Dog Shows and Competitions
For most of dog history, dogs have been bred for their
skills - the best hunters, herders or draft dogs possessed the most desirable
bloodlines. In the 19th century as the world became more mechanized and people
had more leisure time, the role of the dog changed too. No longer required to
work to earn its food, the dog as companion became a reality. And so the emphasis
on breeding requirements subtly changed - no longer was it strictly necessary
for work related traits to be the most important in a dog - consistent physical
appearance could be a factor as well.
Thus began the first dog show. Held in England in 1859,
50 pointers and setter participated. The judging requirements are not known, but
by 1873 the English Kennel Club was formed and its Studbook, breeding records
of registered dogs, begun. Other Kennel Clubs were soon formed around the world.
Today's dog shows are not strictly beauty contests.
For each breed, judges assess how closely a dog conforms to the standard set for
that breed, and the standards are based on its traditional use (like hunting or
retrieving). Physical characteristics such as height, straightness of limb, soundness
of muscles and overall condition are evaluated. Behavior is also judged - each
dog must possess the temperament required for that breed, and a dog that is snappy,
shy or otherwise unsound is disqualified.
Dogs of the same breed are not judged against each other,
but against the breed standard. In a show, the dog that is awarded Best of Breed
then competes against other winners in its group - Working, Herding, etc. Again,
each dog is judged against its breed standard, with the dog that most closely
follows the conformation becoming Best of Show.
To ensure that the working characteristics of breeds
aren't lost, there are a variety of other competitions in which dogs can participate.
These seek to replicate situations that require the specific skills valued for
each breed. There are a number of organizations which sponsor these competitions
- the following are a few that are sanctioned by the AKC:
Your dog performs exercises which test its ability to respond to commands; three levels, ranging
from Companion Dog to Utility Dog.
Following a human scent, dogs track through a variety of settings, from rural to urban.
Dogs follow a set course of obstacles, results are timed.
Dogs herd livestock through a series of exercises, led by a handler (like in the movie 'Babe'.)
Small terriers follow and corner an artificial target 'animal' through a course.
Breeds that traditionally work in the
field, such as Pointers, Spaniels and Retrievers, can compete both individually
and in groups. They are judged on their ability to follow a scent, retrieve game
and a variety of other tasks, based on the skills required for different breeds.
In addition, individual breed clubs have instituted
competitions that test the dogs unique talents. For example, Bernese Mountain
Dogs, who were used by farmers to pull small carts, can still compete in cart-pulling
competitions. They are carefully monitored to make sure that loads do not exceed
a dog's ability. The results? A dog that can accomplish the kind of task for which
its body and intellect are suited. You know how good you feel when you do something
really well and people congratulate you? - dogs are no different.