From the October 2019 Issue of ShowSight. Click to subscribe.
“Dog People” come in three main categories; breeders, exhibitors, and judges. All three seem to have opinions about the ailments of the breed. Each blames the other for the problems the breed is experiencing in the ring. It is the breeder’s fault for breeding this style; it is the exhibitor’s fault (exhibitor being professional hander, breeder handler, or owner handler) for showing this style, or for grooming the dog in this fashion; or it is the judge’s fault for rewarding these particular styles. I am using the term ‘style’ verses ‘type’ because I was told a long time ago there is only one type but styles may vary.
So, whose fault is this controversy? Do we blame the breeder? This is the person who bred the dog for the ring in the first place. Obviously the breeder has in her/his mind’s eye the ideal picture of what a showdog should look like, move like, and in general be like. This person must have a love for the breed to have devoted the time and energy to have studied pedigrees, completed the necessary health testing, bred, socialized, and trained this puppy. Breeding is not an easy process if it is done right, and I am assuming that a person devoting the time, energy, and money to have a dog shown, is attempting to be an ethical breeder and to have the correct breed type in mind. But is this enough? Will this particular style win? The bottom line is that if the other dogs in the ring are of a different style and winning, the breeder will eventually alter the style they produce in order to exit the ring with ribbons, rosettes, and points. Now we start to hear some blaming; blame the other exhibitors (handlers) or the judge.
Should we blame the Professional Handler? According to Wikipedia “A professional handler, sometimes called a professional dog handler is a person that trains, conditions, and shows dogs in conformation shows for a fee. Handlers are hired by dog owners or breeders to finish their dogs championship, or if finished, to be shown in the Best of Breed class as a ‘special’.” This person is a paid professional. His/her job is to complete a dog’s conformation title or better yet receive breed placements and national rankings. A handler has a winning reputation to maintain as well as keeping their clients contented and satisfied. A handler’s duty (professional or owner) is to present the dog to its fullest potential. It must be well trained, well fed, bathed/dried and groomed to the specifications of the standard, and be ready to dazzle the judge in the ring. If winner’s dog, winner’s bitch, or best of breed are a different style than the one the handler is showing, then the handler might change the grooming or style of the dogs they are showing. Once again we start to hear blaming; blame the breeder or the judge.
Or should we blame the Judge? According to Wikipedia, “A dog show judge, sometimes dog judge, is a person that is qualified to evaluate dogs at a conformation show.” Becoming a judge is not an easy task. A judge must have bred and exhibited dogs for several years, gained experience with show ring procedures including stewarding, completed training including but not limited to judges’ education seminars, ringside mentoring, attending national specialties, being mentored, as well as having to go through an interview process which includes written/oral evaluations, as well as ringside observations by AKC field reps. Prospective judges are highly trained to evaluate the dogs that will be presented to them. Outside the ring we often scratch our heads and ask how or why did the judge put up one dog versus another. From outside the ring the onlooker cannot see the dog’s bite, determine by feeling if the dog has the proper rise, shoulder lay back, correct front, and so on. Other times a ringside observer will feel that the dog receiving an award did not show the proper elements of breed type. Judges might say that the dog they awarded the points to was the best they had to work with. Back to the blame game; breeders and exhibitors are not showing the best examples of the breed.
So what can we do as breeders, exhibitors, or judges? Is anyone at fault, or are we all at fault? In my opinion we are all at fault. I like to compare this situation to an equilateral triangle; in geometry an equilateral triangle is a triangle in which all three sides are equal. Therefore breeders, exhibitors, and judges all have an equal responsibility in the preservation in our breed.
Breeders need to stay true to the breed. Breeding the best possible dog according the ‘breed standard.’ There will always be room (within reason) for interpretation of the standard.
Exhibitors need to show the best example of the breed according to ‘the standard.’ Show the dog to its fullest extent, make it shine in the ring and limit grooming to meet the set guidelines of the standard.
Judges need to award dogs that are the best examples of the breed type as they understand it, encourage new breeders and exhibitors when possible, and withhold ribbons if and when necessary.
For example, the Havanese Judges’ Education department has an excellent guide: Havanese Breed Type at a Glance. This guide outlines the six critical elements of the Havanese Breed Type (ie: What makes a Havanese unique amongst toys?):
1. Topline: Straight, but not level, rising slightly from the withers to rump… the result of moderate angulation fore and aft combined with a typically short upper arm.
2. Outline: Slightly longer than tall, with head carried high and tail arched over back.
3. Gait: Springy, with moderate reach and drive, showing free reach and good extension. Not stilted, May show flash of pad coming and going. The topline holds under movement, neither flattening
4. Coat: Soft, silky, wavy and abundant. May be corded.
5. Expression: Broad backskull and large, dark almond eyes; correct ear set follows line of skull; full rectangular muzzle is slightly shorter than backskull. The expression is soft and intelligent, mischievous rather than cute.
6. Temperament: Intelligent, playful, sweet and non-quarrelsome.
Important Note: The 6 critical elements of breed type listed above are in judging order, not in order of importance. All should be given equal weight in judging, regardless of whether they are visible on the go around or only on the table.
“Dog People” come in three main categories; breeders, exhibitors, and judges. All three seem to have opinions about the ailments of the breed. Instead of playing the ‘Blame Game’ I believe, from my point of view as an experienced breeder and handler, that we each have a responsibility to ensure that we take an active role in correcting and preserving the breed that we love. Breeders; breed the best dogs possible following the guidelines set in the breed standard. Exhibitors; present the best example of the breed keeping true to the proper grooming and handling procedures when presenting in the ring. Judges; award the best examples of the standard in the ring, at times making difficult decisions.
Breeders, exhibitors and judges working together in tandem as partners is the solution to what ails our breeds.