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My Take: Our Focus Should Be in the Breed Ring

We’ve written several times recently on Best In Show Daily about evaluating breeding stock, and it has reminded me of something that’s been mentioned time and again in the dog press the past few years – maybe even for decades – but it bears repeating. Today in the sport, we’re placing too much emphasis at the Group and Best in Show level instead of at the breed level, where it should be.

Sure, occasionally a win in the breed ring is celebrated. Who doesn’t value a win at their National Specialty? Even a class win at Poodle Club of America or at the Cairn Terrier Club of America National Specialty would make me giddy with excitement. But in the sport today, being Number 1 at the breed level just isn’t what counts for most people who campaign dogs –not even those campaigned by owner-handlers or their breeders, in most cases. It’s all about winning those Groups and Best in Shows. We almost never see a big specialty win, or even a National Specialty Best of Breed win, advertised.

At the same time, one of the most frequent complaints we hear among dog people is that so manyjudges don’t know what they’re doing. But when we make winning at the Group and BIS level the priority, we not only diminish the importance of winning at the breed level, we also divert attention away from judges learning about the nuances of each individual breed. It’s no wonder the other oft-heard complaint is that we see too many “generic show dogs” winning these days.

Committees that put together judging panels have to hire only those judges who do a couple of Groups, so that they can be utilized over several days of a circuit and will be economical for the clubs hosting the shows. Believe me, I understand that. But I also yearn to see more breed specialist judges and those who’ve worked to learn each and every detail of breed type for the select breeds they judge. Many of them only judge a few times a year because it isn’t economically feasible to hire them. I wish there was some way to reach a happy medium between using multi-Group judges and breed specialists.

My all-time favorite win was a Specialty Best of Breed under Dr. Donald Sturz, in San Antonio, Texas, from the Bred-by-Exhibitor class, with Foxfire Let Freedom Ring. ‘Mandy’ not only won the Variety over specials, but there was stiff competition for Best of Breed. Photo by Missy Yuhl.

We put so much emphasis on Group judging today, and at 99 percent of our shows, regardless of the size of the entry,breed judging is just a means to an end. We used to hear much more often about a terrific new dog of one breed or another that came out and scored Best of Breed wins from the classes to finish. We don’t hear that too much today. Everyone is so focused on what’s going to happen at the end of the day that they’re just “getting through” the breed judging, rather than really looking for the “best one” of that breed on the day, whether it has “Ch.” in front of its name or not.

I know for a fact, because different people have admitted it, that sometimes none of the champions particularly pleased a judge in a good-sized entry, and, although there was a class dog or bitch that they felt really epitomized the breed, they didn’t feel comfortable beating someone’s special. So… that’s evaluating show records or supporting a campaign plan. It’s sure not evaluating breeding stock. It’s not selecting the best dog of a breed on a given day.

And while it is certainly true that there are dogs that are great “Group dogs,” but not such good “breed dogs” – we’ve all known our share of these – there shouldn’t be any such thing. If it isn’t good enough to do really well at the breed level, it shouldn’t be winning at the Group level either. I don’t personally think that beating a bunch of other Non-Sporting dogs makes a Poodle a great one, but there are lots of people judging dogs out there who do believe that!

Yes, I understand that somepeople still value wins in the breed ring above all others, and I know that weekends like Montgomery County wouldn’t continue to be among the most prestigious in the country if some exhibitors didn’t value competition at the breed level. But I also think that, now and then, we have to remind our fellow fanciers that what matters isn’t really which dog is Number 1 in his Group or who was Top Dog among all breeds last year. What really matters, aside from what individual dogs produce in the whelping box, are those dogs that win three majors in one weekend to finish, the ones that went Winners at the National, the ones that give the champions a run for their money, the ones that win Best of Breed from the classes under specialist judges.

We all appreciate the thrill ofcompetition, and the race for Number 1 in each Group and among all breeds every year. We all love watching Groups and Best in Show at the country’s most prestigious events. I’m always tickled for the dedicated exhibitor who wins his or her first Best in Show, the breeder whose dog wins its first Group, or the handler who is experiencing having a special ranked at the top for the first time. But I want us to remember where our focus truly should be, which wins should really be the ones we advertise and brag about.

The truth is that, although I won a few Best in Shows and quite a few blue ribbons in Group competition with dogs to which I was very devoted, the win that I’m most proud of was a Best of Breed win at a specialty with a puppy I bred, from the Bred-by-Exhibitor class. It was under someone who has owned, bred, shown, and is very passionate about my breed and whose opinion I respect, and against some stiff competition, including one of the top dogs in the breed at that time. It isn’t a more impressive win than those that are advertised regularly, but I think it is among the most important wins I ever had.

