275 Helsinki World Show

by   David Hancock

 The World Schnauzer Show, sorry, the World Dog Show was a pleasure to visit in Helsinki in June. I jest about the title because I had never seen so many Schnauzers at one venue or indeed so many well-bred Schnauzers previously. What did surprise me about this admirable show however was the reporting of it in Britain in a number of different publications. Reading these made me wonder if those correspondents and I had actually attended the same show!

 Finland is a friendly but under-populated country, inhabited thankfully by charming courteous people. After suffering the overcrowded aisles of Crufts, it made a pleasant change to enjoy the ease of walking freely and moving without a struggle from one hall to another. This show would however never have coped with the attendance level of Crufts. The Helsinki attendance made it an enjoyable visitor experience but also made one realise the problems facing the Crufts organisers in coping with sheer volume.

 With good catering, clean lavatories, plenty of information, easy access to the show site and helpful locals, it was a very enjoyable show. Before the show, it was tiresome not to get responses from letters, faxes and phone calls but at the show the Finnish staff could not have been more supportive.

 On the down side, the standard of ring control was poor, with spectators and photographers spilling over into far too many of the rings during a class, with quite a number of the rings being far too small for the breed concerned. When are show organisers going to relate the size of ring to the size of breed allocated to it? The Bullmastiff ring, for example, was not only too small to permit movement to be assessed adequately but also contained, permanently, three vertical marquee supports and, temporarily, a swarm of spectators, bustling photographers, exhibitors from earlier or later classes and an overflow from the adjacent Bulldog ring. Human pressure such as this must affect the performance in the ring of individual exhibits and is surely unacceptable.

 There were disturbingly a large number of exhibits in far too many breeds which were not of show quality and an even larger number of exhibits not in show condition. A huge black Neapolitan Mastiff was so far down on its pasterns as to interest the RSPCA; it won a prize! Frankly, in so many breeds, the award of the title World Champion was farcical; unworthy dogs were placed in high positions by unwise judges, demeaning the whole stature of the exhibiting sport. It was strange to see breeds customarily displaying shortened tails possessing a full tail. For me, there are many more important aspects of canine welfare than tail shortening. Docking undoubtedly affects breed type; tail-carriage in some breeds is a key element in the manifestation of type itself.

 It was worrying to see some British breeds in foreign hands so lacking in typiness, but this was true at the World Shows in Brussels, Vienna and Budapest too. I am not talking about exports but British breeds foreign-bred. I was saddened to see the Gaiting and Striding Dogs (GSDs) looking so bent-backed, shelly and poorly timbered. I was disgusted to witness the double-handling being conducted unchecked in the German breeds' rings: the use of whistles, mouth-organs, flutes and childrens' rattles, accompanied by unsavoury yelling and blatant name-calling from outside the ring; this behaviour itself belongs in a different ring -- a circus ring. The FCI and foreign KCs must stop this degrading spectacle without delay.

 Once again at a World Show, the most impressive breed for me was the American Staffordshire Terrier, despite the obvious quality of so many of the Schnauzers. I was not impressed by Bulldogs being proudly exhibited with deformed jaws, strangely whippety Border Terriers, seal-like Labradors, Airedales with woefully narrow fronts, Owtcharkas so savage they had to be permanently muzzled and the ever-increasing practice of handlers throttling their charges on a choke chain. I do wish judges would have the wisdom and the 'bottle' to tell exhibitors that they simply cannot judge front movement unless the dog's front legs are actually touching the ground when they are moved.

 How too can a dog become a World Champion when the judge fails to assess its bite, its feet or its movement from side-on? Does jaw construction or soundness of feet no longer matter in animals designed to function? If some breeds are going to be judged solely on their coats and others solely on their heads, we will soon have breeds which cannot walk or even eat effectively. Is that really what we want?

 There are two other worrying aspects: one, the grooming fetish (surely Alaskan and Siberian sled-dogs don't need Vidal Sassoon to get them into the ring) and the 'cheering the judge's placing' phenomenon. I have come to associate a polite round of applause with spectator admiration of the judge's decision and an outburst of cheering with the celebration by a clique of the success of 'one of theirs', irrespective of merit.

 To learn that a country of only 5 million people has a Kennel Club membership of 105,000 was heart-warming. It highlights the ludicrous situation in Britain where in a population of around 56 million the Kennel Club has a mere 750 members. The Finns unlike us have a national breed too, the likeable Finnish Spitz, now well known here, although it is only ranked fourth most popular in its native land. I was impressed by the Finnish Hound, their most popular breed, but it could so easily have been a scenthound breed from another Baltic country. I gathered that at a Finnish show, a critique has to be written for every dog, only after this come the competition classes.

 It is a condition of registration for the progeny of many breeds in Finland that their parents undergo hip X-rays and/or eye tests. The Finnish Kennel Club provides training for its active members and breeders. Its magazine reaches a third of a million readers; rather more I suspect than our own Kennel Gazette. The Finns have much to teach us about such matters and I fear we are being left behind in many crucially important areas of activity. We all want to be proud of our national institutions, of which the Kennel Club is rightfully one, but we seem to be being outpaced and even shown up by so many overseas kennel clubs.

 With an entry of well over 15,000 and over a thousand from both Sweden and Russia, the most numerous breeds at the Helsinki show were Miniature Schnauzers: 306, Great Danes: 281, Rottweilers: 259, Dobermanns: 255, Dalmatians: 192 and Giant Schnauzers (black): 178. But for me the greatest value was in seeing little known breeds like the Kopo Hound of Hungary, the Posavski Gonic from the Balkans, the Brazilian Terrier, the Cao Fila de Sao Miguel from the Azores, the Austrian short-haired Pinscher, the Istrian Hounds, the very similar 'beardies' of Portugal, Spain and the Pyrenees, the Saarloos Wolfhond, the Cane Corso (easily confused with a Neapolitan Mastiff), the distinctive Hungarian Pumi, the Beauceron, with its strange double dew-claws, the Lapphunds  and the Lapponian Herder.

 The only real disappointment from this show was the ring allocation to breeds, i.e. why did the Lancashire Heelers and Hungarian Pulis have a huge ring, when the appreciably bigger Dogos Argentino, Pyrenean Mountain Dogs, Mastiffs and Bullmastiffs each had a relatively tiny ring?

 It would be appropriate, after their organisational success, to give the Finns the last word. Tapio Eerola, the PR officer of the World Dog Show and editor-in-chief of the Finnish Kennel Club magazine produced these words in the commemorative issue: "Dog breeders should pay careful attention to which direction they want their breed to go. If the exaggeration of specific features continues in winning dogs the heavy bone structure will get heavier and heavier, short body becomes even shorter, deep chest deeper, wide head wider and long hair longer...Although the World Dog Show is essentially a beauty competition, nothing prevents us from taking up the theme of healthy dog breeding here also." There should not and need not be a difference between enthusiastic dog show exhibitors and morally-motivated dog owners; the pursuit of certificates need not preclude the pursuit of healthier-bred, sounder dogs. Nothing prevents us from taking up the theme of healthy dog breeding here also but we ourselves.