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!