As we ramp up to the huge excitement of Crufts, I spoke with a couple of our globally savvy American experts about why we see show entries well into five digits in England and Europe and what we can do here to help spark that kind of fire. Paul Lepiane and Bo Bengston are media mavens and serious dog folk. I was thrilled to have a chance to chat with them at the Kennel Club of Beverly Hills about dog shows overseas, the growing awareness of these shows in the US and the idea of “global breeding” and what impact it has on our gene pools in the long run.

Paul Lepiane, Editor Poodle Variety

“I feel there are two main differences between shows in the US and those in Europe: Number/size of shows and “professionalism.

First, let’s establish that we have a lot of shows in the US and none of them are really big by world-wide standards. For instance, in 2015 there were only 4 shows in the US over 3,000 dogs, and none that hit 4,000. Our average entry is around 750-800 dogs. In Europe they also have plenty of small shows, but there are a number of huge shows as a counterbalance, all the way up to over 20,000 dogs for Crufts and the FCI World Show. Entries of 6,000 to 8,000 dogs are quite common, so people are more used to seeing huge breed entries. The most extreme example is the United Kingdom with just 26 all-breed Championship shows per year, the smallest being a few thousand dogs and the largest is Crufts. That’s slightly more than two shows per month throughout England, Northern Ireland, Wales & Scotland. What Europe doesn’t have that we do have are so very many long weekends of small shows: three or four days of 500-dog shows with tiny breed entries. How interesting is it for new people (or even us old timers) to go watch their breed and see an entry of 2 or 3 dogs, if that? When they go to our biggest shows they can see large entries in most breeds and meet more people involved in that breed. The bottom line is that big shows with big breed entries are just more interesting.

Second, the level of professionalism at American dog shows is the highest in the world, from the presentation of the dogs and routines of the judges to the management of the shows and how everything runs exactly according to schedule. Most foreign judges love coming to American shows because everything runs like clockwork, most of the dogs are trained and extremely well presented and, basically, everyone knows what to do, including owner handlers. And although the top European handlers (including some owners) are every bit as talented as our best professionals over here, it is far more common in Europe to see untrained dogs with novice handlers, who really have no clue as to what’s going on, in the ring competing. Also, the shows can run hours behind schedule and many times the ring stewards are almost useless and the judge ends up helping with those duties as well.

The downside to our high standard of professionalism across the board is that newcomers often feel intimidated, which is not the case in Europe. Here they see everyone looking pretty sharp with the dogs groomed and trained to a high standard and they just don’t see a place for themselves as beginners. With the disappearance of match shows (and I remember those 500-plus entry matches of the 60s and early 70s before there were point shows every weekend), there is nowhere for new people to go and train their puppy and themselves. Even handling classes are hard to find in a lot of areas. In Europe these people more easily fit into the larger entries and more casual approach to a day at a dog show, where having a good time and visiting with friends seems to be more common, possibly because you didn’t see them for 3 days last weekend and won’t see them 2 more days next weekend.

Because of this more casual atmosphere with far fewer rules that have to be followed, kids feel more comfortable taking a dog in the ring. If they are really young they can participate in “children’s handling” which is a very, very relaxed version of junior handling: grab a dog (any dog), pay a small entry fee (maybe the equivalent of a dollar) as you enter the ring and have fun. Everyone gets a ribbon and a few get placements and it’s just a good time for all.

The awareness of overseas shows with US exhibitors – I think the Internet is a huge reason for that. People here can now easily see the beautiful dogs from around the world, get information about shows and get in contact with foreigners. It’s just so very much easier than in the past with letters and phone calls. I remember when we in America started seeing pictures of some of the big-winning Afghan Hounds in Australia in the mid-1970s and it was just a revelation. Now we know their pedigrees, have seen photos of them on a regular basis since they were 8 weeks old, and will probably see photos of them at shows in various places around the world on Facebook as they happen..

Global breeding – Same answer as above… the Internet makes people aware of what’s out there. My one concern, especially for numerically smaller breeds, is that as bloodlines travel and mix, will we eventually not be able to outcross because everything is related? A cautionary tale: The Wycliffe Standard Poodles of Vancouver, Canada were incredibly influential in the 1960s and 1970s. They and their descendants were so popular that there is now no registered Standard Poodle anywhere in the world that does not go back to Wycliffe, and this is in a breed that once had a huge gene pool.”

Bo Bengston, author and historian

“When I grew up in Sweden in the late ‘50s and 1960s we knew very little about dogs in America and nothing at all about any other countries except England, which was where all the good dogs and famous judges came from – unless you had breeds like German Shepherds, Boxers or Dobermans, in which case you had to be more German-oriented.

