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How the Judge Sees You Showing Your Dog, Part II - Formula For Success
Posted on 10/11/2012 in Ringside Conversations.

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How the Judge Sees You Showing Your Dog, Part II - Formula For Success
Richard (Rick) Beauchamp

There is no point in my recommending which breed might be wise for you to start your adventures into the world of show dogs with. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and once you’ve become involved with purebred dogs you may be amazed at how your tastes may change.

I can clearly remember attending my first shows and wondering who could possibly want to own a Bull Terrier (they look like pigs!), or a Whippet (are they starving to death?). Since then I’ve bred and shown Bull Terriers and find Whippets one of the breeds I enjoy judging best of all.

But if you haven’t yet chosen, make sure your choice is not based solely on what the breed looks like or its dazzling performance at a dog show. Bringing a dog into your life is commitment enough but when you stop to think of all the additional hours a show dog shares with you, compatibility and upkeep become a major considerations.

You may imagine yourself winning Best In Show at your local event with the Apollo of dogdom, the Great Dane. However, if you live in a fifth floor walk-up studio apartment, you’re being naive as to how long that relationship is going to last. You’ll either be forced to move to the country (at the strong suggestion of your landlord if not by your own decision), or the two of you will develop a good case of claustrophobia.

Consider the fact that Great Danes need exercise and conditioning. Most breeds do, of course, but a Toy breed can do fairly well by making his frequent rounds around his home and a daily walk around the block. This does not work for the larger breeds and, from where I stand as a judge, there is nothing more disappointing than finding a lovely dog that, upon examination, and moving turns out to be pure “mush,”; that is, the dog has no muscle tone what so ever.

Too many exhibitors mistake fat for condition. Fat is fat, muscle tone is muscle tone and tells me the dog I am judging has been conditioned to be as sound as his physical conformation allows. Not all breeds are “athletes”; that is, they were never created to be as fast as a speeding bullet or able to leap the tallest buildings at a single bound. That doesn’t mean, however, that they should not be fit. It takes muscle tone and a good hard body to keep those bones, ligaments, and tendons in working order.

As a side note here I have to commend the United Kennel Club for stressing the importance of the “Total Dog” - it shows! At the recent PREMIER show, I was highly impressed with the overall condition of the dogs shown under me. Keeping a dog active can do nothing but assist the dog in achieving its potential. No, it is not going to change the dog of average or less quality into a high-octane winner, but it is going to bring that dog to the highest level he is genetically able to achieve.

From where I stand, there is nothing more impressive than a dog that enters the ring clean, robust and alert and in peak weight and musculature for its breed. This will not be achieved by allowing dog (or owner for that matter) to spend its day lounging on the sofa!

One word of caution here, never begin a rigorous exercise program with a puppy or very young dog. You can destroy good conformation by forcing the young dog’s body beyond what it is ready for. Even young dogs should not be expected to go from zero to sixty in the first few weeks of any exercise regimen. Speaking to experienced breeders in your breed regarding exercise and conditioning is a must.

The “Great One”
Just like anything else in life, there is always a fast, faster and fastest - good, better and best. Purebred dogs are no different. Unlike what we believe to be true of humans - that all men (and women!) are created equal - outside of the fact that they are all created dogs, the canine world has some very clear cut distinctions.

As we know each and every purebred breed has a written standard of perfection developed by experts in the breed and used as the guideline by which breeders select their breeding stock, and that judges use in determining which are the best dogs in a given line up. It stands to reason that within the confines of registered stock of any kind, be that cattle, the various breeds of horses - what have you - there are going to be gradations of quality - poor, good, excellent.

Even a novice should understand that stock consistently being graded as poor is highly unlikely to be the ideal candidate to produce stock of a caliber that would be graded excellent. This is nonetheless true in purebred dogs. Chances of obtaining superior quality out of mediocrity are less than remote. In breeding animals of any kind, achieving excellence is illusive and to imagine doing so with inferior stock is out of the question. There is an old breeder’s axiom that goes, “Breed the best, to the best and hope for the best.”

