Some Thoughts On The Westminster Dog Show 2021

Saluki Persian Greyhound stock image. Image of nature ...

I have absolutely been head over heels crazy about dogs since I was in the first grade. We had an American Eskimo named Prince. He was white, fluffy, and probably drove my mom nuts with his shedding. As a kid, he’s the only dog we ever had in the house. I’m pretty sure that cured my mother of the practice. After Prince, my dad got a little 13 inch Beagle, we called, Duke. Duke was everything a kid could want in a dog. He was a perfect companion. My dad bought him as a hunting Beagle. I was way too young to hunt. Duke was my adventure companion in the hills and forest lands around our small town in Indiana.

Sadly, Duke got out one day, and a drunk neighbor found him, caught him, and beat him almost to death, breaking nearly every bone in his body. My sister and I were at my grandparents when this happened. My mom said that Daddy cried like a baby, and had to put Duke down. The mystery as to why Daddy didn’t return the favor to the neighbor has stumped me for the last 58 years.

Dad said he would never get another dog. He meant it. When I was old enough to go to the library, school and public, I would read about dogs. I read everything I could get my hands on; stories, breed books, I read them all. By the time I was in the 8th grade, I had read every dog book in the elementary school, the Jr. High, and the public libraries in Lexington, KY. I resorted to buying books designed for teenage girls, like, “Love Me, Love My Dog.” I kid you not.

My maternal grandparents had a riding and boarding stable. All of my aunts, uncles, and most of my cousins were horse daft. I can’t blame them. I liked the horses. But all of my grandpa’s love for horses was passed on to me, in the love of dogs.

I think the summer of 1976 was when I saw my first dog show. It was outdoors, in Joplin, MO. I stood there with my mouth open and my chin on the ground. I thought I had died and gone to heaven. I roamed from ring to ring watching dogs of every kind compete for ribbons and trophies.

I went to one back in Lexington, in 78, and focused mostly on Belgian Malinois and Siberian Huskies. By that time, I had a husky and an Alaskan Malamute. One was just a back yard bred pet, and the other, a rescue dog from the local animal Shelter.

My own library was brimming with books on Siberian Huskies, and other sleddogs. I had one on Labrador Retrievers, Beagles, and one on Belgian Shepherds. I was seriously obsessed.

I got my first show dog, A Siberian Husky, in the mid 1980s in Scotland, when I was living here the first time. She was a typical gray and white girl with blue eyes. She was a thing of beauty to me. She had an average show career. Nothing special. She did qualify twice for Crufts, the UK’s biggest dog show. I took her once. Her name was Dawn. She gave birth to several dogs who qualified for Crufts, at least one Champion, and a boy who was my first lead dog, and who qualified for Crufts for life, during his limited show career.

I loved dog shows. I loved the competition, and the camaraderie. I loved the feeling of collecting ribbons. I loved showing off my dogs. I loved getting together with friends and bashing the judge when he or she didn’t give anything to our canine companions. I drove thousands of miles, and spent thousands of dollars in pursuit of those ribbons. Then I got involved in training and racing my huskies. Everything changed.

At first, It was loads of fun keeping my show dogs in shape. Then I started to notice small differences between the most successful show dogs and the most successful racing dogs. In the early days, I considered the show dogs superior examples of the breed, while the successful athletes at least had that to fall back on when no one wanted their photos, and they had no ribbons.

For several years, I worked as a ring steward in some major dog shows. That allowed me to talk to breeders, owners, and judges. I was a sponge. I soaked up everything I could learn. And I got to work with dozens of different breeds from Chihuahuas to English Mastiffs.

Over time, and with experience, my opinions completely shifted. I began to understand what made a successful athlete, and how they fit the breed standard best. I also noted how the breed standard for the Siberian Husky, and other breeds, changed over the years to highlight certain features that had no role in their working ability.

