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DOG show, or dog SHOW?

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66 – March, 2024

By Wayne Cavanaugh

When trying to understand the ever increasing shift in what it takes to win at American dog shows, I keep coming back to the same bunch of questions. If dog shows are about evaluating breeding stock, why must a dog “nail the free stack” from 10 feet away, regardless of the breed? Why must a dog lead it’s handler by 10 feet going around the ring, regardless of the breed? In breeds where markings do not matter, why do they? If a breed requires a dense, water resistant coat, why do they have to be blown dry backwards and covered in mousse? Do we underestimate the ability of judges to find good breeding stock based on breed type and merit alone?

Little by little, maybe unknowingly, we participate in the subtle shift in emphasis from the dog to the show. We watch from the sidelines as the evaluation of breeding stock turns into the canine version of America’s Got Talent. The goalpost gets moved a few inches at a time until it requires an entirely new field. It’s called incrementalism. I know that we are better than just poses, sequins, speed, and spotlights.

Rewind 30 years ago to the Houston shows at the Astrodome. Huge entry, great dogs, great judges. The Best In Show line-up was brilliant, thick with quality. Ringside was three deep. One of the best judges in history was adjudicating. The judge went back and forth and then asked each handler to step out into the middle of the ring with their dog. While this might not have been the first time, it was definitely a new thing. Breeds like Dobermans are naturals but surely not all breeds and dogs were trained for such tricks and neither were the handlers. For those who remember the era, can you imagine a judge asking Bob Forsyth to come out and “nail the free stack” from afar with an Old English Sheepdog or Great Pyrenees? Neither can I.

On that day, most of the dogs just walked out and kind of stood there as if to ask the handler what the heck they wanted. The scenthound was interested enough in liver to at least stare at it and drool a little. Another though, a terrier, marched out, defied the handler and its bait, and fixed her eyes on something in the crowd as only a good terrier could. She was Best In Show. Just like that. Perhaps it was a tie breaker, or the judge was biding time, or the judge correctly guessed the terrier would handle the request and wanted the ringside to see its correct terrier spunk. Either way, soon thereafter, every handler began to train all breeds for “nailing the free stack,” even in breeds in which the temperament to do so seemed contrary.

Click here to read the complete article
66 – March, 2024


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