If It Doesn’t Fit, Make It Fit

When I was a kid, my grandfather had this approach to home repair: If you can’t get something to fit the way it was intended, then just apply enough force to make it fit. The result was the same in that the repair was made even though it didn’t quite look the same as the manual described. Now the same philosophy has been adapted to purebred dogs and dog shows, too. A kind of dumbing down and reworking the structure of both. In the case of the dogs themselves this applies to the breed standard. It seems nobody can breed a Cairn Terrier or a Black Russian to conform to the written breed standard. Cairns are too big and Black Russians too small. The Cairn Terrier Club of America is locked in a civil war whether to change the standard to allow the Cairn to stand 12″ at the withers instead of 10″ in the US. The FCI standard has long been 12″. Have the American dogs progressively become taller due to a concerted effort by American breeders to produce taller animals? Or has this small, go-to-ground terrier gained height due to the lassitude of its breeders and a blatant disregard for the written standard. Unable to produce quality Cairns measuring within the standard’s limits, the consensus seems to be: Let’s make it fit.

The Black Russian Terrier was developed as a man-stopper in Soviet prisons in the cold war era. An amalgamation of several working and terrier breeds, this is a large, imposing, physically powerful breed. While the American fanciers have made great strides in the health of these dogs, the standard was changed in 2009 to accommodate younger dogs in the show ring that were below the stated height. While the standard now includes the caveat, dogs under eighteen months, in dealing with the size issue, this allows specimens not confoming to the written standard to potentially finish championships. What if these dogs never reach the size expectation? Does it matter to their breeders? Or do the wins matter more.

For a dog to reach its championship it must win 15 points. This must include two majors awarded under two different judges. Majors are either 3, 4 or 5 points each and result from a given dog beating a designated number of other dogs of its own sex or being named Best of Winners when there are a significant number of dogs in the opposite sex to make a major there. The number of dogs needed in each sex to make a major vary by Division. The AKC tabulates the number of dogs shown in each breed in each Division and assigns the numbers needed to make majors. While these numbers seem arbitrary to some, it is an attempt to balance competition within each breed across the country. It should not be easier to finish a Kerry Blue in Kansas than in New York. In our Division it takes 4 class dogs and 4 class bitches to make a 3 point major in Kerries. These are the smallest numbers for majors the AKC allows. Finishing a dog is difficult in our state where we go years without a major in either sex. It goes this way in many breeds across all thirteen Divisions. Since most exhibitors show an average of six times a year, it takes more patience and money to finish a dog than most people can allow.

Beginning in 2011, the AKC has tried to ease this situation by evaluating the point schedule annually instead of the previous three-year review. This should more accurately reflect exhibitor trends across all breeds. Keeping the point schedule realistic ensures the chance for exhibitors to win majors and finish dogs within their Divisions in a reasonable amount of time. But what is a reasonable amount of time? Is it one show season, two or maybe many more. Does it take one dog longer to finish than another because the dogs are of disparate quality, or because the numbers vary from season to season. Breed club specialties drive up the breed counts in whatever Division they are held. To count a huge, one time entry, seems unfair since these large numbers are likely to occur infrequently. AKC allows National specialties’ entry numbers to be excluded from the calculations. This works well when a breed’s National is held in conjunction with a two-day show weekend or is a stand-alone event without the support of any all breed shows. But many clubs hold their National during a four-day cluster weekend. If the AKC only deducts the number of entries for the actual day designated the National, there are still as many as four days of higher than usual breed entries. If a given breed’s National changes location every year, the numbers even out across most of the Divisions. But, if a breed club holds its National in the same Division every year, with the same four-day cluster of shows, these bloated entries can drive up the numbers needed to make majors. This is unfair, in the opinion of some exhibitors. It puts higher pointed majors out of reach for the rest of the season and takes longer to finish dogs than they think is necessary.

Several breed clubs have decided the AKC’s efforts are not good enough, fast enough. The Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier Club of America is one of these. It has approached the AKC to exploit a loop-hole in the Rules. They have declared every show on the weekend of their National to be of the same status so none of the entry numbers count toward calculating points in that Division. The Wheaten Club holds it National in Division 2 – Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania. There are probably the most dogs shown during a show season in that division. Exhibitors should expect more competition on a regular basis even without the numbers from the National. Instead of working together to enter and show enough dogs to meet the existing criteria for points, this enterprising club has succeeded in forcing a change to make finishing dogs easier and faster. Not how the system was designed to work, but how it can be forced to fit the desires of today’s exhibitors.

Making it fit may be necessary to make sure there will be competition in the future. With fewer and fewer dogs being produced and registered by breeders who value the existing standard the future of the purebred dog is in jeopardy. If nobody can show their dogs themselves and finish a championship will there be a need for dog shows? Making changes to the point schedule or to the breed standard to accommodate people without the patience or knowledge to meet success within the existing limits undermines what the sport is supposed to be about. To the casual observer dog shows go on as they always have. If these forced changes breathe new life into the sport how can we long-timers complain. Where else will we find the numbers to make our majors and finish our next dog.

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