In the last 30 years, my eyes are totally different in what I’m looking for in a working dog, a gun dog, a hound, or a herding dog. I watch for dogs who can still excel at what the were originally bred to do. In nearly every ‘working’ breed, including Terriers, there is a vast difference between successful show and successful working dogs. Most breeds have arguments in their breed focused websites and discussion groups. It’s fun and it’s funny. It’s also sad.

Now, nearly two pages in, I finally get to last weekend’s Westminster. I didn’t get to watch it live, due to the 5 hour time difference between the US east coast and Scotland. But the internet had all the breed judging as well as the groups and best in show. I fixed a cup or 10 of tea, and in between projects and before going to bed, I watched hours of it. Have I mentioned how much I love dogs?

The first thing, is I loved the fact that Covid drove the show outdoors. I think outdoor shows are the best. I think the dogs look better on grass, and have better footing outside. I love the fresh air, and the whole atmosphere of an outdoor show. I wish they all could be outside. Here in Scotland, we have a few open air shows, but not many, because the odds of rain are pretty darned good. I congratulate Westminster on the outdoor event.

I think the coverage was excellent. The crews and commentators took the show, dogs, and handlers seriously. Awesome.

I hated the fact that spectators were not allowed in. I know that’s been true of all kinds of sports since Covid mania has taken control of the world. The vendors and spectators make the shows truly exciting. And the best dogs feed off of the crowd noise. The just do. Ask any judge or successful handler. So that was a bummer.

I did not watch every breed. First, I’m not interested in every breed. I’m glad some people are. I personally don’t particularly like some breeds in every group. I’m glad that others do. Every dog has a group of fans. Yay.

I watched the breed judging for about 30 breeds. I watched the groups. And Best in Show. The first thing I saw was the Hound Group. I stumbled on it on YouTube. From there I went to the Show website to watch the rest.

The Hound Group made me realize that I was going to have some problems, as usual, with the dogs, and with the judging. No surprise there.

First, I wouldn’t even had put the Whippet in the final four. I was delighted to see the two coonhounds placed. I remember when Bluetick and Redbone were not even recognized by the AKC, so to see that result made me cheer.

While I watched the dogs moving, the Saluki actually took my breath away. It was stunning. I honestly thought there was no way that dog was not going to finish first. Boy was I wrong.

I did not pick a winner in any single group. Nor would I ever pick a Pekingese as Best in Show. But, honestly, those are the type of dogs best suited for a dog show.

As I watched the breed judging I was almost sickened by the quality in some of the dogs. Some breeds hardly even resemble the breeds from my youth. So many are much blockier, with heavy bodies and shorter legs. One thing I learned early on in showing dogs, was that short legged dogs move better in indoor rings. They are often smaller than outdoor rings, and longer legged dogs need a little more room to get fully into stride. This has had a major impact on breeding over the years.

I noticed it in Siberian Huskies, in some of the Belgian Sheepdogs, Lakenois, and Tervuren. I saw it in some of the Smooth Collies, and in loads of the retrievers. I thought the Bullmastiffs, and Boerbels looked pretty good. Most of them needed a little more exercise. This showed in their toplines. The English Mastiffs were much smaller than I expected them to be. Gorgeous, but more like pocket mastiffs. I won’t even comment on what’s happened to the German Shepherd breed, in the show ring. If you look at those dogs, and look at the ones being successful in IPO, or flyball, they don’t even look like the same breed. The health issues they face are incredible.

In short, (I’m thinking three full type written pages is anything but short), my thinking is that Dog Shows have not been good for any breed of dog that was created for an active purpose. Whether that is running and pulling, digging out vermin, hunting down pigs or deer, protecting and herding livestock, you name it. For the Toy, and Non Sporting Dogs, it’s all fine. But for most breeds, the show ring has been a long term disaster.

Don’t misunderstand me, the dogs were all….drop dead gorgeous. Some of the Siberians nearly took my breath away. There were very few who could make my team, but they were groomed to perfection, and they behaved impeccably. How can anyone not love a well groomed Papillon, or fail to fall in love with a French Bulldog? But I wonder if there was a single musher, hunter, or farmer who thought they saw their next dog in the Westminster Kennel Club Show.

