Updated: Oct 19, 2020
I know many of you who read what I write personally, some I know through the internet, some are total strangers. But, I honestly believe that if you know or follow me at all, it's hard to look at my dogs and say they're abused, say they're unhappy, say they don't have a "real" life. My dogs' happiness is one of my top priorities and I can assure you that for the vast majority of people who show in conformation (dog shows) or trial in dog sports they want their dog to be happy too. CNN's Jeff Bermann's comments about 2020 Westminister winner Standard Poodle Siba were so badly ill informed and based on a complete lack of understanding of the life of a show dog.
Many ask, but how can you love your dog if you send them off with a handler to be shown? Handlers love the charges. I'll say it again, a good handler loves the dogs like their own. I train people's dogs for a living. That's not to say that their owners don't love their dogs because I train them. However, not every person has the skill set or time or understanding or physical capability or or or to train their own dog. That doesn't make them bad owners. Why is conformation considered any differently?
As to dog conformation shows themselves, they are more than a beauty pageant, though they're that too. In conformation, when it's working properly (absolutely no one is claiming that it always works properly, but what in the world does?) dog should be assessed for structure and temperament. They should be judged to a written guideline called a breed standard that outlines what an exemplary dog of that breed should look like. Dogs that win in conformation should be sound body and mind. Are there exceptions? Of course, but the exception doesn't prove the rule as they say. When a dog shows in conformation that gives their handler, owner, and breeder information. Is that dog a benefit to their breed or not? From there, breeders can take that information and find a good breeding match.
This is how the beautiful breeds that you see at Westminister and other dogs shows are assessed, but ultimately it's all just information. A dog that doesn't have their championship doesn't inherently mean they're a bad example of their breed- maybe they fell and broke a leg as a puppy, maybe they don't like the conformation ring and are a breed where that's acceptable temperament, maybe you don't have the money to show especially when all the shows are a minimum of 4+ hours away. Pedigree (family tree), temperament, working ability, and more all factor into breeding decisions. Those breeding decisions are what leads to consistency in looks and temperament (breed type) and it's what makes the pure bred dogs I work with much more predictable than the mixes I work with (and own). Hence why I say what you learn from conformation is all just a piece of a puzzle, but that doesn't mean that information isn't valuable.
Why do I show my dogs? Why do I show my azawakh who do not take to the ring naturally and in the US are required to be touched by a judge? I want my breed seen. Do I think that everyone makes a good azawakh owner? I have to just laugh at that notion because of course not. No one is suited for every breed. I am not the right owner for a golden retriever or lab or german shepherd or australian shepherd or...the list goes on and on. That's part of why breeds exist to suit different needs, to fill different niches. However, I show because I want to let my unique and rare breed be seen. And, the fact remains that we do need new people in the breed. We need people who love and understand the breed whether they have their azawakh as a pet only or if they also do conformation or performance. We can't get those people in the breed if they don't know the breed exists.
Do my dogs like showing? That's a complicated question and one that deserves an answer. They don't like standing for exam. It's not their nature to want a stranger stiffly looking over their every body part. We train often and socialize daily to keep their confidence with people. There is a trend in both the pet and training areas of avoiding anything that discomfits your dog. I find this truly odd since that is hardly a luxury people are allowed. People call their dogs their babies and yet human babies grow up, human babies have to experience the stress of school and homework and holding a job and more. Experiencing stress and pressure in a structured way allows you to learn how to handle it, how to be emotionally resilient. That's true whether your a dog or a human. So my dogs enjoy trotting around the ring, staying connected to me or a friend who is showing them. They tolerate the examination, enjoy some excellent snacks. And then get to pop over to the rally obedience ring and do an engaging routine. Or run agility. Or find birch odor in scentwork. And those sports? Those they love without reservation, but you know what, those can still be stressful as fun as they are.
But you know what else can be stressful to dogs that don't have practice at it? Taking a walk and having a garbage truck go by, walking over metal grates, having a stranger come to your house, staying in a hotel, going to the vet or groomer. And yet we don't yell at owners for walking their dog when they're mildly nervous.
So many say dog shows are terrible cruelty, farm owners are abusive, it's taking advantage of dogs to work them, and more. How many of you have based your opinions on first hand knowledge? How many of you have been to a dog show or a farm or watched a search and rescue dog work in person? Why not ask the people involved about what they do and why? Go to a dog show, please. Typically the only price of admission, unless it's one of the big shows, is the price of parking. Talk to handlers or owners (after their ring time). I have yet to have someone unwilling to talk to you. I imagine what you find will be restful, that the dogs won't be barking or pulling toward each other, that they will have beautiful eye contact with their handler or owner while showing. See the community that is built at dog shows and trials? Can it be petty or even vicious at times? Yes, but once again, what community isn't that true of? I've made so many friends the past few years because the dog world has been all in all incredibly welcoming. Showing and trialing my dogs has helped my bonds with my dogs more than I can say, has made me a better trainer, and has made me a better human. Besides, how can you look at the wide array of what my dogs do, including snuggling and chilling with us on the couch, and think they're unhappy?