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.
Comments
  • Kelly Hair June 29, 2012 at 8:14 AM

    I agree with you 100%! Now lets see more pics from the breed ring on BIS Daily!

  • Nan June 29, 2012 at 12:05 PM

    Great article and I thank you for your thoughtful analysis of this issue. As a Chow Chow fancier, we often leave the ring wondering where the judge obtained his training, as often major faults are over looked. I have wondered if current videos from each breed could serve as a quick way for the judges to familiarize themselves with a breed that they have not recently judged. Again, thanks for bringing this to the attention of others.

  • Mare June 30, 2012 at 6:31 AM

    Christi,

    AMEN!! I couldn’t agree more…

    Judges need to not worry about “dumping” the number 1 dog to put up the BEST representation of the breed on that day!! That is JOB they are hired to do!! On the backside tho, the judges shouldn’t have to worry about the reprecussions not only from the Fancy, but from the ACK Reps when doing their job.

  • Deb Eldredge, D.V.M.
    Deb E June 30, 2012 at 5:18 PM

    Well, I will happily give you one set of breed results from today – my 10 month old Belgian Tervuren went BOB over a special for a 3 pt major. This was at Bainbridge – the Nangos Cluster. Judge was Marie Ann Falconer. “Babe” now stands at 11 pts, one major. Babe is Sensation Coyote Grand Slam TD RN.

  • SUE MCCLURE
    sue mcclure July 1, 2012 at 7:24 AM

    Amen to your observation. People are beginning to weigh the expense of entering and driving long distances to shows to be ignored with dogs that have done very well in specialties that they, with many years deicated to their breed, know lesser dogs with big budgets go up. I had a multiple specialty winning owner/breeder/handler who has done very well and is showing the best they have ever bred tell me they felt the award of merit was hurting them. It seems to make it ok to put up the heavily campaigned dog because you can give the better but unmonied one a pat on the head with an award of merit. I know a number of long time breeders who only go to specialties anymore as that’s what counts to them.

    • silhouette July 6, 2012 at 11:04 AM

      I think sometimes the Select awards functions as just that. “I like you but I can’t dump my friend’s top ranked special, come back again sometime.”

  • silhouette July 6, 2012 at 11:07 AM

    This is very true. I have encountered many judges the last few years who seem to put up a dog of my breed that is clean moving but plain old boring, over exquisite dogs who are smaller, stand out less in the group and maybe move less perfectly but are dripping in type. Type is after all what makes a breed and if you are going to forgive one or the other, I wouldn’t give up the type. JMO. And as far as winning breeds from the classes. I just recently finished a dog that made me lament the fact that I was showing a special at the same time. I think had I not had to pass him off he could have given many specials a run for their money for the breed, but passed off to a friend he just bounced and jumped around. Really a shame.

  • Bonnie Clarke August 2, 2013 at 9:52 AM

    I have said for decades if AKC did away with Groups and BIS, the quality of the individual Breeds would improve! And, yes, I am a Multi-Group Judge; but, I am a breeder at heart. I have never understood the quest for the most BIS. How about the most Specialty wins; that is where Breed excellence should reign!

  • Terri VanSchyndek August 2, 2013 at 10:28 AM

    I also want to stress that many have lost sight of the meaning of the BBE class. I proudly show my dogs and try to finish them out of the BBE class. If I am at a regional or my national and there is an entry of 20 in my BBE class and I win, I am more excited about that than a group placement at an all breed show. And if I can consistently take first place in the BBE class, I am very pleased with my efforts as a breeder. When I have judges say to me that they are excited to see me standing outside the ring before judging starts because they know that I will be bringing them very nice dogs, I have been doing my job and doing it well.

    • Terri VanSchyndel August 2, 2013 at 10:29 AM

      I can’t apparently spell my name correctly…it is Terri VanSchyndel…. ;-)

  • Karyn Cowdrey August 2, 2013 at 11:16 AM

    I know for a fact, because different people have admitted it, that sometimes none of the champions particularly pleased a judge in a good-sized entry, and, although there was a class dog or bitch that they felt really epitomized the breed, they didn’t feel comfortable beating someone’s special. So… that’s evaluating show records or supporting a campaign plan. It’s sure not evaluating breeding stock. It’s not selecting the best dog of a breed on a given day.

    And while it is certainly true that there are dogs that are great “Group dogs,” but not such good “breed dogs” – we’ve all known our share of these – there shouldn’t be any such thing. If it isn’t good enough to do really well at the breed level, it shouldn’t be winning at the Group level either. I don’t personally think that beating a bunch of other Non-Sporting dogs makes a Poodle a great one, but there are lots of people judging dogs out there who do believe that!

