Dogs as well as cows and other livestock are subject to fads in the show ring.
Fri, 04/19/2024 - 8:03pm

Trends and Fads

Eavesdrop on an airport conversation between two very different judges

What started out as another travel day from Hell wound up being a very nice weekend.

I was stranded in the Houston United Club (thank Dog for the club facilities) for more than eight hours as bad weather swept through the country, and many flights were cancelled. While I was stranded there, Pat Trotter was waiting at the rental counter at the Jackson, Mississippi, airport, where we were going to share a car on the two-and-a-half-hour drive to the show site/hotel.

Finally, my Dogs smiled down on me from over the Rainbow Bridge and found a seat for me on the last flight out of Houston. After driving through fog and rain, Pat and I eventually got to the hotel at almost 2 a.m. — exhausted. After that, the Southern hospitality shown to us by the Golden Triangle Kennel Club of Mississippi helped ease the unpleasant travel day. 

While I was in the United Club, a man sat down next to me and said, “I noticed your [AKC Judge] jacket and I’d like to ask you a question.” I expected the usual, like “What breed do you like best?” or “What is the best breed?” but interestingly he told me he was a judge of hogs and cattle, and wanted to know if I saw as many trends and fads in judging dogs as he had seen in his judging of livestock.

He explained that at times heavier, more muscular hogs were wanted (that could barely move), and then it would change to a leaner hog — and the same type of thing in cattle. We talked about this for a while, and I now want to share some thoughts with you. So I again reached out to some key people in various breeds to ask them what trends or fads they have seen in their respective breeds.

A breeder and judge of German Shorthaired Pointers talks about “… females who are too big and males who are overly mature at a young age. … A dog or bitch at the lower or middle of the standard is often looked at as too little.” I don’t know if it can be attributed to better food and additives, but I have seen some breeds that are getting bigger than they were in the past, and some are stretching the boundaries of the standard.

As far as maturity, we seem to be pushing our dogs to mature and be almost perfect in the ring too quickly. I was sitting with a fellow judge the other day as 4– to 6-month-old puppies were being judged in front of us. He said, “Look how happy and energetic they are. When did we stop that?”

My question was: Why did we stop that? I don’t expect a dog to stand perfectly still or perform like an automaton. They are animals. Let them be happy. 

She also talks about Sporting dogs who are “too long in the loin with short ribcages.” Here she has touched on what I consider one of the biggest major faults I see — especially in breeds whose purpose would require them to run for long periods of time. Short rib cages are an indication of a lack of lung capacity, and long loins weaken the dog’s topline — all of which are absolute no-nos in a Sporting breed. 

Unfortunately, I have watched this trend over the years, and it is becoming more prevalent and is detrimental to our breeds. For me, this is a serious issue that needs to be addressed by our breeders. Of course, when judging, everything is a trade-off, and a judge may have to decide which hurts a breed more — flat feet or a short ribcage. Of course, we are looking for the strengths, but there are times we also need to weigh the faults. 

A well-known and respected handler of “Gray Ghosts” says: “In Weimaraners, we have seen a departure from the standard. Instead of a moderate walking man’s hunting dog, we [see] in some places extreme, exaggerated animals that could not do the job the Weimaraner was bred to do. I believe we must all guard against extremities.” 

Amen. Over the years I have seen this breed go from having fronts as said in the standard — The chest should be well developed and deep with shoulders well laid back — to dogs with such massive forechests and weakened rears that I expect them to fall over forward. Thankfully, recently, I have seen a return to more correct forechests, which allows for better overall balance. I hope the fad of exaggerated forefronts is over. 

A breeder and professional handler of Golden Retrievers talks about some new handling techniques, such as scratching a Golden under the tail before gaiting. Do Goldens really need this to wag their tail? I think not. Maybe it is needed in some other breeds, but I think this is overkill. She also sees quite a bit of over-trimming in this breed. I don’t know if she includes the use of substances when talking about grooming, but I can tell you that a lot of judges are getting annoyed at the excessive overuse of substances designed to puff up the coat. Many of us recognize this as very incorrect and won’t reward it!

Finally, this handler also talks about the current fad of running with breeds that should be shown at a walk. I remember in my day being told that Terriers should never be shown at anything but a walk. Laddie Carswell even taught me that many Spaniels should also be shown that way. Be that as it may, practically all breeds are being shown at too fast a pace today. Judges are constantly telling handlers (professional or not) to slow down. Do you think we don’t know when you are trying to hide something or to show flash instead of soundness?

A Sporting dog breeder remembers, “In the early 1980s, we would bathe our dog [a coated breed] the night before a show, hop in the car the next morning and go. … Few of us had a fancy van back then. We would get to the show site an hour before show time … run a brush through the dog and go in the ring. Today much more time is spent on preparation. Today there is much more emphasis on creative grooming. So much so that faults are easily hidden or disguised. In my Sporting breed, dogs seemed more substantial back in the ’80s and ’90s with more substance and angulation.”

A judge and breeder of Toy breeds shares this with us: “… in Shih Tzu there have been some trends, particularly grooming and head presentation. I wrote several articles about presentation over the years mentioning the overdone top knots with multiple rubber bands and bows that made them look like a cartoon character instead of a royal pet. Also, people in the '90s to the 2000s seemed to be showing dogs with an extreme length of neck, pretty but not correct. I think they are much nicer and more balanced now.  It's nice to see some color coming back into the breed's particolors rather than dye jobs, where the dog was washed-out blond and yet had stunning black tipping to the ears and face markings.”

Let’s consider why we see fads and trends in the show ring. When we look at the hog and cattle market, the trends depend on meat production and similar factors. Unfortunately, in our community, fads are not based on function — but are based on what is winning at the moment. Flashy wins under judges A and B, and other judges — maybe ones with a lack of confidence or knowledge — follow suit. Breeder Z wants to win, and makes a concentrated effort to produce the flash that is winning. If this is an influential breeder, others follow this Pied Piper, and soon the majority of dogs in the ring display flash instead of substance, and judges — even those who know better — are forced to put up the flashy dog. And a vicious cycle is in place. The problem, of course, is these trends are extremely difficult to reverse. How many generations does it take to correct poor rears? For how many generations have we all been trying to improve fronts — and with what success?

According to the Oxford dictionary, a fad is “an intense and widely shared enthusiasm for something, especially one that is short-lived and without basis in the object's qualities; a craze,” and a trend is “a general direction in which something is developing or changing.”

Above all, our preservation breeders are not involved with our dogs for anything that is short-lived. They put up with difficulties in travel, money, hard work and heartache — and we do this for the love of our dogs, which is a life-long thing, and not just a fad. 

Many of the trends I have seen are wrapped around grooming and presentation. I have looked back at some of my old win and judging pictures, and the things that stick out immediately are that we seem to have tried to stretch our dogs as far as we could (and some still do that) and the lack of coat compared to what we see in the ring today. 

The better presentation and handling are trends that are going in the right direction, with the caveat that sometimes we see unnecessary over-handling. I attribute dogs having more coat to better nutrition and care. This is both good and bad. When done correctly, a beautiful coat on a well-conditioned dog is a glorious thing, but when it is done to hide structure and balance it is a severe detriment.

Many breeds — such as mine — should be a combination of substance and elegance, and we are losing the substance aspect in order to be prettier. That is not a good trend. Want to see how beautiful substance and elegance can be? Go look at a Friesian horse or even a Clydesdale. 

What do you think?



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