I am pretty certain that a lot of the younger brigade among current professional handlers and assistants is rather fed up being told by an old fart how much better things were in the olden days — trying to tell them how to do things …?
I keep reminding myself of the story I have shared previously, when the Swedish Kennel Club in 1979 decided to make all judges over 70 retire and celebrated them in style with flowers and champagne (I think) at the last show of the year, the fabulous Stockholm International. I was then 32 years of age, one of those who thought that was a brilliant idea in order to make the dog world up to date, modernize and move forward.
For some strange reason, 43 years later and way past that retirement age myself, I cannot in any way understand what I was thinking — or why …?
As you probably have guessed already, the rules were reversed a few years later. I anticipated that automatically reinstated the retirees, but was told that never happened. I refuse to believe that.
Well, at least being very generous, the kennel club never asked them to return either flowers or champagne!
But what was so scary about the original retirement decision was that this included three ladies with a formidable background, eye and experience who were still in complete control of their faculties. And thus were invaluable resources to dip into for future judges as well as current exhibitors.
This is the 64th year since I set foot in a dog show for the first time and immediately got hooked. Fortunately, shortly thereafter I got a membership in our local all-breed club, where the chairman was a breeder of (English) Cockers and owner of imports from Broomleaf, Lochnell and of Ware. Another committee member was a Swedish lady who bred some lovely Airedales. I was, despite my young age, already obsessed with Boxers and German Shepherds, so at the time never considered the above-mentioned breeds “real dogs”! Probably already brainwashed by the GSD guys, for whom there was (and probably still is) only one breed that counts!
In my hometown of Bergen, Norway, there were only a handful of serious breeders of any breeds — and most of the dogs were family members who came along whenever the family went hiking, skiing, running, etc., so basically all dogs were in great physical shape. Not necessarily constructed according to the breed standards, but from a fitness point of view.
And show preparations for a German Shepherd were, if at all, a bath in cold water and cutting toenails.
So when I, after a relatively short while, showed interest in the other breeds and was taken under the wings of the Swedish Terrier lady, a whole new world opened up. This lady basically trimmed dogs she bred herself, but would also generously help people with other Terrier breeds. (Plus actually a local breeder who started with Griffon Bruxellois and imported some lovely dogs from Gregtoi, England, but that’s another story.)
Again, the dogs who came by for show preparations were all family pets — and every single one in great physical shape. So it was all about coat and grooming.
Nobody had yet heard anything about that American phenomenon — rolling coats — so for all the long-legged terriers: Neck and body coat stripped eight to 10 weeks before the show, fronts four to five weeks, ears two to three weeks, etc. So when the show finally took place, all these dogs had the amount of coat as described and required according to standards.
We only had one yearly show for Terriers in Bergen, but naturally entered other shows in the country. If you could fit in two shows with the same coat it was fabulous, but normally you had to start all over again.
At the time, in addition to Boxers, I had friends with Dobes, Rottweilers, Frenchies, etc. I remember feeling so sorry for those with breeds who did not require any preparations at all.
It seemed so boring! And they missed all those weeks prior to each show, preparing, hoping and dreaming … and in a way I am happy to say that the level of expectation was not very high! A first prize or, even better, CK (which stood for certificate quality, meaning the judge considered the dog worthy of becoming a champion, even if the CK didn’t really count …).
We were so modest — some of us still are — but it was such a great learning experience. We had huge respect for all judges, and they basically all had a very impressive CV — and for those classified as Terrier specialists, nothing but perfect length, amount and texture of coat was acceptable. And to show a dog “out of coat” to some of these was considered an insult — or at least a waste of time and money!
Most of these judges were highly respected Terrier people themselves — like the famous Carin Lindhe, who in addition to breeding Airedales and Scotties (although even more famous for Wolfhounds and Deerhounds) had a successful trimming shop in Stockholm; Hans Lehtinen, who made his living by his “Trimmer,” his shop in Helsinki — and I could go on. But these judges shared their knowledge with colleagues — and there was no way you could get away with murder, or faking anything. If the body coat was too short, there was always the suspicion that it was a deliberate attempt to hide a coat that at correct length would be too soft, etc., etc.
(And also by rolling the coat, which means that you constantly are “thinning out” the coat, the correct texture is even more important.)
There were many stories to tell about dogs that were supposed to win big that at times didn’t, as the coat was too short or (which for some American judges was very important) there was any skin visible through the coat on the front or shoulders …!
It frequently happened that dogs were excused due to chalk, coloring or even suspected “fixed” ears. The pros knew what to show — or not — under judges with special focus — or pet hate — on certain areas of presentation.
There are so many talented groomers and handlers in the U.S. — far above the level in most other countries — and the sculptures created can at times make it rather difficult to detect defects hidden under the hair …
But what has surprised me judging a number of Sporting breeds lately is the number of dogs looking spectacular and moving well, but with lack of proper muscle tone and physical condition. Maybe we in Scandinavia have been spoiled in this regard, as most dogs live with lots of freedom, but this area should definitely be included within the definition of show condition. I know and understand that spending so much time on the road from show to show it can be difficult to prioritize exercise — and, sadly, no time on a walker can replace time in a field in total freedom.
I just wonder how many of today’s judges comfortably can claim that they have sufficient knowledge about dogs in general to decide what is acceptable to be classified as physical show condition or not. What is a bad coat or not? What is made with artificial help to create an illusion? And those are important parts to fully assess, evaluate and understand what is necessary to declare that this is a dog in PERFECT SHOW CONDITION — or have the guts to withhold ribbons simply because it is not at an acceptable level.
Both of the utmost importance, both for the present and not least of all the future.
Until next time ….