Therefore, if you want to purchase foundation stock to breed show quality dogs, or simply purchase a dog to show, the answer to where you might go to do so becomes self-evident. You seek out those breeders who have earned a reputation for producing superior dogs over a long period of time. When you do so you will find that even using the best stock available, they too are being challenged because they are trying to breed what, in dog parlance, is referred to as a “great” one.

What are the things that add up to a great show dog? To paraphrase our famous Mr. Shakespeare, I would be inclined to concur, “that indeed is the question!”

Obviously no one breed of dog has a lock on that unique category in which we place the very best. The great dogs all share a special something. It is something unique yet typifying each and every dog I’ve known that has earned distinction. It’s that indefinable something that perhaps finds its equal in a great stage performance or perhaps in coming upon some panoramic vista that makes your heart skip a beat. It is that something that everyone who breeds and shows dogs hopes someday to have at the end of their show lead. It is that brass ring that all of us play the purebred dog game for.

Although a charismatic demeanor highlights that extra something great show dogs have, there are some very real characteristics that they embody which have them stand out from the masses. Each and every breed of dog has its standard of excellence that describes the ideal. The dogs who have earned the right to be classified among the greats of their respective breeds not only possess the characteristics outlined in their standard, they do so in such a high degree that some dog authorities are inclined to think of them as a fortunate accident.

This doesn’t mean accidental in the sense that the unique combination of qualities comes about in an entirely haphazard fashion - the result of ancestors of no particular note. What is being said is that even the very best breeding formulas, employing superior bloodlines, are unable to produce or even reproduce with any accuracy what nature itself will occasionally allow to occur.

Great dogs are those one-in-a-million long shots that everyone who breeds and shows dogs hopes and strives for. The good breeder would love to have that icon of perfection appear in his or her next litter. Every person who buys that next “show prospect” puppy at least secretly fantasizes that this one will grow up to be the dream dog.

How often does that living embodiment of the standard come about? Rarely. The dog lives in our hopes and dreams far more often than it ever will in reality, but I do believe that trying to get there is really what keeps those of us in purebred dogs involved on such a long-term basis. Perhaps in that next litter we breed, or that litter that we’re going to take a look at next week…just perhaps.

It’s no different than breeders of Thoroughbred racing horses. They bring together the finest bloodlines the world has to offer - those backed up by individual stallions and mares known to be producers of winners. Does this guarantee they will have that Derby winner they strive for? This is no guarantee of greatness even from putting together the world’s best, but you can rest assured Thoroughbred breeders have no illusions that the winner they hope for will come from breeding two nondescript plow horses together.

Finding a Show Dog
The exhibitor, especially the beginner, must be realistic. Don’t expect to knock on the door of the best breeder in the country and expect to have him sell you his one-in-a-million great. He is highly unlikely to part with it if he or she is ever that lucky, and should parting with it come about, you can rest assured it will go to the person the breeder feels can do more for the dog than he or she is able to afford.

Getting yourself a dog of winning quality (let’s forget about Best In Show at Crufts for right now), is within the realm of possibility, but that dog is most apt to come from one of two sources - an established and successful breeder of winning dogs or from your own breeding program. The latter is achieved following years of study, trial and probably a whole lot of error.

The thing that you, as an exhibitor, must do in the interim is be able to present that dog in the ring to the utmost of your ability. You must be willing to take a lot of losses along with those few wins. Rarely does it happen otherwise but remember, every time you step into the ring, you are adding to your ability to do a better job.

Placing last in the class or not placing is not all a loss. Check yourself - what did you do incorrectly, what made you most nervous, what are you not doing about your dog that needs doing? Having answers to all these questions is really what you are there for in the beginning. Don’t worry about the wins; they most definitely will come if you pay attention to what is really going on.

Next - That Thing You Do

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.

This article originally appeared in the September 2012 issue of BLOODLINES Dog Event News.