Of Sound Mind

Are the temperaments of our show dogs getting worse?

By Sid Marx | Posted: Thu Jun 23 00:00:00 PDT 2005

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However, I have detected a subtle change in ring temperament in many different breeds, and we need to catch it before it goes any further. I was shocked recently by the number of Sporting breed entries that were so shy and frightened they could not easily be examined. We all know that there are times that a young dog can be traumatized by an airplane flight, a bad experience, a noisy show site with chairs being dropped and tables being scraped across the floor, or a myriad other things, but the number of dogs I saw at this show that were frightened and definitely did not display desirable breed temperament went way beyond that.

I know how important it is to choose a judge with the right kind of hands for a young dog. I believe that I have an easy hand on a dog and move easily to examine them. Nevertheless, at one show I had to excuse a beautiful young Cocker Spaniel that I tried to examine three timeseven tried to feed it bait. I hated to do it, because it was, physically, a good specimen. I realized it was a difficult, noisy building for a young dog, but I could not allow the dog's obviously frightened behavior to continue. When I excused him I heard another exhibitor exclaim, "Well, he just broke the major." Was I supposed to care about that? After the judging, I again tried to get the dog to relax, but it was not to be on this day.

Discussing the matter with a few of the breeders that were still around the ring, I explained that I had three choices. One was to force the pup to stand for examination, and perhaps so traumatize it that it might never show again (to say nothing of the stress level on the youngster). Two was to just make believe it was OK and just place the dog where I would haveand what was this saying about the breed? Isn't temperament an important trait of this breed? "Above all, he must be free and merry. Equable in temperament with no suggestion of timidity." I chose the third optionto remove the dog from this "frightful" situation in hopes that its confidence could be rebuilt to show at another time. My concern was for the dog, not the points.

Incredibly, I have seenin many breedsspecials that are so stressed out that they shake, drool, and lean hard against the handler to get away from the judge. How did these dogs finish? Pushing a dog through to its championship without regard to its psyche is cruel, to say nothing about poor judging. A handler that helped finish this dog is just looking for a "lunch dog." Any judge that allows this to happen is adding to the demise of that breed.

Who should shoulder the responsibility for this? All of us. The breeder that allows, and even pushes, entries to be made by inferior animals to build points is showing a callous disregard for the breed. The handler who shows these dogs should be avoided by other exhibitors looking for someone to show their dog. The judge who is afraid to excuse a dog or withhold ribbons is not a judge at all.

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