There was, of course, no Internet then and very few opportunities to find out what was going on abroad. I saw an early black and white home movie from Westminster 1958. There was a lot of footage of the Afghan Ch. Shirkhan of Grandeur who had been BIS in 1957, but the Hound Group in ‘58 was won by the Whippet Ch. Laguna Lucky Lad, born in England at the kennel where I worked and eventually got my first dogs. There was also a lot of footage of the white Standard Poodle, Ch. Puttencove Promise, who won BIS that year.

That was my first exposure to U.S. dog shows. It made a huge impression at the time. I wish I could see that film again now.

The breeder I got my first Afghan from wanted to bring Shirkhan to Sweden, but I don’t think she ever got hold of Sunny Shay. (She would probably have laughed herself silly if she heard that idea!) Instead, Eng. Ch. Bletchingley Houndsman came from England and was No. 1 All Breeds in Sweden in 1960.

In the ‘60s I worked at kennels in England, Holland and the U.S. I stayed at Srinagar in L.A. for six months. They had about 100 Salukis and Afghans, plus an occasional Deerhound and I.G. I fell in love with California but didn’t move here until early 1980.

WHAT THEY DO DIFFERENTLY

The biggest difference that may affect the dog sport is that the shows are so much more casual in Europe/Scandinavia/Great Britain, and there are virtually no professional handlers. AKC’s very regimented procedure is not conducive to most people enjoying this as a hobby, with the result that lots of people decide to do something more fun on the weekends instead of going to dog shows. Shows in Europe, particularly England and Scandinavia, are so much bigger than AKC’s. (The FCI World Show and Crufts both usually have around 20,000 dogs entered. The Stockholm shows in December had more than 6,231 dogs entered for the International show on Saturday/Sunday and 3,867 to the national show on Friday – and they felt that was a slightly DISAPPOINTING total, not quite as many as there were at the year-end shows in Denmark and Finland the same month!) They had more than 30,000 visitors over the weekend, many of whom no doubt were inspired to buy a purebred puppy and eventually become exhibitors themselves.

I’m sure that the written critiques of each dog and the individual “grading” (Excellent, Very Good, Good, etc.) help a lot also, since the novice exhibitor at least gets something for the entry fees (which, by the way, are always a LOT higher than in the U.S., which makes the larger entries even more surprising).

One thing that we could copy that I’m sure would be popular with American exhibitors are the “title shows.” … at many shows every dog that wins in the Breed (not just BOB, but BOS as well and frequently the Junior/Puppy winners also) can officially display that win as part of their title forever: e.g. “Junior Winner Palm Springs KC 2017” or whatever … Some dogs have titles a mile long, two or three lines of incomprehensible abbreviations in the show catalogs, but that would be a small price to pay if it makes people more interested in showing.

AMERICAN VIEWS OF FOREIGN DOG SHOWS

Of course the Internet has made a tremendous change in awareness of what goes on overseas in dogs as well as everything else. In the old days I was very much in the forefront of international development – I bred my Afghan bitch to one of the first American imports of ANY breed, a dog from Kay Finch’s Crown Crest kennel in California, and I had a Greyhound who became the first Swedish-owned dog EVER to win a champion title in England – but these days I’m so far behind … People travel to Europe and the FCI World Show much more easily than before, and some seem to show their dogs the world over.

When I decided to leave Sweden there was a 6-month quarantine for all dogs going to England (and of course no pet passports), and bringing a dog to Australia, where I lived for a year, involved an 18-month process … None of that applies anymore!

When you talk to exhibitors in the U.S. they say dogs or judges from abroad are so “different” … almost as if they were or from another planet. I guess that won’t change. When you talk to people overseas they say exactly the same thing about American dogs and judges … Just human nature, I guess.

GLOBAL DOG BREEDING

That aspect has always been something that fascinated me. Most of our great kennels were built on imported stock, at least in the past: Skansen imported these amazing Giant Schnauzers from Spain, Holland and Denmark (plus other countries, I’m sure), and the Vin-Melca Elkhounds in the beginning were based on a couple of imports from Norway that Pat Trotter used as a template and bred to, primarily Ch. Tortåsens Bjönn II.

These days it’s almost gone too far, especially in some breeds. It’s hardly possible to say what country e.g. a show Greyhound hails from, because pretty much all of them have a very international – English/American/Scandinavian/European mixed – background. The genetic base narrows a lot.”

Thank you gentlemen, I appreciate you taking time to share some of your thoughts with us. For all of my friends descending on Crufts this week, I envy you! Enjoy the thrill of all those dogs and the incredible shopping.

In the Year of Living Together, perhaps we can find some great ideas abroad to encourage our dog sports here at home.

As always, this is, JMHO.