Competition In The Breed Ring
By Pat Trotter (found in the column, Inside The Sport, in the July 31st, 2009 edition of Dog News, page 18)
The greatest combat in any sport is when the best of the best come together to settle the issue of exactly who is the best - at least on that day. And of course the greatest arena in our sport is not really the BIS ring or the group ring as we have come to assume, but the breed ring when two or more greats are in the ring on the same day. It's the judge's toughest job at the same time the judge's most exhilarating experience.
In late 2008 a stallion of a Giant Schnauzer with strong bone and substance, wonderful body components and a very correct coat owned the ground he stood on [in] the breed ring. Yet the gorgeous elegant bitch in line behind him carried herself like a queen, moved with the grace of a ballerina and indeed became the #1 Dog All Breeds for the year. To see them both in the ring at the same time was electric. Here stood everything one would ever want to see in this breed in both a masculine and a feminine version. In your mind as a breeder is the thought - what if these two were bred together? Of course the adjudicator has no idea if the genotype (full hereditary information) of the pedigrees is compatible. For in the judging of breeding stock the judge must proceed as if they all have the same pedigree. However, the phenotype (observable characteristics/what you see) certainly looked like a dream mating.
Then there was the weekend earlier this year when a glorious rough collie bitch and a magnificent rough collie dog ended up at the same shows where respected collie breeders - all who have now become multi-group judges - were on the slate. No doubt both entrants were there because of the collected collie knowledge of those judges and perhaps they had no idea their campaign paths would collide. At every level of each show, a collie expert was making the calls. Is it any wonder that both animals went home with BIS victories? And no doubt the breeder-judges arrived back home so inspired they couldn't help but think "maybe I should start breeding again." Such breed competition definitely energizes everyone involved, and it is truly what dog showing and judging is all about.
Yet the fancy's fascination with group and BIS judging is still most often the driving force behind the sport today. Many years ago a famous British dogman told me that group and BIS judging is "jolly good sport that brings out the best and sometimes the worst in all of us." The occasion was one of the Great Western Terrier events where he was judging several of the excellent breed entries. This dignified gentleman went on to explain to this interesting ringsider why he had selected a particularly handsome dog over a delightful lovely bitch. He said that the breed judging was where it was at for him even though he much enjoyed the judging of groups. Then he chuckled and said sometimes breed judging too could bring out the worst, but he certainly hoped his judging that day was bringing out all the best in him! And obviously it was, because in a poll of the entire fancy later that year he was named the #1 judge for each of the six groups existing at the time.
The American Kennel Club's request that judges attend natonal specialties is one of its strongest requirements for aspiring judges, for the quality at the breed level is superb. It is a fabulous learning experience for those who truly study the dogs in the company of breed experts. Conversations with those whose stock stands out in competitive Bred-by Exhibitor classes is also to be appreciated.
The fact is that great dogs ought to be more than just big winners at the group and BIS level. They ought to be right at home in the strongest breed competition that their breeds can provide, and at the same time that breed judging is their most vulnerable encounter. For even our greatest dogs have something that can be improved. The revered judge and early all-rounder Beatrice Godsol, herself an accomplished breeder of Newfoundlands, said it all with her observation: "All dogs have faults. The great ones carry them well."
And of course some breed experts appreciate difficult virtues to achieve more than others might and are therefore more forgiving of a minor fault. The subjective emphasis on differing trait qualities is a vital part of the judging process. Nonetheless, records based on always dodging quality animals in one's own breed are questionable.
The unfortunate situation existing today where the volume of dog shows spreads the good dogs so thinly that seldom are they brought together has contributed to the lessening of quality in many of our breeds. Human nature being what it is means that the stronger the competition at the breed level, the more motivated breeders become to produce the best. If the bar is set too low, it becomes easier for lesser animals to achieve. When animals are seen with their own kind, questions Adminse that stimulate intellectual pursuit.
This is especially true when an excellent dog appears out of place in its own breed entry. If one dog is correct, then the others are not. And heaven forbid, if they are correct, then maybe he is not. Yet in a mediocre entry of rather ordinary dogs, an outstanding individual could indeed look very different. That is when the evaluator must refer to the breed standard to determine which dog is actually closest to the ideal. Because a breed entry has dogs that look alike does not necessarily mean that any of them are correct.
In your dog showing, breeding and judging careers, try to get to the shows where the great face offs in the breeds occur. Try to ascertain why the real experts prefer a given type of dog in a particular breed. Try to determine where one outstanding specimen is stronger according to the breed standard than another quality individual. Then figure out where the second dog may excel over the first. Such mental gymnastics will increase your canine know-how and prepare you to contribute more to the sport we love.
Always keep in mind that dogs - like people - can have good days and bad ones. Sometimes even the best can be vulnerable to a lesser individual having the day of his life. What's the most exciting of all is the day when all the great ones come together and give exceptional performances. And for this kind of in-breed competition that's hard to top, put that terrier super bowl - Montgomery County Kennel Club - on your list along with those strong national specialties.