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Envision this scenario: You head to your designated conformation ring early to pick up your armband and suddenly notice a rare breed that you’ve never seen before. Although you have grooming to do, you linger at ringside, unable to leave. You check the judging schedule to confirm the breed, as it’s a singleton entry. The appearance, coat, and gait all fascinate you.

At home that evening, you start to research the breed and the more you read, you more you are engrossed. You’re soon emailing the handful of enthusiasts in this country who own the breed, plus some foreign kennels. You begin daydreaming about all the fun you’ll have with this new addition.

Whether it’s a breed currently in the Miscellaneous Class or one of the rarities that are seldom shown in their variety, novices and old hands alike can easily fall under the spell of an uncommon or rare breed. With planning and research, the result can be a win-win for all.

A Friendlier Welcome to the Sport

Walking into the show ring for the first time can be intimidating to newcomers. This is particularly true with a popular breed or one that demands hours of painstaking grooming. Successful professional handlers may be rushing about, showing what appears to be a different dog in each class. Many of the breeder-exhibitors have an entourage of helpers holding dogs at ringside. It’s a high-pressure situation and exhibitors are often too busy to notice a new face and introduce themselves.

Best of Breed: CH Magicwood Kalevala Ohenry Otterhound CGCA, Otterhound; Hound Group lineup at the 2015 AKC Eukanuba National Championship, Orlando, FL.
David Woo ©2015 American Kennel Club

By comparison, the atmosphere around the Miscellaneous or Foundation Stock Service (FSS) rings is often noticeably more casual. Most of the dogs are handled by their owners, many of whom are fellow newcomers to the sport. Entries are smaller, the judge and steward seem more relaxed, and the anxiety felt by many exhibitors seems to instantly melt away.

Many low-entry breeds desperately need new enthusiasts to take up their cause. For exhibitors who enjoy their time in the ring and dream of an opportunity to compete in the Group, it’s more likely to happen with a Norwegian Lundehund (Non-Sporting) or an American English Coonhound (Hound) than a French Bulldog or a Whippet in those same Groups. It’s also easier to break the ice and become friends in a breed where the same four or five people will be gathering every weekend and rooting for one another. The social aspect of dog shows is the glue that holds many of us together and keeps us in the sport.

An Antidote to Burnout

For longtime breeders who’ve lost count of all the homebred champions they’ve finished, or the many specialties they’ve judged over decades, there may be few challenges still awaiting them. Rather than retiring or burning out, pioneering an uncommon breed is a wonderful way to put their decades of knowledge to good use.

Longtime fanciers have so much to contribute, from guiding newly formed parent clubs to mentoring novices as they establish their breeding programs.

18th AKC Agility Invitational presented by YuMove, Orange County Convention Center, Orlando, FL, Dec 16-17, 2023.

Rare Breed Knowledge to Share

Breeder-exhibitors who’ve given a lifetime to the sport wish to see all breeds improve. After bettering their own breed and teaching protégés well, their advice can put new generations of dog people on the right path to becoming good breeders. Today’s breeders benefit from medical breakthroughs and the power of the internet at our fingertips. However, there’s no substitute for the accumulated wisdom and knowledge of master breeders.

Judges’ Education is another important arena that benefits from informed breeders’ abilities to explain the nuances of breed type. Longtime breeders can also help a parent club follow the precise protocol laid out by the AKC to move the breed from the FSS to the Miscellaneous Class, and ultimately full breed recognition and group status.

A rare breed can inspire newcomers and invigorate longtime breeders. Their combined efforts will bring them great satisfaction while benefiting the breed and, by extension, the sport.

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-approved judge of Afghan Hounds, Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, and Tibetan Spaniels; on permit to judge a number of other Hound breeds.

Related article: Father and Daughter Bond Through Conformation, Rare Breed
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