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Dog Show Language: Talking About Winners, Specialty Bests, Sires, Dams and More

Is the written word still relevant in a digital world? Yes, of course: even if common wisdom holds that “nobody reads anymore,” it’s certainly a fact that everyone writes a lot more than they used to. In fact, how we write probably matters more than ever before, since everyone with an Internet connection appears to be texting, tweeting, blogging and sending casual emails non-stop. Everyone is typing these days, including millions of people who never put their fingers on a keyboard before, and surely somebody must be reading all that text that’s being written, right?

Dog shows, just like dogs, have a language of their own. Photo by Amuzica. Dreamstime.com.

At least until technology’s next step, when thoughts are transmitted electronically from one brain to another (it will happen, trust me), there’s no question that the written word will continue to be important. How we write may change, of course. Eventually, the ease of typing, for example “u” instead of “you,” may affect even the official spelling, and other examples of a more simplified way of writing will perhaps become generally accepted as well. Trying to simplify spelling isn’t exactly a new idea. A hundred years ago George Bernard Shaw and the Simplified Spelling Society tried – and failed – to modernize the spelling of English. A few decades later the Chicago Tribune made a long-running attempt to convince its readers to accept logical, easier spelling of words like iland (island), agast (aghast), telegraf, burocrat, thru, tho, etc. The paper was not any more successful than Shaw had been because when it comes to the crunch most of us tend to be fairly conservative and revert back to what we were brought up with. Even today you probably have to be involved in Coonhounds to spell what you do after dark with your dogs as going on “nite hunts.” It’s fine if that’s how they want to spell it in their educational club literature, as long as everyone understands what they are talking about.

That’s the crux, of course. The most important part of all this is that we agree on what a word means, and that punctuation doesn’t interfere with how a sentence is understood. There was a wonderful little book a few years ago called “Eats Shoots and Leaves” that dealt with punctuation and the importance of commas. The title referred to a giant panda that was peacefully feasting on bamboo shoots and leaves, but if you just add a comma between the title’s first two words you get a totally different meaning. It’s difficult to visualize a panda firing a gun after finishing its dinner and then departing into the woods, but this is still a good example of how important punctuation can be.

Back to dogs. Following are some words and expressions that are frequently misspelled or misused by dog fanciers. Not all of them change their meaning as drastically as the example above, regardless of whether a comma is involved or not, but those of us who are fond of the English language and appreciate its infinite variety will be grateful to you if you get it right.

Winners Aren’t Winner’s
When you take points at an AKC show your dog is, according to the official abbreviations, either WD or WB, which is transcribed as Winners Dog or Winners Bitch – not Winner’s; there’s no apostrophe. Nobody has been able to explain to me why it’s “Winners” instead of “Winner,” which would have made more sense, but don’t ask for logic in a case like this. Just take the points, say “thank you” and promise not to put an apostrophe where it doesn’t belong. Interestingly, nobody ever adds that apostrophe when they write out Best of Winners – which makes sense, of course, because now it’s plural: your dog was the best one of two winners.

Here’s another case where logic doesn’t prevail. We all use the abbreviations BOB and BIS for Best of Breed and Best in Show, and most people agree to be consistently inconsistent in capitalizing the “O” and “I” in the abbreviations, while still using a lower case “o” and “i” when they write out the words. Again don’t ask me why; it’s just how it’s done…

Speaking of those terms, what’s the correct plural? Where do you add the “s”? Best of Breeds or Bests of Breed? Best in Shows or Bests in Show? Grammarians may disagree, but when I was writing a book for a serious publisher who cared about such minutiae, the text editors, after a lot of arguing back and forth, settled on Best of Breeds and Best in Shows as the more correct versions. Of course, if you’re lucky enough to be able to use either of these terms when you write about your dogs, you probably care less about the correct plural than about the mere fact that you’ve taken home multiple wins…

