Is Show Grooming Taking Away the Real Beauty of the Dog?
This is the question I keep asking myself, ever since I retired as a show dog handler, and examine my carrier form a different perspective.
My job was to hide the imperfections of the dogs and to make their positive characteristics more appealing to the judges and the audience. I knew that all of them were going after “The One”, and the one needed to have the WOW factor. I knew how to get the best out of the dogs to make them appear as The One. Dogs love us, and they can and will do anything for us, if we know how to talk to them. But, is that what breed standards are all about?
I often times had dogs which were the epiphany of what the Standards dictated and wrote about, yet they did not perform well at the shows. They may not have had the best coat for the extreme trims, or they were lacking charisma in the performance ring. These dogs would not get shown because they were missing the “X factor”, but they were the perfect
specimen according to the Standard protocols.
Historically the breeding selections were established based on labor and performance needs. It was simple if a village needed fast dogs to catch rabbits, extremely fast dogs would be mated thus producing even faster offspring. Over time through selective breeding and directed evolution the body of the dog would gradually change to adapt to the
characteristics which it was bred for.
Today’s breeding program depends solely on ones interpretation of the breed Standard. The breeding process historically was determined in the field where agility and strength could be tested. Today however, the field has become the show ring where the breeding selections are based on subjective grounds. The best looking dog may not be the best
specimen to breed, this explains the high number of genetic disorders in pure breeds and this is only getting worse as time progresses.
In the world of today’s show dog judging, the lineup is solely determined by the judge’s subjective opinions and personal interpretation of the breed Standard. Just as the fashion trends are changing constantly so too are the preferences of what is deemed beautiful and appealing. This same principle applies to trends and fads in the dog show world. What was considered “nice” ten years ago and fit the breed Standard to the highest regard, is no longer considered “nice” even though the breed Standard has not changed.
These statements might be unpleasing truths to some readers, and might evoke anger in others. Some might question who I am and on what grounds I am making such claims. If we are honest with ourselves and take a moment to take this challenge we will have a better understanding of the point I am trying to make. And the real value of the breed
Standard and how it affects the breeding and judging will be much clearer.
The following passage is extracted verbatim from one of the well-known breed Standards. If there is any true value in the breed Standard we should be able to determine the described breed by the following passage based on the description of the body.
"Neck, Topline, Body: The neck should be moderately long, well-shaped and well set on shoulders. The body should be compact with a short, straight back sloping slightly downward toward the hindquarters: well ribbed, barrel well rounded, short in loin, belly
moderately tucked up, deep and strong of chest. Tail - The tail should be moderately long and well feathered, set on high and tightly curled over the back. It should lie flat and close to the body. The tail must form a part of the "silhouette" of the dog's body, rather than give the appearance of an appendage. Fault - Tail not lying close to the back."
Of course this is like looking for a needle in the hay stack.
Let me give you a clue as to which breed could be referenced.
Is it a? Samoyed, Alaskan Malamute, Keeshond, Chow Chow, Tibetan Mastiff, or Pomeranian?
Out of this body description extracted directly from the breed Standard, we see that the only reference to the “fault” is “tail not lying close to the back”. What does “close” mean? I do understand the importance of the tail set and how it is carried has a huge impact on the dogs balance in both standing and moving. When reading this passage directly from the Standard often times the readers take away is that the tail is the most important part, since
it is given such emphasis.
Where are the further instructions on how to evaluate critical characteristics which are vital to the dog’s long term health and longevity? i.e. the shape and depth of the chest, which directly affects the capacity of the lungs and the heart influencing how easily oxygen is pumped throughout the body.
But why bother when a little extra coat can mask and cover up all imperfections.
Now I question myself what have I contributed to. The first feelings I had were guilt and shame. Slowly these feelings developed into responsibility and the need to think out loud and to share my experience and point of view with the world. To ask tough questions which
at this point remain to be answered.
If we truly care for the dogs and want to “save the breed” we have to start the conversation now. I remain hopeful that dog owners and potential dog owners will begin to see the dog beyond the coat and realize the true purpose of why they are in our lives. They are in our lives to serve and love us, to teach us how to be a better friend to our friends and family.
The shelters are continuing to be packed and puppy mill breeders are continuing to rip off clients as I am writing this article. This will sadly continue until collectively as a society we take a stance and begin the hard work which is in front of us.
I remain faithful and I know it can be done, a very wise man once said, “It Always Seems Impossible until It’s Done”
The Pomeranian Review (March/April 2020 issue)