Big Show, Little Minds
Every year it’s the same thing – even when it’s completely different!
This year, the Westminster Kennel Club did an amazing job bringing its show to the beautiful grounds of the historic Lyndhurst Estate. It was different in many ways, and I – like very many others – loved seeing the dogs shown outside during the breed judging. The structure built for the groups absolutely made one feel as if the show was back at the iconic Garden. It was a great show and put the final punctuation point on the (hopefully) safe return of our dog shows. Thank you to the members of the Westminster Kennel Club. Congratulations to the winners and to all the competitors.
Unfortunately, every year sees a few little minds taking shots at the winners at Westminster. Some of these detractors even have to stoop to criticizing the clothing worn by exhibitors and judges. What a pity! Who made you Miranda Priestly (“The Devil Wears Prada”)? And this is what you have to say about one of the most iconic shows in the world? This is what you choose to say about people in our family – people who work as hard and love their dogs as much as you do? Your mother must be very proud of you.
This show should be a celebration of our dog community. But no! We have to witness the mighty poison pen of the internet. Of course, why should this year or this show be different? The results of practically every show have their detractors. Do you think winning or losing has anything to do with the comments? There are Winners and Whiners at every show.
I just finished watching “The Manchurian Candidate” (again), which was set during the period of McCarthyism, whereby anyone who disagreed with you must be a Communist – and at that time nothing could be worse. Is thinking that if I don’t win, it must be politics kind of like McCarthyism Lite?
There were two posts that bothered me, and one surprisingly was posted by someone I respect. The first said, “I don’t think I’ve ever felt like quitting as I much as I do today!!” I think all of us have gone through those days when we truly felt ours was the better dog – and sometimes maybe he was. Many were the times I would leave the ring and just go for a walk with my dog to calm down. But then I would remember that I get to take home the Best Dog – mine! Would you take a piece of cloth or a few minutes of recognition if it meant you had to trade your dog for it?
The one that really bothered me was “Your breeding program has nothing to do with the ring.” I think this bothered me for two reasons. First thought was, “Then why in the hell are you doing this?” But I think I was really bothered because maybe it is true for too many people!
I do understand that there are many reasons people choose to show – or have shown – their dogs. The thrill of competition, social gatherings, enjoying the relationship with your dog and ego-boosting are some of them. However, if showing your dog in conformation has NOTHING to do with a breeding program, we are completely lost.
My naiveté makes me insist that significant reasons for the conformation ring are for conscientious breeders to display and test their breeding program, as well as for others to see the results so they may decide to incorporate some of this breeding program into theirs. Another reason is your love of dogs and the desire to preserve and improve your breed. If these reasons do not come into play, we don’t need any judges with breed knowledge or experience at all – all judging could be generic and based upon what is “pretty.” And before the Negative Nellies start their chirping – NO, I don’t think that is primarily what exists today.
Most judges really are not terribly impressed or in awe of other judges, but when I watched my friend Pat Trotter judge Best in Show, I knew I was watching an icon. Just watching where she placed her hands when examining the dogs left little doubt that you were watching a professional. At the same time, seeing the interaction between Pat, the handlers and the dogs let you know how much she loved what she was doing. Obviously, for her this was a labor of love.
And her words, “Not all pets are show dogs, but I can assure you, all show dogs are pets,” touched a nerve in all of us who know this to be true.
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Talking about watching a very experienced judge reminded me of a discussion I had about some of the differences in judging. I think judging procedures are different for many reasons – one certainly being dependent on how much experience one has. My comments are absolutely not all encompassing, but I think the procedure for newer judges is more a step-by-step procedure than for very experienced judges – at least that’s how it appears to me.
What I mean by a step-by-step procedure can readily be seen in judging Golden Retrievers. As with all breeds, proportions of the Golden are of paramount importance. At many of the Golden breed seminars, the presenter talks about looking at the dog in thirds. It is a good mental image, and I have spoken with judges who are new to this breed or to judging who literally look at the dog in this manner. You can almost see the judge visualizing the standard as she moves from one end of the dog to the other. If it winds up with the judge finding the best dog, then there is absolutely nothing wrong with this.
On the other hand, I am what I consider to be a “complete picture” judge. I look for silhouette, proportions and head as an all-in-one picture. I am not a spatial person, and certainly cannot pack or do puzzles well because of that. Instead, I just “feel” if the dog in front of me is in balance and has proper proportions. I know the breed’s standard, and it is there in my mind as I am judging, but it is in one piece and not pieces. I am not sure if it comes from experience or just “having an eye,” but that is what works for me, and I like to think that I “get it right” more often than not.
Words and language are very important to me, and improper grammar grates on me like scratching on a blackboard. The same thing happens when I see a dog with parts that don’t fit together, or whose footfall and timing is off. On the other hand, I can feel my “being” smiling when I see a dog that is in balance and harmony.
Either way, the goal is to find the best dog, but I am concerned that if I judge “in pieces” I may find a correct dog, but not a great dog.
By the way, a dog’s temperament and behavior are part of a dog being in harmony and balance. A dog’s temperament has to be proper for its breed – not “Ya Ya” because it makes it a better “show dog.”
What do you think?