by   David Hancock

Do terrier shows have any value? Is the judging at terrier shows really producing the true winner, actually rewarding the best dog present? Terriers can achieve a reputation above the ground as well as below it; but is it fairly earned?  The bigger types of dog, especially those with a close coat, are probably easier to judge, both for a sound construction and for movement, than a small terrier, especially one with a profuse coat. It disappointing to stand ring-side at a working terrier show, especially when a so-called 'hunt terrier-man' is judging, and see all manner of faults being rewarded by his placements. Of course a one-eyed heavily-scarred three-legged terrier may be the best working terrier in the county, but a show is all about appearance not reputation. I have actually seen a terrier win a first prize whilst suffering from a luxating patella; but that was at Crufts!

Of those who argue that such a show is just a beauty contest and the condition of the dogs an afterthought, let me ask a couple of questions. Firstly, when did you ever see a national beauty queen with a spare tyre and podgy limbs? Secondly, what is the point of having a serious hobby if you don't take it seriously, especially if you want to win? And thirdly if exhibits are expected to be in "show condition", why are judges taking a different view? I was also disturbed to watch four successive classes of one breed being 'judged', without the exhibits' feet once being examined. The bite of each dog was checked and infinite care taken over the comparative assessment of the entry. But feet are crucial to working dogs, more important even than mouths. Why does the organisation inviting the judge invite such an inadequate individual? Shouldn’t every exhibit at any dog show be in show condition?

But what is actually meant by the expression 'show condition'? The Kennel Club's Glossary of Terms defines condition as: "Health as shown by the body, coat, general appearance and deportment. Denoting overall fitness." Not brilliantly written but the last phrase is the key one. Frank Jackson, in his most useful "Dictionary of Canine Terms", defines condition as: "Quality of health evident in coat, muscle, vitality and general demeanour." Harold Spira, in his "Canine Terminology", describes it as: "An animal's state of fitness or health as reflected by external appearance and behaviour. For example, muscular development..." The Breed Standards and Stud Book Sub-Committee at the KC inform me that show condition indicated an expectation of "a dog in good health as indicated by good coat condition, good muscle tone, a bright eye and up on the feet", adding that any competent judge would know this. One thing is inescapable in the interpretation of these definitions, condition means fitness as demonstrated in the dog's muscular state.

Why then, at major dog shows, both KC-sanctioned and country shows, are the judges of sporting terrier exhibits rewarding dogs in poor muscular condition and quite clearly not fit? Is it ignorance, incompetence or indifference? Some of the judges I have watched in recent years simply did not know soft muscle from hard and seemed incapable of detecting the absence of muscular development. I shudder to think where this will lead us! Judging livestock is essentially a subjective skill based on what you see in the entry NOT what the exhibitor wants you to see. Rather than a reaction to the animal before you, it is more a conscious action to relate the animal presented to you in the ring to the beau ideal for that particular breed.

If we are going to accept at KC dog shows unfit exhibits lacking muscular development as challenge certificate material, then novice exhibitors are being given a wholly undesirable impression and standards have already become unacceptably low. We are in effect betraying the work of the skilful pioneer breeders who handed these fine breeds down to us. That apart, where is the pride of the breeders, owners and handlers concerned? Who admires a puny, unfit, under-developed dog or an obese flabby one? These breeds were designed to work! What sort of encouragement is this to those admirable exhibitors who spent hours getting their dogs into real show condition.
In his informative "The Practical Guide to Showing Dogs" of 1956, Captain Portman-Graham wrote: "The fact that a dog is structurally sound is not in itself sufficient to ensure that it will always win at shows. It is of paramount importance that it must be...at the highest standard of condition..Perhaps one of the biggest advantages which dog showing confers on the dog as an animal is the care which must be bestowed upon it." If unfit dogs with poor muscular condition can win at dog shows, then the whole argument that such shows improve dogs or serve to display breeding material is totally destroyed. Dogs which are inadequately exercised and merely wheeled out for the next show should be identified early by any competent judge and quickly thrown out of the ring. Are our current crop of judges up to this? I see plenty of  under-muscled terriers in working terrier show rings.

