We explore many things about dogs today, so it seems appropriate to talk about the other end of the leash, as it were, and the human/canine interface.
When man's competitive nature runs riot, be it in the breed ring, the racing circuit, obedience or agility trials, the age old relationship between man and dog changes. Usually for the worse. A dog becomes less of a friend, perhaps more of a moneymaking object, and the seeming passport to fame.
Let me make it clear from the outset that I am very pro dog sports. I have spent may happy years competing with dogs in a great many aspects of dog ownership. Indeed, like the reformed smoker, I feel very able to talk about the realities of being bitten by the competition bug. I was brought up with a big show kennel - greyhounds, terriers, cockers and labradors. My stepfather was an international judge, indeed one of the few people to judge Best In Show at Crufts (UK) and Westminster (USA). I stewarded for him for many years before gaining my own judging licence. As a child I competed at a very high level nationally in the USA. Most of our dogs worked as well as showed.
From an early age I came to believe that "handsome is as handsome does", as much for non-working breeds as well as working ones. Maximizing a dog's ability was a concept I grew up with. When I became a professional dog handler, I applied the same criteria to working and non-working dogs. Sadly, with the passage of years, that is no longer quite so possible - both in England and in America, show dogs are show dogs and working dogs are working dogs. Few do both, but it is wonderful to see those which do.
Although the breed standard for working dogs reflects what a dog should be able to do, sometimes this is a bit of a joke. Looking at the GSD's shown at Crufts this year, I couldn't help wondering how many of them could do an hour's let alone a day's work. The quest for physical attributes has been to the detriment in a number of breeds in temperament, brain and stamina. Hip Dysplasia and epilepsy are rife in a number of breeds. If a dog doesn't actually growl at the judge in the breed ring, there are those who say he has an acceptable temperament.
How many times have I walked through the parking lot at an obedience show to witness so called competition dogs flying at the windows of their cars as I pass by - they may work a terrific competition round, but what of the rest of their lives? How much time does a dog spend in the show ring and what happens to him when his showing/breeding days are over? And what is he/she passing on to progeny? Is he allowed to be a dog? Does he know how to be a dog?
Respect for a dog is in my view an important part of owning a dog. We need to remember he is a dog. We frequently remind children that a dog is not a plaything, and we need to remember ourselves as well.
When dogs were wolves, they chose man's fire and man's food as the welcome rewards of becoming domesticated. Man used the dog's natural abilities for particular areas of work. It was a partnership then. At its happiest, the partnership of man and dog is unique. At its worst, it is pretty unpleasant to behold, and the frequent loser is the dog, particularly when money enters the picture. In the quest for money, titles or rosettes, very often respect for the dog is lost. Coming second, let alone not placing, is not winning. Dogs who don't win are often deemed losers. The working dog may have tried his best - he doesn't know he hasn't won. Actually, he has no idea what the human vision of competition means anyway. What he does feel intensely is that something is wrong and somehow it has to do with him. The trust that should exist erodes.
But who has let who down? To my mind, the working dog who doesn't work sufficiently well to win has been let down by his handler. After all, who taught who? Who selected that particular dog? Right dog for the job? Just because he is a Border Collie doesn't mean he will work competition obedience. In the show ring, is the dog to blame that he isn't pale enough, long coated enough, has too big ears? The dog who doesn't make a show prospect is often dismissed by breeders as "Oh, he'll make a pet". Being a pet is probably the hardest job you can ask of a dog.
There are many wonderful breeders who take a lifelong interest and care in the dogs they have bred. The dog who doesn't work out always has his foundation home to come back to. There are, sadly, as many breeders to whom the dog sold is the dog gotten rid of. Usually with a sigh of relief. I often wish there were some sort of test to be passed before you could either own or breed from a dog. Mind you, I frequently wish there were a test to be passed before you became a parent as well!
Can you think of any other species than the canine which accepts the level of neglect and indeed abuse another species can deal out to him and still comes back for more? Dogs just keep on giving. If we could match them in kind, what a better world this would be.
Let's remember to allow Man's best friend to be just that. Let's keep our expectations reasonable.
I grew up in the US, where my family owned a breeding, show and working dog kennel, specializing in gundogs, hounds and terriers. My stepfather was an international judge, one of the few to judge Best in Show at both Crufts and Westminster (USA). I served as his steward for many years before gaining professional handler and judge status myself.
I emigrated to England in the mid 1960's and have worked dogs in breed showing, racing, gundog trials, obedience, agility and working trials.
My primary concern is pet dogs, maximizing the dog's pleasure in its owner and the owner's pleasure in the dog. Rehoming dogs is a particular interest of mine. I teach at two large London based training clubs, maintain a thriving behavioural service through several vets, as well as being involved in dog rescue and welfare, work with disabled dog owners and as part of a hospital physio unit with my PAT dogs. I am the co-author, with Bruce Fogle, of the NEW Complete Dog Training Manual, as well as Training Advisor for his Dog Breed Handbook Series.
I am a member of the British Institute of Professional Dog Trainers, the UK Registry of Canine Behaviourists, Anglo-American Dog Training, Kennel Club Accreditation Scheme, Association of Pet Dog Trainers (No 392), Full member of the Pet Dog Trainers of Europe, US National Association of Dog Obedience Instructors (No 895), Kennel Club Good Citizen Test Trainer and Assessor, Dog Aid Trainer, and Bach Foundation Registered Practitioner.
This web site has been written by Sally Hopkins (unless the author of the web page is stated otherwise).
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