German Shepherds

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AKC Dog Shows – is it about the dog anymore?

This is an outsider’s look at the most popular dogs shows in the US

I’m no dog expert, that’s my wife.  I got pulled into the professional dog world when I got involved with her many years ago and in many ways I still consider myself an outsider.

Yes, we own dogs (German shepherds, malinois, and collies) but my wife shows them and is the show (and training, working etc) expert.  My joy comes in the form of cuddling with them on a couch to watch TV or movies.

With this aside, after many years of observing “professional” dog shows, I’ve come to the conclusion that it is not about the dog but more about the person who shows the dog or the person (or people) who owns the dog.  Its not about standards, its not about what the dog should look like, its not about how the dog acts, and it is definitely not about the dogs work ethic.

First, a little lesson in how these shows work.  The parent breed organization (a national organization for a specific breed of dog – there can only be one organization per breed) sets up a dog’s standard – stating how the dog should look and act to be considered a good representation of the breed.  They send it up to AKC and AKC needs to approve it before the breed is “recognized” by the AKC (I guess they’re blind to all of the other breeds out there).  The AKC tells the parent organization that the AKC approved “standard” is the only one that they can accept.  This already puts dogs form the countries of origin (like Germany for German shepherds, UK for collies, and Japan for Akitas etc).  These countries of origin should know what a good representation of the breed should look like since they engineered the breed for their needs, sometimes over thousands of years.

The breed organization is now locked into this American standard and people sign up with the breed organization to “show” their dogs in this alleged beauty contest (most of the time it is nothing more than that).  I don’t know the exact numbers but the vast majority of AKC sponsored (well, approved) shows are for conformation (beauty contests), I rarely see shows for working ability.  Now, the true nature of the dog is at a disadvantage.

AKC “approves” judges who are hired by local clubs to judge dogs based on the standard.  This is where the worst damage happens.  Let me take German shepherds (a.k.a. GSD) for example.  We can see AKC’s standard on their website (http://www.akc.org/breeds/german_shepherd_dog/ ) and let’s take a few points out of it.

The very first thing in the standard for the GSD is:
“The first impression of a good German Shepherd Dog is that of a strong, agile, well muscled animal, alert and full of life.”

This, in the eyes of AKC and the GSDCA is what should be the most important aspect of the German shepherd.  Strong, agile, well muscled, and full of life.  Well then, if it is so important how come we rarely see AKC champion German shepherds doing other aspects like agility?  Many of the winning dogs I see today are frail and very timid.

The next section of the GSD’s standard is temperament and this is the first thing it says:

“The breed has a distinct personality marked by direct and fearless, but not hostile, expression, self-confidence and a certain aloofness that does not lend itself to immediate and indiscriminate friendships.”

Remember – this is the very first thing stated in the temperament standard hinting that this is the most important aspect of the GSD’s temperament and what it should be.

Sadly, I’ve lost count at the number of times I’ve seen dogs given best in breed *and* group placements (when the best of each breed competes against the other best of breed winners in a specific group (herding, terriers, working, etc) who are afraid of the judge.  Doesn’t the standard say “fearless, but not hostile, expression, self-confidence”?  Why are dogs that are afraid of judges (and these dogs are shown often) given kudos?  I’ve even seen dogs snark at other dogs in the ring or people outside of the ring yet the judge insists on ignoring these situations with the dog and still gives them ribbons.  In the past two months I’ve seen dogs who shied away from the judge, jump away from other dogs, even jump away from the judge all given best of breed ribbons?

Many people may think that this isn’t harming the breed in any way but as these dogs win more shows, they get to be in demand for breeding thus passing along their genes.  Also, since working ability is not, in any way, part of these show results breeders concentrate more on looks than work ethic and temperament.  Looking at today’s American bred German shepherd, you see the hind legs so crouched down that their rear ends are practically dragging on the ground.  Can you imagine them trying to spend a day (or longer!) trying to herd a large flock of sheep?  I’m willing to bet most could do it for an hour or two at most then get extremely tired.  What if a predator came up to the flock?  Most of these dogs are afraid of a friendly judge let along a wolf, bear, coyote, or other threat to the flock.  Some guardian.