The esteemed Portman-Graham went on to write: "...exercise is a vital consideration in maintaining any breed of show dog in bloom, health and vigour...When one watches the beautiful muscles of a racehorse one sees a similarity between a dog's muscles which have been developed correctly and naturally, and ripple in movement. Yet there is evidence of lack of muscular tone and development in many show breeds today." He would not have liked the entry in show rings today. Surely such shows should be didactic not merely epideictic; in other words it has a role in teaching those wanting to learn not just being conducted literally for show. A dog show, properly conducted, should attract exhibitors not exhibitionists.
In his book on the Sealyham, Sir Jocelyn Lucas writes: “Never show a dog unfit. If he is thin and out of coat, or too fat, it must militate against success. Dogs are judged by their appearance on the day of the show, not as to how they were a month before or will be in a month’s time. A champion shown out of condition may be beaten by a moderate dog put down in good trim, the latter being henceforth advertised as having beaten Champion X.” 

Any pedigree Parson Russell dog which is less than 13" at the shoulder does not meet the requirements of the official KC breed standard. This means that the best working Jack Russell in the whole country could not win in the KC show ring entirely on grounds of size. Is that the best way to judge sporting terriers? I'm not surprised to read the judge's critique a few years ago from a National Terrier Championship show which stated: "I'd hoped to find more of the West Country original Parson types but sadly, there were few who looked like them. We seem to be moving towards a modern day PJRT which wasn't at all what was intended when the club was revived some ten years ago." Another judge at a different show gave this report: "I was disappointed with the quality of my entry, too many had heavy cheeks, absolutely foreign to the Standard."  At Crufts a few years back, the Lakeland Terrier judge used these words in his show report: "On the whole the standard of Lakelands at this show were (sic) not of a very high standard, some nice ones, some not so nice, and some absolute rubbish." I do hope those working Lakeland terrier-men who resort to show dog blood occasionally choose wisely! The myth of the association between pedigree and quality is surely finally acknowledged by sportsmen of all styles.

At a Scottish KC Championship show a year or so ago, the judge recorded: "When recognition of the PJRT took place I was under the impression that we were going to preserve the look of this old type of working terrier, it now seems that some breeders with no knowledge of, or regard for, the traditional type are determined, with the help of judges with no breed type experience, to change completely the character and look of the breed." That, in comparatively few words, sums up very aptly what happens to terrier breeds in the KC show rings. The only reason why we have working terriers to breed from nowadays is that countrymen who were real terrier-men kept their heads over many years and ignored the financial allure of the KC show rings.

The terrier judges at Crufts in 2009 had some worrying comments in their critiques on the exhibits there: Sealyhams – “Rear movement was a major concern to say the least…Toplines were not good, too many were weak and dipping.” Glen of Imaals – “I was constantly trying to balance my ideal type with movement.” Type in breeds does matter but movement reveals real faults. Wire-haired Fox Terriers – “I was disappointed to see so many heavy heads and large eyes.” No sporting terrier breed needs a heavy head or large eyes. Bedlingtons – “I am greatly concerned at the lack of quality in the dogs currently being shown.” Parson Russells – “Poor movement is still very much in evidence, with plaiting, paddling and a general lack of coordination readily seen.” Irish Terriers – “Movement in general was disappointing, looseness in fronts and a lack of drive behind…” Borders – “ Many nice dogs lost out because of a lack of muscle or flat feet.”  Sporting terriers with such faults at a show where, it is claimed ‘only the best of the very best’ are shown is disturbing; these dogs will all be bred from.
Pedigree livestock is still judged to a scale of points; pedigree dogs are no longer. Subjective judgements can bring fine differences of opinion to the fore. But for a sporting terrier to win a prize in any ring with upright shoulders, splay feet, a wry mouth and a stiff inflexible torso, as I witnessed last summer, is more than depressing. If countrymen can't judge a dog these days, what hope for urban judges at Kennel Club shows? If the terrier shows at such prestigious venues as Harrogate, Ragley Hall and Weston Park are to remain valued and their winning dogs revered, the basic elements of a soundly-constructed sporting terrier need to be understood. The gamest of earthdogs still needs a working physique to perform.   

