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How the public sees purebred dogs and how dog show judges have endangered the health, structure, and future of "pedigreed" breeds.


Feb 2015 |

Updated from June 2006

Barbara "BJ" Andrews, Editor-In-Chief


I sat down at the group ring next to a slender, strikingly attractive woman. Non-sporting came in and she watched the first go-around intently.  As the judge examined  the first dog, she turned to me, apologized for interrupting and asked if Poodles had hair pieces? I said yes, some….. most. She nodded "Yes, horses wear tail pieces and some have hair braided into the manes."  The light bulb went off. Of course she was a horsewoman. I asked what events. “Hunter-Jumpers and Gaited.” Do you show? I thought what a silly question that was as she replied “U.S. Equestrian Team.” Oh.


Show jumping comparible to Agility and Barn HuntShe explained that she held a Masters in Veterinary medicine and was doing a research paper on how man has damaged the horse's health through “selective breeding.” For once I kept my mouth shut and listened as she explained how breeders had changed the skeletal structure to the extent that certain bones were elongated while others had shortened with the result that the jumpers suffered more injuries. She said there was a movement to increase bone size and density but not proportion.


I told her I'd gone to a Tennessee Walker show and was shocked that most were so sickle-hocked they couldn't  walk normally.  She nodded, then observed "At least in horses, there's not such a disparity in body shape." I said what about the Clydesdale and Shetland pony?  She laughed but we agreed that there was much more dissimilarity of size and structure in dogs. As the next group came into the ring, we wound up discussing tails; how it changes the configuration of the rear quarters and spine in both species.


I asked her to send me a copy of her paper and she smiled, saying it would be very lengthy and technical. Well of course. She didn’t think dog owners would read it any more than horse people but that it was of interest in the scientific community. I understood..


She then made a profoundly true statement that applies to all animal judging. "Every judge must understand that what he or she puts up today will impact the breed tomorrow."  I agreed but explained that in our sport, judges usually blame breeders for physical extremes and faulty structure.  She raised a perfectly tweezed eyebrow and said that was "patently dishonest!"


Agreeing with her, I explained that in dog shows, if an extreme characteristic is consistently awarded, that is what breeders will strive to produce. She asked if that was what changed German Shepherd dogs?  I said if she meant the rear quarters, yes, breeders will take over-angulated dogs into the show ring because the side gait is so flashy.  She frowned but nodded so I plunged on stating "If an exaggerated virtue catches the judges’ eye, it will be eagerly sought by everyone and thus will become ingrained and normal."


"So you are saying that wonderful breed has taken another step towards becoming a caricature of the canine, similar to the Walkers you mentioned?"


Exactly! I explained that nature’s dog is high on leg, with strong but moderate bone, slightly rounded croup, tail carried level with spine but capable of flagging high when communicating. He's prick eared, with triangular shaped head and muzzle length adequate to grasp and hold prey. Legs are moderately angulated, set under the body, capable of trotting long distances or sprinting in a gallop fast enough to catch its prey.


She nodded towards the Non-Sporting lineup.  "So you're saying these dogs can all do that?"


I explained a bit about Group divisions and that hounds and the spitz type have probably changed the least over the last two centuries. She said she had "ridden to the hounds" but asked what "spitz" meant so I used the Chow as an example.  "Are they the only primitive show breeds?"  I had to think on that.  I mentioned the Basenji but she had never seen a real one.  She immediately agreed that some coursing breeds have changed little.  I told her about the newly discovered Carolina Dog (basically unmolested mutts) and she countered with the New Guinea “singing dog.”


Laughing, we turned back to the ring as the Working group entered.  She asked why the Chow wasn't in there with the Samoyed, Husky, etc.  I was embarrassed to admit I didn't know and vowed to look it up.  She left then, saying she had a long drive back to the farm.  I stayed ringside, making notes to myself during BIS judging.


Regarding why the Chow is in the Non-Sporting Group, I found no reasonable explanation.  Every valid account describes them as "working" and "guard" including Wikipedia.


Do you agree that the first criteria dog show judges should consider is physical health?  Is there any Breed Standard which forbids emphasis on soundness?  Your comments invited below for a new feature on the Future Of Purebred dogs.


