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The Dog Show Game at a Crossroads

From the archives of The Canine Chronicle, April, 2011

by Dr. Al Grossman

Now that I have taken Emeritus status from the dog show judges ranks having survived hundreds of shows, twenty three of them overseas, I thought it a good time to survey where we have been and where, perhaps, we are going.

I entered the fray when Ch. Rock Falls Colonel, the English Setter, and Bang Away of Sirrah Crest, the Boxer, were at the top of their form. For many that seems like a long time ago. For me, it seems only yesterday.

Entry fees were $6.00 and handling fees were $10.00 per show. I was teaching at the University of Georgia and had just bought a coatless wonder of a Cocker Spaniel as my wife’s pet. Great dog, great disposition, lousy conformation. I paid all of $25.00 for him. He gave us years of pleasure as a family member. Then the serpent climbed down out of the tree and bit us with the show bug.

My wife, Marjorie, had taken Taffy to the vet for a checkup and seen a poster advertising a match to be held by the newly-formed kennel club. She entered him on the spot.

Two weeks later we appeared at the gymnasium on the campus for “the show”. Taffy was one of five entered in his 6-9 class. The judge was Virgil Johnson, an up-and-coming judge from Savannah. You guessed it. Taffy easily finished fifth. The judge took his time with us and explained that Taffy was oversize, undershot, and lacked coat. Marge was entranced to find out there was such a thing called a standard for the breed. “Well, we’ve got to do better than that,” she proclaimed. And so began our quest to get a better dog. Taffy stayed and we made room for dog #2.

We thought we had found her from what would now be regarded as a puppy mill (who knew?). She was buff, had some coat and, in hindsight, was a mile long. Okay, now we were ready to try the real shows. Driving over to South Carolina for the real show, we were ready to show “THEM”. “Them” turned out to be Ted Young and Norman Austin showing, respectively, an outstanding black and tan and a full-coated buff. Both were hot winners of the day. We had never seen a B/T before and fell in love with the color. Compared to those two our poor specimen was nothing but a point filler. OUCH! We were way down in the dumps when both Ted and Norman took a few minutes to speak with us. They didn’t denigrate our bitch but pointed out the positive aspects of the dog show game and encouraged us to continue. They made friends for life.

That summer we boarded the dogs and took off on a three-week tour of shows in the Midwest. We sat, we watched, we asked questions and took loads of pictures. The upshot of the trip was we purchased a beautiful young black bitch and secured a mentor in her breeder. Boots of Belden turned out to be our real entry to the world of dog shows and our foundation bitch. While at the University I also had the opportunity of taking classes in Genetics at the newly opened Regional Vet School.

Unfortunately along came the Korean War and my recall to active service. We were sent to Madigan Army Hospital in Tacoma, Washington where I treated GI’s just back from the front. We also joined the Washington State Cocker Spaniel Club of which I later became president. Thus began our string of breeding champions. After my tour of duty was up I decided I was never going to make it to a four star general’s slot and so resigned my commission to return to graduate school at the University of Washington where I received my doctorate.

We were winning at the shows in the Northwest and placing our show puppies in appropriate homes. The nine years we spent in the Pacific Northwest were enlightening and we were ready to take on the crème de la crème in California. Two things happened simultaneously, I secured a position with the California State Department of Education and a new buff puppy was born. Ch. Hi-Boot Such Crust was a real flyer. I finished him myself in seven shows going Best of Winners all but once. He was 10 months of age when he finished. He had a brief but outstanding specials career. His greatest achievement was siring Ch. Hi Boots Such Brass, our most outstanding winner. “Digger” also finished at 10 months of age, as did his black brother. Digger went on to sire 37 champions and was in the Top Ten Sporting Dogs for two years in a row. He was also tied one year for top producing Cocker.

In 1973 I received judging approval for Cockers. To this day I remember the cocktail party after my first provisional assignment in Arizona when Carl Anderson, who had a terrible day under me as a handler, greeted me at the door with a drink with a little umbrella in it. As I thanked him for his sportsmanship, he slyly asked me if I knew the name of the drink. When I confessed I didn’t, he said, “I’s called a Suffering Bastard.” We have been firm friends ever since.

In 1960, Marge and I began writing a column for the Cocker Spaniel Visitor magazine. Since then I have written for a succession of Cocker magazines and branched into writing for more and more magazines until today my syndicated column FROM THE SKEPTIC TANK appears in sixteen magazines here and abroad.

I’ve had the good fortune of being elected to the presidency of the American Spaniel Club for four terms and was president of the U.S. Lakeland Terrier Club for two years. I have also been a delegate to the AKC

Given all that, I feel I can jump in with my two cents worth as to where the American Dog Show Game is going. There have been many others who have tried their hand at this crystal ball stuff. I have agreed partially with some of them and strongly disagreed with others.

First I need to ask this question: Is the American Kennel Club the answer to the long range needs of the Dog Fancy? My first impression would have been yes but with reservations. We need an organization LIKE AKC but they have disappointed us on many occasions. They seem to follow an ultra-conservative path. If anything they are counter-punchers, not leaders.

FINALLY, they have put together a task force to look into the future of the organization. Hurrah, except the task force is made up of the usual suspects. It is like one of the political parties evaluating themselves and appointing only the elite of the party to do so. How do you think it will come out?

We are pricing ourselves out of the market. $30.00 entry fees and $75.00 handling fees. In some breeds charges from $1200-$1500 for a supposed show puppy. Rule the little guy out. He can’t afford to keep up. It is no longer a family sport. Yes, we will continue to see conformation events but Agility Trials and similar events that are cheaper and more fun will upstage them. Also, they are not so subjective.

Whether we want them or not, the hybrids will be sold as rare and new. The public seems to gobble them up. I believe that within 10 years the first of them will be applying for regular status as “purebreds.”

There will fewer all breed magazines featuring conformation shows. With fewer and fewer people breeding and showing purebred dogs the need for so many magazines will evaporate over time.

Dog shows will change in their design, making room for more and more performance events. Within the next five years nearly all the old-timer judges will begin to accept Emeritus status. However, it won’t necessarily open the gates for younger judges for there will be fewer shows to judge.

Probably the hardest hit will be the professional handlers. Today there are more handlers than you can shake a stick at. Fewer shows and fewer dogs equals the need for fewer handlers for conformation events.

As the fancy grays more and more Specialty clubs will drop by the wayside because of lack of interest from younger people and the older members no longer willing and able to carry out the task of holding shows and keeping up their interest.

Group clubs will continue on the rise and hold a larger number of shows. Because their shows will be smaller than All Breed shows they will begin to offer judges less money to do fewer dogs. This will not sit well within the judging ranks and many will just stop adjudicating shows. We will wind up with fewer shows, fewer judges and fewer handlers.

This new configuration will carry on for a number of years as it adjusts to the ever-changing conditions forced upon us by the cost of the current configuration, other leisure-time activities and, frankly, by the inhospitable climate found by eager new entrants.

Within 25 years we will see what might be termed the final new configuration of the dog show game. However, my crystal ball grows dimmer with time and I will allow you to make your own judgments of the long term future of the dog game.

Al Grossman, a former college professor and Psychology practioner, has had the privilege of judging all over the world and evaluating breed stock. His many books and seminar series have allowed his breeding theories and ideas on husbandry to reach a great number of people.

Short URL: https://caninechronicle.com/?p=951

Posted by on Jul 12 2020. Filed under Dog Show History, Featured, Remembering Our Past?. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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