Like A Pine Forest

DSC_9221a I never saw Honour as an old dog. Staring out at the world from behind milky, clouded eyes. Walking slowly and unsteadily on her always tender feet,  would not suit her at any age. Even after she turned ten this year she remained young in my mind’s eye. Ten was just a number, a way to mark time in the life of a living thing. Never sick and always self-centered, Honour chose to live with Odebt. And she usually got her way.

DSC_8164a Honour was held out for color one whole show season.  But we continued to bring her along while we showed the other dogs. She barked and raved in her crate and spun and barked and raved some more. As bad as she was at DSC_9384ashows, she was inconsolable when we left her home.  On a whim, at the shows in Denver in February 2004, we paid a visit with her to the Dog Whisperer. What happened in the quiet, little booth made us mostly laugh not quite believing animals could communicate in such a way. After a few preliminaries the Whisperer asked Honour, without saying a word, a question we had long asked ourselves. Why she hated to be left home. Sitting smugly, we waited to hear the predictable answer of how she loved us and couldn’t stand to be away from us. What we heard brought us to tears.  The Whisperer told us Honour hated to stay at home because the dogs that stayed home went away and never came back.  It was true, though the Whisperer would have had no idea that it was. Dogs we no longer showed remained at home while we travelled to the next shows. They were eventually moved on to other homes. Better homes for them, where they could be the only dogs and have a family that would love them for themselves, not for what they won or how good a breeder they would become.  It was all a positive to us, but to Honour it meant the end of showing, the most important thing to her.  We never left her again. DSCN1225

When Honour became Odebt’s dog, with all her quirks and indomitable spirit, she was home.  Living at the little DSCN1271farm she had her dog friend, Satie, and the only person who ever mattered to her. That was all she required. She developed a whole repertoire of new behaviors. Strange things making sense only to her.  The morning after Thanksgiving Honour refused to come out of her crate. She lay still and curled up, seemingly cozy and happy and dead to the world. Sometime in the night her spirit left. She would never be old and sick and unable to bark madly, expressing her displeasure. She left us with the memories of a driven show dog, happy and unique. Honour’s death was convenient only to her.

DSCN1221 Entering the yard in a van full of dogs in mid-December, the burned out hulk of the box truck stood sentinel. Its blackened cab with the two seats and twisted steering wheel pointed across the field in the direction of the dirt road. The demise of the box truck was hastened by an onslaught of tumbleweeds of biblical proportion. Piling up against fences and buildings, choking roadside ditches and spilling over, blocking roads, the weeds blew in for several days. Whatever goes on underneath trucks and cars is a mystery to me. But I know a significant amount of heat is the result of the processes. Add brittle, oil-filled weeds and the combustible inevitability cannot be controlled.  Staring at the front passenger seat I could almost feel the vibration of the engine on our trip to Dallas last year. That last trip of the season had brought us points on our puppies and great memories to carry us through the winter until our new show season would DSCN1274begin.  Dallas was our season-ender this year, too. We jammed ourselves, gear and six dogs into the red mini-van this year. Without the box truck we were limited on space and left a few comforts at home. Weathering the worse ice storm Dallas had experienced since Super Bowl Sunday, 2007, we drove back and forth from the motel to the show every one of the four days of the circuit. The friends and dogs inside the venue helped us forget the weather and turn our energy to the competition. The loss of the truck altered our plans but not our purpose. DSCN1218

Loss is a part of showing dogs. Loss of dogs, people, reputation and motivation. Any one of these can be so devastating that moving on seems impossible.  Loss stifles creativity, a key element in breeding and training new dogs. In our time in dogs we have had many losses. We have had to compartmentalize these to continue in a sport we truly love. Beating back fear and dread with each breeding decision we continue to dream of producing dogs we are proud of, winning dogs that will live to contribute to our line or those of others. No dog or person passes out of our lives without making a mark. Sometimes the ones with the least obvious worth are the most affecting in death: Mr. Leonard, Honour, Tammi’s Blue and our three-day old puppy. Images you can’t shake, losses you can’t compartmentalize.

DSCN1209 Walking around the burned out truck, nestled in the choking tumbleweeds it was easy to recall all the failures of the past show season. How our breed seems to have changed into something farther from the written standard than at any time in my life. People breeding, showing and winning with dogs of a quality that would not have been competitive some years ago. We keep winning, too. As we always have. But each year we find it a little easier to not care who wins our National and a little harder to respect the judges. Each show season brings news of the deaths of old dog people. Skilled breeders, judges, club leaders and friends. You see their names in the front pages of dog show catalogs, but few will be remembered long. Partially because they were unwilling or unable to pass on their tremendous knowledge to enough people to make a difference.