Can we talk about Group wins and placements too? To my mind, it creates the possibility for unnecessary confusion when you say your dog “won Group 2.” Was it a Group 2nd, or did your dog place first in the Hound Group, which is the second of the seven AKC Groups? Usually that’s self-evident, at least if you know which Group your breed belongs to, but when you get onto the world scene, it’s often impossible to tell. The Fédération Cynologique Internationale consistently numbers its Groups from 1 (“Sheepdogs and Cattledogs, except Swiss Cattle Dogs”) to 10 (“Sighthounds”). Yes, the FCI has three more Groups than AKC, and most of them hardly resemble those we are used to either. The Canadians, the British and the Australians all use their own Group divisions and Group numbers – so let’s agree to tell the world your dog won Group 1st, not Group 1. (Unless it was also 1st in Group 1, of course, which would really confuse the issue.)

And, by the way, it seems more correct to me to capitalize the word “group” when you refer to a specific win than when you’re referring to the various groups in general: “My dog took Group 1st at Bucks County last week; he’s won half a dozen groups now” would be correct – should you be so lucky as to have a multiple group winner. But I would agree that’s highly subjective (and flies in the face of the style used by this publication, though the editors have allowed me my preference in this one paragraph to make my point).

Best in Show – of All Breeds
The term Best in Show, by the way, as mentioned previously both in this column and others, should always refer to a win at an all-breed show. That’s how we customarily do it in the U.S. these days, and it’s nice to know that owners and handlers of the top dogs obviously agree on this, judging by their advertising. When you see an impressive show record for a major U.S. winner summarized, you can be almost 100-percent sure that the number of Best in Show wins listed refers only to all-breed victories. Unless otherwise specified, the figures can also be assumed to refer exclusively to AKC shows. Specialties and foreign wins may mean as much as, or more than, an AKC all-breed win, depending on the size and prestige of the event, but it makes sense to make a clear distinction between them. For one thing, AKC wins can be easily verified – all you have to do is pay a few dollars to get a printout of any dog’s win record from AKC. That’s not always the case for foreign awards.

“Specialty Best in Show” or “Best in Specialty Show” (the terms are interchangeable) means a dog has won Best of Breed at an event that’s officially designated as a specialty show – organized exclusively for one breed or several varieties of one breed, as, for example. the Poodle Club of America. Whether you abbreviate it as SBIS or BISS doesn’t matter much; I prefer the former because the plural of the latter is rather awkward (“My dog has won several BISSs” – how many “esses” in a row do you really want?). What matters is that the show is in fact a specialty. Unless it’s clearly labeled as such in the catalog and premium list, it simply isn’t. There are supported entries, which are different. (Usually what’s involved is that a breed club supports an all-breed show by donating some trophies to the winners of that breed. It’s a nice gesture, and it helps the entry, but it’s not a specialty.)

There are two kinds of specialties, as defined by AKC. “Independently Held Specialties” are the most common. They are often held as stand-alone events, without any other show beforehand or after. If they happen to be held on the same weekend and on the same grounds as a Group or all-breed show, they can still be independent, with their own show secretary, and the winner does not continue to compete beyond BOB.

What AKC terms as “Designated Specialties,” on the other hand, are by definition held as part of a multi-breed show. Usually the breed club picks its own judge and offers its own trophies, but the breed winner may continue to compete in the Group. If I’m allowed a personal opinion here, it’s no wonder some Designated Specialties are not recognized as such. Unless you read the catalog carefully, it may not be at all clear to the spectator that there’s anything “special” about the breed judging. This certainly varies from one event to the other, but it’s fair to say that specialties are a lot less “special” than they used to be, and some Designated Specialties are hardly worthy of the name. In my own breed alone, we used to have barely a handful of annual specialties a decade or two ago, all of them with 150 to 250 entries; now there are nearly 20 of them, but the average entry is perhaps 50 or 60 dogs.