It is clear that all wild or pariah dogs are sound, healthy, intelligent, free-whelping, and capable of doing the “job” for which they were created. Are we contributing to the extinction of purebred dogs?  Challenged by the encroachments of civilization, wild dogs still hunt, still reproduce without human help, and they survive successfully.  One example is the New York City coyotes which thrive in Central Park and drainage culverts!!!


I am not a geneticist, but when we look at our dog show rings with the educated eye of that veterinarian-horsewoman, it is a disturbing sight.  It is a beauty contest, I understand that.  Soundness is beautiful to me but make no mistake, the public is beginning to see something else.  When a purebred dog shies from a human hand, when it huffs and puffs around the ring, when it presents in a coat that requires constant combing or either is so weirdly constructed that we have to keep propping it up, and then the judge awards those oddities, the pet-seeking public looks in the paper for "free to a good home" ads!


Could Designer Dogs be man’s instinctual way of reaching out for a more “natural” and useful companion? Will the more diversified gene pool diminish some of the horrid genetic problems which affect today’s “high bred” dog


Perhaps, but is that the answer?  Can a bad gene like PRA become endemic in a breed, thus transferring into another breed with widespread heart defects, the result being blind dogs that don’t live long?  Can a breed with an elongated spine transmit that deformity to one with a normal back but exaggerated angulation, thus combining two devastating structural abnormalities?


So judges, the burden is where it belongs. On you. You asked for the job. You hold yourselves out to be experts in canine type, soundness, and efficiency of movement. You have a huge responsibility to the domestic dog because the ever widening scope of genetic abnormalities can and will permeate the species. Exhibitors look to you for approval and we bring you what we think will win.


So here's the deal.  Only you dog show judges can slow down the structural disintegration of the purebred dog. Judge by the Breed Standards because unless our astute readers say otherwise, there isn't a single one that requires a purebred dog to be crippled, blind, or unable to reproduce without human help. Will you make a public commitment below?


Breeders.  If I was wrong in 2006 and today's purebreds are sounder and healthier overall than shelter mutts, tell us about it!  Enter your comments...


YOUR OVERWHELMING RESPONSE is appreciated but we have closed this comment section. Read comments now.

Jeanne Henderson

I believe that the Breeders who change the standards to what they are breeding are wrong. They should breed to the Standard and not change it.


Jessica "Designer Dogs" an "instinctual way of reaching out for a more 'natural' and useful companion"? No. These dogs are "cute and popular" bred to "cure and popular" and marketed as "the best of both worlds" to people who don't understand how genetics works. If you breed a genetically unsound purebred to another genetically unsound purebred, you get genetically unhealthy puppies.

     There is nothing "natural" or "useful" about a "Labradoodle" with chronic ear infections and hip dysplasia. Does the "Puggle" resemble the Natural Dog described in the 8th paragraph?

     I'm still stuck on the fact that the Chow and the Basenji were the first examples of "primitive breeds" that came to mind, particularly when the Working Group walked in the ring. Siberian Huskies have existed, relatively unchanged, for thousands of years, and Malamutes are not far behind. But that's beside the point. The Siberian, a mirror image to the "natural dog" described above, is also being damaged by rear overangulation (producing flying side gait) - and you are correct: The judges reward it, and short-sighted breeders (or new breeders, not knowing any better than what they see in the ring) breed it because it wins. I believe that judges and breeders are equally culpable when it comes to maintaining soundness: Ignorant judges reward unsound dogs, but what happens when the ring is full of unsound dogs - how many judges will dismiss one dog for lack of merit, much less an entire class? Those who claim to love their breed and fight for its preservation are also responsible for bringing correct, sound animals to the judges.


Vida Hughes

If judges would prioritize soundness and structure before all the others breed standards. Yes, I know some are "head" breeds but structure should still be first and foremost. I actually ache when observing the German Shepherds in the ring. I am 74 years old and remember the functional German Shepherd and their beauty.


Doug Matson

I agree with everything you have written. In addition, you have not even addressed how the character and temperaments have changed to where many working, sporting, and herding dogs do not have any interest and are unable to perform the jobs there were originally bred for.