A few miles from the burned out box truck is a pine forest that depends upon fire for the germination of its seeds. As the fire scorches each tree, the cones open, their seeds spilling onto the forest floor beneath them. DSCN1247 A new beginning from the devastation.  Every new show season is a chance to move ahead. We make the decision not to be defined by the disappointments and losses of the old season, even if they cannot be forgotten. It takes more courage to continue than to languish in grief or merely quit. We have reached a point of no return of sorts, with too much invested in our breed to not continue. The addition of our German Pinscher has helped us see shows through new eyes. While we mentor others in our breed, we in turn, are mentored by others. It is refreshing to be new in some aspect of showing. Always looking forward. Accepting the losses in the ring as DSCN1235learning experiences instead of evidence of something darker.

We never make a conscious decision to show dogs in the new season. It is something that just happens. A premium list comes in the mail, a dog friend calls excited about a new puppy to show and like all pain, the losses of the last season fade. And being Terrier people we never quit. And maybe, in the house just behind the burned out box truck, two dogs and a breeder make their own start to the new season in the best way of all.

One Third A Champion

  In the waning weekends of the 2012 show season we anxiously counted down the days.  Looking to salvage something from an abortive season fraught with disappointment and the lingering feelings that we no longer recognized our sport, we jumped at the chance to make one more show trip.  Enough clothing, food, bedding and hope for eight dogs outbound and eleven dogs inbound packed with prayers the dry weather would hold. While chatter on the social media sites centered around the upcoming Eukanuba show in Florida, our gypsy road show left Yoder, Colorado, on a Tuesday bound for Dallas.  We would go no further than those shows this season. Four shows in Florida held no interest for us this year. We knew the outcome already.  Instead, our destination held much more uncertainty.  The chance to be made a fool of in public in front of each other and our peers:  showing six month old puppies.  Six months and one day old.

  Only new owners, starry-eyed and giddy with the prospect of winning majors with raw recruits, show puppies this young.  Most reputable handlers discourage their clients from such folly and in fact, refuse to be seen in a sweepstakes ring at all.  Puppies and their hair-brained antics make them look bad.  Somebody might mistake them for amateurs.  Hooligan terrier puppies are probably the worst.  Fighting one minute with each other, the next with you and threatening to either bite or pee on the judge, most sane exhibitors leave them at home.  But, what fun would that be? Especially if the breeder/owner was a hander. Puppies level the playing field. Everybody is at a disadvantage.  A sort of gallows humor had descended upon both of us making this trip in the red box truck and its ironic Pawsatively Handling logo of a serene Pointer on the side. It was Pawsatively dog show suicide.  We could have hedged our bets by training our puppies.  A few handling classes or matches would have been prudent.  But, training in the ring has its own rewards, after all.

  This was my first trip in the box truck.  I liked the feel of riding in it immediately.  Sitting at the level of long haul truckers and FedEx drivers   initiated into a club known mostly from songs.  Sitting in my seat, fighting the arm rest for the seatbelt after every stop, I hoped the truckers thought I was capable of piloting this behemouth of a vehicle.  All the while being grateful I never actually had to work a shift behind the wheel. The red beast carried us across the plains of Colorado and Texas without incident. We stopped twice for a break for us and the dogs and three times to gas up. This was no quick event.  We set the Chihuahua pen up first. Buckie and Raisin handed out and placed inside their portable exercise yard.  The three puppies followed.  Each of us walking one at a time.  Hoping the third one would wait until one of us could get back for her.  The other dogs followed in an order based loosely on age and experience traveling in the truck and who would be faster than who.  We were on the road when we returned the last dog, usually Danny, to its crate.

  The Dallas Market Center is a big, clean, well-lit building.  We had 200 sq feet of grooming space and we barely fit.  The amazing thing about dog shows is that most people show as a hobby.  Hobbies should be calming, relaxing and generally easier than what most of us get paid to do during the week.  There was nothing easy about this weekend.  Three quarters of the first day we devoted to grooming the five Kerries we’d brought. Standing all day on the hard floor, the unloading, bathing, walking and more standing were taking their toll.  I could have entered a wet T-shirt contest by the time every dog was bathed.  My hair lacked any semblance of style and my pantyhose were wet to the knee. There was little time for personal rehab.  We had a deadline:  the North Dallas Terrier Club show and Sweepstakes, starting at 4:30.

