they most certainly are not the same breed! Understanding the history of a particular Toy Breed is essential when handling, and it is the responsibility of the handler to not only understand the purpose of a Toy Breed but to appropriately represent and support the health, happiness, and longevity of each Toy Breed as specified by the Breed Standard and the subsequent focus of each breed’s parent club! Ask yourself, “What are the issues with the breed?” How will you support the goals of health, happiness, and purpose of each breed. And above all things, how will you understand that a Toy Breed stands alone and is not as a bastardized larger breed!
Toy Breeds can require special care. Do I have any advice to offer breeders, exhibitors, and judges?
Tammy Jackson: As stated above, gentle hands are of the utmost importance. Toy Breeds are companion dogs, and they need lots of emotional attention and consideration. Most Toy Breeds have evolved to be with you as a partner, your protector (I know, but I will fear a Chihuahua in a dark alley before a Doberman or Rottweiler, lol), and your friend! Each Toy Breed is very unique and you must understand their function, temperament, and characteristics. For instance, if you are looking for a hiking buddy, a Peke may not be your best option, lol. When Toy Breeds are puppies, there are lots of concerns that need to be mitigated for safety and health. IGs, for example, can easily break a leg jumping from a couch, and a Shih Tzu can break its jaw if they jump off a grooming table and hit, head first. Be gentle, respectful, and cognizant of size, body type, and characteristics of each breed, as many Toy Breeds are fearless—which can get them into trouble at times! But, most importantly, never underestimate a Toy Breed because someone forgot to tell them they are not the size of a St. Bernard.
Each Toy Breed is very unique and you must understand their function, temperament, and characteristics. For instance, if you are looking for a hiking buddy, a Peke may not be your best option, lol.
In my opinion, how do today’s exhibits compare with the Toy Dogs of the past?
Unfortunately, with many breeds, I am fearful that we have lost our purpose in showing our purebred dogs. It is never about the win, the number of ribbons, or the amount of money spent in advertising! It is about the LOVE of our breeds and preserving what makes each breed unique. Health and happiness always come first! I would encourage anyone who shows dogs to ask yourself, “Why?” Is it the love of the breed or the wins? One direction is honorable and sustaining, while the other will ultimately result in the demise of our most treasured babies!
Why do I think Toy Dogs can become outstanding Show Dogs?
Tammy Jackson: Well, I already think Toys are outstanding Show Dogs! But, as stated above, the true purpose of Toy Breeds is companionship, and that being said, a Toy Breed will go above and beyond any other breed to please its owner and handler, and therefore, this makes them the absolute best at being Show Dogs. (Again, I’m a little biased!)
If I could share my life with only one Toy Breed, which would it be and why?
Tammy Jackson: Well, for me, it is the Shih Tzu. They are fantastic therapy dogs, calm and patient, and not very demanding. They love to sit on your lap for hours, but love to go for a hike or jog as well. They are not hyper and they do not bark a lot, and contrary to belief, they are smart. They just choose to listen when it is important to THEM!
Just for laughs, do I have a funny story that I can share about my experiences judging the Toy Group?
Tammy Jackson: Wow, there have been so many funny experiences judging Toy Breeds. Trying to find one story is tough, lol. But, I remember one of the first Best in Show assignments I ever judged. I’d reviewed all the standards of the breeds I was going to have in the BIS ring and, when I’d finally made my decision, I went to mark my book and the breed I’d picked was not listed in my book! Of course, I went into panic mode and thought, “Oh, sh*t.” Do I know which breed I just put up? How am I going to recover if I have the breed confused?” No matter how much research you do, there are times like this when you panic as a judge, and pray you aren’t making a fool of yourself, lol. Luckily, in this case, they’d put the wrong breed in my book! Please remember, judges are nervous too and we want to honor each breed when we judge—at least the judges who are passionate and dedicated to the betterment of each breed.