In his valuable two-volume The Dog Book of 1906, the under-rated Scottish writer, James Watson, describes quite scathingly those in the world of purebred dogs who fail to realise that a pedigree is only a piece of paper. He records a conversation with the great Irish Terrier breeder of one hundred years ago, William Graham, who cast his eye over a show entry of his time and declared: 'Some men show pedigrees; I show dogs and take the prizes.' Vero Shaw, the distinguished canine authority of that time, gave the view in a show report that, all too often, the pedigree was worth more than the dog. And to this day, you still hear an indifferent animal excused on the grounds that it 'has a good pedigree'. As James Watson observed: ‘No one with any knowledge of the subject will breed to a dog merely on pedigree...a good dog makes a pedigree good, and not the other way.’
There used to be a saying in dog breeding circles: No animal is well-bred unless it is good in itself. I haven't heard it spoken of as a received wisdom for some years. Much more important than the names on the written pedigree is the ability to 'read' it, translate the names into physical content. As the great Scottish Terrier breeder, WL McCandlish wrote in his book on the breed: 'The names in a pedigree form are merely cyphers, designating certain groupings of features and certain sources of blood, and pedigree is of no value unless the breeder can translate what these cyphers mean. ' Yet even some quite experienced dog breeders get dazzled by names on forms, rather than by dogs, supported by blood from distinct ancestors. The eminent canine geneticist Malcolm Willis has written: 'Never does pedigree information become more important than information on the dog itself.' We must always value dogs that are good in themselves.

Working terrier enthusiasts will never show great interest in precise measurements, exact proportions or wordy descriptions of anatomical features. But balance, symmetry, correct proportions and physical soundness really do affect function and therefore performance in a hunting animal. Terrier show judges may prefer to judge entirely by eye and experience, but is this enough? A seminar of working terrier judges to bring on the younger judges would surely be of value. It would be interesting to hear, should that happen, what terrier show judges' decisions are being based on. Rosslyn Bruce, in his book on the Fox Terrier, has written: “One reason for the existence of a Show is that any exhibitor may obtain the unbiased opinion of experts. Therefore, it is necessary not only to follow the judging, but to try to understand the reasons why a dog is rejected. There is no reason at all why the judge should not be approached, when judging is over, and asked about his awards.” Whenever I judge at a terrier show, at the end of judging, having asked the organizers if I may do so, I gather the exhibitors together and explain what I was looking for in the entry, what faults I found and my overall impression of ‘the state of the breed’ as seen that day. They may not agree with my placings but at least they are aware of my reasoning in coming to the decisions I did; that I believe is their right when entering a terrier under me.     

    “The greatest tragedy that can ever befall a breed is to become purely a fancier’s dog…breeders must aim not merely at producing a good-looking dog, but also a workman. The cloddy dog who gets tired after walking half a mile, and who is too slow to catch a rat is a danger to the breed.”

Captain Jocelyn Lucas, MC, FZS in his “The New Book of the Sealyham”, Simpkin Marshall Ltd., 1929. 

 “To-day it is fashionable to hold classes for working terriers at Dog Shows, and specialize in various breeds or strains, each vying with the other for press-puffs and paragraphs, and capping each other’s fairy-tales as to their terrier’s exploits; for, tell it not in Gath, this is a profitable game, and as one judge and breeder of the latest candidates for fashion’s favour said to me, ‘I know they’re no use except at home amongst themselves, but what would you do? I can sell them like hot cakes.’”

Arthur Blake Heinemann, on Hunt Terriers in The Foxhound, October, 1912.

 “If we always remember that there is a great difference between ‘breeding’ and ‘multiplying’ foxhounds, any danger to the future of the foxhound through shows will be greatly reduced. For those Hunts where finance is a problem, it must be a comfort to know that to give up showing is the one economy that can be made without the sport suffering!”

 Sir Newton Rycroft, in his Hounds, Hunting and Country, Derrydale Press, 2001.