Bo Bengtson At Large

American-Style And Other Int’l News

It’s funny how the hoopla surrounding the Best in Show judging at the recent World Show in Stockholm was described by both locals and foreign visitors, with various degrees of enthusiasm, as “American-style” razzmatazz. We’re talking about entertainment of a kind that involved numerous professional (or at least semi-professional) actors and musicians providing singing, dancing and other high jinks that were only peripherally linked to dogs, let alone dog shows, but obviously meant to enhance the spectators’ dog show experience.

Like it or not, and a lot of people did, I’ve honestly never seen anything like it in America. The only dog show that to my knowledge offers anything comparable would be Crufts, which provides an emotional extravaganza (our correspondent Simon Parsons called it “tear-jerk time”) of singing children, circus-style “dancing with dogs,” Friends for Life, etc. Not quite what you expect from the venerable Kennel Club, and I wonder what the stiff-upper-lip old-timers would have thought if they saw it.

At American dog shows we usually leave it to the dogs to provide the excitement. In the best cases, such as Westminster, they do this so well that anything else would be superfluous. There are many things we can learn from dog shows abroad, but I think we should be proud of the fact that our dogs are so thrilling to watch that they don’t need any of the Swedish, or British, style sideshows to prop them up.

After BIS at the World Show two cannons blew glitter confetti across the arena. It was a colorful finale to a great show, but call me a Grinch — I’m glad our shows focus more on the dogs and less on the entertainment.

On a more serious note, are you aware that some foreign kennel clubs now actively discourage, if not outright forbid, certain types of line- and in-breeding? The new catch
phrase is “broadening the genetic base” — the inbreeding coefficient should ideally never exceed 2.5 percent. (Estimating the IBC is complicated, but as an example, even one common ancestor in the third generation provides the puppies with a 3.125 percent IBC.)

The bottom line is that the long-established idea of selective line-breeding as the way for talented breeders to achieve success is challenged by the very organizations which serve those breeders. The reason is, simply, concern for the health of our dogs.

I can’t say whether there really has been a rise in inherited diseases in purebred dogs, or even — should that be the case — if this would be the most effective way to combat such a development. However, I do know that we need to be aware of the winds that blow beyond our own shores. If experience has taught us anything it’s that what happens overseas will affect us in the U.S. sooner or later.

In an earlier “At Large” column I suggested, mostly facetiously, that perhaps we are taking this whole concept of “breeds” too seriously. I’m apparently the only one who still gets worked up about such a thing as the so-called “Longhaired Whippet,” so instead of waging a lonely fight I’ll just say “Bring them on” — and let’s welcome all those other semi-real “breeds” out there at the same time...

Seriously, just one look at a big FCI show is enough to make you wonder what exactly defines a breed and send thanks to AKC’s (so far) restrictive attitude towards “new” breeds. We have a total of 158 AKC recognized breeds in this country, plus a few in the works; the FCI at last count had 353, not including recent additions or varieties (coat, color, size) which would push the figure up towards 500. Not all breeds participate at all FCI shows, of course, but 342 were exhibited at the recent World Show — and let me tell you, as they paraded into the big ring to compete in the Groups, I was not the only one who was confused: neither the announcer nor several other FCI all-breed judges at ringside were quite sure which breed was which. I’m not going to give any examples except to say that dogs which look pretty much identical can be listed as different breeds mostly depending, apparently, on which side of the mountain they were born...

To become an all-rounder judge in the U.S. is a lifelong quest, an achievement few are able to realize. Just how seriously should we take the hordes of FCI judges, many of them quite young, who are officially approved to judge all those 353 breeds? Either they are a lot smarter than the AKC judges or their knowledge is not particularly deep; you decide what’s more likely.

I’ll be tarred and feathered for this, I know, but my question is: Do we really need any more breeds? If so, isn’t there some way for FCI to slow down the number of “new” breeds recognized until they have demonstrated a solid fan base, international appeal and, yes, even a sufficiently broad genetic base?

There were nearly 1,500 dogs from Russia at the World Show, and most of them did very well. The general feeling in Europe seems to be that it’s just a matter of time before the Russian dogs will wipe the slate clean over there. As one senior Scandinavian judge told me, “They have great resources, they really want to win and they have no inhibitions about it at all...”

Just 10 or 15 years ago Eastern European or Russian dogs were completely unknown in the rest of the world. The map is changing quickly, and we’ll have to change with it, hopefully learning something from the “new” countries — maybe even imparting some of our hard-earned knowledge in the process, if anyone is willing to listen.

Read all about this year’s World Show on page 70 in this issue.


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