Anyone who doesn't think we have drastically changed are breeds should look at the dogs that won at the Gardens in the 30's. A few years ago Canine Chronicle ran an article with photos of some o f the breeds. The Shellie had a manageable coat as di the Keeshond. The Bassett hound was long but had nearly not the length of ear nor the massive body we are now seeing. The German Shepard was balanced and I dint run downhill in the rear. Even my breed the Saluki wasn't nearly so extreme. Dachshunds were long but not to excess. Is it our judges or our breeders? I feel it's is both as well as handlers for promoting individuals that are extreme. When winning becomes more important than breeding to a correct standard we all lose.


Linda Isensee

When you are talking about horses... the wild horses or mustangs are skittish all of the time because they are in constant danger all of their lives...they are not happy like the modern cinema portrays...if given a chance they would much rather be fed and cared for and feel secure than be in the wild...they have a very limited lifespan also...they also produce sickness and genetic anomalies but they are eaten by predators right away because of this...It is the same in the dog world... every day I have someone calling me telling me that they have done their duty and purchased a shelter dog and spent thousands of dollars on them and now they are wondering if they can afford my dogs because they have spent so much money on the shelter dog...and this is no exaggeration. Just because you take two dogs that have dissimilar breeding genes doesn't mean you have done something wonderful! If you start from an unknown you have no idea on how to reproduce and good trait or avoid a poor one! It is like using a shotgun sprays but you have no idea where it will be effective... I will admit breeders make mistakes sometimes but unfortunately we aren't God...many times we wish we had that power to eliminate all disease and imperfections...but we do not have that power...God has the that ending to his book! As far as temperament...I can attest to what you see at the shelter in the dogs and once you bring them home and they have taken over the home their true temperaments come out and unless the new owners have training abilities they usually end up back in the shelter...We no longer have an agrarian based society...people have no clue about training animals they just indulge them and expect them to be grateful for "loving them"...this isn't love it is irresponsibility. So what dog breeders must do is educate our puppy owners ...the happy outgoing puppy that leaves us comes with a responsibility to train and nurture so that he can become a blessing...not a curse.



In the horse world there is a saying how to define a great Ferrier (horseshoer) to a so-so Ferrier. A great Ferrier shapes the shoe to fit the horse's hoof. A so-so Ferrier shapes the horse's hoof to fit the pre made shoe. The same for breed standards. The prevailing powers that be in any given breed club can direct how they want the standard to go, reflecting their idea of what the breed is (versus what the breed really does/is). One breed club even went as far to include on their website that the breed does not do __________________ yet the breed has been used in that capacity in its native homeland, for 100s if not 1000s of years, doing just that.


Liz Lufrano

Agreed. This problem is exacerbated when national breed clubs change the Breed Standard to what is winning in the ring/being bred.


Marion Ford

I find that newer judges generally don't know the handlers that are "supposed to win" and do pick the best dog on the day in their opinion. I've heard that in the past, the AKC Rep will go up to them later and question their choice and point out that Mr. Handler has the #1 dog in the country, or Ms. Handler will go up to the judge and using their best marketing skills, let the judge know that they just dumped the 'best' dog in the country. Or, they'll point out the winning dog's faults to a tee. How does a new judge handle that type of pressure?


Anonymous replying to Marion Ford

The compulsion to stand up for the right thing. Or else why are they judging, to win a popularity contest? There are a few really good judges out there... each person needs to do what they can to support them.


DM replying to Marion Ford

The new judges soon learn what they are expected to do and it frequently is about the handler or breeder of note not the actual animals in the ring.



OMG This article is spot on. I have a toy breed that is supposed to have a silky single coat, yet I see dogs being given wins that have coats that drag on the ground and poufy.



There are also judges who judge according to what the breed should be able to do, movement/structure, historical correctness with modern presentation that no longer get assignments. Why? Because they are too good at assessment and don't place top winning dogs (by other judges) and are then blackballed for those necessary skills in judging. Provisional judges who don't kiss love on handlers or top winning dogs never get out of provisionals.