I guess when all is said and done, I had mixed reviews. Some stunning canines. But some big disappointments. Well done to all the competitors. You did well. Your dogs looked fantastic. Well done to the judges. I’m sorry you didn’t ask my advice, but you did alright. And I can’t wait till next year!

BTW, I’m still upset about that Saluki. For my money, the Best in Show didn’t even get placed in Group!

Become A Dog Breeder? Or, Stick To Rescue? Tough Questions.

Tuck, the wonder dog.

There are only a few things in life I consider myself especially knowledgeable about: The Bible, Food (growing it and eating it!), small farming, and dogs. That’s it. That’s the list. Sure, I’m fairly educated, and can talk, I hope intelligently, on a variety of subjects, but the list above pretty much covers the limits of my expertise.

With that in mind, I follow a lot of groups and individuals related to these areas on Facebook and Instagram. I love reading other people’s insights and opinions. A recent matter came up in a German Shepherd group on Facebook. I responded to it, as did many other people. But reading the responses made me decide to write this piece as an extended answer. I might even link to in on the group in FB.

The original question was, in essence, “I want to become a breeder, what advice do you have?” The answers came pouring in, for days. Some of them were funny. Some were helpful. Many were written to discourage him from his dream. And several went as far as to say, “There are too many dogs in rescue already, don’t breed anymore!”

I have experience in several breeds, and have a history in both breeding, and in rescue, so I’d like to address the gentleman’s question, AND, perhaps offer some thoughts to the skeptics out there.

First, I believe every single person had the best interest of German Shepherds in mind, regardless of how aggressive some of them sounded. I believe the gentleman who asked the original question was sincere, and asked with only pure motives.

For 32 years I operated a racing, and show, Siberian Husky kennel. I qualified three dogs for Crufts Dog Show in England, and bred show champions. I am very proud of that. I raced competitively for. many of those years. And I trained sleddogs even longer than I raced them. I have a much better eye for dogs than I have for competing with them myself. I have owned dogs that have run the Iditarod, and I have trained dogs that have run the race, as well. I raised many of my race dogs, and I bought many of them. I rescued even more than I raised or bought.

Additionally, after my racing was done, my wife and I got very involved with Mastiff, Smooth Collie, and Belgian Sheepdog rescue. We have adopted, and fostered, many dogs over the years. We also owned a well bred, and brilliant, Cardigan Corgi, that would have won many obedience crowns for me, had she not had problems with dysplasia. That’s a sad story, and one I may come back to another day.

Oh, one final thing. I’ve been a member of many breed and general kennel clubs around the U.S. And the United Kingdom. I have been a judges steward in more shows and for more breeds than I can name. I’ve talked to many judges and observed many breeds. I’ve also worked at many premier sleddog races in the U.S. And the U.K.

I only mention my ‘qualifications’ to show that I’m not a a quack who wants to mouth off about dogs. I love them, and genuinely care for their well being.

For someone to desire to become a breeder, that is a noble venture. That’s a million miles away from someone just trying to make a buck or two by getting a male and female together to sell pups. I think that kind of behavior needs to be discouraged. It takes a long time to do the research to want to improve your chosen dog breed. But a desire to improve, or maintain, a dog breed is a noble effort that should be encouraged. And I will heartily do so. I will offer advice to any novice breeder. I will assume the best of intentions.

There are a lot of dogs in rescue. Some of them are because of loss of a job, a divorce, a death, or one of any number of tragic events. We’ve had several dogs come to us as re homes or fosters from situations like that. Stuff happens. When I was a breeder, I had a policy to take back any dog from my breeding that needed to be re-homed. I thinks that’s responsible.