  By the time the show started I was barely able to walk. We were all tired.  Too much work, too little food.  And finally the showing.  I was mainly responsible for one small bitch for this first show. Ultimately my mom’s pick from nine puppies, she looked almost benign sitting on her table.  All the dogs were ready and a pride and excitement replaced fatigue in the setup.  I was proud to be part of this machine.  At shows, you estimate when you will be in the ring.  The better an estimator you are, the less standing ringside you have to do.  Standing is a double-edged sword.  If you are young, are approaching middle age or even squarely middle-aged you can grab a ringside chair and sit, waiting for your turn.  But if you are on the back side of the best years of your life, ringside chairs are not your friend.  They look so pleasant.  Inviting almost.  They beckon you to linger on their curved DSCN0231a  metal seats and convince yourself you really aren’t that tired and you will be able to spring up and show your dog easily.  Well, as the rational part of your brain knows, you may never be able to get up. Your legs will cramp and the blood will pool in your calves and feet making it torture when you have to move again.  A crippling stiffness will invade your back and lower body.  I continue to learn this lesson every show season.  I have also learned that several Extra Strength Tylenol, taken about an hour before ring time, mitigates this somewhat.  But on this day it wasn’t enough. Looking wistfully at the chairs, I  remained standing.

  The steward called our breed to the ring. Shifting on my feet, I had managed to recirculate some of the pooling blood from my legs to the rest of my body and believed I might be able to hang in for a lap or two around the ring. I was too tired to care if our puppy made a fool of me.  If she raced around the ring on her hind legs or refused to stand for the judge.  One trip to training class does not a show dog make.  Sure, I was excited to show the little bitch. And there had been a little trash-talking in the box truck on the way out and in the set up about which of the three littermates would do the best.  Just good natured competition between friends and littermates. This first show weekend they would have to do it on their own. Training and real winning would come later.

We entered the ring and the puppy stood quietly where I stacked her. Standing was one thing moving was another.  In the dog show world, confidence is sometimes everything and that was the one thing our puppy had. She became the bitch we all fear.  Typee, cute and full of herself.  Many times we have stood behind such a phenom, graciously accepting our red, second place ribbon.  We have watched from ringside at our National while this same type of  puppy takes home the hardware. We have never owned that puppy and after such a long day I didn’t care who owned one. The judge asked us to go around. Our puppy took off like she was radio controlled, me racing after her. Reaching the end of the lead she never broke stride. I DSCN0080a  caught her midway down the far side of the ring, her front legs reaching, rear driving. My rear movement was not as smooth but I had no choice except to hold on and keep going. Maybe she had snuck out to training class by herself. Maybe she wanted to see me sweat as we returned to the ring for Winners Bitch comepetition, Best Of Breed competition and the Stud Dog class. The wait for the final competition of the day, Puppy Sweepstakes, seemed intentionally cruel. With no points at stake, why were we here.  Our puppies seemed ready to go another round even if we were dreaming of dinner so we stayed.  I’m sure more than just the puppy was laughing as I gasped my way through the Sweepstakes group. When we finished that first, interminable day, she had two points and a Puppy Sweepstakes  Group 2.

By the time we loaded the box truck for the trip home three days later, our puppy had a major and a total of five points.  She was one-third a champion and I knew we had a show dog.

Winter Kill

As the earth leans closer to the sun, the days are longer and the snow that falls melts quickly.  Spring is less than three weeks away.  Spring, the season of hope and renewal. The season for planting and raking and taking stock in what will be required to begin again.  But Winter lingers, barely visible, in the yards and fields and sometimes in the heart.  Some things living when the snow first fell will be dead when newer growth emerges, warmed by the sun.

Sometimes Winter takes its toll on more than just plants, a few birds and old feeble elk.  The Spring thaw reveals the death of dreams long-held, lying dormant through the winter, waiting in vain for the spring that will never come.  In our house we have weathered the ravages of winter kill more than a few times.  My father died in February, one year, and my husband in December of another. Across the street melting snow slips to the edges of  well-tended beds.  Safe underground lie bulbs bursting with life.  The gardener’s hands stilled barely two weeks ago by a brief but fatal illness.  Her husband and son, and their uneasy relationship, left to tend her garden, keeping her hope for plentiful blooms alive.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                .

