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Good Dog...Show Dog...Is There A Difference

By Bill Garnett

Good dog . . . Show dog, is there a difference? This debate has been going on for years. Why? And what is it about the sport of pure bred dogs that keeps the flame of this enigma burning? Personally I feel in order to get to the root of this dilemma one must first divide the participants into their prospective groups and analyze their involvement so as to understand how each group effects and what influence it has on the sport, if any, and what definitive role it plays in this observation of good dog . . . show dog.

Lets first identify these groups, give them a name and then examine each within its self. Group one: The In and Outers. GroupTwo: The Core Group. Group Three: The Meat Market (Back Yard) Breeder. Group Four: The Overnight Experts. Group Five: The Politicians. Group Six: The Dedicated Dog People.

Group I: The In and Outers: Sometimes they come and go so fast one sometimes doesn't even know that they came through at all. Usually they acquire little knowledge and exert little or no influence. Theirs is an involvement centered around their own dogs . . . dogs they more than likely bought from the Meat Market (Back Yard) Breeder whom we'll discuss later. One theory explains this group's in and out by the fact that usually are young with young families, influencedby limited disposable income due to their growing family needs. This restricts their participation, resulting in their inability to maintain a meaningful and long time involvement. These in and outers very seldom get caught up in the good dog . . . show dog debate, for to them it's not that important at the particular point in time. Often an in and outer will surface at a later date, particularly after their lot in life has improved. Unfortunately their previous experience with the Meat Market ( Back yard) Breeder, due to their lack of growth the first time around, may repeat it's self. Interesting enough there is another member of this group that shows up and the very nature of this article dictates a short lived tenure. Why? It is extremely interesting. These people are normally successful in their various endeavors, do have disposable income, and by their very nature go about purchasing a dog intelligently and systematically. Their first objective is to get a good dog. Unfortunately they are laboring under the delusion that a good dog and a show dog are one and the same. They set out to purchase a standard conforming dog; and because many of them are quite bright, they even become somewhat knowledgeable in their breed. Armed with that knowledge and a good dog, they can't wait to get into the fray. What happens next is a rude awakening. They are shocked when their good dog is beaten by the so called show dog . . . a dog sometimes measuring a four or five on the conformation scale, but elevated to an eight or nine because of something called "charisma." After about 25 to 30 shows this in and out group can usually come up with a more predicable and rewarding way to spend their weekends and their resources. Darting through the sport of pure bred dogs, these people are the first to question good dog . . . show dog . . . is there a difference and become confused at the double standard that exist. They feel they were misled when told to purchase a standard conforming dog . . . a dog that conformed to the very standard that the AKC stipulates as a guide line by which judges are to evaluate their classes. They purchased a 7 to 8 that was keenly intelligent, rock solid in temperament and were beaten by a five that does back flips and double jumps for a piece of liver. Good dog . . . show dog . . . is there a difference? You tell me how they'll answer..

Group 2: The Core Group: This is indeed an interesting collection of people who make up a simple majority of the dog experience. These people love their dogs very much and enjoy one another for the most part. They devote a lot of time to their dogs and are extremely pleased when one or more of the numbers wins. This is a plus in their experience and makes for an even better week end. But, win or lose, they are back the next weekend enjoying the camaraderie and the pleasant surroundings of many of the dog show sites. Quite a few of this group know a good dog, even though it may belong to someone else they take pleasure in its conformity. I, personally, have met number of very nice people from this group and have made lasting friendships. In the debate over good dog…show dog, I've got to believe that the majority of this group would recognize and appreciate a good dog.