I’ve seen a lot of poorly bred dogs coming through rescue. Dogs that didn’t meet even a shadow of their breed standard. Most often bred by back yard breeders who wanted to make a quick buck. We’ve had some brilliant dogs come out of that kind of situation.

It doesn’t compute, that people should avoid becoming breeders simply because there are so many irresponsible breeders. But it should make us think very carefully about whether or not our dogs are worthy contributors to a breed’s future. In the 32 years I was in Siberian Huskies, I had 3 litters. A breeder once told me, “As long as you can improve your team by buying over breeding, buy. It’s always cheaper.”

Go to working competitions. Go to shows. Look at dogs. What are the things that make a dog great? Take notes. Study hard. Then buy the best dogs you can afford that fit into the criteria you’re looking for.

Ask to look at the buyers contract from a number of breeders. Explain that you want to create a good buyers contract yourself. Most will be happy to help, because most good breeders want to maintain and improve the breed.

Price your pups appropriately. Working and/or show prospects are worth more. I’m not going to suggest a price. That’s up to you.

For those who don’t want to become breeders, I strongly recommend buying from good breeders. But there are some amazing dogs in Rescue. My wife and I have had many wonderful pets, guardians, and even working dogs, come to us via rescue. I’m thinking of three Alaskan Huskies that had been born in Alaska and were living in less than optimal conditions near us. The owner begged us to take them or she would have to put them down. We loaded them in our truck and took them away. They were absolutely amazing recreational mushing dogs. The two males were as strong as bears, and the female was as loving as a dog could be. They were not pretty, but my heart still pounds when I think of them.

And then there was Lady, our first Smooth Collie. She was living in a puppy mill. She had once been a show dog, but because of poor nutrition and too many litters, that stunning beauty was gone. But she lived with us many years, and she became the queen of our household. Her death, due to cancer, when she was 12, still haunts me. I cannot tell you how much I loved that dog.

Let me tell you about Tuck. Tuck was our first Mastiff. I called him a Canadian Mastiff, because he was half Labrador Retriever. He had spent the first years of his life chained up under a trailer. When we got him, his teeth were all broken from gnawing on concrete. He was covered in scabs, and had to be dragged into a car.

The rescue agent said he’d never been inside a house and wouldn’t know how to deal with it. When we got him home, after he’d had a roam around the yard, we opened the door, he ran inside and leaped straight onto the couch and fell asleep. He is the most special dog. I made him the hero of two of my Novellas, “Isitoq’s Hound”, and “Night of the Rougarou”. I’m working on a third one about him now.

I could go on. I have a hundred or more stories about dogs I’ve bred or rescued, that have changed my life.

The point is, for those of you who like rescue, there are opportunities galore out there. For those of you who want to breed, that is noble too. I know the joy of breeding a dog, raising him, and have him win major prizes in dog shows, and become a top lead dog in a dog team. I could have never bought a dog like him in a million years.

This post has become much longer than I anticipated or intended. I just want to see breeders and rescuers recognize one another as both working toward creating and maintaining a healthy future for
their favorite breed. Thank you to those who want to become responsible breeders. I wish you every success in your endeavors. And to those of you who want to devote your time, and your hearts to the dogs nobody else wants, I tip my hat to you. And I wish you every happiness with your pets.

Best Dogs For Preppers

I’ve wanted to write this article for years. Dogs are one of the few subjects I’m truly literate on, and I’ve given the subject a great deal of thought. I’ve avoided it because I know it’s somewhat subjective. But perhaps it will get you thinking, so here goes.

Dogs can be appropriate to us for many reasons; they are useful as companions, hunters, load bearers, transportation, care for other livestock, and even protection. But our tastes and needs differ, so our personal choices will differ. I get that. I understand.

Do we live in town or in the country? What will things look like if our world melts down? What will our needs be?

siberian huskyMy first love in the dog world has always been the Siberian Husky. They are loving companions, and using my dogs to pull sleds was my hobby for many years when I lived in a climate that allowed me to do so. I operated a husky kennel for over 30 years.

