Just when I was beginning to get ambulatory, my elderly mother passed suddenly and I was pitched into settling her affairs, renovating an old house for sale, and packing up for a move to a new place. Today is literally the first day in almost a year that my time has been my own. There is still much to do in the next few months, but hopefully I will be able to update this site more regularly. I have several illustrated articles that had to be put on hold, and once my studio/office is unpacked and functioning I will be able to complete them.
In the meantime, I have been thinking about how GSDs, or any pure breed for that matter, is generally selected for breeding. The conformation show is the primary vehicle for determining suitability for breeding. Whether American or British or FCI, they are all pretty much the same – the dogs are selected on the basis of how they look. Some clubs, like the SV, make an attempt to raise the bar a bit higher, and many private breeders institute additional screening processes for hips, eyes, genetic diseases or whatever. But it is the conformation show ring where the money is, where the big titles and trophies are doled out, where the cameras and sponsorship and public attention is trained. It has become entertainment, high theatre, where announcers breathlessly await the flourishes of well dressed judges, to the thunderous applause of audiences who wouldn’t know a working dog from a baboon.
For years after I got into the breed, I would hear that the purpose of showing and breeding was to improve the breed. Forty years later I can think of no breed that has been improved by the show ring. You would think that after forty years and no progress, breed clubs would figure out that the system isn’t working very well, and find a better way to screen breeding animals. But people love theatre, and the show ring isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
So if I could wave the magic wand and do only two things, these two things are what I would change:
I would like to see conformation judges banned from uttering the phrase “work ethic”. A dog’s willingness to run around a ring has absoluletly nothing to do with real work ethic. I don’t think a conformation judge should be allowed to comment on any dog’s temperament, that he or she has not seen work, really work. They can say it’s a nice dog, that it seemed stable or approachable at that time, or that it showed specific weaknesses, but real working temperament cannot be judged in a show ring. How many times have I seen “great work ethic!” in ads or on web sites for dogs that have never been properly tested for anything. A breed judge is doing the breed no favours when he attaches unqualified praise like this to a dog that may or may not deserve it.
The other thing I would do is ban handlers from touching their dogs. No prodding, posing, poking or brushing. If the dog is not ready for the ring, it’s too late once it’s inside. No more pulling the hindquarter into the weird artifical pose that has evolved over the decades. If a dog is over angulated and cannot pull itself into a decent stance, or if it sinks its stifles (knees) into the grass, so be it. If the dog is roached backed and stands hunched up like a turtle, leave it be. A well structured dog will always look good. Train it to show itself as well as it can, bait it into a standing position when the judge needs to see it, but let the dog show itself. Make the dog show about the dog and not the show.