As we leave through our yard gate into the driveway to go about the mundane daily errands, we will no longer have to fish in our pockets for pieces of dog biscuits to feed Mia Ham, our neighbor’s dog, her soft fur the color of a carmel dessert. Mia, in her time, bore several litters of mongrel pups in a barn on somebody’s horse property before becoming the much beloved, rotund companion to our neighbor next door. Loved to death, her diabetes overwhelmed her and she slipped into the blackness that lies beyond life as she knew it barely a month ago.

As Spring approaches, wind often fills our skies as if to blow away Winter. Prematurely built birds’ nests, ripped from their tenuous holds, end up in the driveways and lawns of our neighborhood.  Sometimes tiny speckled eggs are already in the nests. The parents will build anew and raise another clutch of chicks under more favorable conditions, without emotion.  We are human beings, though, full of emotion and daring to hope that each Spring really will bring our dreams closer. We have the intellect to understand the inevitable losses but somehow unable to detach ourselves from the pain.  And while dog breeding is to some, no more important or valuable an avocation than gardening, the loss of a tiny, two-day old winter puppy can make any breeder heartsick.

Puppies are tangible evidence that hope exists.  That Spring will come and we have all survived the Winter. Puppies are the renewal of the breeder’s line and her committment to her breed.  Her choices of sire and dam reflective of her interpretation of the breed’s standard and her wish to leave something better than she found it.  Like homegrown tomatoes in high summer, puppies are round and fresh.  Full of promise.  Who doesn’t love a puppy?  What breeder hasn’t stared into the whelping box and imagined how wonderful her pick puppy will look,  grown up, on the jumbo-tron at Westminster.  How many puppies enter the world as part of the “K” litter, the “M” litter? Each letter a notch in the timeline of a breeder’s life. The breeder may name her human children Katie, Barry or Edward, plain names meant to carry them into adulthood and hopefully into decent jobs, but she will name her puppies the most wonderfully creative names she can think of. Each name designed to make a statement as to the quality of the puppies and their destinations as companions or show dogs.  Our Danny has such a name.  He is our Chance Redemption.  A dog that came into our lives unexpectedly when our attempts to breed a male to our liking failed.

Being somewhat superstitious, we never name our puppies until they have survived the first three weeks of life.  In our breed that is the time of danger.  We tell ourselves, and anybody who asks why the puppy doesn’t have a name by the time his eyes are open, that we haven’t decided on a name yet.  We say we let the puppy pick his own name as he grows. But that is at best a half-truth. We wait to name the puppies until after three weeks so we don’t waste a great name on a dead puppy.  Once used, a name may never be re-used and will always be linked to the poor puppy who first owned it.  A terrible jinx might follow the dog who gets the recycled name into the ring and into his life.  So tiny puppies pass out of this life unnamed. A name is only a reference point for the breeder.  A Winter puppy that never lives to roll in the Spring grass, or lick water droplets off the hose, or fall asleep on the cool, metal seat of the porch glider will linger in the breeder’s heart for many seasons.

For us, the Denver shows mean Winter is ending.  Our dormant show season stirs and we dare to dream about success in the ring.  These shows bring out many puppies, some of them entered, some along for their first exposure to what the breeder hopes will be a way of life in the near future. So many Winter puppies, or so it seems to breeders whose puppies never lived to see these shows. Breeding is hard on the wallet and the heart.  It is why we prefer to show dogs more than breed them.  Yet like our neighbor the gardener and Mia Ham begging for a treat, we continue to breed dogs hoping our line will grow and flourish in one more Spring.

 As we rake the yard and clear away the straw from the fence line in preparation for the start of the grass season, our mood is dull.  We indulge ourselves, at least momentarily, in the chance to mourn the ending of  our line on the bitch side.  As I bend over to grab the Frisbee Eva has retrieved, I watch her circling in front of me.  Her athletic body with its powerful rear and reaching front still lean and fit at nearly seven.  She shags another throw, jumping high in the air to snatch the spinning disk.  Winter has not killed her spirit nor ultimately, our faith in ourselves as breeders. At least we have come through another Winter.

A Matter Of Perspective

Perspective in photography refers to the dimension of objects and the spatial relationship between them. It also relates to the position of the human eye in relation to the objects in an image. Perspective may change the way an object looks, depending on the object’s size and distance from the camera. In photography, perspective is another illusion you use to produce photographs of quality composition. When you are making pictures, the camera always creates perspective. Because a camera automatically produces perspective, many novice photographers believe there is no need to know much about it. This attitude is far from correct. When you know the principles of perspective and skillfully apply them, the photographs you produce show a good rendition of the subject’s form and shape, and the viewer is given the sensation of volume, space, depth, and distance. Additionally, the photographer can manipulate perspective to change the illusion of space and distance by either expanding or compressing these factors, therefore providing a sense of scale within the picture.