We also look at the gait (movement) of the GSD:

“General Impression– The gait is outreaching, elastic, seemingly without effort, smooth and rhythmic, covering the maximum amount of ground with the minimum number of steps.”

I see many GSDs given ribbons who tire themselves out just trotting around the ring – obviously the trip around the ring was not without effort.  Many also bounce around while moving and some even seem to trip over their own feet.  I’ve even seen breed ribbons given to GSDs who could barely make it around the ring!

I also love the fact that white GSDs are considered a disqualification.  This is odd since the grandfather of the very first official German shepherd was a white GSD.

Link to the GSD:
http://www.pedigreedatabase.com/gsd/pedigree/1208.html

And the maternal grandfather:
http://www.pedigreedatabase.com/gsd/pedigree/8309.html

Looks rather white to me – so the AKC says that this is not a German shepherd?

So, what gives?  Easy – politics.

First, many judges are breeders themselves of the breed (or breeds) that they judge so they want to promote their own lines.  I’ve seen it many times before – judges handing the ribbon to dogs that they do not own or bred (that would be against the rules) but are of the same lineage or even a generation or two down the line for their breeding.

They also want to cater the big supporters of the show’s supporting clubs so that their clients are happy and they’ll be rehired at a later time.  Clubs tend not to hire judges who don’t cater to their members.

Many times also the judges judge on the wrong end of the leash.  There are a group of people called “professional handlers” who get paid to show other people’s dogs.  The most the handler wins ribbons for the dogs, the more in demand that hander becomes (and the more they charge).  There comes a point where the judge starts to recognize the handler as a “winner handler” and gives the ribbon to that handler, regardless of what dog they’re showing.

My German shepherds are German lines and I’ve seen judges send my dog to the back of the line (a big f-you in dog show languages – saying “I want you to be 100% sure that I think your dog is the worst dog here”).  Some judges don’t even know the gender of my dog – even AFTER her examination (one even said, while he had his hand all up in her business and was judging bitches “He’s going to grow up to be a big boy!”).  So, if these judges can’t tell a male from a female, then how can we take their interpretations of the standard seriously?

Some people reading this may think that it is all sour grapes.  It is not – I don’t mind seeing my dogs lose to good dogs (and I’ve seen it before, too).  My dogs also have schutzhund titles, do well in Sieger shows (true German style shows for German shepherds), have other titles (herding, obedience, CGC, etc). But there is a clear distinction between American line and German line German shepherds.  Let’s break down what each set is good / popular in.

American line German shepherds are popular in:
AKC (American Kennel Club) shows
Pet Store / Puppy mill puppies
Back Yard breeders (small puppy mills)
Rescue and shelter dogs

German line German Shepherds are popular in:
UKC (United Kennel Club (Europe)) shows
Sieger (German style GSD) shows
Police Work (in the US and around the world if they do not use other breeds (Dobermans, French poodles, malinois))
Military Work (in the US and around the world if they do not use other breeds (Dobermans, French poodles, malinois))
Non-puppy store / puppy mill household pets
Schutzhund
Protection dogs
Obedience
Herding
Agility
Other “sports” (fly ball etc)

I’m sure the list could go on but this is quite clear and if you were to choose a dog, which list would you like it to be a part of?

If you still don’t believe me, why is it when we show our German girl as all the gods are leaving the ring she is the one with the crowd around her?  She’s the one who isn’t snarling and/or snarking at children, she’s the one getting people asking about her, puppies, and what she can do, not the winners?

This isn’t just German shepherds, either.  I see it with many breeds that were engineered for a purpose.  Collies, border collies, Dobermans, Belgian shepherds (malinois, tervuern, groenendale), greyhounds, Newfoundlands, and so on.  Very few of these popular show champions can actually do the job that the breed was invented to do.

