Why do People Show?

By Arlene Scarbrough

Scarbrough Fair Great Danes

In order to do justice to this topic, I’ve split the discussion so that I can address breeding and showing separately.   I’ve also subdivided the show question to cover both the conformation ring and the obedience ring.

Why do people show their dogs in the conformation ring?

For the sake of this discussion, I am going to omit the owners who show their dogs solely because they have either a contractual agreement or a verbal agreement with the breeder to do so. Their motivation is obvious.

Also, for those of you who are not familiar with my background, I will preface this discussion by saying that early in my breeding career, I bred both danes and Irish Wolfhounds.  For a while I spent two to three weekends a month on the road with a friend showing both breeds in the conformation ring.  My friend and I co-owned the wolf hounds.  We did most of the handling ourselves.  Actually, Gail did most of the ring work, since I’m a little to chunked out to run well. J  We finished all of our wolf hounds except one.  The first bitch we showed finished at 10 months and 8 days, a record at the time.  Although we not only finished our dogs, but set a record for youngest female finished in conformation, I did not like showing. 

In my opinion, showing your dog should be an enjoyable outing with the dogs, but between the many exhibitors with generally bad attitudes, those who did not comprehend sportsmanlike behavior, and the stiff formality of the conformation ring, its bad points outweighed its good points.  The other negative for the conformation ring, in my opinion, is that the three most important traits of these wonderful dogs are not judged in the conformation ring…health, temperament, and intelligence.  The conformation ring is like a beauty pageant for dogs.  General conformation (shape), movement, and, to some extent, color are judged.  The dogs training or lack of training, in some cases, and the reputation of the handler on each dog can  influence the outcome. 

The idea of showing in conformation is to “put our best foot forward”…to show the best dogs that breeders have been able to produce in order to improve the breed and keep it strong…all and all, a goal worthy of pride and admiration.  Now to the reality of it all!

Between the egos of many of the breeders, the kennel blindness of many breeders, some unethical practices, a lack of good sportsmanship on the part of many, and general ring politics, our goal has been sacrificed.

Some breeders seem to gravitate to the conformation ring in order to feel important; some to provide themselves with a social life; some to boost the sale price of their puppies; and a few who still adhere to a goal worthy of pride and admiration. 

I have seen breeders “deck” their dogs with their fist; administer drugs to the dogs to improve their show performance; nearly come to blows with other breeders; and I’ve heard breeders accuse another breeder of trying to kill their dog; and be so rude to families with their children along that I was embarrassed.  I overheard a very nice lady attempting to compliment a breeder by telling her that her two puppies were very nice.  The response from the breeder was:  “I know”.  I truly don’t understand the lack of manners and common courtesy.  I have seen danes with really nasty temperaments being shown.  The entire scene is very unappealing to me.  I find myself getting angry, disgusted, disappointed and just generally frustrated. 

The last straw for me came several years ago on  my last trip to NY to the Westchester show.  The show was held at a beautiful, privately owned estate.  I was prepared for all of the unappealing behavior described above, but looking forward to seeing several hundred Danes in one day in an absolutely gorgeous environment and seeing some of the breeders who have somehow managed to maintain good attitudes and their sense of sportsmanship through years of showing…a small miracle, as far as I am concerned!  I stayed for the entire show and afterward was talking to a breeder.  I realized nearly everyone had left and turned around to be faced by yet another frustrating and disgusting site.  The area around the show ring resembled a garbage dump with everything from food wrappers, drink containers, cigarette packs, empty bags, and partially eaten food all over the ground.  I could not believe that anyone could be so ungrateful and disrespectful to the owners of this beautiful estate.  Large drums had been provided around the ring every 20 or 30 feet for trash. There was no excuse for the mess.  I was so embarrassed that I spent an hour picking up garbage. 

It is truly difficult for me to buy into the philosophy that finishing dogs in conformation is proof of their quality when the three most important characteristics of any breed, health, temperament, and intelligence, are not addressed at all in the conformation ring.  Looking good or being beautiful and moving well are just not enough for me to consider a dog one of the best in the country to use to  perpetuate and strengthen the breed.