In the sport of purebred dogs these same principles apply. In our breed there is a line of dogs that have become very popular. Only a few years ago there would have been no market, and no desire, for dogs of this quality. Straight fronts, bicycling rears, exaggerated type and movement combine to produce caricatures of a breed defined by its moderation. What makes this type of dog become the embodiment of the standard in some breeder’s eyes? The answer is found in the perspective of the people who own dogs from this line and their reasons for being involved in showing dogs. It is ridiculous to pretend that no matter how well a dog may fit its standard, if it only wins occasionally, or seldom gets the “right” kinds of wins, showing that dog is satisfying. To many newer breeder/exhibitors, the view from the BOB place marker is the greatest determiner of breed type. This is the perspective automatically produced by winning. But what caused the win? Was the winner deserving because it fit the standard better than the competition, or because it was the best of what was before the judge that day.

From the judge’s perspective, the dogs are supposed to be judged against the standard. More often, the relationship of the judge’s eye to the dogs in his ring creates its own perspective. If the entry is a litany of mediocrity, while fitting the standard, the dog with that something extra: ring presence, incorrect, but flashy movement and a good grooming job will stand out. The principles of perspective, skillfully applied, influence the judge’s view and make a picture suggestive of more quality in the dog than its structure provides. The ability to change the judge’s perspective is critical for a faulty dog to win consistently enough to be noticed. Such a dog emerged in our breed a few years ago. Shown at first in a part of the country where there are sufficient numbers for majors and a Best of Breed win captures many points, this dog soared to the top of the stats. Some splashy, well placed ads followed. The illusion was complete. From a ringside perspective, this dog gave the impression of what the standard calls for. While not a good example of what the breed was developed to be, his record could not be disputed. Since this dog has not been used at stud often, he has had little effect on the breed in general. What paved the way for this dog’s success and ultimately the success of his line in this country?

Breeding dogs is not easy and each standard allows for personal interpretation by skilled breeders. Maintaining perspective about one’s line is difficult and today’s breeders don’t keep more than a few breedable animals in their homes at any given time. If the animals bred have faults difficult to overcome through limited breeding, they are perpetuated. As dogs in one line show the same faults across generations, their breeders’ perspective is changed to view these deviations from the standard as acceptable and in fact correct. Additionally, breeders may over-emphasis one trait, usually one easy to change, like temperament, or head length. This approach produces dogs with critical faults in their basic structure but exhibiting some exaggerated traits now deemed virtues. Since most people choose stud dogs in their area, or those belonging to like-minded friends, faults spread from line to line within regions. These regions become like islands, limiting the development of a breed further. As these dogs make their way to the ring, judges see the same faults in most of the exhibits in front of them. Within a few show seasons, this manipulation of breed type successfully changes the perspective of breeders, handlers and judges. If a dog emerges, with the same faults but exhibiting more showmanship or ring-presence he is perceived as more correct and worthy of winning. If his handler is smart, the dog will be campaigned consistently in the area where he has fewer dogs of real quality to overcome. This was the evolution of our breed’s latest imported phenom.

In today’s dog show culture, game changing dogs are seldom brought to the ring by veteran breeders. Instead, they come from exhibitors with the money to buy the dog, but not the knowledge to properly apply the standard to it. These people look outside the country for a dog that will make them sure winners among their peers. There seems to be a prevailing attitude in our breed that dogs coming from outside the country are somehow more authentic. Exaggerated, foreign bred dogs appeal to the American lust for more is better. People looking for the exotic gravitate to European breeders whose splashy websites tout their show ring successes. Sometimes these dogs are of sufficient quality to do some winning. If they do a lot of winning, as a few have, naive exhibitors perceive all dogs from those lines as being superior. And since winning creates its own perspective many never question whether their view is accurate or just immediate. Twenty years ago, the lack of diversity within European bred Kerries produced dogs with faults American breeders had overcome. With a more diverse gene pool and more opportunity to breed across lines, American dogs came closer to the standard, than their European counterparts. During those years, a few truly outstanding dogs made their way to the US and were successfully incorporated into American lines, strengthening them. Importation was judicious and done by master breeders with close ties to a few lines in Europe.

