Statistically Speaking

In our house resides a top twenty Bedlington Terrier, breed and all breed. He is Ch. Velvety Quarterback Sneak, Peyton. He has been in our home, in his little world in our dog room, or playing in the yard with his faux mom Honour, or watching TV with us in the evening since April. April 11, 2009, to be exact. This was the last day he showed. Still, he managed to hold on to a top twenty ranking and will receive an invitation to the Eukanuba in December, 2010. Statistically speaking, this little dog is a winner. Someone looking at the list of ranked dogs might really believe he was a winner. But we know differently. He attained his status on the basis of two breed wins and a large point value group placement. Our hopes for his continued success evaporated in the realization that we couldn’t fight a war on two fronts and Kerry Blues are the dogs we will spend money showing. If Peyton would not show for me, and if he could talk he would shout it, then he would not be shown. But none of this is known to the statisticians who compile the data and make the lists, or the people who place value on such numbers.

On the top of the Bedlington results for 2009, breed and all breed, is another dog with the same kennel prefix as ours: Multiple BIS/BISS Ch.Velvety Angel Eyes, Loppan as she is known. This dog has attained the number one ranking with over 400 breed points and over 2000 all breed points. She has been showing nearly every weekend for two years and just missed the top spot in 2008 by a slim margin. She is owner handled, in an owner handled breed, and has had to fight for her group placements with the top professional handlers on the East Coast nearly every one of those weekends. Someone looking at the list of ranked dogs might really believe she was a winner. That person would be right.

How do you define a winner? By most definitions both these dogs fill the bill. But if one knows the story of each dog’s success, it is clear one is a winner and the other is a product of statistics. The fact that these two dogs bracket the lists in their breed tell us a lot about what dog showing is now and what drives people to compete. People seem to be in such a hurry. Hurry to finish their young dogs not yet ready for the stresses of the show ring, hurry to buy another dog to breed to the one just finished. How do they choose where to get that second or third dog or who to breed their bitch to? Why, these one-dimensional statistics. What happened to learning all you can about your chosen breed and making informed decisions. Speaking to other breeders or knowledgeable owners with more experience would seem one way to make informed choices. How many people actually do this? It’s so much easier to consult the winners’ list. If a certain dog is on the top everything from that line must be great.

The desire to be atop the doggy leader board motivates people to do whatever it takes to get there. I truly don’t believe there is much intentional cheating in dog showing. There are the few publicized incidents every year, but most people enter their dog and try to win with it honestly. Hiring a handler to get points on a puppy might seem like over-kill, but it’s not illegal. Entering finished, ungroomed dogs in the classes to create a major for a promising exhibit may bend the ethics line, but there is no rule against this practice. These wins drive up the stats for the particular dog or line of dogs without regard to anything other than the numbers. To them the higher the ranking, the better the dog. The easier it is to sell puppies.

The reliance on these simple numbers influence people who should know better. Not the judge in this case, but people breeding dogs. The frequent sire syndrome results when people rush to breed to the winner de jour simply because he is the top dog in the breed. Usually disappointment with the litter follows and the legacy of a great dog may suffer. When breeders rely on these artificial litmus tests you see quality in a breed lessen. In the subjective world of dog showing win stats are probably the only way to quantify success. And if you are on top, or near it, you can be deservedly proud. While numbers don’t give any indication about how closely a given dog fits the breed standard, it is a measurement of the effort and money spend campaigning a dog somebody thought was worthy.

Where I work we say to a man in an ill-fitting suit, ” If it didn’t say Armani would you still love it?” Mostly the answer is, “Of course not!” How like some dog breeders. If that dog wasn’t number one would you still breed to it? Most of us know the answer to that one, too.

We are proud that our bitch special finished the year in all breed points higher than she previously had. It was a goal we set at the start of the 2009 show season and what our handler pursued in our name. We ran an ad campaign for her and were careful what shows and where we entered her. We sacrificed breed points to pursue group placements and were satisfied with the results. During her time in the ring, chasing the numbers, we had wins we shouldn’t have and losses we didn’t deserve. These are all part of her ranking. There were many quality dogs on the list with her, some below her and some above. But these statistics really tell very little about any of the dogs on the lists. They say the owners of these ranked dogs competed hard and enjoyed the thrill of the chase and the rewards of goals reached.

This show season will be a rebuilding one for us. We have one young dog, and our top 20 Bedlington to show. We will enjoy our time at the shows without the pressure of having to maintain a spot on a list. I love the competition, win or lose, and the fun of road testing a new prospect. We hope to have a nice litter in the spring and start over with the puppies. By the end of the 2010 show year we hope Peyton the Bedlington again ranks in the top 20 but has more than one win behind him. This time when someone sees his name on the list he will actually be a winner.

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