Bo Bengtson At Large

How Great is That?

In a couple of earlier issues of Dogs in Review, regular contributor Richard G. Beauchamp wrote about greatness in show dogs. Those were two of the most interesting articles I’ve read in a long time, partly because the responses Rick elicited from a number of diverse but generally experienced dog people varied so much.

Since I was one of them, let me admit right here that I got into deep trouble with a fellow fancier for stating that I have only seen a handful of great dogs in my own breed. She thought it was almost insulting to the breed we both love that I couldn’t think of more than a few “greats” in the half century or so that I have been involved. That’s not what I felt at all — I consider myself lucky to have seen several dogs of my breed that literally gave me goosebumps, dogs which I honestly feel are worthy of the description “great.”

So, in view of the general lack of agreement, and with Rick’s permission, may I elaborate on the subject for a minute? The problem, of course, is that the word “great” lends itself more than most to a wide variety of interpretations. I suppose if you just mean “better than average,” then we see great dogs at most shows... but to me a great dog must have such an effect on the spectator that it leaves a deep imprint, not just when you see it but for years afterwards. In other words, you don’t forget experiencing greatness.

Not to get too poetic or anything, but unless the hair on your arms stands up and you get a funny tingle somewhere in the pit of your stomach, is it really “greatness” you’re experiencing? It doesn’t matter if it’s dogs, music, art, sports or anything else... you had better feel that what you see is really special, not just better than average, for the ultimate accolade to be used.

Then, of course, we can discuss just what it is that causes us to feel that way. Is it simply physical perfection, a balance of body parts, that makes an appreciative eye respond? Is the dog’s personality involved as well, so it’s a combination of conformation and character? Do you need a trained eye to appreciate greatness, or should even a relative novice be able to recognize it? And what influence do the external elements have? Will greatness exert its undeniable pull even in an ugly cow-shed on a wet and cold fairground, or does it need bright lights and an appreciative audience to blossom? (In other words, do the dogs look “greater” than they really are in the big ring at Westminster?)

One rather cynical judge said he felt the dogs always look much better in the afternoon, after a good lunch... (This was in Europe, where judges are allowed a glass of wine or two before concluding their assignments.) I’m not suggesting you may need alcoholic stimulation to appreciate greatness, but doesn’t the mood we’re in make us more or less receptive to what we are watching?

There will be different answers to these questions, of course, but I’d say that in its most extreme form a truly “great” dog would be recognized as such at all times, by everybody, regardless of the circumstances. In that case, of course, there may hardly be any great dogs left. I’ll always remember what a great British breed expert  said when visiting the U.S., watching one of our supposedly great dogs sailing around the ring: “Oh, he’s a showing fool, but he couldn’t win a sausage in England...”

Speaking of great, isn’t it grand that AKC is considering awarding a superior champion title for dogs that have achieved more than “just” 15 points and two majors? (Not that this is quite as easy in most breeds as some say, but it’s an undeniable fact that the AKC champion title is worth a lot less than it used to be.) The specifics suggested for the Grand Champion title are very confusing, however, with an elaborate points system, more work for both judges and ring stewards, and additional costs for the host clubs. How about keeping the requirements simple — say, a dozen Breed wins in major entries? That’s easy to figure out and deserving of a grand new title.

No news about plans for the creation of additional “great” shows, though (as suggested in this space a few issues ago). What will we do on the West Coast in 2011 when AKC/Eukanuba moves to Florida? We’ve come to rely on this event as an annual highlight and I’m sure everyone will miss it… so what can take its place? If AKC/Eukanuba is the all-breed equivalent of a National Specialty, why can’t we have AKC Regional shows, the way most parent clubs have regional specialties?

There are many terrific all-breed shows in this country, so how about AKC elevating some of them to “Regional Championship” status, with all the trimmings and benefits that such an event could have?

This is our annual International Issue, and we are taking the opportunity to look more closely at Sweden — a small country with a very active dog scene from which I have a lot of old memories. Even if you’re not particularly interested in what happens abroad I think you’ll find some of the figures eye-popping. It just boggles the mind that a country with barely 3 percent of the U.S.’s population can have over 300,000 dog fanciers who are organized kennel club members. Sweden registers at least twice as many dogs per human capita as we do and some of their shows are much bigger than any in the U.S., in spite of much higher entry fees than we’re used to.

Not everything over there would be to an American’s liking, and it’s probably unrealistic to expect AKC to implement even some of the best features — but it sure sets you thinking. Read on and enjoy!



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