Appreciating Virtues in the Competition
I was recently watching the group judging at one of our major Championship shows here in the U.K., a group that at the moment is particularly strong, with several exceptional dogs regularly appearing in contention. The group judge did, in my opinion, a first-class job with an initial cut of outstanding dogs, missing nothing. After a final gaiting he made his placements, finishing up with four superb specimens of their respective breeds that could have been placed in any order, depending on a judge’s personal priorities.
As the winners left the ring, I noticed a few supporters of the dog placed second rushing up to its handler to commiserate, the comments varying from “Tough luck” to the rather more dramatic “You were robbed!” These manifestations of sympathy were met by a remark that these days would be considered a rarity, as the handler in question merely responded with “I’m happy, the winner is a really beautiful dog.”
The fact that this struck me as remarkable is perhaps a sign of the times, as the winning mentality seems to have eclipsed the attitude of the true breeder. It is no great coincidence that the lady who was showing the dog to Group 2nd has been around a long time, has been associated with several quite different breeds and has made her mark as a great breeder. She had no problem appreciating the merits of the dog that had just beaten her own. She had no plans to destroy the winner or devalue its win. In the ring she displayed great sportsmanship, and her congratulations were clearly genuine.
Unfortunately, these days we see far too many exhibitors who are blinkered, kennel-blind to a degree and hypercritical of any competition. The mindset is one of winning at all costs and talking up whatever they have on the end of the leash. What was traditionally referred to as “the breeder’s shop window” has morphed into a rankings circus where many have lost sight of the fundamentals.
U.K. dog shows are populated almost entirely by owner-handlers, many of whom are also breeders of varied longevity. Professional handlers are now a rarity, even within the Terrier Group, where they once were commonplace.
The true breeders still hold that belief that the dog show is their shop window. They plan breedings many years in advance based on a combination of knowledge and instinct, they whelp the anticipated litter, rear them with love and care, monitoring their progress on a daily basis, and when they are of an age the breeder begins to evaluate the litter in the hope that there will be at least one “keeper” that justified the union. Given that they have such a promising puppy, they nurture it, school it, socialize it and sit on it until it is ready to debut in the show ring.
When they attend their first show, they will not enter the ring feeling their young hopeful is unbeatable. They will carefully, with an open mind and experienced eye, survey the competition in the class, identifying every individual’s virtues and faults (in that order!). They will swiftly work out who is their competition and know why, and will be determined to emphasize their own dog’s major merits to make maximum impact on the judge of the day.
Wearing their breeder’s hat, when they are assessing their competition, they will — almost subconsciously — note those dogs that had particular breed points where they excelled. Having returned home they will invariably research the pedigrees of such dogs and store that information for future reference, as they may well at some stage “want a piece of that.”
The breeder mentality never switches off with such people. Their commitment and passion for their breed are such that they are constantly wishing to upgrade the stock they are producing, and will do so regardless of whether those involved with the dog they admire are friend or foe.
The air of negativity and criticism that has pervaded the sport has been magnified with the arrival of social media, notably Facebook. While the vehicle has many advantages and can be used as a very effective education tool, it has also allowed free rein to those keyboard warriors who seem to enjoy nothing more than destroying the pleasure of others. Individual dogs, exhibitors, breeders and judges get pilloried in public — often by those who have no personal knowledge of their victims.
As an example, an article of mine recently appeared on Facebook that was published in Dog News several years ago, entitled “The Beauty of Moderation.” It discussed the evils of exaggeration and — not surprisingly — the beauty of moderation in some detail. The article was in no way breed specific, and no individual breeds were focused on. However, for aesthetic reasons alone, the piece was accompanied by a photograph of a Sporting breed that I felt illustrated the title perfectly.
While the article prompted many favorable comments, several members of the group in question chose to post vitriolic criticism of the featured dog, eventually resulting (after I had reported their remarks to the administrators as being highly inappropriate) in both the comments and their writers being removed from the group.
Out of interest, I checked out the profiles of these vocal critics, and the home-bred examples of the breeds they were promoting were, to put it politely, worrying.
There are clearly numbers of “enthusiasts” who seem incapable of recognizing quality in dogs outside their home kennel and whose vivid imaginations can create faults where they don’t exist. I feel sorry for such people, as they must have little joy in their life, and I doubt they will ever contribute anything to either their own breed or the sport at large.
If you chart the success of the most prominent breeders in your own breed, it will be obvious that they were always prepared to recognize virtue elsewhere and take full advantage of it. THAT is what made them great breeders, not the ability to identify faults in their competition.