By now it’s old news that the battle for Top Dog at AKC all-breed shows 2012 came down to a close call between the German Wirehaired Pointer GCh. Mt. View’s Ripsnorter Silver Charm and the English Springer Spaniel GCh. Wynmoor Champagne Supernova. The former won by a couple of thousand points, which sounds like a lot until you realize each of them defeated close to 100,000 entries to reach these exalted heights last year. Both had to be shown at least 200 times during the year to get this far, an almost unbelievable number when you consider there’s usually only one show per day and that a year still contains only 365 days. Dogs and handlers would have had to travel thousands of miles in the pursuit of victory.

When you’re campaigning at this level you don’t get a whole lot of time off to rest; it frankly makes me exhausted to think about all that travel. Even those who argue that the finer breed points may get lost in the shuffle for all-breed glory must admit it’s impressive for anyone to succeed in getting to that many shows, let alone get around a ring that many times – and look good enough to win on most of those occasions as well.

Top Dog All Breeds in the U.K. in 2012 was the Petit Basset Griffon Vendéen Ch. Soletrader Peek A Boo, bred, owned and shown by Gavin and Sara Robertson. Photo by Lisa Croft Elliott.

A Long History

The idea of ranking the top dogs for each calendar year was first hatched by Popular Dogs magazine in the late 1930s. The rankings were then based simply on who won the most Best in Shows, and the idea gained real traction when Irene Khatoonian Schlintz appeared on the scene in the 1950s and started tabulating rankings based not on number of wins but on number of dogs defeated. That was revolutionary, and soon every self-respecting dog publication in America had its own rankings system, usually based on the basic premise that the more dogs you beat the higher you placed.

As the number of dog shows spiraled in the 1970s and beyond, it became a full-time occupation to campaign dogs for top rankings. Pat Trotter, who took home the Number 1 All Breeds spot back in 1970 with her Norwegian Elkhound Ch. Vin-Melca’s Vagabond while still maintaining a full-time teaching job, told me once that there’s no way she could compete at this level today without going to more than twice as many shows as she did then. What that says about our sport I’ll leave for you to decide.

Nowhere else in the world are show dogs campaigned as heavily as they are in the U.S. Most other countries are a lot smaller, and none has as many shows as we do. Although the Top Dog craze started in the U.S., by now the competition has become an established custom in most countries that hold dog shows. (That’s many these days; at least some 90 nations have some sort of organized kennel club and dog show activity.)

Number 2 among all breeds in the U.K. in 2012, Toy Poodle Ch. Vanitonia You’ll See is bred and owned by Lee Cox and Tom Isherwood. Photo by Lisa Croft Elliott.

A Very Different Show Scene

Looking at Great Britain, the Mother Country (of dog shows, if not top dog rankings), the show scene couldn’t be more different from the one in America. To begin with, this is a very small country: the entire United Kingdom would fit comfortably inside Texas’ borders. There are also very few all-breed championship shows where Top Dog points can be gained – a couple of dozen at most.

Because of the relatively short distances (six hours driving from London in the south to Glasgow in Scotland is peanuts for most American handlers), almost everyone can compete at most of the big shows. And these shows are big – almost all of them much larger than any we have in the U.S., from about 20,000 dogs at Crufts to 5,000 to 10,000 dogs at the others. Even getting out of the breed is a real achievement in most cases; breed entries can be huge, and since there’s no “specials class,” things can be even more difficult: champions compete against, and risk being defeated by, complete unknowns.

That any dog can win BIS more than once in a blue moon under such circumstances is remarkable. Yet a few do. Whether that’s due to their intrinsic qualities or a follow-the-leader judging mentality is often discussed. The almost complete absence of professional handlers also means that breeder-owner/handlers take big wins much more often in Great Britain than in the U.S.

The point score is also usually very different from ours. (There are, in fact, several Top Dog awards, but they are fairly similar, and I’ll stick here to the rankings published by Dog World/Arden Grange, simply because that’s what I’m most familiar with.) Basically, you get five points for Group First, three points for second, two points for third and one point for fourth place in the Group, regardless of the size of the show. BIS earns an extra five points and Reserve BIS, three. There are also points for BOB and even BOS at championship shows where CCs (the all-important Challenge Certificates, three of which qualify a dog for the champion title) are awarded.

PBGV Top Dog

The Top Dog in Great Britain for 2012 comes from a kennel that’s well known in the U.S. The Petit Basset Griffon Vendéen Ch. Soletrader Peek A Boo is bred, owned and shown by Gavin and Sara Robertson, whose kennel is also responsible for a number of AKC winners. Ch. Soletrader Donald Duck was among the Top 10 Hounds in 2010, and Ch. Soletrader Maggie Mae was Number 1 PBGV last year and placed in the Hound Group at Westminster just recently.

‘Jilly,’ as Peek A Boo is called, won 18 of last year’s 27 championship show Hound Groups in Great Britain. She placed second or third in six other Groups and was not shown at the remaining three shows – which means that, all told, England’s top dog was only shown a total of 24 times last year. From an American point of view, it’s also interesting to note that Jilly took one of last year’s BIS wins in Wales under Peter Green during one of his regular visits back to his native country.

Jilly, co-owned by Wendy Doherty of Canada, first shot to fame as a junior by taking Reserve BIS at Crufts 2011 under Paolo Dondina (who also gave her BIS at her only foreign show during a visit to Amsterdam). She was top Hound in 2011.

Three American Imports

Runner-up Top Dog was the black Toy Poodle Ch. Vanitonia You’ll See, who I don’t believe has any American breeding in his pedigree at all. His owners and breeders Lee Cox and Tom Isherwood are equally famous for Chinese Cresteds, a breed with which they won Number 1 All Breeds in the U.K. just two years ago.

No less than three of the finalists in the Dog World/Arden Grange Top Dogs competition are U.S. imports. Third spot on the list, and top Gundog (as the British, probably more correctly, call what we term Sporting dogs in the U.S.), was the Irish Water Spaniel Ch. Whistle Stop’s Element of Magic, CD, RN. He’s both an AKC champion and a show champion according to British rules, and was bred in the U.S. by Stacy Duncan and Colleen McDaniel. ‘Merlin’ is from an internationally successful combination, sired by GCh. Poole’s Ide Got Water out of Ch. Whistle Stop’s The Wind Moriah CD, RA, JH. Several siblings have done well in the U.S. and Scandinavia; litter sister Ch. Whistle Stop’s The Wind On Fire just got BOB at Westminster under British judge Frank Kane.

Another U.S. export that did well in Great Britain last year was the yellow Labrador Retriever Ch. Salty Dog of Tampa Bay. Labs don’t usually win more in all-breed competition in the U.K. than they do over here, but this one is an exception. Not only was he a multiple BIS winner in the U.S. before leaving for England, he was among the Top 10 of all breeds in Great Britain last year – and he celebrated his return to the U.S. in December by winning BOB at AKC/Eukanuba in Orlando!

Salty Dog was bred by Linda Hess in Florida, shown in the U.K. by Anthony Allen and sired by Ch. Aquarius Centercourt Delight x Belquest Splash of Covergirl. His full title is UK Show Ch., Am. & Can. Ch., and he is also a past Westminster BOB winner.

In 2011 an American-bred Irish Terrier, UK and Am. Ch. Fleet St. Fenway Fan, was Top Terrier in the U.K., and last year his half sister Ch. Fleet St. Fire and Ice did almost as well, finishing in joint eighth position of all breeds. She was bred in the U.S. by R.C. Carusi, Shari Boyd-Carusi and Stan Wojewodski, sired by Ch. Galeway’s Harbor Master x Ch. Fleet St Fireword, and has been shown in Great Britain by John Averis, who also showed Fenway Fan.