As the quality of American Kerries has degraded, their conformation more closely approaches that of dogs produced by European breeders today. The internet has made the world of dogs smaller and the door has opened for more imported dogs to find success in AKC shows. The demand for puppies from foreign lines is high. At this year’s Montgomery weekend, the presence of the imported dogs was felt. Some of the winners came from established European lines, but more were American. Imported dogs won their share, but did not dominate in all classes. Movement and type were virtually indistinguishable. Less than skillful breeders, on both sides of the Atlantic, who produce dogs that win regardless of their quality have no incentive to change direction. As a result we are left struggling with mediocrity and dangerously close to losing correct breed type. Our dogs appear more flashy, but hardly more sound. This forces an unintended change in perspective affecting us all.

A Foreign Appearance

 Watching well-bred dogs at a show, each one trained, groomed and oozing with breed type it’s easy to romanticize how the breed standards were written. A group of highly passionate fanciers, sitting around a table in somebody’s kitchen, dogs laying at their feet, crafting a scholarly manuscript to serve as a blueprint for the breed into perpetuity. Some breed standards are very descriptive. Some long, some short, many with unique language. Each standard reflects the people who developed the breed and their view of what makes it special. Some of the AKC’s 173 recognized breeds are very old, with standards originally written over a century ago. Some of the breeds are more recently recognized and their standards seem written with a more modern flair. Most parent clubs have changed their standard over the years. Sometimes the changes are made to beef up a section of the standard or clarify a point that seems too vague or is hard to interpret by judges. Standing nearly alone for longevity without a change is the Afghan Hound Club of America. Its standard has remained untouched since 1948, eight years after becoming an AKC member club.

When breed standards were first written, they were often one long description. Wandering back and forth from the purpose of the dog to the shape of the head to the texture of the coat. The AKC encouraged clubs to rework their standards to fit within the framework of what we see today. Smaller, more easily understood paragraphs with headers, written with enough detail to be clear on most of the points. But buried in these reworked documents are glimpses of the people who stood behind the breeds we still see today. Hidden gems in the descriptions, spanning all seven groups, that once discovered are great sources of curiosity and some humor. Some seem part of a bygone era in both word choice and cadence. Some make use of descriptions that defy logic and others contain as much scholarship as a thesis paper. Take a look at the list that follows and try to match the quotation from the various standards with the breeds listed. Some are used more than once. The answers are found at the end.

The Breeds:

 Great Dane

Cane Corso

Border Terrier

Welsh Springer Spaniel

Gordon Setter Tibetan

Tibetan Spaniel

Bichon Frise

Alaskan Malamute

Flatcoat Retriever

American Foxhound

Anatolian Shepherd

Wire Fox Terrier

American Staffordshire


German Shorthair Pointer

Spinone Italiano



Neopolitan Mastiff

Smooth Fox Terrier

The Hidden Gems:

1. …..stands well over the pads, and this stance gives the appearance of much activity and a proud carriage…

2. …. has a long, strong, clean, “one piece” head, which is unique to the breed.

3. This breed has twelve disqualifications. The most of any breed.

4. …. cropped or uncropped, the latter preferred.

5. This breed list no faults, only defects.

6. ….Yellow or mean-looking eyes are to be heavily penalized.

7. …. It is always a unit – the Apollo of dogs.

8. …. Hide very thick and loose fitting.

9. This is a breed that has no gross or incapacitating exaggerations and therefore there is no inherent reason for lack of balance or unsound movement.

10. …. Disqualification: Yellow bird of prey eyes. (2 standards list this DQ)

11. …. It should be of good strength, anything approaching a “Pipestopper” tail being especially objectionable.

12. …. Disqualifications: China or wall eyes.

13. …. Nose: Bulbous and spongy in appearance with upper edge rounded.

14. …. Pitted teeth from distemper or allied infections are not penalized.

15. Head described as the “cranium” in these two standards.

16. …. Teeth should be evenly placed and the lower jaw wide between the canine tusks.

17. …. Never fat or soft.

18. …. Extremely thin or fat dogs are discouraged.

19. (Referring to the head of this breed)… so rarely as to partake of the nature of a freak – a Terrier of correct size may boast a head 7 1/2 inches in length.

20. …. when the eyes are set too high up in the skull and too near the ears, it also amounts to a fault, the head being said to have a “foreign appearance.”