Group 3: The Meat Market (Back Yard) Breeder: This group runs the gamut. First is the back yard breeder who are not at all interested in the good dog . . .show dog debate. His (or her) only interest is that the dog can be registered and therefore, he is a good dog . . . period. This part of the meat market breeder group is usually the one that catches the unsuspecting in and outer and helps hasten his exit. Their members are usually found lurking in the classifieds, on grocery store bulletin boards and the counters of veterinarian offices. They border on fraud and feast on ignorance. The one positive for the breed that results from doing business with these people is that the puppy purchased usually ends up in better situation then that from which it came. This segment sometimes catches the reentry of an in and outer and because he is now paying a lot more for his dog and is by this time employing a handler, he feels his lot in the sport of pure bred dogs has greatly improved for now he is "connected." Many thousands of dollars later he is again off searching for a more rewarding way to spend his weekends and resources. However, like their back yard breeding cousins, this segment of the meat market group is never caught up in the good dog. . . dog . . . show dog debate. Their prime concern is to sell puppies, wins of any kind and to finish dogs of any quality. For all this helps to perpetuate the myth that they know what they are doing. Good dog . . . show dog: this group could care less!

Group 4: The Overnight Expert: This group of people develops innocently enough. They usually have the good fortune of starting out with a good dog or a show dog. They really don't know which. All they know is that their dogs wins. As the dog wins, a strange metamorphosis begins to take place. People begin talking to them about their dog and how well it is doing. Buoyed by their newfound popularity, the overnight experts begin to expand on the theories of kinetic and static energy, the dynamics of gait, the effects of lateral displace and the proposition show dog are born and not bred . . . or whatever. Before long they have acquired quite a following of people who are less knowledgeable but who clearly want to be associated with a winner. The more wins, the bigger the following becomes, until one day the breed has a full blown monster on it's hands. Sound familiar? Up to this point the debate over good dog . . . show dog hasn't been too important to the overnight expert; but now he must decide which he has and that very decision will influence him and his followers the rest of their dog involvement lives. The chances of them going the show dog or . . .good dog route, by my abacus, is about 50-50.

Group 5: The Politicians: This group exerts more influence on the sport of pure bred dogs than all the other groups combined. They make no bones about it . They hail the show dog as their icon and build temples in his image. The promotion of their icons ranks second only to General Motors' introduction of a new model year. Their insatiable appetite to win and devour others is unequaled by any other carnivore that has ever stalked this earth. This Type "A" carnivore leaves no rock unturned in search for a win and no relationship is too dear not to attempt to exert hisinfluence or manipulative persuasion. I've seen the politician wait an hour in the cold and rain of a show day morning to "accidentally" cross the path of an arriving judge. I've heard the politician cleverly castrate a competitor's dog's chances to win under a judge through his subtle barbs. I've seen the politician, armed with a fist full of assignments, club a judge into submission. And I have heard the politician attempt to influence his breed club in such a way so that it enhances his dog's chances of winning, and and then is applauded for his involvement! In some ways the politician is absolutely brilliant in his quest for the top show dog. But I'm getting somewhat afield. Ask the politician as to what his thoughts are regarding the good dog - show dog debate. Without a doubt he wants the show dog, for this is how he plays he game. The dog is "only" his entry into the game. It gets him on the playing field. The better the show dog is the better the politician can play the game. If that's a little confusing, let me explain another way. If by chance the said dog is a good representative of the breed, then that politician has the edge over the other show dog - politicians, for he not only has show do . . . he also has a good dog. By having a show dog that is a good dog the politician can now get wins from "good judges" that he can use to influence less knowledgeable judges who just go along with a winner. So why is the show dog so important to the politician? It's really rather simple. By his very nature the politician is intimidating. Couple that intimidating nature with a judge lacking in knowledge or intestinal fortitude and you've got the perfect environment for the politician's operate in. The judge sees a sterling performance (I've heard it described as a good act) he is reassured by the politicians bravado . . . it's a walk over. It happens often in one from or another, some more subtle than others . . .every week-end. Good dog - show dog, is there a difference? Ask the politician . . . he'll take the show dog every time.

