SI Vault
Robert H. Boyle
February 26, 1973
The stuffy atmosphere of Westminster was less dense this year, but the dog people barked as loudly as ever
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February 26, 1973

Doggy Doings In The Garden

The stuffy atmosphere of Westminster was less dense this year, but the dog people barked as loudly as ever

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The former president of the Bronx County Kennel Club, Captain Haggerty has noted that many persons today are buying dogs because they feel threatened. "No matter what anyone who buys a Dobe tells you," said the captain, "they're buying it for protection." American Kennel Club registration rankings bear out the trend to big dogs. Ten years ago, six of the top 10 breeds were small. Now five of those—Chihuahuas, Pekingese, cocker spaniels, Pomeranians and Boston terriers—have dropped out. In their places are Irish setters, St. Bernards, Labrador retrievers and Dobermans. One small breed, the miniature schnauzer, has also moved up into the top 10, but this is also a dog that doesn't do much backing down.

Not everyone at Westminster was happy about the trend to big breeds. Don Dub� of Mardonof Kennels in North Attleboro, Mass., who was at the show with his St. Bernards, said, "We had the highest increase in registrations of all breeds, and that was unfortunate. When a breed becomes popular, the quality goes down." Dub� was not referring to the dogs at the show or to reputable breeders but to those animals produced by operators of so-called "puppy mills" who breed dogs by the thousands when a fashion sets in. The puppy-mill plague affects any number of breeds including the poodle, No. 1 in AKC registration, and the German shepherd, No. 2. Contributing to the problem are well-intentioned but ignorant "backyard" breeders, the man down the street who has a boxer and wants to breed it with yours. Poor-quality dogs result, and the breed suffers. At the benches at Westminster there was some discussion of the German approach—where a breed club has to approve matings, and puppies that do not run true to type in appearance or temperament are destroyed. It is highly unlikely that this system will be accepted here in the foreseeable future, but meanwhile dog buyers are urged not to patronize pet shops but to seek out established breeders who stand behind their stock as sound.

Aside from seeking security, some people buy dogs for status. Bench talk at Westminster credited status for the rise of the Irish setter and the Shih Tzu, whose registrations have almost doubled to over 5,000 in the four years since admission to AKC registry. The Shih Tzu, a perky, long-haired little beast, was bred in days of old by eunuchs vying for position in the Chinese court, and today it seems destined to replace the less even-tempered Pekingese as the favorite lap dog of the storied fat lady nibbling bonbons as she sprawled on a chaise longue. The Irish setter is one of the most beautiful of all dogs but it is a breed that demands constant attention and training. "The Irish setter seems to be bought by an Irish Catholic husband who wants an Irish dog," said Captain Haggerty, himself without a trace of a brogue. "He goes off to work, leaving the dog with his Irish Catholic wife who is busy with the four Irish Catholic children who are two years old, three years old, four years old and five years old. Then they all wonder why the dog doesn't behave."

Breeds rise and fall in popularity as life-styles change. Mrs. Helen Ginnell of Bedford Hills, N.Y., a well-known breeder of dual purpose (show and field) Labradors, said, "The cocker spaniel is like silver fox. Who wears silver fox today? There's a sort of reverse status. The American water spaniel may be coming up. It's the first time I've noticed them at Westminster. Owning an American water spaniel is like wearing blue jeans instead of silver fox. The same with the Australian terrier."

Perhaps the most interesting trends involve dog people themselves. In place of the grand old kennel owners of yesteryear are an increasing number of blue-collar exhibitors. Archie Bunker is deep in doggy doings. An intellectual type who requested anonymity said, "I'm very close to a guy who went all out for Wallace. I was for McGovern. If it weren't for our interest in the same breed of dog we wouldn't even talk to one another."

Another trend is family involvement. Don Sturz got into golden retrievers because his young daughter was afraid of dogs. That was five years ago. Last year she won a junior showmanship ribbon. As a matter of fact, Sturz stayed late on the closing night to watch his son in the junior showmanship finals. Junior showmanship, in which youngsters 16 or under are judged on their ability to handle, is not everyone's cup of tea (as the finals began, one woman stalked out of the press section, loudly asking, "Is this adult entertainment?") but the junior showmanship judge was Mrs. James Clark, who as Anne Hone Rogers got her start in junior showmanship and went on to handle three best-in-shows at Westminster.

And finally, some people are getting bored with just looking at their dogs lying around the house. Shows are one important outlet, field trials for hunting dogs another. The number of dogs shown has jumped from 200,000 to 700,000 in the last 10 years, and beagle, retriever and spaniel field trials have burgeoned. Hound enthusiasts from the show ring have started their dogs on the coursing trail. Just last year terrier fanciers formed the American Working Terrier Association. Trials are held in which terriers atavistically recall their hunting background and go to ground in an artificial "earth" with tunnels—to earn a certificate of gameness. According to Robert Belviso, a Kerry Blue man at Westminster, the driving force behind the working terriers is Jim Scharnberg of Valley Forge, Pa., a 35-year-old advertising art director who shows up at trials wearing knickers and a foraging cap. The working-terrier people even allow crossbred terriers to participate, and one dog that has them fascinated is the Jack Russell terrier from England. The Jack Russell can be registered neither in England nor with the AKC here but it is so spirited it has won a sort of superstatus in the canine underground. As Helen Ginnell said, "If someone asks you if you know the Jack Russell and you say yes, note how disappointed they are. That's status!"

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