I love my dogs. I love my client dogs. I laugh at their antics, kiss them on the nose and cry when they leave, whether to go home or to heaven.

My dogs give me joy, pleasure, comfort and are a source of constant entertainment. I give them cozy surroundings, quality food, grooming and medical care, plenty of exercise and activities. Some of them even have outfits.

But, they are not my “fur children.”

We’ve explored the disconnect between “old timers” and “newcomers” several times in this space. Last week’s column, with the commentary by another professional handler which spoke to judging dogs as we would livestock, touched on nerves that, frankly, I had not anticipated. It informed me in a way that I found very useful in this ongoing conversation.

Society is an ever-changing, morphing, non-homogenous conglomerate of people and their ideals. Our world has obviously changed, drastically, since the inception of purebred dog competitions at Newcastle-upon-Tyne, England, in June 1859.

We find ourselves today at a point of major transition. What was once a dispassionate, if always hotly contested, examination of quality aimed at preserving and improving a breed has dramatically shifted. For a growing segment of exhibitors, dog shows have become a very personal passing of judgement on what is, by their own description, a hairy relative.

The trickle down effect of this radical change in thinking, I believe, lies behind the vast majority of the frustration evidenced by so many exhibitors, new and old alike.

Changing societal norms have created a yawning chasm which divides the opinions of how to raise, live with and enjoy the dogs we love, which is nearly unbridgeable. This is not simply observation. I’ve been personally involved with these conversations. I frequently feel as if I’m talking Urdu and the other person is talking Martian. There is simply no connection point in the conversation.

Meanwhile, pets and their people are big business.

“The overall economy has been shaky,” according to http://www.multibriefs.com, “but the pet industry was less affected by the recent recession than other retail sectors. The IBISWorld Industry Report shows that for 2008-13, the industry has averaged an overall 3.4 percent annual growth. As reported by the American Pet Products Association (APPA) in the Pet Industry Market Size & Ownership Statistics, the total U.S. pet industry expenditures for 2008 was $43.2 billion while it is estimated at $55.53 billion for 2013.

A vast majority of our society has decided dogs should be well cared for, well fed and enjoy a close relationship with their people. This is, undeniably, a good thing.

On the other hand, how far will the pendulum swing? From the dark days of yesteryear, in which dogs were thought spoiled by a corn crib and poor scraps from the family’s table. To today’s ever increasing insistence that dogs must sleep under the covers with their “humoms” and eat $70/bag dog food or risk the stigma of abuse.

“Once acquired as sidekicks for kids,” according to Businessweek in 2007, “animal companions are more popular now with empty-nesters, single professionals, and couples who delay having children. What unites these disparate demographic groups is a tendency to have time and resources to spare. With more people working from home or living away from their families, pets also play a bigger role in allaying the isolation of modern life. About 63% of U.S. households, or 71 million homes, now own at least one pet, up from 64 million just five years ago. And science is starting to validate all those warm feelings with research that documents the depth of the human-animal bond.”
Far be it from me to criticize anyone who loves their dog. The human-canine bond is very real.

My “heart dog” was a GWP by the name of Henry. He was one of the most amazing animals I’ve encountered in a life spent surrounded by dogs. Henry’s stories are well-worn tracks in my brain. He was a show champion, a Master Hunter, a specialty winner and the sire and grandsire and great grandsire of many dogs better than himself. Henry had outstanding qualities which I admired in terms of how he met the standard. A nearly perfect coat, lovely head, strong rear, beautifully fitted shoulders. He also was long as a freight train, hollow fronted and lacked sufficient depth of body. I knew that then and know it now. It has informed all of my breeding decisions going forward as I try to hold on to those virtues while acquiring new ones to replace the faults. Knowing and acknowledging his faults in no way reduced my devotion to him.

I believe it is possible to be deeply attached to our dogs, while still being able to evaluate them accurately. I also believe that skill is an integral component of long-term success and satisfaction in the sport. I challenge each of you to step into your kennel, your dog room, your living room or your bedroom and *honestly* evaluate your dog(s) against the written standard, line by line, while holding said document in your hand. If you don’t understand a line in the standard, don’t just skip over it. Ask someone. Then go back and try again.

What could be better than thousands and thousands of educated, devoted, committed pet owners who want only to see their breed thrive? We have within us the ability to make that happen for our sport.

As always, this is JMHO.