If I lived in the north, I would still consider them quite valuable to have for transportation purposes in case of a bug out situation. They are strong, athletic, and can travel for miles pulling a sled or cart loaded with camping gear and people.

When I lived in Iowa and Maine, people had their snowmobiles. They loved them for recreation, and they provided an excellent method of transportation in harsh conditions. The downside is, they require fuel and frequent repairs. I had a snowmobile. I hardly ever used it, because it was always broken down. My dogs, on the other hand, were always ready to go.

When I lived in Georgia, however, it was too hot for most of the year. Huskies were not practical. I gave up riding sleds in 2007. I still miss it. I will never have a hobby I like as much.

But huskies would not be practical for the many tasks expected of a Prepper dog. For that, my first Choice is an English or French Mastiff. First, their size alone makes them ideal protection dogs. And their temperaments are ideal for families. Protection comes naturally to them. They aren’t aggressive and don’t require a great deal of protection training. Secondly, they are naturally watchful over those they care about, and their property. Ours would lie down between my wife and visitors in our home. They would put themselves between strangers and their mistress.

French Mastiff

I also knew our property was safe. If strangers pulled in the drive, the dogs would go straight to the gate. They knew the entrance to the property and that’s where they stood their ground.

Mastiffs also don’t require a great deal of exercise or grooming. They can exist happily on acreage , in a subdivision, or even in an apartment.

English, and French (Dogue De Bordeaux) Mastiffs are also excellent choices for backpacking and carting, because of their size and strength.

If you have livestock that needs guarding, Anatolian Shepherds and Great Pyrenees are anatolianexcellent choices. They are not town dogs though. They bark pretty much at everything, especially at night. Out in the Country, though, they could be excellent choices. For me, the Pyrenees, have too much coat. I have never owned an Anatolian, but would love to. They would probably require more exercise than a mastiff, but could easily adapt to backpacking.

smooth collie
Smooth Collie

Also, any of the breeds like German Shepherds, Belgian Malinois, Dutch Shepherds, and Smooth Collies would be excellent choices. Any of them can be trained for protection, backpacking, or even to pull a cart. I have a soft spot for Belgian Sheep Dogs, and Smooth Collies, as I’ve owned and loved both breeds. Honestly, for me, either Belgian Sheepdogs, Tervurens, or Rough Collies, simply have more coat than I want to deal with. And all of these breeds will require a lot more exercise than an English Mastiff or Dogue De Bordeaux.

If you live in the country, there are a variety of hounds and gun dogs I’d recommend. They can be great for helping you get game and sounding the alarm in case of intruders. Bloodhounds, most coonhounds, foxhounds, bird dogs, beagles and even basset hounds can be extremely valuable for training to hunt.beagle

Most of them require a huge amount of exercise and they will bark excessively if under exercised, so I don’t really recommend them if you live in town.

Same thing with most bird dogs. They have stamina aplenty and can run all day. Just ask anyone who has ever tried to keep an English Springer or Brittany Spaniel. The exercise requirements may just be too much for you.

airdaleLet me mention the benefits of terriers for a moment. As hunting or pest control varmint dogs, most terriers are unbeatable. They were bred for that job. Some for hunting small game, some for rat control, and some of the larger varieties, like Airdales, are phenomenal dogs to be trained for protection. For me most require too much coat maintenance, and I like big dogs.

I know I’ve left out your favorite breed. This article isn’t really about favorite breeds. It’s about some of the dogs I think are best for a Prepper lifestyle. I am fully aware of the many Mastiff varieties. I could own most of them. Especially Great Danes. I know I didn’t mention any sight hounds and some of them I adore. I’m not much of a toy dog or utility dog fan. But this post wasn’t about my favorite breeds. It’s about what breeds are the best choices for me as a Prepper.

So let me hear your thoughts. What breeds that I didn’t mention would you rank highly for prepping for a melt down? Give me the breed and some of your reasoning. I would love to hear your ideas.