 As breeders, we are responsible for producing healthy, typey representatives of our chosen breeds. We spend time searching out the perfect stud dog and researching pedigrees. But, how much time does the average breeder spend reacquainting herself with the standard written years before as a blueprint? At a recent kennel club meeting, the members gathered around the table were each asked to quote one thing from their respective standards. Few could. How can breeders produce dogs that fit the standard if they are so ignorant of it? The fascinating descriptions hiding in some of the standards are probably overlooked by many people who consider themselves experts in their breeds. Judges are another matter. If breeders don’t review their standards, how can they hold judges to a higher level of knowledge? When the Gordon Setter standard was revised in 2002 the anachronistic description of the teeth was left intact. This may have be done out of respect to the breed’s founders, but maybe this single line has been overlooked for more than a century by the revisionists charged with making needed changes. Let’s hope when today’s breeders look at their standards they don’t have a foreign appearance.

The Answers: 1. Alaskan Malamute, 2. Flatcoat Retriever, 3. Beauceron, 4. American Staffordshire Terrier, 5. Beagle, 6. Welsh Springer Spaniel, 7. Great Dane, 8. Border Terrier, 9. Bichon Frise, 10. Cane Corso and Rottweiler, 11. Smooth Fox Terrier, 12. German Shorthair Pointer, 13. Spinone Italiano, 14. Gordon Setter, 15. Neopolitan Mastiff and American Foxhound, 16. Tibetan Spaniel, 17. Anatolian Shepherd, 18. Gordon Setter, 19. Wire Fox Terrier, 20. Wire Fox Terrier

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.

The Devil You Know

 On an unexpected day off, we raced across town to a post office to pick up an overnighted delivery containing a DNA test kit.  Once secured, we continued eastbound toward the home of our friend and owner of Tucker, to collect his cells.  He is our only co-owned dog. We met his owner, who has become our dear friend, really more of a relative now, when we set the ears on her Kerry bitch.  She was our kind of person from the start.  Years later, we are still friends, our relationship enduring the inevitable storms but surviving and growing.  She works for the US Postal Service and can get anything anywhere in a rush.  She was waiting at her desk for our arrival with the little bristly swabs, containing the cells from her dog’s cheek, sealed in an official envelope from VetGen, one of the biggest testing labs in the dog business.  This test was part of pre-breeding screenings on Tucker.  We call him our perfect dog.  Excellent hips, passing CERF, clear for DM and clear for Factor VIII and Factor XI.  Now this last test.  One that has become almost standard among Kerry breeders:  VonWillebrand’s Disease (vWd). This is considered to be a mild to moderate bleeding disorder. Many dogs with this  disease do not ever experience a severe bleeding episode. But they can and there are reports of fatalities associated with this condition  and surgical procedures. Though few owners have seen this disease in their dogs, some feared spaying their bitches and simple surgeries for fear their beloved pets would bleed out.  All the written information on this disorder emphatically states the blood test will give different results sometime hour by hour or day by day for the same animal.  For breeding, the industry standard is the DNA test.

A little over ten years ago a genetic test to accurately determine the vWd status of any given dog of our breed was developed.  Tucker’s maternal grandfather was part of this study.  He was clear, just as it turned out is his grandson, Tucker.  Our perfect dog remains genetically perfect, if there is such a thing.  His name added to the list of dogs testing clear for the various maladies important to many breeders today.  But what does this tell anybody about the dog himself. Does it tell you about his show attitude or temperament around people and dogs?  Does it describe the quality of his coat and ease of movement.  Will knowing he will never succumb to these disorders make us feel secure he will live out his life until the age of fifteen and quietly die in his sleep?  Do his health clearances tell anybody looking at him as a potential stud dog whether he will improve heads, rears or shorten the loins of his puppies. Will they see in him an intrinsic value merely because he has passed these tests, and not because he has plenty of breed type and fits the standard better than most. As wonderful as these test results make us feel, they answer only the easy questions about our dog.

Genetics is probably the most complicated, least understood component in breeding.  Most breeders believe they know far more than they do about the role of science in dog breeding. Some fail to grasp even the rudiments of Mendel and rely too heavily on reported test results when making breeding decisions.  These attitudes, combined with the ability to pay for expensive testing, will get you written results but not what part in breeding the dog they should play. In dogs, once the information needed to produce a reliable test is collected, the research ends.  In the case of hip dysplasia, DM, vWd, eye diseases as well as various cancers, the availability of tests either to diagnose or identify the diseases, leave  important questions unanswered.  If a dog identified as dysplastic in one hip is bred, will he pass that on to puppies in each litter?  What percentage of puppies can a breeder expect to grade as dysplastic if sired by such a dog.  A frequently used sire in Europe, by the breeder’s admission, has produced 14% dysplastic puppies across all his litters.  Considering the US reported average is closer to 6%, across all Kerry lines, this seems unthinkably high.  Yet, this fine dog’s other attributes override this genetic flaw in the minds of all who have used him on their bitches.  Is the breeder right to offer him at stud?

