Breeder, Exhibitor, or Fancier?, by Richard G. (Rick) Beauchamp
Posted on 06/26/2008 in Ringside Conversations.
Richard G. (Rick) Beauchamp
(This article originally appeared in the June 2008 issue of BLOODLINES Magazine.)
I think the term exhibitor is pretty much straightforward. The exhibitor is simply a person who shows dogs. It doesn’t imply much more or less. There are levels of exhibitors of course - beginning, amateur, professional - but what we know is that they show dogs.
Some exhibitors perform well. Others do not. Some improve with time and, sadly, a good number can’t seem to rise above that beginner level. Even with that said, they enjoy what they do as much as the individual who soars to the top of the winner’s circle.
We regularly hear the terms breeder and exhibitor, but perhaps less often, fancier. I find people who use the terms “fancier” and “dog fancy” are usually those who have been involved in purebred dogs for a very long time. It’s probably a term that’s become outmoded in many respects.
It was a term that was frequently used early on in the American dog game - a word that was somewhat reserved for the wealthier element of purebred dogs. In many cases, these individuals were household words. (Well, household words if you came from a doggie family.) They were highly visible in that many of them owned big winners and huge kennels that often housed a good number of breeding dogs.
In many cases, they employed a well-trained staff to care for the dogs. The staff was headed by an individual with a great eye for a dog who also had the knack of finding the right dogs that could go out and accumulate big show records or produce the dogs that would do so. While others were only sure of a dog’s potential when it had established itself as a winner, the gifted kennel managers knew where to go for top ones before they were even entered at their first dog show.
These wealthy fanciers never actually bred a litter themselves but relied upon the expertise of those they hired to do it all for them. The proprietors of these large kennels were highly respected and often were the movers and shakers of the dog games of their time.
They weren’t, in fact, actually breeders, but neither were they simply exhibitors. Because of them, any number of breeds made great strides forward. They did more than simply show dogs, they advocated for the dogs and the breeds from which they came. Their ownership alone in a given breed stimulated great interest among competitors and beginners.
What is a breeder, and is he the same person he was 100 or even 50 years ago? Technically speaking, a breeder is anyone who has bred a litter or two of puppies, but those individuals are not what most of us who consider ourselves dyed-in-the-wool dog folk really consider breeders. While they may constitute the vast majority of people in dogs today, they are also the ones who, after breeding that litter or two, are gone, never to be heard from again.
There was a day when only those who successfully bred dogs over many years and developed a line, which had its own distinctive style, were considered real breeders. In many cases it was actually unnecessary to have to refer to a catalogue at all to determine the bloodline that an individual dog might have come from.
Granted, there were also kennels that produced an assorted array of champions, and often there might be big winners among them. But unless the breeder made a statement - produced dogs that could be relied upon to carry certain recognizable virtues – they were never really considered breeders as such. Their successes were more often than not considered “shots in the dark.”
I find it very interesting how much the picture has changed today. Whereas large breeding operations were highly respected back 50 or more years ago, today anyone housing more than just a few bitches are looked upon with derision and stand in danger of being marked as a “puppy mill”.
Today, if someone chooses only to breed good dogs, but has no interest in showing them, then too often the dogs they produce are considered pet stock, regardless of what they look like. The point that seems to be missed here is that a show quality dog is not determined by merit of the fact it has been taken to a dog show. A show quality animal appears in the whelping box as the result of a well-thought-out breeding program.
Many of us in dogs are of a competitive bent, but do note that I say “many” and not all of us. Personally speaking, the “big win” in my mind has always been planning a breeding that results in something very special. I raise it, I train it and I take it to a show where there will be people in the breed whose opinions I respect. I put the dog up on the box and say, “Well, what do you think?”
When those whose opinions count say, “You’ve done it,” that is the win for me. What happens in the ring is the proverbial toss of the dice. For me the win is in having done it - having produced the one that those who know approve of.
If someone were to take that dog and campaign it to the heights I would be justifiably proud, but left to my own devices the flyer would soon be home in my kennel on its way to providing the next step in my breeding program. I have never bred the dog of my dreams - the end result. Nor have I met any real breeder who claims to have done so. In the best of what the great breeders have produced, there is always that final tweaking, that “if only” that they hope to fix in the next generation. It isn’t that they don’t appreciate what has happened, it is more that they are intrigued and fascinated by the possibility of what can happen in the next generation.
Numbers Do Count
It should be understood that there are some breeds in which numbers do count. That is, it takes more individual breeding dogs to go forward in some breeds than in others. For instance, your chances of getting a good one from a stellar mating of two Irish Setters or Boxers who may produce litters of eight, nine and ten puppies are far greater than they might be from an Affenpinscher or English Toy Spaniel mating, where getting a puppy at all is the mark of success, much less having a whole litter to choose from.
There are some breeds that breed true, others where it is extremely difficult, if not all but impossible, for like to produce like. Look at Bull Terriers for example - a highly hybrid breed calling upon hugely diverse ancestors (Dalmatian, Bulldog, Olde English Terrier, etc.) to produce the modern marvel of today. To this day, Bullie litters produce styles that run the gamut leaning toward any one of the contributors to that delicate balance when it is really the balance of the all that produces the great Bull Terrier. A litter a year out of your single well bred Bullie, or Affen bitch is going to take you one hell of a lot longer to get where you want to go than what might be possible if you were breeding bitches that came through with a dozen puppies each time.
None of the above is to advocate anyone running out to buy a half dozen bitches and mate them at every season, on the contrary. I do, however, think that we might use a bit of restraint in branding everyone who has more than a litter or two a year a puppy mill. Nor should we condemn the fellow who isn’t particularly obsessed with bringing home blue ribbons. There have been many breeders through the years who very seldom entered one of their own dogs in a show, yet their stock highly influenced the breed for generations that followed.
Today, more than ever, we must cherish those who produce dogs of quality for us. They won’t all come out of the same kind of breeding program nor will they be produced by individuals whose goals are always the same as ours. There aren’t a whole lot of real breeders left to us today. We can’t afford to discourage any of them.
The information contained in Mr. Beauchamp’s “Solving the Mystery of Breed Type” series that appeared in BLOODLINES, can be found in his book, Solving the Mystery of Breed Type, published by Kennel Club Books.