I was sitting with a fellow Terrier owner at a recent show, watching one of our Terrier breeds being judged when she said, “I am so tired of seeing Terriers shown like little Dobermans.” That got me to thinking. Are we training our show dogs against type? Despite the fact that many of our standards are specific in description of temperament, a Best in Show ring at a highly competitive show may have seven dogs that all show the same laser focus on their handlers, moving about the ring like automatons.
When I first started attending shows 40-something years ago, it was standard practice for Terriers to be sparred in the ring as a test of temperament. The judge would bring two or more of the dogs out to the center of the ring facing one another, looking for the expression and body language typical of the breed. I only occasionally see Terriers sparred today. When I do witness the event, I often see dogs totally focused on their handler, oblivious of everything else in the ring. Many of the Terrier standards specify a specific temperament. The Irish Terrier standard states, “It is of the utmost importance that the Irish Terrier show fire and animation.” The Scottish Terrier standard describes, “…a determined and thoughtful dog whose ‘heads up, tails up’ attitude should convey fire and control.”
My impression is that Toy dogs probably show more true temperament in the show ring than do the dogs from other groups. Then that may simply be because I know more about Terriers and Toys than I do other breeds. The Maltese standard calls for the breed to be, “…the gentlest mannered of all little dogs,” while the Shih Tzu should be “…outgoing, happy, affectionate, friendly and trusting towards all.” I recently saw one BIS-winning Shih Tzu who found a happy compromise between the standard show presentation and true breed temperament, standing perfectly still and perfectly stacked, while wagging his tail furiously. Two Sporting breeds that have always caught my eye by virtue of their striking appearance and their distinctive temperaments are the Irish Setter, described as having “…a rollicking personality,” and the Irish Water Spaniel, possessed of “…an endearing sense of humor.”
While my friend was bemoaning Terriers acting like Dobermans, it is the Working Group where you find many of the breeds that have a natural affinity for the “Stop & Stare” method of presentation. I’ve always thought that a Doberman could stare down an intruder without ever putting its ears back, showing a tooth or making a sound. However, am I the only one who thinks that a dog should be staring at the judge and not the handler? Especially with a guard breed. Too often in a ring, the dog never looks at anyone or anything other than its handler. There is plenty of room for varying temperaments in this large group. The Boxer is “…fundamentally playful,” showing “…constrained animation.” The Tibetan Mastiff is so “…aloof with strangers and highly protective of his charges…” that judges are cautioned to “…beware of putting a premium on showiness.”
So what do you think? Should a dog look like his standard and act like his standard? And that’s today’s Back Story.