Just Talk Dogs
There is a song written by someone named Macklemore titled Good Old Days. It’s not normally my kind of music, but some of the lyrics that speak to me are:
I wish somebody would have told me babe
Someday, these will be the good old days
Someday soon, your whole life's gonna change
You'll miss the magic of these good old days
I'd be laying in my bed and dream about what I'd become
Couldn't wait to get older, couldn't wait to be someone
Now that I'm here, wishing I was still young
Those good old days
I realize that sometimes “the good old days” are romanticized as being better than they were. But there were some things that were undoubtedly better than they are today.
During shows at which I judged this past weekend, I was reminded (again) of one of the most important aspects of our dog community that is missing — and one that I miss dearly. When we weren’t in the ring showing or judging, we would sit around and just talk dogs. Sitting with people like Laddie Carswell, Bill Trainor and the Forsyths — and just listening — was like attending a doctorate class in dogs. In my breed, spending time with the Brodies, Joyce Nilsen, Charles Oldham, Lee Schoen and Ted Eldredge was the cherry on the sundae. When I started, there weren’t the three-, four- and five-day clusters that we have today, and staying in one place for as many days as we now do should lend itself to the opportunity to talk dogs more. But truth be told, that simply does not happen very often.
As a matter of fact, I think I heard somewhere — and I am not sure if it is true — that AKC has told judges NOT to discuss dogs with each other. If this is true, I couldn’t disagree more. There is a huge difference between talking dogs and “pimping” or denigrating a dog. The former is educational and the latter is just illicit “marketing” or sour grapes. Don’t we want our judges — as well as breeders, exhibitors and handlers — to have the passion to continue learning, and wanting to be better?
So, I am grateful that I had the opportunity to add to my education by just talking dogs and spending time with one of the icons of our community — Eugene Blake. We spoke about many breeds, but mostly Sighthounds. Is there anyone better to continue my education with about these breeds? I don’t think so.
Anyone can read the words in the Greyhound standard: Loins: Good depth of muscle, well arched. Or that of the Whippet: The backline runs smoothly from the withers with a graceful natural arch, not too accentuated, beginning over the loin and carrying through over the croup; the arch is continuous without flatness. A dip behind shoulder blades, wheelback, flat back, or a steep or flat croup should be penalized.
So, both breeds talk about an arch over the loin. Does that mean their toplines are exactly the same? Absolutely not! They are similar, but not exactly the same.
Consider the definition of the canine loin: The loins, or lumbus, are the sides between the lower ribs and pelvis, and the lower part of the back. The arch spoken of goes from side to side over the loin, and that is what is described in the Greyhound standard. The Whippet standard specifically talks about the backline with a graceful arch and flat back should be penalized. These are two items in standards that Gene and I discussed, and, yes, we looked at live dogs so that I could visualize it. Gene was also able to show me pictures of dogs of the past to help me get a better grasp of this. Isn’t this what mentoring and continuing education are all about?
I completely agree that judges — or anyone, for that matter — shouldn’t denigrate or promote dogs being shown. What’s the point, except to prove you are jealous or a hater? However, using specific dogs to illustrate a point in a standard can be a very useful tool for learning.
A couple of years ago there was a “little black dog” and a bigger “brown dog” being shown that I thought were superlative. I awarded both every time they were shown to me.
I have been involved with Sporting breeds for almost 60 years, and had shown a lot of these two breeds, so a few people — some of them judges — asked me my opinion of these two dogs. I basically told those who asked that I thought each of these dogs were as close to the living embodiment of their respective standards as I had ever seen. To those who asked, I pointed out the parts of the dogs that were discussed in the standard, and then talked about the total dogs’ features. That was what was important. Shouldn’t that be considered an educational discussion?
What’s worse: a judge (or breeder or handler) talking about good dogs as examples of the words in a standard, or judges looking at lesser dogs — with the “right kind of backer” — that are “marketed” every week in every magazine? Is it better to “learn” from ads or from those who could — and should — be mentors?
I remember an ongoing discussion I had with Bob Forsyth about Type vs. Soundness. Lots of breeders and handlers chimed in, and it even wound up as an article in a magazine. These are the types of discussions we used to have, and I think we were better off for them.
It was not just the judges and handlers who just talked dogs. Breeders and exhibitors would sit around ringside or at the crating area, talking about pedigrees, health issues and conformation. Unfortunately, today too many people show their dog, and if they don’t win, they pack up and go home. It’s interesting that when judges have free time, many sit at ringside and watch breeds they do not usually judge, but too many exhibitors just want to show their dog and then leave. How are you going to learn anything? Or maybe you don’t want to learn. Do today’s exhibitors have less passion about our community than we had in “the good old days” or some of us still have?
* * *
One of the things that is often talked about among exhibitors and judges is which dog won its national specialty that year.
I must either be too lazy to look those things up, out of the loop, or just plain naive, but unless it is one of my breeds, I rarely know who won their national specialty. To be honest, most of the time I don’t even know who won the national in my own breeds. Don’t get me wrong: For me, winning the national specialty is the most prestigious win there is, but let’s be honest — it is just one judge’s opinion. We would hope it is a qualified opinion, but, still, it is one show.
I am often surprised at how many judges sitting at the group ring know which dog has recently won its national. And maybe it has an effect on some of them.
I recently judged a breed in which I had heard that one of the “specials” entered at this show had won her national. I was to judge that breed, and as I examined the entry, when I got to this bitch, I could see that she had a beautiful head. Then I heard this voice screaming in my head (my wife’s voice) saying, “It is NOT a head breed!” I stepped back and again looked at one of the important nuances of this breed — the silhouette — and knew which dog I needed to put up on this day.
Later on in the day, I was asked why I put this dog up over the national winner, and I explained my reasoning and how those reasons were in line with the standard. Was this a learning experience? Maybe.
At another show, I was speaking with a judge who does not judge Terriers, and she asked what a good Terrier coat was. As the Terriers came out of the group ring, I asked one of the handlers if this lady could feel the coat on his dog. And, just like that, she had a much better idea of what constituted a good Terrier coat.
It seems to me that since so many shows these days are part of a cluster, and we stay at the same place for three, four or five days, isn’t that a great opportunity to just talk dogs? There was a show a few years ago where Laura Reeves organized a panel of breeders and judges so exhibitors could ask questions. It was very well attended, and I think everyone got something out of it. But we don’t need to have anything so well organized — those who care can sit around and just talk dogs.
What do you think?