Look to the Past for Success in the Future
Posted on 05/01/2012 in Ringside Conversations.
Look to the Past for Success in the Future
Richard (Rick) Beauchamp
There probably haven’t been many who have carried the banner for the appreciation of breed type any more militantly than I, nor have I been reluctant to remind the judging cadre of their great responsibility in this respect. However, through all this I have never believed for a moment that breed improvement, or for that matter, breed maintenance was entirely the judges’ responsibility.
Unfortunately, was one to believe what appears in the dog publications and on the Internet chat lines, it would seem that if judges alone were to follow the posted suggestions all of our problems surrounding type would be forever resolved. Anyone who regularly surfs the net, to use the idiom in vogue, will certainly be aware a vast percentage of breeder-exhibitor seems to believe, it is poor judging and poor judging alone that has led to the decline in this, that, or the other breed type here in North America.
I might have to agree with some of the criticism. Some of the judging I’ve watched has left something to be desired, especially in that it was more than apparent that the individual presiding was ill-prepared. And on occasion I witnessed the person entrusted with the welfare of the breed choosing to make awards that would benefit themselves rather than the breed.
In defense of today’s judges, I have to say that I have dog publications dating back to the late 1800s in which one editorial after the other decries “the poor state of judging”.
As I’ve said many times over the years, there are all kinds of judges on what I refer to as the “pyramid” of judging quality. As in most artistic endeavors the “greats” are rare. We are not alone in this respect. Certainly, you will have to agree not every athlete who competes has Olympic Gold Medal potential nor will everyone capable of stringing a few sentences together become a Pulitzer Prize winner.
Even if we were able to educate our judges to gold medal level, would this entirely stem what many of see as the generic landslide? Quite frankly, I think not.
Contrary to what Internet intelligence might have us believe, there is more than one character involved in this dog judging scenario. The dog, of course, is another but we can’t leave out the exhibitor or to be even more specific - the breeder-exhibitor.
Something that people who show dogs fail to (or choose not to?) recognize is the fact that there is no way even the best of judges can make bad classes come out right. Even the gods can’t unscramble eggs! All the education in the world is not going to enable a judge to put up a dog of correct type in a class in which there are no dogs of correct type. Nor will the sincere judge be able to easily justify putting up the dog that may be of correct type, but practically a fall down cripple - particularly in the breeds where history and origin dictate soundness as a part of that breed’s essence.
Internet wisdom would have us believe good judging would not only refuse to reward mediocrity but would send it packing from the ring. But, and here is the big BUT - judges can send dogs out of the ring next week, next month and next year, but until something of merit is sent into the ring their hands are tied.
Ultimately, what enters the ring is the result of a breeder’s interpretation of the standard. Just as all judges do not hover around the genius level, neither do all breeders have the same sense and understanding of what constitutes excellence in their own breed.
There is a national specialty that I attend with some regularity that draws very large entries and a significant ringside made up almost exclusively of breeders and exhibitors of that breed. In respect to the impressive size of entry, the show’s judges are prone to give each dog as much of their moment in the spotlight as possible with perhaps an extra lap or two around the ring.
I sit in amazement each year at the ringside’s reaction to the movement observed. The more exaggerated the movement, the more untypical of what is correct in the breed, the more the legs churn and flail the faster (not better) the dog goes, the more hysterical is the cheering. The dogs that some of us would fully expect to fly apart at any moment evoke thunderous applause, tears of ecstasy and screams of “bravo!” from most of the spectators.
I guess it takes a brave judge not to succumb to the pressure of the masses. (Perhaps they’ll rise up in riot?) What are we to think about the breed in which there are a dozen or two Specials (no two remotely resembling each other outside of color) regularly winning Groups and Bests In Show?
The various regulating kennel clubs of the world impose all kinds of restrictions and requirements upon those who wish to judge. Criteria must be fulfilled, and when the judge does embark upon his judging career, he or she is scrutinized every step of the way. You can be sure the entire world will be promptly advised if the individual stubs his or her toe.
On the other hand, breeders can breed as many litters as they care to and show as many of the resulting off- spring as they wish with no more knowledge or experience than what is required to count up the money for a stud fee. Once the results of these “planned” breeding programs arrive, the individual is off to the shows fully expecting to come home with laurels that will compensate this great investment of time and effort.
While keeping an eye on what judges should know, perhaps it is time we also turn our attention to bottom line basics for breeders. It can’t happen everywhere at once but certainly the National Specialty is a good place to start. It is at the National that we have truly representative gatherings of the breed. It is there we are most apt to find the dyed-in-the-wool enthusiast. Someone who has lived with a breed and watched it pass through all of its many stages from birth to old age. It is they who have learned what is temporary and will disappear with age. It is they who will be aware that some problems arise that are early warning signs of what will worsen as time passes.
Granted, a dog can only be judged at its particular stage of life on the day, but a breed experienced mentor is most apt to know the difference between a fault of a developmental nature and one that is a harbinger of greater difficulties to arise. That same person will be aware of the breed faults that are extremely difficult to eradicate and those faults that often can be dispensed with in a single breeding. An experienced opinion is absolutely necessary on a frequent basis if a breed is to stay on track.
One of the greatest educational experiences of my life in dogs came sitting at ringside with Mrs. Florence Savage, who passed along her profound knowledge of Bull- dogs as we watched the dogs passing before us. The session couldn’t have taken more than an hour or so, but when we were finished I desperately wanted to walk into that ring to try my hand at my new found knowledge.
Parent clubs all too often make the mistake of equating knowledge with seniority alone. This is not always the case. There are those individuals who have been around a breed for an entire lifetime and have never been able to fully understand it and have never produced creditable or consistent quality. There is something they do not quite see in their breed that is essential to the breed’s character and their inability to recognize it keeps them from ever getting the breed quite right.
There are, of course, many very knowledgeable people within a breed who have not actually bred litters in recent years but whose knowledge of the breed remains matchless. Unfortunately, far too few individuals of this kind are called upon to assist in the development and maintenance of breeds. I can name countless veterans, who because they are no longer actively competing in the rings or participating in the whelping rooms, sit idly home month after month, year after year never hearing from anyone in their breed.
These great individuals hold the key to the future of all our breeds. They know what has happened in the breeds. They know what can happen. Yet, there they sit, their breeding genius, their incomparable knowledge of the breed, totally overlooked.
Do not think for a single moment that I am opposed to the education of our judges - to the contrary. However, I think we must take a lesson from those whose breeds have succeeded or better yet, look to those in our own breeds who once held our banners high - those who were responsible for our breed’s “golden age”. These individuals will not live forever and, once gone, their genius can- not be recalled as if stored on some vast computer.
Why do some breeds continually enjoy progress and improvement? Perhaps the individuals currently involved are not afraid to admit to a higher, more knowledgeable authority. There is no sin in not knowing, however, not caring is the unforgivable sin.
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 April 2012 issue of BLOODLINES Dog Event News.