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Faults in Context
Posted on 12/31/2008 in Ringside Conversations.

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Richard G. (Rick) Beauchamp
(This article originally appeared in the November 2008 issue of BLOODLINES Magazine.)

Many judges consider one of the more enjoyable and interesting parts of any dog show is the Sunday night “postmortem”. It is the time when those judges who weren’t able to catch a late night flight out gather for dinner or a few drinks and discuss the weekend’s judging experiences. It is the occasion upon which many questions are asked and often a good many answers collected.

These gatherings are just about always conducted in a very light hearted way, and at times a riotous sense of humor is discovered in someone that you would hardly suspect could possibly be so hilarious. I must say that even though these evenings can be great fun, often a number of quite serious discussions are held as well. Recently one of them was in regard to the ever-increasing number of dogs appearing in American show rings with uncropped ears and natural tails. More and more kennel clubs throughout the world are taking the matter out of the hands of exhibitors and making any dog that is cropped or docked ineligible to be shown.

Just about everyone at the table had their own thoughts in regard to the situation, but of course none of us had any real answers for America.

Before going on I must admit to my own feelings on the situation. Since a good part of my judging experience has been in other countries, banned cropping and docking is not something new or unusual for me. I am totally accustomed to the look of natural ears. I also happen to have a young uncropped Boxer dog sitting at (make that on) my feet as I write this column. He does not, however, have all of the tail he was born with.

Ears I can handle on Boxers and Danes. Dobermans, on the other hand, seem to lose character with uncropped ears. As far as tails go on Boxers and Dobes - not. Somehow, the Gun Dogs seem to carry natural tails easily without destroying their “look.” So much for the arbitrary nature of my personal likes and dislikes. They are not what are of consequence here.

One of our Sunday night group volunteered that some standards of the world are in fact specific in regard to cropped ears and docked tails, and therefore natural tails and ears would in fact constitute a fault.

I can understand the point taken by my fellow judge. If the standard calls for a characteristic, the dog should have that characteristic. Lack of it does, in fact, become a fault. But all standards ask for many things: a certain silhouette, specific colors, size, movement, etc., etc.

I could go on and on for many paragraphs, but any of us who have been in dogs more than a day or two know that no one dog has it all. What we as students of a breed must determine is what constitutes the essence of the breed. If no dog has it all, what must it have to qualify as an outstanding specimen? What should a judge do if he or she were to have two dogs that were, for all intents and purposes, of that often discussed (but seldom encountered) “equal quality” save for one shortcoming each? For example, one does not have the cropped ear and the other not have the short, straight, muscular back.

I ask the question, albeit a rhetorical one, if in fact our job as judges continues to be selection of stock that best perpetuates the progress of the breed, which of the two aforementioned dogs is least apt to transmit its fault?

Let’s use the Boxer just as an example. Although the UKC standard of the breed makes ear cropping optional, this situation does not exist throughout the world. Coming from a breeder’s background, and given the additional responsibility of perpetuating the good qualities of the breed as a judge, I would feel compelled to go with the uncropped Boxer. The long, soft back will most assuredly be contributed to the gene pool. The uncropped ear will not.

Again, the likelihood of my encountering a situation of this kind is rather remote. Ears cropped or otherwise would be one of the last influencing factors in making my decision rather than the first. I could care less what kind of ear a mediocre or poor specimen of the breed has when I am judging it. It could have ears standing tall or no ears at all - mediocrity is mediocrity. If the best dog in the ring had an uncropped ear, it would be my winner, not because of its ears but because it was the best dog.

Even if a standard names something like an uncropped ear a serious fault, I would still have to weigh that fault against the overall quality of the dog and put it into its proper context. There are some dogs, even with a serious fault, that might still be a winner. In spite of the fault, it is still the best dog in the ring at the moment. On the other hand, if an uncropped ear or natural tail were a disqualification, I could not even consider the dog for any win regardless of how good it might be otherwise.

This really applies across the board. When judging and selecting breeding stock, I think it is important to stop and consider which shortcoming in a breed is most apt to be passed on and have serious effect upon the next generation. Since no dog will “have it all”, place the flaw in the context of how much good is present and how much effect it will have in the whelping box.

For those of you who might be interested in why my own Boxer’s ears were never cropped, I will say just this. My dog is my best friend. He goes just about everywhere with me. I like everything about him, including his ears. The decision to leave them on his head was made on the day we were supposed to travel to the veterinarian’s office to have them cut away. I asked myself that day how I would feel if my best friend opted to have my ears cut off. I called the veterinarian that day and canceled our appointment.

An interesting post script to all this is something that occurs each Labor Day here in the little village of Cambria in which I live. The town and all its nearby residents turn out en masse for what is called the Pinedorado celebration. A part of that celebration is a parade - quite large by small town standards, I might add. Every year there is a surprisingly large contingent of Boxer lovers marching in that parade. (For whatever the reason, Boxers are extremely popular here on California’s Central Coast.) A 30- to 40-strong aggregation marches in the parade with their uncropped Boxers. The group travels down Main Street under a banner which proclaims the feelings of all its marchers. The banner reads, “The Boxer Rebellion.” Need I say more?

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.