Sportsmanship

There is an opinion being expressed that one shows a dog in conformation solely as a gage of the breeding worthiness of the animal. I can think of numerous other reasons for showing dogs in the conformation ring.

I have wonderful memories from my years of active show-going. My husband, David, and I enjoyed the private time in the car during travel back and forth to shows, and it provided quiet moments to talk to one another. And although the raison d’etre may have been to show our own dog, the talk on the trip home always included some magnificent animal that we saw being exhibited in one of the rings. Most importantly, memories not to be forgotten are the great friends we have gained through dog showing.

The established breeder in our area was wonderful to us, the new kids on the block. When I was investigating the breed, I looked at his dogs. Although I eventually bought my puppy elsewhere, he was extremely patient with my continued questions and always was willing to help me. And he was a sportsman. He never failed to congratulate us when our dog won. 

But I especially recall one of the many occasions when the judge put his dog up. On this particular occasion, before we could congratulate him, he apologized to us for what he considered an undeserved win. The friendship that our families shared both inside and outside the show ring was an example to both his clients and mine and made it possible for us all to feel comfortable sharing information about our dogs and working together. Down the line we were all able to work together to put on the 1990 ABdFC national specialty.

In one beautiful outdoor show-site in our area, the rings are surrounded on three sides by beautiful sloping grass lawns with shade trees. There was a playground in this park, and exhibiting families brought their children with them. We spent many enjoyable hours sharing information and soaking up knowledge around the picnic tables there. We were part of a community that provided wonderful social interactions among people who we otherwise would never have met. I believe this positive attitude among competitors provided an example of good sportsmanship at its best to new owners and exhibitors and to the children that many of the families involved brought with them.

I did not sell puppies as "show" or "pet" animals. I sold them on "breeding" or "non-breeding" contracts and tried to match the temperaments of each individual puppy to the family. As we followed up with the development of the puppies and helped with their adjustment into their families, a number of "non-show" families decided that they had pride in their beautiful Bouvier. We would always offer to help them acquire a championship on their dog. I would do the grooming gratis and David would handle the dog. Working on conformation showing with the owners gave us a better chance to influence them positively in a variety of ways.

Most importantly, the more time and pride owners invested in the dog, the more confident I was that the owners would become steadfast in experiencing all the enjoyment that their dog had to offer throughout its life. Working with owners in conformation also enabled us to keep very close tabs on the dog as they brought the animal to us to be groomed and gave us confidence that the owners would notify us immediately if a problem developed. The close relationship and cooperation between the owners and us, both as breeders and friends, fostered by the mutual effort of conformation showing was priceless.

It did not matter to us that the majority of the dogs we showed would never be bred. Breeding simply was not a priority yardstick for the worth of the dog. We were very proud of our dogs for the joy they brought to their owners and us. Our advertisements in the Dirty Beards and elsewhere were designed not to sell a litter but to express our enjoyment of the breed. We emphasized photos that captured some of our good feeling about the breed and avoided show photos that advertised a specific dog.

Yes, there may be an opinion going around that one shows a dog in conformation only as a gage of the breeding worthiness of the animal. But I ask why we should not be allowed to enjoy showing in conformation whether or not a specific dog had, at the time of exhibition, been certified by OFA for dysplasia, SAS or thyroid or by CERF for eye abnormalities? Why shouldn’t we be proud of a handsome dog whether or not it is ever bred? Our foundation bitch and her daughter were among the top-producing Bouvier dams of champion offspring. I am proud of this accomplishment, which to a large degree is a reflection of our efforts to maintain contact with the owners of our puppies and made possible by mutual hard work. Most of these champions were shown with no intention of being bred. They were shown as an expression of pleasure.

I remember a phone call I received from some folks who a short time before had purchased their first "pedigreed" dog from me. They had been watching Bouviers at a show, and the person sitting next to them (a well-known breeder of the time) pointed to a dog of my breeding and said, "I wouldn’t touch one of their dogs with a 10-foot pole."

 Fortunately these folks had a close relationship with us and were confident enough not to be concerned about their wonderful non-breeding Bouvier. In fact, they became convinced to let us help them show Corsair. He became one of the wonderful Daelgardes champions from my foundation bitch that was shown with no intent to be bred. We also encouraged Corsair’s owners, as well as other owners of several littermates, to attend an AHBA event (this was before AKC had a herding program). Corsair earned his HIC. I took photos of him working the sheep and used one of them in an advertisement. Why take away all these benefits because the dog was never X-rayed?

Good sportsmanship is important. Poor losers emit a miasma of unpleasant feelings and can poison the atmosphere for others. I well remember standing outside a show ring on a sparkling day in April at the largest outdoor show in Virginia. There were majors in both sexes. Two of the three entrants in the puppy dog class were siblings out of my foundation bitch’s third, and last, litter. One was shown by a professional handler, and my husband showed the other. They placed 1 and 2. A professionally shown dog from my foundation bitch’s first litter won the open class. The open dog went on to earn Winners Dog. This was followed by a bitch from the second litter out of my foundation bitch going Winners Bitch. And finally another bitch, a littermate of the Winner’s Dog and entered in the Best of Breed competition with a professional handler, went Best of Opposite.

I was so proud of the handsome Bouviers produced by my bitch and pleased that the judge apparently had recognized a consistency in type and quality. My elation was short-lived. Other exhibitors were quick to suggest that my dogs only won because they were professionally handled. I endured their hurtful remarks without comment, but I have always been disappointed that one of the few days I should have been able to enjoy - to be proud of the accomplishments of my dogs in the show ring - was taken away from me by the poor sportsmanship outside the ring.

Over time the congenial atmosphere in our area also changed. Old-timers "got out of dogs" and other, less sportsmanlike exhibitors came in. Exhibitors no longer talked to each other outside the ring, taking mutual enjoyment in the accomplishments of the breed, but instead divided up into cliques. David and I made a pact before we ever bred our first litter that when it was no longer fun we would also "get out of dogs". The change in the atmosphere around the show ring in our area took the fun out of exhibiting. 

Breeding as a hobby is not an inexpensive sport. Why continue if one isn’t allowed to enjoy the competition? I believe that the Bouvier breed lost more than it gained when we decided to stop actively breeding. The breed loses every time that unpleasantness in and around the show ring - or unpleasantness anywhere in the community of Bouvier fanciers - discourages novices from becoming more involved, and disenchants "veterans" from remaining involved, in what should be an excellent forum for breed education.

Everyone is entitled to her or his opinion, but it is much more constructive if disagreements can be discussed with the mutual respect that fosters understanding of the issues and leads to a resolution of problems. I wonder how many novices have been turned-off instead of educated due to aggressive, in-your-face attitudes? I know a legion of long-time breeders who are discouraged by the accusatory atmosphere and will not under any circumstances share their experiences outside a small circle of friends. 

The loss of sharing of this collective experience is a loss to the breed. If fanciers interested in the welfare of the breed cannot talk with exhibitors and breeders, their concerns, no matter how valid, are less likely to be addressed. To dogmatically equate conformation showing with breeding and breeders with insufficient concern for health and temperament does little to promote the well-being of the dogs. As an individual who, for many years, bred and showed Bouviers, the tone of "discussions" of some of the current Bouvier fanciers brings back echoes of past hurts.

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