 It is interesting how certain disorders catch the fancy’s imagination and take hold. If you stand ringside this year at our National Specialty and survey everyone there on their experience with DM or vWd you will undoubtedly find people who have never heard of either one.  You will also find a few people who have seen, or owned dogs, affected by these disorders and know the heartache they cause.  But the majority of those there to enjoy the show and dream of owning great winning dogs, will have heard of both conditions, but never seen them in their own dogs or those of their breeder or their friends.  It is also fascinating that while those who consider themselves responsible breeders test their breeding stock for these disorders, we are so accepting of the meager results we are given.  As the owners of two carrier dogs for DM, we want to know if we breed our carriers, and roll the dice on producing 25% at- risk puppies, what is the likelihood the genes will switch on at age 8 or 10 or 15.  If the disease manifests itself, in our line, at age 8 we are concerned, if the symptoms materialize at age 15 we are less so.  What causes this variation in the genetic timeline?  These are the questions we need answered, not just that we own two carriers and breeding them would make us pariahs.

In our breed, we have seen a progression of concern for heritable genetic disorders in the last forty years.  First PNA and its finger pointing and veiled referenced to “sick litters” and an unfortunate shouting match at a long ago board meeting pitting breeder against breeder each bound up in fear.  Then hip dysplasia.  This climaxed when a very nice dog of a well-known breeder tested dysplastic.  The owner sent a letter to the club in general that made the rounds, stating that while his dog was indeed dysplastic, he would continue to breed him because of his many other wonderful qualities.  This caused a wave of people refusing to use dogs in breeding programs that were graded “fair” on their OFA evaluations.  All this changed when the great Mick was revealed as only “fair”.  Suddenly the furor died down and it was business as usual.  In the cases of vWd and DM, the origins of the concern about them is cloudy. The effects of these disorders are devastating.  Likely a few affected individuals cropped up in our breed, and 42 others, over the years with enough frequency that somebody developed a test.

Maybe we test because as a country we are rooted in the scientific method. Intuition and experience alone seem so uneducated and therefore lack merit.  We look for quantifiable values to support our decisions about breeding where really so much is indeterminable.  Maybe we test because we can.  Or maybe we are told it is the testing that separates responsible breeders from our nemeses the commercial and backyard breeders.  Sadly, we rely on these tests because many of us lack an eye for a dog, as they say.  Do we need the scorecard of genetic testing, to confirm the dog that caught our eye at our National is a great Kerry Blue? Can’t we just like him because we instinctively do?  When did most of us stop using our eyes and hands and turn to our databases to find a suitable stud dog or brood bitch. We spend our time and money testing our dogs but not really studying them.  Not really honing our eye.

 When the computer can’t find a dog for us there is always Europe.  Never mind you would be hard pressed to find a European breeder doing all the testing done in this country. We know our dogs are genetically tainted, we have tested them, therefore imported ones must be more genetically sound simply because they aren’t ours. A quick check of the OFA databases show many imported dogs have been tested and passed their clearances, just like their American cousins.  It is interesting to note these dogs were tested in the US, not in their countries of origin.  Their sires and dams remaining untested in their homelands.

Certainly, genetic testing is one tool a breeder holds that needs consideration before any litter is produced.  But I don’t believe it is the most important, or even the best resource.  Our own ideas and experiences combined with foresight and luck are more powerful. There are still no DNA tests for type and soundness. No predictors of just plain beauty, style and elegance. An over-reliance on genetic testing will not make the breed better.  And if you are breeding to exhibit, it is worth remembering the judge can’t see the perfection of a dog’s health testing results. He can see the perfection of the dog’s presentation in the ring. In general, our breed is a healthy one. Due to careful breeding practices and honesty among breeders for decades.  The fact so few of us have lived with, or produced, genetic catastrophies in the whelping box, in the absence of or long before these tests were available, suggests the foundations of the modern Kerry Blue were solid. Men and women who developed their breed knowledge, took risks and were honest about what they produced set the course for those of us coming later.