Yesterday the wicket came out at the Labrador ring. Not called for by
an exhibitor, rather the judge chose to use it. This was an all breed
show the day after a supported entry, so there were quite a few
Labradors. What was shocking was not only the results, but the
I was in the 12-18 month dog class and after we came in the judge went
to the table and spent a number of minutes looking at the standard. I
could see what she was reading and noticed a picture of a nice looking
Labrador, quite typey, not a all-round type. So I thought to
myself—good for her, at least she is checking rather than being unsure
of the standard and just guessing. I also noticed she measured my dog
against her leg.
Beginning with the 12-18 month bitch class she measured. Of the first
five dogs she wicketed, three were DQ'd. The AKC rep was ringside
and a crowd gathered. Of the next five bitches she measured at least
three of them should have been DQ'd, as the wicket bar did not
touch them. But there wasn’t an obvious inch or two of daylight so
she just let it go and stopped excusing them.
A number of exhibitors pulled their bitches and did not show. Some
exhibitors were outraged and others scared, it was not a pleasant
situation. A discussion ensued that all breed shows were terrible, and
many Labrador people refuse to attend. The whole experience was wild,
and made me think long and hard, and want to share those thoughts, as there
are two issues I feel we as Labradors breeders should consider.
First, we have a standard with a height disqualification. We have had
it for 33 years. While I know we all like to complain about it, it is
indeed our standard. So unless we can manage to get it changed, it is
interesting that so many of us say we will only show at specialties
where there is no chance of dogs being measured. Because watching
this judge measure bitches, clearly a huge majority of our Labradors
are undersized. And I mean HUGE majority, like 80%. We are flat out
ignoring our standard, it was shocking to see how far off we are.
Bitches I thought were normal sized were measured out. So even if we
did away with the DQ, we would still have many undersized dogs. I’m
curious how many breeders actually measure their dogs, because I think
they would be surprised at the results.
Let me just throw in a personal antidote: I have worked hard on size
in my dogs. It is not easy, but it does help keep my numbers down. I
once had a well-respected breeder judge say to me—when you breed for
size and leg you will lose a lot. I found that interesting, but I
think to some degree she is right. I see some breeders prioritizing
size and leg often at the expense of breed type. It is much easier to
find the really beautiful, typey Labradors in a shorter, smaller
package. This is so true my friends know the last few months I have
been saying—I give up. We are going to start choosing the smaller,
shorter legged puppies (and we did in our last litter). Scott and I
have placed many over the years because they just weren’t big enough,
and had begun to question those decisions. The short ones often win,
and people continue to breed to those dogs. So why focus on an issue
if few other people care? Is it true our breed would be better off if
we didn’t focus on height? Are other qualities significantly more
important, even though height is actually a disqualification? That
said it is also true we have a versatile breed and a size range should
be accepted. We all know that.
Second, I am torn about the thought of never going to all breed shows.
Up here in the northwest we don’t have a choice, there are only two
AKC specialties within a ten hour drive, so we don’t have the options
those elsewhere do with specialties every weekend. And I like going
to all breed shows. I like watching other breeds and professional
handlers and groomers. I like watching the group rings and all that
comes with that level of competition. Watching the best of the best is
educational, from handling skills to work ethic to professionalism in
and out of the ring, I am always inspired by the really good handlers
and the really good dogs. A beautiful dog is a pleasure to witness
regardless of breed.
And frankly, I don’t often see terrible judging. Maybe I go to the
bigger shows so the judges are more qualified, but I rarely see
terrible dogs winning. And if you want to play the politics card, a
great breeder said to me many years ago—no one is more political than
an American breeder judge. While I was taken aback at the time, there
is something to that. I truly don’t believe most judges are
political, but they can only judge what we present them and if we
never bring our good dogs to all breed shows, how will they learn what
quality looks like? And if we only bring our quality dogs untrained
and out of condition, how can we blame the judges when we don’t win?
If breeder judges are tolerant of lack of conditioning and handling
skills and don’t enforce disqualifications, is that a good thing? I
know it helps to make the Labrador ring a fun and accepting place, but
I think all breed shows create checks and balances needed in every
breed, and they are what the dog fancy are all about.
Part of me believes these two things go hand in hand. Like all of
you, I hate the reputation Labradors have at all breed shows. It is
embarrassing and I’ve always believed unfair. After yesterday I’m not
so sure. If we as a breed refuse to hold ourselves to the same level
of professionalism expected in every other breed is it any wonder we
have lost respect? Labradors are the greatest, most versatile breed
in the world, are healthy and presented naturally bybreeder/owner/handlers
who generally enjoy themselves. Other breeds should aspire to be like our
ring, but somehow don't. Should our standard include a height DQ? Absolutely
not. Should we work harder to get our dogs closer to the proper height? I think
so. A middle ground would be nice.