The formation of Group clubs that hold their own shows was, believe it or not, actively discouraged by AKC not so many years ago. It’s hard to see why, but the fact that Group shows are a relatively new phenomenon is probably the reason there’s no handy term in common use for the winners at these show. “Group Show BIS” isn’t a very catchy moniker, but until someone comes up with something better that’s what we’re left with. A Group show is obviously in between an all-breed show and a specialty. If you should be lucky enough to win BIS at a Group show, you can say your dog won, for example, Hound Show BIS, Toy Show BIS, or whatever – but you can’t say it’s either a Specialty BIS or an all-breed BIS winner.

Sired by and Out of
I’m sure there are a lot of other terms that may be confusing to the newcomer and on occasion are misused even by those of us who ought to know better. If I may mention a particularly grievous example, one that instantly indicates that the user was not brought up in dogs or with livestock, it would be the frequently incorrect use of “by” and “out of” when talking about a dog’s parentage.

It’s pretty simple. Your dog is “by” the sire “out of” the dam – never the reverse. Think of it this way: the puppies come “out of” the body of the bitch. The phrase “sired by the father, out of the mother” is ancient tradition, and like so many of the most descriptive terms we have in the dog show world, it was handed down to us from horse people. In Thoroughbreds nobody would dream of misusing “sired by” or “out of,” so why should we?

It’s true that you can misuse or misspell many of the expressions mentioned above and get your meaning across anyway. Still, being involved in dogs is very much a matter of tradition, so wouldn’t it be a good idea for us to respect those who came before us, especially when it makes the meaning clearer for all?

Written by

Bo Bengtson has been involved in dogs since the late 1950s and judged since the mid-1970s in Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland, Great Britain, France, Germany, Austria, Holland, Italy, USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Brazil, Japan, China and Russia. He has judged twice at Westminster, twice at Crufts and four times at the FCI World Show, as well as the U.S. national specialties for Scottish Deerhounds, Whippets, Greyhounds and Borzoi.
Comments
  • Kerrie Kuper May 22, 2013 at 9:13 AM

    Great article!

  • Sharyn Hutchens, Timbreblue Whippeta May 22, 2013 at 11:39 AM

    Great article! As a journalism/English major, I tend to get way too annoyed by these things, though either the internet or age has mellowed me somewhat. The by/out of error is one I am so glad to see addressed. I never used to see this mistake 20-30 years ago, but it is far too common now. When one writes Superdog x Bigwin, the x is often assumed to mean ‘by’ as used in multiplication instead of an abbreviated way of writing ‘ex’ (out of). I wonder if this abbreviated way of writing it is the source of the confusion. People assume the x was used for ‘by,’ which would put the puppy by the bitch and out of the dog, a biological impossibility.

    Maybe next you can tackle confirmation/conformation and the others that show up so often in fanciers’ Facebook and email posts, though not specifically dog-related.

    Formally vs formerly — ‘Buttons was formally known as Sprite.’ Was Sprite FORMERLY his litter name or is Sprite the sum total of his FORMAL registered name?
    Nationals vs national — If you’re referring to one trip, shouldn’t you have gone to the national? Unless of course you have two breeds and went to both nationals during one trip.

    These things may not seem that important to most people, but as a memorable English teacher once told our class, ‘This is the stuff you learn if you want to avoid looking like an ignoramus.’

  • Bo Bengtson May 22, 2013 at 1:42 PM

    Thanks for your comments. Confirmation and conformation are among the most frequently misused in dog show ads. Think of the following sentence and the meaning should be clear: “My dog’s conformation title has been confirmed by the AKC.”

    Another is compliment and complement: “The sire and dam complemented each other so well that their offspring received many compliments from the judges.”

    As you say, this may not be that important to a lot of people, but if you’re going to use a word you may as well know what it means. And it’s so easy to look it up on e.g. the Merriam-Webster Online dictionary if you’re not sure!

  • flywire
    Michele Fitzgerald May 22, 2013 at 6:45 PM

    I think a good title (brag really) for a Group Show winner would be Best In Group Show…..BIGS

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