Whippet doing what it was bred to do, albeit not on live game!
Fri, 07/01/2022 - 11:55am

No Performance Anxiety

Bo Bengtson proposes a temperament test for ALL AKC champions

I read M. J. Nelson's article “Performance Anxiety” with rather mixed feelings. On the one hand, I think it's rather naïve to be surprised that so few of the top show dogs have performance titles in addition to their show titles, which tend to be Grand Championships these days, usually Gold or Platinum. Most conformation people are mainly interested only in how well their dogs show and how close they are to some perceived, artificial written standard of physical perfection, regardless of how talented their dogs happen to be in other areas. The vast majority of these people probably think it's nice if their dogs get some performance title but wouldn't ever think of pursuing one if it is inconvenient to them.

But I'll also have to be honest: I felt a little twinge of guilt, because the above description could easily be of myself. I'm basically only interested in the conformation side of dog shows and frankly don't care much about performance, titles or not. I wish I didn't feel guilty about that, but I do. I think I know my dogs better than anyone else, and I am certainly aware of which of them are up to pursuing and catching a rabbit. (Whippets are my breed of choice.) It's the same for almost all of us who have had show dogs for a long time: We are pretty sure we know which of our dogs would be able to get performance titles if they got the chance … and we breed accordingly. Perhaps that's arrogant of us, but I think it's true.

The following may apply only to me, but I don't think so. After many years of dog shows, I really want to be at home with my dogs as much as possible. The few times I leave the house I want to go to a favored specialty or to one of the few all-breed shows that I really enjoy. To spend a day going wherever I need to get a performance title is just not on the agenda. Not a realistic proposition for me! Those of my dogs that have performance titles, and there are a few, have gotten them thanks to other people.

One aspect of the article honestly surprised me. The author does not seem to realize that being a top show dog in the U.S. these days is a full-time occupation that does not allow for time off to pursue performance titles. You have to be at shows every weekend, and usually a couple of weekdays also, to be among the Top 100 Show Dogs in the U.S., which is apparently where the author got her figures. It's a pity that so many shows must be attended to get a high position in the rankings, and that automatically rules out dogs showed by people like myself even before you start counting, but like it or not, that's what's required to achieve a good conformation rankings position. Skipping even a couple of weekends of shows in order to get a performance title could mean that the competition might get ahead of you … and a fate worse than that can simply not be contemplated.

Now that I've made it abundantly clear, I hope, that neither the stay-at-homes or the very active exhibitors have time to spare for getting any performance titles, let me make a drastic suggestion that would in one fell swoop take care of the above as well as, most importantly, serve to shut up the animal-rights activists who feel dog shows are simply “beauty contests” that ought to be abolished altogether.

Make it a requirement for any dog to receive its AKC championship to first pass a temperament test! That test would have to be simple enough that it didn't require a dog to be trained for it but difficult enough to mean something. I frankly don't think that much more is necessary than that the dog can be easily handled and behave in a reasonably civilized manner … sort of indicating that the dog would be a good pet and member of society. That's of course not much more than is currently required by most judges during the conformation examination already, but for whatever reason these are called “conformation” shows, which has given the general public (and the animal rights fringe) the incorrect impression that all that matters is the dog's exterior beauty — while we know in fact that so much more is required of a top show dog than just physical “beauty.”

The public-relations value of the AKC announcing that it's now requiring all dogs to pass a temperament test before becoming AKC champions would be simply enormous. Average people would know what we all know already: that show dogs are sensible, good-tempered, people-loving animals, as easy and pleasant to deal with as any other dog (in most cases actually nicer, because they are USED TO being handled by strangers!) … in addition to being purposely bred and handsome, too. And it would be a lot harder for the people who don't like dog shows to dismiss purebred show dogs as fruitcakes!

It could of course be discussed whether a temperament test, which would basically be identical for all breeds, is the way to go. I am perfectly willing to concede that breeds perhaps should primarily be tested for being able to do what they were bred for, whether it's herding, hunting, coursing or whatever. I do think, however, that most of the original work that dogs do is out of place in today's society, as demonstrated by the fact that in my own breed almost nobody tests their Whippet's ability to catch a live rabbit and kill it. Instead, we have developed lure coursing, which is artificial hunting and may or may not accurately simulate what the Whippet's original work was. (Racing, the Whippet's other “original purpose,” has also changed, but in less obvious areas.)

There is no question that the primary function for most dogs today is to be wonderful house pets, and the advantage of a temperament test that could easily be performed at any dog show by anyone who is used to dogs must be obvious to anyone.

Will there be resistance from exhibitors and breeders who do not think that any test is necessary? Of course, there will. But if we are not willing to consider a way to show how “normal,” sweet and sensible our purebred dogs really are, we surely deserve that the threats that are now multiplying against our sport become a reality.

And even I would be willing to get out of my house to have my dogs tested …



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