If you like to get weepy and sentimental when watching the veterans classes and veteran sweepstakes at a specialty show, far be it from me to stop you. Remember, however, that these classes offer us a lot more than just gaiting along memory lane. They are seriously useful for breeders and owners, so it’s worth watching them with clear eyes and open minds.
In our enjoyment of seeing the older dogs in the ring, it’s easy to let our feelings take over while our brains disengage, but this would be a mistake. Veteran classes are where we can see how dogs have held up over the years, and these classes deserve our full attention.
When an 11-year-old dog moves well, that tells us a great deal about his soundness—maybe more than when we watched the same dog 10 years earlier. A great topline is especially gorgeous on an old dog, and when you see a splendid front on a veteran, it can take your breath away. Good feet are among my favorite things, and I love to see how those feet have held up after 10 or 12 years of active use.
If longevity and soundness are important in our breeding plans, it makes a lot of sense to watch the veteran classes closely, using our brains as well as our hearts.
(I admit that I always make sure I have a handkerchief or two, just in case a speck of dust makes my eyes water. I wouldn’t want my vision to be too blurry to see the dogs clearly.)
Old dogs have had time to earn titles in the field and in companion events, so a look at the catalog is also helpful. More than once a dog who appeared to be just a pretty face as a youngster has grown up to be an old dog with an array of titles indicating talent, trainability, and soundness.
At a specialty show with a good-sized entry, the veteran classes give us the opportunity for comparison with the younger dogs, including offspring (sometimes multiple generations) of some of the veterans. On average, are we seeing improvement over the years in fronts, toplines, tail-sets, movement, and overall balance? If you’ve ever been present on a day when the comparison favored the older dogs, you know that it serves as a reminder to renew our focus on the breed standard and the qualities that make up a correct specimen of the breed.
Good sportsmanship is another lovely thing about the veteran classes. Somehow those white faces seem to have a positive effect on the manners of the spectators. Instead of selectively clapping and cheering for their favorites (and, in the process, hurting the feelings of any exhibitors—especially if they are new to the sport—who endure silence as they go around the ring), people make sure that every veteran dog and bitch gets to enjoy the applause.
May the good sportsmanship continue. And may it spread.
VIDEO: Watch the 10–12 year Veteran Dog class at the 2009 Vizsla Club of America national specialty: