So close, yet so far. So far, yet so similar. That would sum up, very briefly, what we dog people in America know about what’s going on north of the border, and what we don’t know about dog shows Down Under, respectively.

The idea of showing purebred dogs in conformation, as everyone knows, started in Great Britain 150 years ago, in the days when that small island wielded an enormous influence over large parts of the globe. One result is that today it’s English – or some local variant thereof – that’s the primary language spoken by a few hundred million people in the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and parts of southern Africa.

These countries also inherited from Great Britain a love for dogs and an interest in breeding and showing them. Initially the sport of purebred dogs was run along the British tradition, but circumstances were so different in the erstwhile colonies that dog shows gradually developed along very different lines. Today I would go so far as to say that dog shows in the U.S., Canada and Australia have a lot more in common with each other than they do with those in Great Britain.

The changes are primarily due to geography. Great Britain has a huge population of both people and dogs within a relatively small area, which means that many of them can attend the same sporting events without having to travel long distances. In the U.S., and even more so in Canada and Australia, the population is much more spread out, which inevitably changed the way people live, interact – and compete at dog shows. Population figures speak a clear language: Great Britain has 673 inhabitants per square mile; the U.S., 89; Canada, 10; and Australia, 8.

The result is that while Great Britain, as outlined in last month’s article, has a couple of dozen huge shows that almost anyone can reach in a few hours’ driving, we in America have almost 1,500 all-breed dog shows every year with an average of just around 800 dogs per show. I don’t have exact current figures from Canada, but a few years ago about 600 all-breed shows were held per year in an area even larger than the U.S., with an average entry of about 250 dogs per show. Australia had 1,244 all-breed shows in the last year for which I have figures, but they varied in size much more than those in North America, from several thousand at the biggest events down to barely a hundred at some rural “bush” shows.

Black Cocker Spaniel GCh. Mario N Beechwood’s Midnight Express was Top Dog of all breeds in Canada in 2012. Photo by Kayla Bertagnolli.

Acing It in Canada

Several point systems rank the top dogs in Canada. For this article I have followed the very complete records published by Canadian Dog Fancier. According to their statistics – and anyone else’s, I would think – Top Dog of all breeds in Canada last year was a dog that many of us have seen, although at that stage hardly anyone knew he would become a superstar.

The black Cocker Spaniel GCh. Mario N Beechwood’s Midnight Express, ‘Ace,’ created a major media circus when he won Best of Variety at Westminster last year, defeating the famous GCh. Casablanca’s Thrilling Seduction, ‘Beckham,’ himself Top Dog in the U.S. in 2011 and a Westminster Group winner both the year before and after his defeat. Ace was not as unknown to breed specialists as to many others at ringside: he had taken Best of Winners at the American Spaniel Club classic the previous January, was Select to Beckham at that same show just a couple of weeks before his win at Westminster, and was already an established top winner in Canada.

Much more was to follow. Ace broke all records for his breed north of the border, winning 57 BIS in Canada during 2012 for a career total of 77, in the process becoming the first Cocker ever to be Top Dog all breeds in Canada. Amazingly, in spite of competing in just a few AKC shows during the year, he managed to become the Number 3 Black Cocker in the U.S. as well.

Ace is sired by the BIS winner Ch. Beechwood’s Expressing It Best x North Creek’s Numbers Game. He has two lines to Ch. Jo-Bea’s Diamond Trader and several Lydgate dogs in his immediate pedigree. Handler Marlene Ness of Brantford, Ontario, took Ace to the top for owners Frank and Cathy Charest; co-owners and breeders are the mother-and-son team of Pam and Mark Ragusa, of Bethel, Conn. Reportedly, Ace will be campaigned in the U.S. this year; he already has a Group First and a few placements in the U.S. to his credit.

Runner-up to Top Dog in Canada was Karelian Bear Dog Ch. TsarShadows I Speak of War, handled by Doug Belter for owner Dawne Deeley. Photo courtesy Dawne Deeley.

Runner-up to Top Dog in Canada 2012 was a breed that not many American dog fanciers may have seen in the flesh. The Karelian Bear Dog does not often win in all-breed competition even in its native land of Finland, and in the U.S. it’s a Foundation Stock Service breed, which means it’s not yet eligible for AKC registration. That the breed has done so well in Canada is almost entirely due to the efforts of the multi-talented Dawne Deeley, whose TsarShadow prefix has graced many of the world’s top Karelian Bear Dogs. Ch. TsarShadows I Speak of War, has won 36 BIS, shown by Doug Belter, eclipsing the breed record set earlier by his kennel mate Ch. TsarShadow’s Jatkosota. ‘Kosto’ has also done well overseas. In fact, he was living in Finland as a youngster, learning moose-hunting skills, when he was spotted by American ex-pat Richard Hellman, now a professional handler in Italy. Richard started Kosto’s show career in Europe, and he also showed the dog to BIS at the international show in Milan last year in an entry of well over 3,000 dogs – certainly one of the breed’s most prestigious international wins ever.

Others in the top 10 in Canada, in descending order, were the Borzoi Ch. Taugo’s Ulric, bred down from old Kishniga and eastern European breeding; Keeshond Ch. Cinnakees Christian Louboutin, Canada’s top puppy of all breeds in 2010, finishing in the U.S. with three 5-point majors; West Highland White Terrier Ch. Whitebriar Jaw Dropper, BIS at a Terrier show in the U.S. last year and bred in one of the world’s oldest kennels, originally in England but now in New Zealand; English Setter Ch. Sagebrush Bull Mtns Judee, dual SBIS winner in the U.S. and Best in Futurity at the ESCA National Specialty; Welsh Terrier Ch. Darwyn’s I’m Not Arguing That, Top 10 all breeds in 2011, National SBIS winner in the U.S. and GroupSecond at Montgomery County; Alaskan Malamute GCh. Mytuk’s Technical Knock Out, who finished at 13 months in the U.S. with RWD at the National Specialty; Pembroke Welsh Corgi Ch. Coventry How High The Moon, bred in a world famous kennels in the U.S. and winner of several Best Puppy in Shows as well as multiple BIS; and Standard Poodle GCh. Vetset Kate Winsit, BOV at Westminster last year and Award of Merit at the Poodle Club of America extravaganza.

Between them, these dogs won nearly 200 Best in Shows in Canada and defeated between 15,433 and 4,440 competitors last year.

Canada ranks dogs by state as well as nationwide. Obviously those mentioned above were among the leading exhibits in their own region. The Cocker was Top Dog in Ontario and Quebec, the Keeshond in Yukon, the Westie in British Columbia, the Standard Poodle on Prince Edward Island, the Borzoi in Alberta, the Welsh Terrier in Saskatchewan, the Belgian Shepherd Ch. Requin Deabel in Manitoba, the Brussels Griffon Ch. Hilltop’s Zoom Zoom in New Brunswick, the Airedale Terrier GCh. Regalridge Sound Investment in Nova Scotia and the Akita Ch. Beardusk’s Darkest Desires in Newfoundland.

Why don’t we have regional rankings in the U.S.?

There’s also a Top Puppy competition in Canada, won last year by the French Bulldog Ch. Foxmoor Petite Cherie Raison d’Etre. Top Obedience dog 2012 was the Weimaraner GMOTCh. Echobar’s Double Impact, and top dog in Rally Obedience was the Golden Retriever GMOTCh. Clitheroe R Commander N Chief.

Australia’s Top Dog for 2012 was Dalmatian Sup. Ch. Ch. Paceaway At Rosemount, a qualifier for the finals at AKC/Eukanuba in Florida in December. Photo courtesy Ron Besoff

Eighteen Hours Ahead!

Australia is a long way from North America. There are about 7,500 miles from Los Angeles to Sydney, the flight takes at least 14 hours, and they are 18 hours ahead: you have actually lost a day when you land, which is always disconcerting and guaranteed to give you jet lag. (You get that day back when you fly home, of course, arriving before you started…)

In many respects Australia is remarkably similar to the U.S. – it’s no wonder so many American judges feel instantly at home. However, the language may be a bit of a problem. It’s not the “shrimp on the barbie” type of expressions that are a problem so much as the more general, very broad “’strine.” But the natives are generally friendly and will translate as necessary. Australian dog shows are also pretty similar to those in the U.S., with similar emphasis on showmanship, side gait, all-breed judging and a very competitive spirit among the exhibitors. The many different classes at Australian shows may throw you for a while. Although the dogs used to be “mostly British” in the past, they are now much more Americanized, the result of relaxed quarantine regulations and close cooperation with American breeders.

Australia’s Top Dog for 2012, according to the popular Dogzonline website, does not have any American blood at all, however – at least not as far as I can see in his three-generation pedigree. The Dalmatian Sup. Ch. Paceaway At Rosemount, attracted a lot of attention at AKC/Eukanuba in Florida in December and qualified for the finals there. ‘Vino’ is shown by co-owner Glen Vernon for owners Dianne and Ron Besoff of New South Wales and breeder/co-owner Fran Darling of Queensland. He is sired by an import from Norway, Ch. Alphadirato Future Brand, out of a Paceway bitch who goes back mostly to native breeding for several generations.

Did you notice the title – supreme champion? The Australians introduced a grand champion title long before AKC did, and now they are one step ahead again. The supreme champion title was introduced in 2012 and requires a dog to have won three all-breed BIS, 10 Specialty BIS and/or 10 Group wins, all under different judges.

The Australian dog fancy is generally strongly focused on the “Royal” shows held in each state, so called because of their links to the Royal Agricultural Society, which incorporates dog shows in their huge annual shows. (The closest thing we have in the U.S. are probably state fairs.) “The Royals” can attract several thousand dog show entries, with the numbers depending largely on where they are held: the four classic Royal Shows are in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Adelaide.

These are the shows where Vino scored, especially at Brisbane Royal, where he was Best Puppy in Show in 2010 and Best in Show in both 2011 and 2012 – shown by a different handler each time. He has now won Best in Show 75 times, a world record for the breed, but according to the Besoffs he spends as much time at home playing with their grandkids as he does showing. He has also sired a litter by frozen semen in the U.S., and the puppies are doing well in the show rings already.

Number 2 all breeds on the Dogzonline list is a Staffordshire Bull Terrier male, Ch. Neworder Never Miss A Beat, alias ‘Beat,’ who is owned, bred and handled by Katrina Marsh in Victoria. Several of the others in the Top 10 list come from kennels that are well-known in the U.S., although (for the first time in many years, I believe) none is an American import. In third place is the Petit Basset Griffon Vendéen Ch. Rokeena Garcon Reveur, from the same kennel that produced the AKC Top Hound in 2009. Although bred in Australia, ‘Darcy’ has two American grandparents, Ch. Sidekick’s Daisy Mae and Ch. Mirepoix Cheshire L’Etoile. In fourth place is a Lhasa Apso, Sup. Ch. Chic Choix The Partisan, bred in Finland, but a grandson of U.S. export Am. Ch. Barjea Mia Ling Panda. Fifth is the Siberian Husky bitch Gr. Ch. Suthanlites Firesong, bred in a kennel that’s well known in the U.S. and sired by their great U.S. import Ch. Pvt Stk’s Fire in the Sky.

The final five places were taken by, respectively, the Pekingese Sup. Ch. Frawai Reflections; Afghan Hound Sup. Ch. Tahkira Take A Chance On Me; black Cocker Spaniel (or “American Cocker Spaniel,” as they are called Down Under) Sup. Ch. Sunfire A Star Is Born, Australian-born, but sired by Ch. San Jo’s Born for Stardom x a daughter of Ch. Halakai He B Dresd in Black, both U.S. exports; Puli Sup. Ch. Cordmaker Topsy Turvey, Number 1 All Breeds 2009 in Australia and now being campaigned in the U.S., sired by Am. Ch. Bokar Artful Dodger; and, in 10th place, the Old English Sheepdog Sup. Ch. Brinkley Song ‘N’ Dance Man at Perfu, imported from the U.K., but sired by U.S. export Ch. Barkshire’s Born In The USA with Brinkley. He’s the winner of 76 BIS, now nearly 9 years old and one of Australia’s most consistent winners ever.

Just like Canada but unlike the U.S., Australia also runs regional rankings. Top Dog in the state of New South Wales was the Dalmatian, in Queensland the Husky, in Victoria the Staffordshire, in South Australia the Lhasa, in Western Australia the Whippet Sup. Ch. Arjai Almost Criminal, in the Northern Territory the English Springer Spaniel Sup. Ch. Sunspur Zuess CD ET, in the Australian Capital Territory the Akita Sup. Ch. Darqhorse Velvet Underground, and in the island state of Tasmania, finally an American import, the Old English Sheepdog Sup. Ch. To-Jo’s If I Could Beam Back Time.

There are also scores in Australia for “Rising Star” of the year (Doberman Ikons Chosen One, imported from New Zealand), best Neuter competition (Cavalier King Charles Neut. Ch. Clarelly Ruby Rose – yes, there’s even a neuter champion title!), Best Breeder (Paceaway Dalmatians) and Best Junior Handler (Jessica Hutchinson, Labrador Retrievers).

Why don’t we in the U.S. let ourselves be inspired by some of the things they do in other countries? Maybe we could loosen up and have a little more fun at our oh-so-serious dog shows…

P.S. It’s early days yet, but in the lead so far for all breeds 2013 in Australia is a black Standard Poodle import from Sweden, Ch. Huffish Dynamite Street, owned and shown by Camilla Tell-Collinge and Brett Hamilton. He’s sired by the U.S. import Ch. Dacun Kaylens He’s A Heartbreaker.