Cornerstone of the Sport
Posted on 08/18/2011 in Ringside Conversations.
Richard G. (Rick) Beauchamp
I stand in awe of people who have the guts and determination to try, try, try and try again while the whole world looks on. I’ve never quite had the required it to do so myself, so I have a great deal of respect and admiration for those who have.
There are some that set goals for themselves that take years to accomplish: winning the Top Ten, breeding successive generations of Best In Show winners, having the top dog in the breed for X number of years.
My own personal passion flame in purebred dogs has been lit by the breeding challenge - in producing that dog capable of going to the top. In my mind there has been absolutely nothing that compares with putting all you’ve learned together in a breeding program and then realizing that the years of studying and hoping and planning and being disappointed have, at long last, resulted in what could possibly be the it dog!
I think it was all those old Collie books I read as a child that kindled the breeders’ flame for me. You know, the one where the kid down on the farm picks his pup from the born-in-the-barn litter based upon what the crotchety old man tells him and because the great, great-grandfather of the litter was some famous winner - well, you know the rest.
When I ran out of dog books to read, there were always horse stories with my favorite theme running through them: Kid sneaks plow horse mare into Kentucky Derby winner’s pasture and guess what (as if you couldn’t) - the resulting colt grew up to win the Derby too!
I believed! Lord, did I believe. It fueled all my childhood fantasies, but more importantly it set me off on a journey to take a shot at creating that one-in-a-million kind of dog myself - a dog as fabulous as any I had read about. I had dreams and those dreams somehow lived on to influence me for the best part of my life.
I’ve since learned that it’s all a bit more complicated than sneaking Old Nell into the next pasture or expecting the $25 pup to win the greatest show on earth. But the breeding part, the trying to do it, in spite of the odds - now that has the appeal!
There are those among us, however, who, like the Olympians, want to do it all themselves. Their gold comes not just from breeding that wonder dog but conditioning it and taking it into the ring. Correct that - not just taking the dog into the ring but taking it into the ring and coming out a winner.
That’s a tough one in itself, but in this day and age the American breeder-owner amateur faces the toughest competition in the world. That’s not to say there isn’t quality in other countries, on the contrary. There are talented owner handlers and top-notch dogs elsewhere, but nowhere, and I say this without reservation, nowhere in the world, is the level of presentation as high as it is here in America.
We have perfected the fine arts of conditioning and presentation to a level far beyond what can be found any place else in the world. American dog fanciers have set a standard and if the amateur is unable to rise to that level, he will be left behind.
The breeder chooses only from the dogs he’s bred. Win, lose or draw, fad and fashion be what it may - this is the dog that is to be campaigned. Most accomplished breeders are justifiably unwilling to change over an entire breeding program to comply with every current whim and fashion that comes along. Knowing what is right for a breed and standing by one’s convictions can be a lonely place and that place is not always in the winner’s circle.
The successful breeder has invested years of study to create the mental image of what he or she believes is ideal and then has gone about finding the stock that will translate that picture into living breathing flesh. This process goes far beyond the basics of soundness and showmanship. The breeder delves into the subtleties of the standard - those components that come to the surface only though years of study and comparison. The breeder looks not just to create the picture one time, but also to establish those elements in such a way in his breeding stock that they are able to transmit their quality on to the next generation and the generation after that.
The really good breeders I’ve known through the years show dogs “of a kind”. That is, from generation to generation, the dogs campaigned bear a distinct type resemblance to each other.
It isn’t long, lean and lanky this time, and short, squat and dumpy next. Real breeders compromise very little.
Although discretion forbids naming names, there are some breeds I judge that the moment I put my hands on an exhibit I know whether or not it descends from one particular line. The breeder has absolutely fixed certain qualities in the line that are all but nonexistent in others.
Making It To The Top
It takes a lot of talent, pluck and tenacity to do all that. But then comes the other part - gaining the recognition for the dogs that do represent the intended essence of the breed. Can the regular guy, the day-to-day breeder of top quality who has the necessary skills and realistic means to invest, really make it to the top? I believe it is possible. It depends, however, on sound priorities and realistic goals.
There are any number of breeds in which a good one (as in correct) now is the same as a good one was and a good one will be next week, next month or next year. It is the same dog here as it is in England, Australia or Timbuktu. It’s undoubtedly possible to breed a faster version, a bigger version or a hairier version in order to comply with trends - to win more. But the breeder must decide which is most important - the win or the correct dog.
If it’s the latter and the breeder is caught up in a generic avalanche, times will be tough and wins will come only under those who really know the breed and who care not what the popularity polls might indicate. Will the breeder’s correct dog be able to accumulate the bloated numbers of his lesser competitors? Perhaps not.
There are times when it is not possible to have both the dog and the record. Is this fair? Is this proper? In a word, no.
But how important is winning? Does it take precedence over quality or correctness? That is not something that can be answered by anyone other than the breeder himself.
To some breeders, the facts that those who really know the breed well and who stand in admiration of their efforts is enough. The wins that come because what they do is right for the breed compensate for the number of wins that might otherwise result. To others, validation comes only in the form of winners’ ribbons. The choice is up to the individual concerned.
I, for one, have little sympathy for the person who continually laments the fact that their win record amounts to barely a nodule when compared to the Mt. Everistic accomplishments of the dog that flies hither and yon month in and month out.
Think of the driving and the flights and the missed connections - forget about the mega charges on your credit card. Do you, better still, can you contend with all that?
How some exhibitors survive doing so year after year is beyond comprehension. It takes the dog, the money, the time and above all the endurance to achieve those monumental records.
But what the breeder has to consider is just what all that equates to when applied to one’s breeding program. Does it make the sire produce better puppies, the line achieve greater quality, eliminate faults, get healthier? Few breeder-owner-handlers I know are as equipped to devote their lives to acquiring such records.
Remembering who was the biggest winner last year takes some serious thinking, and forget about who did it the year before. Five years ago - impossible!
However, when it comes to those marvelous breeder-owner-handlers who year after year, decade after decade, walk into our rings with exquisite representatives of their breed - unforgettable. Who do we send our friends to when it comes purchasing foundation stock? Is there any question?
After all the pots, pans and Winged Victories are issued at the close of each year of competition, there should be one special award - the award of awards - and it should go to that wonderful class of dog folk who are, in reality, our Olympians. They do it, they do it all and they keep the dog game alive.
Richard G. (Rick) Beauchamp has been successfully involved in practically every facet of purebred dogs: breeding, exhibiting, publishing, writing. He is the author of numerous breed and all breed books including the best-selling Solving the Mysteries of Breed Type and Breeding Dogs for Dummies. He has judged all breeds throughout the world and was one of the United Kennel Club’s first all breed judges.