The others in Top 10 were the Pekingese Ch. Yakee Ooh Aah Cantona (from the same kennel that bred Ch. Yakee If Only, Number 1 All Breeds in the U.S. in 2005), Norwich Terrier Ch. Ragus Merry Gentleman, Smooth Chihuahua Ch. Copymear Celebration, Dalmatian Ch. Offordale Chevalier and King Charles Spaniel Ch. Maibee Theo – what we call an English Toy Spaniel – a rare award for this breed in its native land.

These dogs represent five of the seven Groups at British shows (not identical to AKC’s, but fairly similar). Top winner in the Pastoral Group (as the Herding breeds are called over there) was an Australian Shepherd bitch named Ch. Allmark Fifth Avenue, British-bred, but sired by a dog I believe is a U.S. import: Am. and Braz. Ch. Dazzle’s Bill A Bing Bill A Bong. Ironically, a breed that AKC classifies in the Herding Group was top Working dog in Great Britain – the Bouvier des Flandres Ch. I’m Special Inessence at Kanix, born in the U.K., but conceived in the U.S. by Am. Ch. I’m Special Every Move I Make out of Am. Ch. Praxtar’s Jenni.

There’s a special award for the top “rare breed” (which are not yet eligible for champion titles), won by the Cesky Terrier veteran bitch, Janski Celtic Cesica. There’s also a Top Dog ranking of what’s called “Imported Register breeds,” somewhat similar to AKC’s Miscellaneous class. This was headed by a Cirneco dell’Etna Hadranensis Remo, sired by an American import out of an Italian dam. The Cirneco, which is most conveniently described as a miniature Pharaoh Hound, is in the Miscellaneous class at AKC shows.

American Basenjis Top Producer Charts

To their credit, the British also rank the Top Stud Dogs and Top Brood Bitches each year. I’m not sure why it’s so difficult for us in America to do the same; perhaps it’s because they are always based on the number of new champions a dog has produced, and that isn’t necessarily the best indication for who the best sires or dams are. The British awards are based on the number of Challenge Certificate winners produced (and CCs won); since there’s only a limited number of these available in each breed, this is probably a better measure of a dog’s (or bitch’s) producing ability.

The winner of the 2012 Dog World/Royal Canin Top Stud Dog competition was an Irish Setter, Sh. Ch. Caskeys Concept at Aoibheanna, who I am sure is not related to many, if any, Irish Setters in the U.S.: it seems there’s a deep and lasting split in type and bloodlines in this breed. Nevertheless, Irish Setters have done remarkably well in this competition before: Concept was Top Stud Dog in 2011 as well, his ancestor a few years back Sh. Ch. Kerryfair Night Fever won it a record five times, and another relative, Sh. Ch. Caspians Intrepid, was also Number 1 Stud Dog of all breeds.

Some of the other winners were not just related to American dogs, but actually imported from the U.S. Runner-up to the Irish Setter for top sire was the Basenji UK and Am. Ch. Kazor’s Make Way For Riley, co-owned by his American breeder Carol Webb with Dee Hardy and Trish Hallam in the U.K. Riley was also instrumental in helping make another U.S.-bred Basenji hit the heights in his adopted country: UK and Am. Ch. Klassic’s Million Dollar Baby at Tokaji was Top Brood Bitch in the Dog World/Yumega competition for the second year in a row. ‘Millie,’ as she is called, was bred by Sue Kite and Jeff Gillespie in the U.S. and has the same British owners as Riley. She herself is the all-time top Basenji in Great Britain, winning at Crufts five times, but is now letting her offspring do the winning: her two litters by Riley (who is also her nephew) have dominated the rings in 2011 and 2012.

That covers the 2012 top winners in Great Britain. We’ll continue with the top dogs in Canada, Australia, Asia, Europe and Scandinavia next week. If you have information or photographs, feel free to contact me at