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Let Freedom Ring!
Posted on 10/14/2011 in Ringside Conversations.

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Richard G. (Rick) Beauchamp
This is not an article about flag waving, the Liberty Bell, or Democracy. No, we’ll still be on the subject of dogs, but this is about freedom - the kind that I would like to see a bit more of in the rings at today’s dog shows.

I can’t help but wonder what spectators think - not we dog folk - but just the average guy who pays his admission to the dog show simply because he loves dogs or may be thinking of adding a dog to his family. What does he think when he sees all those statues in the ring twisted into shape not twitching a muscle or shifting a foot? I can just imagine his wondering if there’s a real dog inside that statue.

So many of our dogs are so well trained that breed character is trained right out of them. There’s certainly no way on God’s green earth that there would be any indication as to what kind of a personality most of our dogs might have based on what is seen in the conformation ring.

Now I’m not advocating show dogs be allowed to act like demented souls who have been captured from the wild and are being given their first introduction to civilization. Lead breaking and training a dog to pose beforehand are a part of preparing a dog to be shown, but that preparation doesn’t have to be so thorough and complete that the dog is afraid to bat an eye for fear of eminent death.

The Cavalier King Charles people are, to put it mildly, encouraged to always show their dogs on a loose lead and never get down on the ground to “pose” their dogs. Posing is only done on the judging table. When the dogs are on the ground, they are taught to self-stack, and there is nothing more attractive that seeing a long line-up of these little dogs all standing there on their own, tails out and waving, showing ringside that they’re having one heck of a good time.

I know that Cavaliers are not the only breed that fashion insists be shown this way, but I point the breed out in that one never sees a Cavalier exhibitor get down on the ground to stack his dog, and the breed looks all the better for it.

Naturally there’s no better sign of good temperament than the dog that shows he’s happy to see the judge by wagging his tail (or his whole butt!) when he’s approached for examination. Obviously, this is a lot more encouraging than the frozen stiff dog that gives no indication whether he’s going to continue on standing like the Rock of Gibraltar or have you for a mid-day snack.

This is not to say that all dogs have to lapse into ecstasy when the judge approaches, or rapturously fling themselves into the judge’s arms. However, giving some indication that there is in fact a living-breathing dog inside the package is reassuring - especially one that appears to be enjoying the fact that he’s present.

Missing A Beat
All too often, watching a class of dogs being judged from ringside, I’ll see a very nice dog move beautifully as its breed is required, to skip a beat or miss a step along the way, otherwise a five-star performance. Yet someone at ringside is bound to say, “Well, that takes care of him, he broke gait.”

I always ask myself why that should eliminate a dog. A judge doesn’t watch a dog move to see whether or not he is capable of doing so without breaking stride, he is looking to see if the dog is moving properly for its breed and that there is no unsoundness in the dog’s movement.

Dogs are not machines. A break or two in gait in an otherwise breed specific performance far outweighs that of a dog that moves without a break in a manner that is incorrect for the breed. And here we have a huge problem in North America today. North American and North American-influenced countries love big reach and drive. They love it so much that they love seeing it in any and all breeds - whether it’s correct for the breed or not.

It’s that old story I’ve told so often about the fellow raving about the Bulldog he is showing. ”Why, this dog moves just like a German Shepherd,” he boasts. The gentleman could just as easily be saying the dog is as faulty in movement as he could possibly be - totally incorrect for the breed.

Breeders, judges and onlookers should worry less about a break in gait, which is absolutely natural in any dog, and be more concerned with whether or not the gait is proper for the breed and if it is sound for the breed.

Let Puppies Be Puppies
I really hate it when exhibitors bring puppies into the ring and expect them to act like adults. As far as I’m concerned, Puppy Classes are for one purpose only, and I don’t care if the puppy being shown is the first perfect specimen of its breed ever shown or not. Those first outings are to let the puppy know that inside the ring ropes is the place where he will get all kinds of praise and it will be happy times with his owner or handler.

He can be guided along toward doing what needs to be done and he probably won’t do it too well, but that doesn’t matter. What does matter is that he comes out of the ring thinking, well that was fun!

Your wonderful puppy may get a win, he may not, but that is not what you are there for. A judge that knows the breed well will find the naughty puppy, despite the childish pranks, and place him where he belongs, but to come down hard on a puppy to toe the line and make him hate the ordeal would be unforgivable. You could easily ruin the potential of a great show dog.

Another word of caution. I have always advised exhibitors to learn the likes and dislikes of the judges in their breed. Every judge has his or her priorities. Another thing the exhibitor must know is what kind of a hand a judge has on puppies. I would rather show a puppy under a judge who knows absolutely nothing about my breed, but is patient and has a gentle hand than ever risk showing the pup even under the most brilliant judge the breed has ever known that treats puppies with an indifferent attitude and comes down on them with a heavy hand. It is simply not worth losing the puppy forever.

And The Juniors
Of all the things I have been asked to judge, and there have been many - from hamsters to body building contests and goat shows - the most challenging for me is judging the Juniors! I find it extremely difficult for so many reasons there just isn’t enough paper to get the list on. Probably heading the list, though, is the fact that I am such a big pushover for the kids. I know we as judges are supposed to be judging performance, but when those that don’t win stand there with huge disappointment welling up in their sad eyes I want to pass out winning ribbons to them all.

All of the above is said to preface what will follow, so that knowing what a pushover I am you will simply take my comments on the Juniors with a grain of salt and go merrily on your collective ways doing it all as you always do and not change a single thing based upon my comments.

That said, I often wonder how much handling talent it requires to take a dog that is trained to perfection into the ring and have it stand there like it is carved from marble, never moving a foot, and when asked to move does so like an automaton? This does, of course, allow the immaculately groomed handler to make some ballet-like gestures and movements, all adding up to a rather grandiose performance. But again, the question must be asked, how much real handling has come into play?

Then further down that same line is the flustered little fellow (usually the one who spent more time combing his dog that he did his own hair), whose dog has decided to act the total ninny and pretend he has never been to a dog show in his whole life and can only do the exact opposite his handler tries to make him do.

Every time the handler puts a foot down correctly, the dog moves the other, and when the other is reset the former is moved out of place. The fellow is all but on the verge of tears, but every time his dog moves out of position he patiently and carefully puts him back together regardless of the fact that this is happening every few seconds. When it comes to movement, the pair makes it obvious that work has been done beforehand but the little dog is not going let anyone know that.

When the dog acts up, his handler stops, gently admonishes the dog and begins again. The little guy tries so hard it is painful and the two never seem to get on the same wavelength for more than a second or two.

In the end, which team is apt to win - the suave pair that looks like they could step into the ring at the biggest event in the country and easily come out on top or the little kid whose dog made every second in the ring a challenge? Well, nine out of ten votes would go to the former, I’m sure. But to me, the latter was all about the reality of dog shows - correct and recover, correct and recover.

We have museums all over the country filled with fine works of art that stand there frozen in time. The sport of purebred dogs is about animate objects and allowing them to live and breathe.

I seriously doubt any of us chose our breed because of how well it never moved. As I began - let’s allow a little liberty to ring!

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 2011 issue of BLOODLINES Magazine.