  • Karyn Cowdrey August 2, 2013 at 11:17 AM

    This is exactly what is bringing entries DOWN in many show venues today as well. Too much looking by judges and competitors for that BIS vs looking for a really nice BOB win.

  • heather
    Heather rife dvm August 2, 2013 at 12:09 PM

    All good thoughts, but in rare breeds most of the time there are no others dogs showing in the breed ring, so placing or winning in group is perhaps a bigger deal than those popular breeds that seem to always be considered in group. Indeed, a win at the national or Montgomery is a very big deal to us!

  • rysanwss August 2, 2013 at 12:20 PM

    Agree 100% with your comments regarding generic Group dogs. The dog awarded BoB should be the epitome of type and soundness for that day’s judging, not a flashy specimen being campaigned by an owner with deep pockets. If we lose type and gain bigger dogs with more hair, what do we expect to happen to the breed we love? I’m sure we’ve all sat at ringside at specialites lamenting the lack of quality in various classes. We need to get strong breed mentors to spend time with prospective breed judges and set their eye for what they need to judge in the ring and give them the courage to put up the correct dog, not the flashy dog.

  • Rita Rice August 2, 2013 at 5:55 PM

    I can’t remember which judge has been making this suggestion for years -that shows not publish group and BIS judges in advance, but rather do a random draw the day of the show. I think it’s a great idea – as it would bring the focus back to the breed. Good dogs would still win at group and BIS level -but it might change how we campaign the top specials. Too often, I think BOB judges are over-conscious of who is judging the group, or what dog they are sending to group -when the priority needs to be on picking the best dog for BOB.

    But even as you write -and we read-this article, the ads on this page are all for specials being campaigned at the group and BIS level. There’s too much “big business” here, and not enough focus on what we’re supposed to be doing -breeding great dogs to preserve the heritage of our breeds.

  • Christi August 5, 2013 at 12:04 PM

    I really appreciate everyone’s comments, and, more importantly, the passion with which you all have shared your views. Rita mentioned that all the ads on BISD are for specials being campaigned, but that’s not true… notice (please notice!) that the Dachshund Club of America National Specialty winner is advertised, and the lovely Tervuren ad is for Best of Breed and Best in Veteran Sweepstakes wins at the National Specialty as well. Those are just two wins at the breed level of several that are included in the ads currently on Best In Show Daily.

    Congratulations are in order for those National Specialty wins in particular. I’m thrilled that these people have shouted out the good news about these wins in the breed ring!

  • Helen Howard August 6, 2013 at 3:41 AM

    I think another aspect of the “over focus” on Group Placement and BIS is that handlers are always looking for that “specials dog” to campaign in order to get those bonuses for Group Placements and of course, Best in Shows!
    It is very complimentary when a well known handler approaches you to admire your dog and are most complimentary. I’ve had several dogs through the years who have tweaked the interest of handlers who marketed me to “special that lovely specimen”.

    I agree with the writer who suggested that judges be chosen by lottery for Group and BIS. That might cut down on all the double entries with handlers and owners with deeper pockets deciding where to go based on the “Breed Points” available. Additionally, I wonder if we shouldn’t divide our shows in to Amateur and Pro shows, hoping to give Breeder/Owner/Handlers the opportunity to display our Special example of our breed without the over focus on Group/BIS where advertising, the Handler and the thousands of dollars being spent aren’t so much the deciding factors.

  • Christi August 6, 2013 at 7:50 PM

    Maybe instead we should have shows where the competition ends at the breed level. Would today’s exhibitors go to that show? The Open show concept AKC tried, beginning last year, was not well received and the format is now reserved solely for Miscellaneous breeds. But perhaps there might be some merit in suggesting to AKC that some clubs hold shows with competition only at the breed level, but with points just like any other show.

    AKC Rules Applying to Dog Shows, Chapter 3 Section 15, says this: “A club or association holding a show may give seven group classes not divided by sex, such groups to be arranged in same order and to comprise the same breeds and recognized varieties of breeds as herein before set forth in Chapter 3, Section 1.” So Group and BIS competition is not required.

    I can tell you that if I had a dog to show, I would certainly attend a show that did not have Group and BIS competition IF the judge for my breed was someone I respected and there was a reasonable expectation of there being points.

  • Judy E. Murray August 16, 2013 at 9:01 AM

    Just re-read your article and decided to comment. Last weekend I gave a 6-9 PD Breed and group 3 over a group winning special. I’m not concerned with carrying a class dog all the way if deserving. However I agree and would add that the majority of group dogs, in my opinion, are very lacking! We really need to concentrate on the breed standard and whelping box!!!!

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