There’s also the “foundation stock services” that AKC offers.  These are breeds that AKC will take money from the respective clubs and owners for registration purposes but will not allow them to compete in these beauty contests, thus hiding their breeds.  Just last year were these breeds allowed to actually start earning working titles.  Breeds like the Belgian Laekenois (and why do they recognize the other 3 varieties of the Belgian shepherd?), the Shiloh shepherd, the Icelandic sheepdog, the Dutch shepherd, the Vlcak (Czechoslovakian wolf-dog), and many other breeds listed at http://www.akc.org/breeds/fss_breeds.cfm .  So AKC – why are these breeds not “accepted”?  It appears that this is a grade-school style “boys only club”.  AKC will collect money from these owners but not give them the full benefits of being “recognized”.

The AKC also feels that they can split different verities of the same breed into different groups.  Take the collie for example.  The AKC has two breeds – rough collies and smooth collies.  Rough collies have the long flowing coat while smooth collies have a shorter coat.  Why are these two breed yet in the German shepherd ring, you have the regular ones, coated shepherds (long fur coats) and black German shepherds all part of the same breed?

It’s quite clear that the AKC, their judges, approved parent breed organizations, and their breeders have all done drastic damage to many breeds of dogs and this damage is close to (if not completely) irreversible without serious intervention from the countries of origins’ breed clubs.

The next time you pay to go see an AKC dog show, just take a moment to see what your admission fee is supporting.  Yes, there are many local clubs that do a lot of good in trying to promote the real breed, working with shelters and rescue, teaching responsible dog ownership, but unfortunately these clubs are far and few between.

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4 Responses to “AKC Dog Shows – is it about the dog anymore?”

  1. Diana. Says:

    I agree with all you have stated, I used to breed G.S.D’s many year’s ago.
    I stopped breeding & showing when they changed the breed standard, I refused to breed sub-standard G.S.D’s who’s back end’s drag on the ground!
    The show dog’s of today are knocked kneed & some can not even walk properly, let alone protect a flock of sheep.
    Some breeds Crufts Dog Show has banned, inc. the G.S.D., & the R.S.P.C.A & the B.C.C also some sponsor’s have pulled out of the show after many, many year’s.
    I am now owned by, but do not breed White German Shepherd’s who look & act like a German Shepherd should, four square & proud!

  2. Cindy Tuley - Dog Trainer Says:

    Thank you for what was one of the most honest posts I have read. I have started to see breeds like the Doberman, the GSD, even Labs start to get ruined for the sake of “show” quality dogs.. instead of keeping their working heritage and build I have added you in my reader.. I look forward to more of your articles.

    Dog Training Florida

  3. Debbie Jensen Says:

    I have seen some terrible looking dogs in a video under “frog german shepherd”. The backs on these dogs are shaped like an upside down banana. The hind quarters move inches lower then their top line. This is not from over angulation. This is from their backs being so bowed over. That is not the top line of a AKC but a German line breeding. The famous cookie cutter look that is now being breed. These dogs are coming with plush coats. Hyper temperment. Those descriptions don’t fit the breed standards either. Can breeders just stick to the standard? Should a female be just as large as a dog or should you be able to tell the difference just buy their muscle and bone size. I don’t like seeing these weak hindends where they are “cow hocked” and their front legs are too close so their feet turned out. Shows can be very disappointing. I don’t think any particular country is doing these wonderful dogs any favors as they decide which is the better design. Where is their level backs when they move around the ring??? I have a girl I show and we are half way to a championship. I have 1 more qualifying score to earn and I will have a CDX on her. I don’t follow all of the rules…I like to show her myself. She acts like a different dog (behaved) at the shows. She is very controllable at the shows because she has been exposed to all of the action at a young age. She doesn’t take to a judge right away. She doesn’t know them. She is kind of a snob but that is OKAY with me. Isn’t that in the standard? I have seen dogs I wouldn’t trust if I had to check their bites. Shame on the judges who encourage bad breeding when they pick their favorite winner and maybe handler at the same etc..politics. amen

  4. Debbie Jensen Says:

    I would be happy to hear from you.

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