Anonymous NB

This article states what I have said for years. As a Owner/Handler/Breeder for 40 + yrs I have done my best to breed to the standard. YES this means I am not a BIG winner although I did have #1 in my breed two years 1989 & 1990. I feel Judges too often go for presentation and grooming. If the dog comes close that is enough.... I also hardly ever see Judges 'with hold ribbons' and therefore many dogs become Champions and Breeders who did not even deserve to win their class.... Has it changed the breeds?? Absolutely because today we do not have that many 'real breeders'. Legislation and economy have pretty much done away with long term breeders and we have what I call 'short term-quick reward' breeders. It is a double problem. Judges put up 'pretty and stylish or friends'. People who are a short term breeder want instant rewards and therefore will breed WHAT WINS... I think the statement I HATE the most is having heard AKC Judges says "After all it is a DOG SHOW"! No it is a show to make sure you are breeding sound dogs of quality to meet proper breed standard. As stated - too many breeds have been ruined to mention a few: German Shepard, Pekes, Poodles, Cocker Spaniel, these dogs in present state could not do what they were bred for but boy do they look pretty going around the show ring. The Peke is a toy breed and therefore has no "purpose' but they have been bred to the point of not being able to BREATH properly and they are not the only breed this has happened to - all in the name of 'BEAUTY"


Regarding those that claim that standards are being changed to fit what is in the ring today - I challenge you to actually look at the standards. The original approval date and most recent change date are there. Most of the recent changes are formatting changes - for example the Sheltie standard was first approved in 1959, and the most recent change was reformatting in 1990 (many standards were reformatted about that time to bring them into a more standardized format). Before claiming that changes are routinely made, particularly to match what is winning, you might actually want to do some research.


Joe (JMO)

The changes seen in the dogs of today cannot be blamed on a single person or group of people. A single judge cannot change what is being shown in the ring no matter how many times they see the dog. Although I do not feel the show ring is an "even playing field" that it is represented to be, I have beaten dogs that had not only the name but the handler. That being said lets all get back to our grass roots and take a heavy look at our dogs. Work towards the standard and put those dogs in the ring. Eventually everyone will get the message that this is what the dog of our breeding should look like and how it should move. In a previous article it was stated that sometimes the best dog in the ring is the odd man out because it conforms to the standard and not what is popular. If we as Owner/Handlers and Judges begin to take offence to hair pieces, covered blemishes, dyeing, etc. (or more importantly don't do them ourselves) and hold with the stated Code of Conduct, then pointing fingers will stop and our dogs will keep their form, function and vitality.


Patricia Dollar

I spent most of my career in the pulp and paper industry. We had an expression for the Mill Reps who came to visit our office on a regular basis. We called them "Tourists with swatch books" mostly because they came into town, dropped off a few samples, bought a few lunches, imparted no knowledge and then moved on to the next town. In my opinion most AKC judges are merely tourists with a judges badge; they come into town, stand around to award their friends, have a dinner and drinks with a few more friends and then move on to the next town. Worse yet are those who manage to be on the judges selection committee of their local club and trade plum assignments with each other. They would make the White House Plum Book at each election cycle look like a fairy tale with the boldness of their favoritism. Dog shows are no longer a sport.... in fact this sport(sic) makes Ice Skating look good....even they have cleaned up their act in light of repeated scandals. AKC needs a major overhaul of its system to get the Rats out of the Grain. *60 years in dogs and former spouse of an AKC licensed handler so not a sour grapes exhibitor...... I know where the bodies are buried in this sport and it’s a love big grave yard!!!!



Judges do not always follow the standards either. Example: A Shetland sheepdog is a herding breed so structure should be the top priority. But watch what is winning in the rings, pretty heads! Why, because some of the biggest named breeders keep promoting heads. The breed has lost their front structure. Many top winning dogs are straight in the front, over angulated and cow hocked rears, etc. And yes, people breed to these dogs just because they are the top dogs! I have seen some moving around the ring with their heads high in the air. Not correct. They should be dropping their heads out in front of them almost level with their top lines and moving out. The front toes should reach out to the tip of the nose with the head in the forward and outward position. When I asked once why such and such a dog was winning so much when he had both a straight front and over angulated rear, I was told, "He's balanced, both his front and rear are bad but he's balanced"! The more judges rewarded this dog the more people bred their bitches tot him.


