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.