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Bringing out the Baby

Many exhibitors who began showing dogs in the 1980s or earlier remember fondly the days when the puppy match was common, and fanciers gathered with other dog people for a relaxing day of what really amounted to training our puppies, and often ourselves, to the show ring. Sadly, those days are long gone, and puppy matches today happen only on rare occasions and usually after a long day at an all-breed show when everyone is really too tired to participate with any enthusiasm.

Is an all-breed show the place to train a young puppy? AKC seems to think it might be. As part of its plan to “enhance the dog show experience,” AKC has, over the past few years, introduced several new initiatives designed to bring in new exhibitors, to keep those already involved interested in the sport, and to hopefully increase entries at shows. In the summer of 2011, AKC launched a pilot program to gauge participation in one of these concepts, the 4-to-6 Month Beginner Puppy competition.

At the December 2011 quarterly meeting of the AKC delegates, then-Vice President of Show Events Robin Stansell reported that during the pilot program, “on average, clubs that offered this special attraction enjoyed a 5 percent increase in entries…Many of these were first-time exhibitors and potential new club members.” Beginning July 1, 2012, clubs can now offer the 4-to-6 Month Beginner Puppy class at their shows.

The 4-to-6 Month Beginner Puppy Competition will give both puppies and exhibitors a place to learn about dog shows. © Canstockphoto.com.

Any licensed or member club, including all-breed, Group and specialty clubs, may offer this new puppy competition. If offered, it will take place in a separate ring from the regular class judging so as not to interfere or delay the regular classes. The classes will not be divided by sex; instead, all puppies of each breed will enter the ring together, and judges will select only a Best of Breed and a Best of Opposite Sex in each breed.

The new class is to be offered for AKC-recognized, Miscellaneous and Foundation Stock Service breeds. According to the regulations for the class as listed in the October 2011 Board of Directors meeting minutes, both the Miscellaneous and FSS Beginner Puppy competitions will be the “equivalent of Group competition,” so that the winner of each class will then be eligible to compete in the 4-to-6 Month Puppy Best in Show. Thus, the BIS competition will include nine total puppies: seven Group winners from Sporting, Hound, Working, Terrier, Toy, Non-Sporting and Herding, plus the Miscellaneous BOB winner and the FSS BOB winner, according to AKC Event Programs Manager Bri Tesarz.

In keeping with Stansell’s assertion that some new AKC programs are “truly targeting the new exhibitors,” professional handlers will not be allowed to exhibit in Beginner Puppy classes.

Is There a Point?

Puppies competing in the 4-to-6 Month classes will compete for points toward a Certificate of Merit. To earn the title a dog must win 15 points, although for this title no major win is required in the way that a conformation championship requires two majors. Points toward this Certificate of Merit title can be earned in the 4-to-6 Month competition, Open Shows (another new offering that Best In Show Daily will report on in the next few weeks) and in the Miscellaneous class.

In each breed, entrants compete only for Best of Breed and Best of Opposite Sex. Points are awarded for Best of Breed based on the total number of dogs defeated in the 4-to-6 Month class in that breed; the Best of Opposite Sex puppy will get points based on the number of dogs defeated in their sex. The point scale is currently the same for all breeds. 

Just as in regular conformation competition, the Group winner will get the highest number of points available to any breed in its Group on the day, and the Best in Show winner will be awarded the highest number of points available in any breed at that show.

Who’s to Judge?

Any judge who is provisional or approved for at least one breed – that is, anyone who has been assigned an AKC judges number – can judge the 4-to-6 Puppy competition. They need not necessarily be approved or provisional for the breeds they will judge in the 4-to-6 classes or Groups. The class, if offered, must be listed in the premium list along with the names of the judges for the classes, Groups and Best in Show.

Judging for the new baby puppy competition will differ from regular class judging in several ways. Although based on regulations that “all entrants are to be vaccinated (including rabies) in accordance with their veterinarian’s protocol,” erring on the side of caution will be the rule of the day, and each exhibitor will be asked to open their puppy’s mouth to show the bite and/or teeth for examination. If for some reason the judge finds it necessary to open the mouth, he or she must disinfect his or her hands before examining the next puppy.

Exhibitors will be asked to show their puppy’s bite and/or teeth in the 4-to-6 Puppy classes, rather than having the judge do so. © Canstockphoto.com.

In male puppies where the judge is unable to find two fully descended testicles, the puppy will not be disqualified or excused, but will not be eligible to receive Certificate of Merit points. Puppies that have breed standard disqualifications related to age – for instance, a puppy that hasn’t reached a height minimum or one whose color hasn’t yet cleared to that required by the breed standard – are permitted to receive awards. According to the guidelines, puppies that exhibit disqualifications other than those related to age “may not receive placements, but are not to be excused from the competition.”

