In the reflected light from the overcast sky, our grass is visibly green. The new blades standing up and the brown winter grass receding. Finally, rain has come to our town. Soft, steady rain. It will last all night and into tomorrow morning. Every year it is the same way. A long, killing Winter making it hard to maintain hope for a rebirth in Spring. But with or without hope, the earth leans closer to the sun and awakens. More daylight hours, more vigor in everything living. A quickening.
Our show season is barely four months old. New dogs are fighting for the top spots and judges are forming their opinions. Opinions that once made seem to become cast in cement. Dogs on top now may not hold on until the season’s end. Many of the top dogs from last season are still campaigning. They are the familiar noses in the ring. If there is dues paying in the dog show game, some of these dogs have paid in full. But like the dying winter grass in our yard, these dogs have a finite time to do their winning. And after a season or two, picking the same dogs over and over, in town after town, judges sometimes try a new face. And if there is a magic there, something new and maybe a little exciting, the new dog does some winning. There are so many shows and at this point in the show season there is still time and hope.
Currently, the number ten dog on the Kerry Blue all breed list, and number sixteen on the Kerry breed list, is a new dog this season with an owner doing it all himself. He is new to the show ring and earnest in his pursuit of winning with his first show dog. In most ways this owner is the new face of today’s dog show exhibitors. Will the new programs proposed by the AKC make the sport of purebred dogs more enjoyable for this exhibitor? Will the out-of-the-box ideas help insure his longevity in the sport or drive him from it? The answers lie partly in the new programs themselves and partly in the support for these new programs by the more experienced exhibitors around him. We are his breeder’s surrogates in our area. We can supply the immediate answers to his questions about dog shows and help him learn to ready his dog for the ring. There are other things we can help him with, too. His dog finished his championship, with the help of the breeder, last summer from the twelve to eighteen month class. Maybe we underestimated our friend’s competitive nature. Or we doubted his dog would finish so quickly, barely half way through the season. Either way, because we were slow to understand the importance of the AKC’s mission, he missed an opportunity with his dog he definitely would have enjoyed.
It seems self-evident the exhibition of quality dogs is its own reward. Competing with other breeders’ dogs, head to head, in honest competition is exciting. Winning titles, ribbons and achieving rankings are fun, but provide only a small motivation to keep showing. Patience is the key to success in the ring, something not everybody has. This is old thinking. It has taken the AKC only slightly longer than many of us to realize it. Today’s exhibitor cannot wait for the maturation of his dog. The six to nine puppy class is brimming in many breeds. New breeders, and old ones, enter many more dogs in the bred by exhibitor class than ever before. With so many more dog shows, there are many more chances to be successful in the ring. All this is good. But, earning the title “Champion” can still take several show seasons. Too much time for the modern exhibitor who might decide he can spend his money elsewhere. The Amateur Owner Handler class was conceived to set the owner/handler apart from the professional handlers making a living beating them. It was a junk class for years. The AKC seemed to abandoned their new idea. Entries were sparse. Most people realized that to win the points you still had to beat the pros. Finally, in 2008, dogs that finished their championship with all their points from the AOH class were eligible for the Eukanuba National Championship. Many of us scoffed, failing to see the point of this move. Instead we should have looked at our friend and his first show dog. He relied on us to help him steer a course in his new endeavor. We let him down. I suspect we weren’t the only ones who didn’t support the AKC’s new plan. Had our friend finished his dog from this class, he could have participated in this prestigious event. Something he plans to do this year when his dog finishes his Grand Championship title.
As long as we are physically able, we will show dogs. But, in the future, who will be our competition? Will exhibitors showing their first show dog this season still be actively involved in the sport five years from now. Not without the support of those more experienced. Established exhibitors must make more than a perfunctory effort to encourage newcomers to embrace many of the new programs the AKC rolls out. Not all will benefit large segments of the fancy, but like a jigsaw puzzle, the dog showing body is made up of many smaller pieces. For our friend, the AOH program would have been a tool to encourage him to enter more shows and feel that he and his dog achieved something more than just a title.
At the Terry-All shows in Brighton, Colorado, this past weekend, our friend made the cut both days with his Kerry. While he garnered no placement, being one of the six dogs pulled by two different judges was very affirming. Left beside him, after the four placements were awarded, was a journeyman breeder with her American Staffordshire puppy. If the AKC’s proposed six group placements were a reality, these two people would have felt like winners. A great way to keep people entering shows and breeding puppies to be registered. I also cannot imagine many veterans of the show ring quick to applaud this new program. Negative reactions needs to be put aside.There is room for all levels of winning at the shows. Future competitors will come from newbies that achieved success and were encouraged to continue showing. The new AKC programs are designed to do this.
For the dog sports we love to flourish a steady influx of exhibitors is needed. These newcomers must know their participation is valued and showing dogs is fun. Change is usually unnerving and its worth can seldom be deduced immediately. However, as new ideas filter into our dog show world we must all try to imagine the benefits to those newer than ourselves. Without them there will be no us.