Group 6: The Dedicated Dog People: This group consist of the most bizarre collection of people that I have ever seen . . . doctors, lawyers, Indian chiefs, firemen, salesmen, housewives, artist, retirees, college professors, community leaders, farmers, ranchers, truck driver, policemen and PhDs. You name it . . . they are all in this group. . . with one simple purpose in mind, all tied together by a common thread, all with the same goal. To breed or own a near perfect specimen of the particular breed of dog that they love. It's a marvelous patch work quilt of many mind sets and backgrounds, all fiercely competitive but respectful of each other's achievements. Theirs is a dedication and a sincerity of effort that is overwhelming. Good dog . . . Show dog which would this group choose? I would guarantee that almost to a person they would choice the good dog and then try to make him even better. In their never ending quest for the "great one" the earnest desire of this group of dedicated dog people is to leave a foundation upon which the next generation can build on. This desire or quest will go on forever by the dedicated dog people. They will not give up nor will they be deterred by the backyard breeders, nor the numbers player, nor the overnight experts and certainly not by the politicians. Their's is a single minded quest driven by a desire that is difficult to explain. They dream the dream of the "great one" while at work, at home, going to their weddings, their children's weddings, in grocery store lines, on golf courses, on vacations, in hospitals or wherever. You ask these dreamers if there is a difference between a good dog and a show dog and they will tell you almost to a man that in their hearts, a good dog last forever while a show dog is but a fleeting memory."  

At this time I would like to share something with you that I have read many times. Something that I feel once and for all may lay to rest this debate. Please! Don't just read it once but several times, for each time you do new understandings will surface and you will be better off for it. "If you want an ornament there is no reason why you shouldn't have one. If we want a field dog or just something that our neighbor doesn't have, it's our privilage. Yet the clock has to keep on ticking; the structual or working parts, whether for giant or toy, must fit together and work in a mannerthat is the least tiring, most graceful and efficent in movement. These parts, unassembled, can be blue printed and studied for mechanical effiiciency, which would give a clearer understanding of the part and its relation to its component. We can not recognize the weak parts unless we recognize what makes them weak, and what mechanical change might compensate for or correct them. Though we can not put the dog together like we do a bridge, we have put him together by our choice of his ancestors and made him big or little, long or short, fluffy or wire-haired and sometimes we have not been to successful in our selection of oarts. Our domastic animals are handicapped by the fact that we forch their parts upon them and preserve the bad along with the good. The animals of the wild, as complete species, have been more fortunate because of the great selection process known as the survival of the fittest. When our ancestors first developed the breed we fell in love with, they had experience afield to guide them so that they could cull the efficent performers from the ones that did not do so well. This accounts for the quality that has been handed to us in our dogs. In the main we lack the experience or even the opportunity to observe performance so that we can measure the advantages of features and maintain the that quality that has been given to us. Our only recourse, then, is to figure out what the part does, how it works and what makes the difference between the good and bad or more specifically, what is good and what is bad. Maybe such a study does loom as tiresomely academic, but so were the bridge and golf lessons that took us out of the dull class. Just as it is more pleasant to play any game well, you will likely find it more fun breeding dogs as they should be, to function efficiently, as to take a chance on uncertain luck. Besides this is a way of having something that your neighbor doesn't have." (McDowell Lyons, The Dog In Action, pp. 24-25.)

So what is the point that I'm trying to make? Are we being misled as to what is important? Is conformation indeed losing out to performance? Are we not, as judges, suppose to award dogs based on how closely they conform to their standard? Are we not, as breed judges, suppose to start out the day by finding the best standard conforming dog? Are we not entrusted with the future of our breed and complimented with every specailty assignment? If this isn't the case then we as a group must question why! Or, are we all victims of the same middle class mentality that has America reeling . . ." hey . . . I'm okay,] . . . I've got mine. . . my dogs finish . . . I'm not getting involve . . . if there's a problem let the other guy worry about it." Please don't let the good dog be beaten by the show dog and not question why. And don't accept the canned responses "he really asked for it" or "he flew around the ring like a stallion," or "he never put a foot down wrong" or "I just loved his expression" or "he had the look of eagles" or "I just love his dark red color" or "I had a dog that looked just like him" or "he never stopped showing." Press, in a polite manner, at a convenient time, never argumentatively, for a more precise and deserving explanation. If we don't understand we must question, for how else are we to learn. No one is the beginning or the end of anything. Each and everyone of us is accountable and we are only as insignificant as we allow ourselves to be.

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