Judges should take note that AKC’s judging conflict requirements of 30 days and 200 miles do not apply for Beginner puppy, and exhibitors will want to know that a judge change due to overload will not result in return of any entry fees, as it does with regular competition.

If clubs that offer the 4-to-6 Month Beginner Puppy competition are conscientious about who they select to judge – dog people with patience and a steady, gentle hand will be ideal – perhaps this will be an initiative that fanciers both old and new will embrace and enjoy. While this competition will never replace the independent puppy match of yore, it may be a step in the right direction for offering a place where future competitors, both canine and human, can learn the ropes and experience the fun of being in the ring.

Written by

Christi McDonald is a second-generation dog person, raised with a kennel full of Cairn Terriers. After more than a decade as a professional handler’s apprentice and handling professionally on her own, primarily Poodles and Cairns, she landed a fortuitous position in advertising sales with the monthly all-breed magazine ShowSight. This led to an 11-year run at Dogs in Review, where she wore several hats, including advertising sales rep, ad sales manager and, finally, editor for five years. Christi is proud to be part of the editorial team for the cutting-edge Best In Show Daily. She lives in Apex, N.C., with two homebred black Toy Poodles, the last of her Foxfire line, and a Norwich Terrier.
  • silhouette April 2, 2012 at 11:39 AM

    OK I kind of love this idea, but I’m not thrilled with the execution. For one, I don’t see why give out any title or certificate for baby puppies, but I guess that’s just because I’d mostly be using it as practice for “the real thing”. But mostly, what bothers ME and might be a deal breaker is that they do not hold the 4-6 mos class directly before 6-9 for each breed. This means I have to keep track of baby puppy competition like it’s another breed I’m showing.

    I participated in 4-6mos once last year, and they literally scheduled all the toys DURING the same ring time when my breed (Poms) was being judged. And the ring was at the opposite end of a HUGE show building (Harrisburg spring shows, anyone?). So I had to race all the way across the building just to show my little 4mos baby puppy (in breed AND group, so if we hadn’t had quite so many dogs ahead of us in the Pom ring I would have had to pick one or the other) and then race back. I’m sure the pro handlers are going “yeah, and so what”. But who wants to have to juggle dogs/rings to show a BABY PUPPY?? Especially for those of us who choose to show only one breed.

    As a breeder/owner/handler with only one breed, I would LOVE to practice my baby puppies at a show but not if it makes my life difficult by making me have to worry about what’s happening in 2 different rings. So if they insist on holding it in separate rings, they should at LEAST make sure that the breeds being judged are NOT scheduled during the same ring times as the adults of that breed. I realize that’s probably difficult, but that’s why I say it ought to be held during the judging of the regular classes for that breed in the first place (and judged by the same person). They do this in Thailand already, holding a baby puppy class before the show age adults.

    I guess maybe AKC wants to make it practice time for judges too, thus the insistence on a separate ring, separate judge (who need not be approved for that breed), etc. They could still do this though by having a 2nd judge assigned to do all the “baby puppies” in that ring. Anyway, I may wind up sticking with puppy matches or just walking my puppy around the show site (Shhh!!!) for free. What are the entry fees like for this anyway? cause if they think I’m paying $30 to have my puppy misbehave in a glorified puppy match they have another think coming :)

    • Christi McDonald
      Christi April 2, 2012 at 4:11 PM

      Hi Silhouette,

      Thanks for your comments about the article. To address your first question, AKC is now offering the Certificate of Merit title for Miscellaneous and Foundation Stock Service breeds, as a way to provide exhibitors with those breeds a goal to strive for with their dogs, as a way to keep everyone interested. I’m sure they felt that newcomers showing their 4-to-6 month old puppies might become more engaged and interested in dog shows if they also have a goal to work toward.

      The reason for holding the 4-to-6 Beginner classes in a separate ring from regular judging is simple: they don’t want the regular classes to run behind schedule. Superintendents design dog show schedules very precisely, so that all of the classes, as well as Groups and Best in Show, can be judged on time. Having said that, I am told that superintendents will do everything they can to see that the baby puppy classes do not interfere with regular class judging of the same breed. Naturally, the show-giving clubs and the superintendents want everyone to be able to show the dogs they enter. (I think we often forget how hard the superintendents work to make sure our shows run smoothly and that exhibitors are accommodated in their many requests.)

      I hope that after attending the pilot program you expressed you concerns and suggestions to the appropriate people at AKC, because I know they genuinely appreciate constructive feedback. The pilot program at Harrisburg was just that — a test — and AKC is well aware that everything didn’t run perfectly. But let’s give them credit for trying. Almost anything that is brand new takes time to get the kinks worked out. Thanks again!

  • Riverview April 2, 2012 at 12:38 PM

    Why are handlers not allowed? I handle dogs but own and show my own dogs as well. If they need experience I should be allowed to show them in the 4-6 month class. It should have a stipulation that if you are a handler you can show your own dogs like some breeds do in sweepstakes.

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