Sandy Davis

I have owned, bred, and shown my breed for over 45 years. Judges are a powerful force since the exhibitors/breeders want to successful and win. Sadly many do not make good choices due to ignorance, or influence. The focus for a Dog Show these days is a beauty contest instead of a forum for judging healthy quality breeding stock. The result is that all participants strive to be as pretty as possible, even to the detriment of the breed they are exhibiting. I have bred for soundness for years, and I do have many Champions, but prefer to spend my money trying to improve my breeding stock instead of Advertising in Dog Publications. The result is I sometimes lose to dogs of poor quality and structure who are cleverly presented. It is a sad commentary on the whole system.



Gait in the Sheltie is worth 5 points out of the 100 possible. This is just wrong in a herding dog! Our standard also indicates that the dog is not expected to show full-time. But find a judge who will put up a sound, pretty dog who does not show constantly over an unsound dog who is a non-stop showman! In my opinion, a herding or working dog should be an all-round dog who is aware of his surroundings (a flock isn't going to last long if the herding or guardian dog is focused on what's for lunch!) and can do the job; if he can do that, then the final question should be does he look like the breed in question...not the other way around.


Karen McNamara

The Dalmatian is a moderate dog strong muscular without exaggeration or coarseness. Capable of great endurance. Yet week after week I see judges putting up dogs with over-angulated rears, bad feet poor top lines and all because of who owns the dog. Judges need to step up, and judge to the standard and maybe clubs will start seeing an increase in their entries. It breaks my heart to see a breed I love ruined by a few who think exaggeration is okay!



Is there really anything more odd than a dog that doesn't shed? Should we eliminate all non-shedding breeds? No more Poodles, Bichons, Bedlingtons, Wheatens, Kerries, etc. Where do you draw the line on "genetic abnormalities"? A non-shedding dog would not survive in the wild...

     Through the years we have created the various breeds we enjoy today. They all came about to suit a particular purpose. Should they be healthy and sound? Of course. But it's not fair to call them a "caricature of the canine" because they don't resemble one of the primitive breeds. Papillons and Cavaliers were never meant to course game or guard estates - they were (and are) wonderful companion dogs - created by man. Designer dogs are not "more natural" and are not healthier than their purebred counterparts. Breeders of purebred dogs do health testing to try to improve the likelihood of healthier puppies/dogs, which is not being done by people breeding mixed breed dogs. The latest research shows mixed breed dogs to have a similar incidence of health problems as their purebred counterparts.

     Crippled and blind dogs must be excused from the ring. How is a judge to really know if a dog is unable to reproduce without human help? Honestly. I know of quite a few dogs/breeds that should be able to reproduce naturally but don't/can't because of lack of libido...and I know of a number of dogs that don't look like they should be able to reproduce naturally that have. How are we to judge that?!? I'm sorry, I think that's a ridiculous statement unless you propose we do test breedings in the ring to decide which dogs should go on to compete further? What is there then to commit to?

     Are our purebred dogs sounder and healthier than the shelter mutts? Probably not. But our purebred dogs are predictable. We know, through decades and centuries of breeding for particular traits, what our purebred dogs should look like, should act like, and why they suit a particular purpose.


Wayne Goodman

I seem to be late entering this fray but I speak for the "old time" German Doberman and Rottweiler. Most of the dogs in the ring today would be in the bucket in my country. Smutty markings, no coat on neck, long back and long lower thigh to match. That is not balance. Not type. That article did not cover these problems but smart breeders know.


Susan Wellman

Dog shows for the most part are freak shows! Very rarely is the dog that best fits the standard put up. In my opinion, the dog most likely to win is either own by someone who contributes the most money or is handled by someone who is supported by the most wealthy. I have never shown in AKC conformation, but have been lucky enough to have been educated by responsible breeders who continue to show to the standard and occasionally won when judged by an honest judge. Recent years winners seem to be based on the handler. Often I can predict the winners of Eukanuba/Westminster, etc. type shows by the handlers who have been winning throughout the year, depending on the dog he/she handles in groups and best of show. How can an organization like AKC be respected, when they advertise dyes, hairpieces, makeup, etc. in their magazine when these items are supposed to be strictly forbidden. AKC, PLEASE, PLEASE clean up your organization or you will soon self-destruct.

Copyright ? 066152



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