A promising puppy from your last litter has gotten off to a smashing start with his owner-handler. He made his debut at your breed’s national specialty by winning Best in Sweepstakes, and shortly thereafter beat impressive adult competition to claim his first major. His owner exhibits him beautifully; they have built a great rapport; and in a breed not especially known for showmanship, the puppy is a little extrovert, with attitude to spare that is delighting the judges. Puppy kindergarten and handling classes have clearly paid off, and you couldn’t be more proud of this up-and-coming team.
Then the letter arrives that sends you reeling. The puppy has failed several health tests, which means he will not be used in your breeding program, nor will he stand at stud to anyone else. You have a litter coming up from which the owner-handler is welcome to have a replacement puppy; in fact, she has so impressed you with her dedication that you’re ready to offer her co-ownership on a lovely young finished bitch that you plan to start specialing next year. You summon the strength to phone and tell her to stop showing her flashy puppy, and she replies with a single word, “Why?” Now that was a response you hadn’t expected.
Dog shows have traditionally been the venue where we brought our breeding stock to be evaluated. As such, breeders saw little value in paying entry fees to show a dog that would not go on to sire litters or a bitch that would not whelp the next generation of puppies. However, the dog show scene has changed dramatically in the last decade. Many ardent exhibitors today have no desire to become breeders. They either don’t have the time or the facilities to raise litters of puppies, yet they love the sport and revel in the competition. While many of our great breeders age out and retire, and we face the challenge of finding enthusiastic fanciers to carry on their legacies, at the same time we need to support anyone with a love of the sport who is participating. Our purebreds desperately need the public exposure.
To play devil’s advocate, how will penalizing an active exhibitor with a nice representative of her breed — who had never wanted to breed a litter in the first place — benefit the sport? Doesn’t it make more sense to encourage that exhibitor to keep showing her quality dog, and let the judges and spectators see what a good example of the breed looks like?
Our great breeders of the past often spoke of keeping two bitches from every litter: the “plain Jane” to breed on, and the fancy sister to show. Seldom did the large kennels expect one bitch to fulfill both roles.
When it comes to our rare breeds today — and sadly, many breeds that were once popular with the public now fall under this label — the same philosophy ought to apply. If a quality dog of a rare breed loves the show ring and is owned by a generous breed crusader who wants the breed to get a bigger slice of the AKC group pie, let them show with our blessing, despite his heart murmur or bad hips. Six breeds competing in an AKC group for four placements is a tragic sight, and not at all uncommon.
The only caveat in this scenario, and it is an important one, is that the proud breeder and owner must remember those failed health clearances when bitch owners and puppy buyers fall in love with the dog and clamor for one of his offspring. This is when the proverbial rubber meets the road. These great show dogs have served their breed well by keeping it in the spotlight, but they cannot suddenly re-enter the breeding pool because they now have a fan club and their owners can’t bring themselves to reveal essential health results.
As long as breeders and owners understand that show ring success will never change a dog’s genes, I see no harm in allowing owners who wish to show to do so with the very best representatives available — giving their breeds valuable public exposure in the process.
Allan Reznik has been an Afghan Hound fancier since the early 1970s and also owns and exhibits Tibetan Spaniels. He is an award-winning journalist and broadcaster, who has served as editor-in-chief of several national dog publications. He appears regularly on radio and TV discussing all aspects of responsible animal ownership. Reznik is an AKC permit judge of Afghan Hounds, Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, and Tibetan Spaniels.