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Apolitical, random, off the freakin' wall rant: Dog Shows!

I love dog shows. I love dogs — other people’s dogs. The problem with dogs is that they have to be walked. I do not walk dogs. Rhiannon understands that if we were ever to have a dog she would have to walk it because I never would, ever! Not surprisingly, we have cats. That’s Obidiah Jones on the left and his brother Burney Blue.

Photo: Carys Jones

But we do love dog shows. In fact, when we were back in New York we went to the granddaddy of them all, the Westminster Dog Show. It was an absolute hoot. One of the great fun things about the Westminster is that you are allowed “back stage.” That is, you’re free to wander about behind the scenes where the dogs and their owners/trainers/handlers are. You can skritch a Papillon’s butterfly ears, get your face washed by a Labrador and talk with the folks who populate this strange world of show dogs and dog shows. And, yes, everything that was parodied in the hysterical movie Best in Show is there. The denizens of this slice of modern society are among the most eccentric you will ever encounter.

So, with all this upbeat feel for dog shows why a rant? Because the so-called purists of the world are a bunch of frauds and hypocrites. They all claim that they are judging these various breeds on the basis of how close they come to their dictated ideal form. If this were what they were actually doing I’d have no beef, but they’re not and all these so-called objective judges walk around with a set of biases that are easily seen in the record.

In the hundred-plus years of Westminster, Terriers have won Best in Show an astonishing 46 times. Working Dogs another 15 and Herders exactly once. You cannot tell me that breeders of Terriers have managed to develop dogs that are close to their ideal while those who work with Herders don’t have a clue. Terriers are cute, bouncy and engaging. Herding dogs are serious and focused. People love Fox Terriers and don’t, unless they grew up on a sheep farm, “get” Border Collies and the judges reflect these cultural biases.

These ideal forms are also supposed to derive from the functions the animals were bred for — and, for the most part, this is true. The sight hounds do indeed show a remarkable ability to spot the target, freeze and point directly at it. Those bred for herding have stunning agility and can herd virtually anything that moves — except, of course, cats. But these lovers of the breeds blatantly make surgical adjustments to these “ideal” forms. Tails are docked on Boxers, Dobermans and many other breeds. The ears are cropped on these and other breeds. The American Kennel Club argues that these procedures were put in place to facilitate the function of the original breeds — docking the tail of a hunting dog reduced the likelihood of it picking up burrs and thorns. There is a measure of truth here but it does not explain why they continue this practice with show dogs. In the UK where many of these working breeds were developed, both cropping and docking are illegal and this includes all dogs, even those whose life is wholly wrapped up in the “show” world. Several dozen other countries also have criminalized these surgical practices — but not the US.

Then there are those damned haircuts! Why do they shave poodles in ways that really should embarrass any self-respecting canine? And why are Portuguese Water Dogs given a hind-quarter trim? And why are no other breeds permitted to do these things? It’s nothing short of arbitrary and idiotic and it has nothing to do with what the breed’s ideal is. You don’t breed with scissors.

Finally, on that “breeding to form” bit…. The supposedly ideal forms that breeders aim for have morphed from function to dysfunction. Bulldogs bred for a stout, powerful jaw and wide-stance, which made sense back when they were “bull” dogs with a dangerous job to do that required stamina and stability, now suffer from hip dysplasia and breathing problems. German Shepherds, for some unfathomable reasons, are now supposed to have a sloping body and lower hind legs. The result, of course, is that many suffer from hip problems. Pekinese bred for short legs, a pushed-in face and rich coat, are now barely able to waddle across the show floor and, like all the other “smashed face” breeds, often have serious dental and respiratory problems. The breeders here have allowed their prized “ideal” forms to drift away from the original functions. They have become fashion accessories.

So let’s get serious guys. No more surgical interventions no more shaving. If you can’t breed for a Doberman with a short tail then let’s enjoy the ones with long tails. If poodles have long, fluffy coats all over their remarkably athletic bodies then let’s admire them without those stupid pom-poms on their flanks.

And stop breeding dogs for human pleasure when the results seriously damage the health, well-being and quality of life of the animals we all love — even those of us who refuse to do “walkies.”

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