Advice:  If you’re a novice and someone is trying to talk you into showing in conformation, go to a few shows, sit ringside, watch, and listen.  If you decide to try it, you need a tough hide, and you might consider a prescription for valium J.

 

Why do people show their dogs in the obedience ring?

 

Although I have never shown in the obedience ring, I have frequently observed the shows.

The obedience ring is a different story all together from the conformation ring.  The exhibitors are more friendly and helpful to each other, as well as to the general public.  Since Danes are working dogs, the obedience ring provides them with an opportunity to actually work.  The dogs and their owners have a bond that would be nice to see consistently  in the conformation ring.

Danes are bright and when bored can get into trouble.  Obedience training provides quality working time with the dog and its owner.  The dogs can be taken as far as dog and owner are prepared to go, with each leg providing a new learning experience.  The obedience ring is a true team effort for dog and owner.

Most of the people I know who show in obedience like the heightened bond with their dog.  They like the challenge for themselves, as well as for their dog.  Obedience work seems to keep both dog and owner focused, and for those with a competitive spirit, it can be relaxing.

Unlike the conformation ring, obedience dogs can be any color, can be neutered, and can be shown with limited registration papers.

Advice:  If you love your dog and you both like to travel and enjoy a challenge, go for it.  If you have a child who thinks he or she might like to show, start in obedience.  Your child will learn about responsibility, and both will learn more about discipline.

 

 


 

Why do People Want to Breed?

By Arlene Scarbrough

Scarbrough Fair Great Danes

 

I was once asked by a member of the Dane Club how I felt appreciated or gratified by breeding because I did not show in conformation. To put my response in terms she could relate to,  I asked her how she would feel if all of her pups finished (acquired their championship) from the puppy class?  She said she would, of course, be thrilled.  I told her that all of our pups did finish as pups…the judges were just different (owners, family members, friends of owners, and veterinarians).  The judges of our puppies are the people who live with them, spend time with them, and/or provide their health care. 

I love this breed.  They are wonderful companions and friends.  I breed to produce healthy, intelligent danes with wonderful temperaments who live a long time, are built like the German danes and will bring years of quality companionship to their owners.  Because we don’t show in conformation, we are not confined to breeding the body type that is the current conformation ring fad, even though it may not be practical or in line with the working function of the breed.

There are so many reasons that people give for breeding:  to  improve the breed, to give themselves something productive to do, to get a puppy out of their beloved adult dane, to make money, because someone told them that a bitch should be bred once before she is spayed, to show their children the miracle of birth, to allow their male to enjoy “being a male”,  and many more.

To Improve the Breed:

In order to improve the breed by producing quality danes, you first have to know a lot about the problems that currently exist in the breed.  Then you have to attempt to eliminate the health and temperament problems that currently exist without creating any new ones.  It takes an enormous amount of research, years of breeding and lots of cash.  You can shorten the time involved if you can locate a quality experienced breeder who is willing to work with you.  You have to be tough, and it can be heartbreaking. 

Aside from health and temperament considerations, one of the most difficult aspects of being a quality breeder is to take personal responsibility for every life you create, whether through your bitches or your studs.   That’s why we do not breed our males to any bitches except our own.  Every puppy in a litter can has its own personality and needs.  A wonderful home for one puppy might be a total disaster for a different puppy from the same litter.  So on top of everything else you have to know, you should also be a good judge of character.  One puppy in the wrong home can produce well over 150 puppies in its lifetime.

To Give Themselves Something Productive to Do:

Breeding is not something that should be viewed as an activity to keep someone busy.  It’s way too complicated.  If you love this breed, you certainly would not want to do anything that would be detrimental to the breed.  If you’re tough, have a lot of time on your hands, are a good judge of character, and want to work with danes, you might want to consider getting involved with a great dane rescue organization.  You still would need to read and learn, but the rescue people can point you in the right direction.

To Get a Puppy Out of A Beloved Pet:

One reason many pet owners give for wanting to breed is to acquire a puppy out of their beloved dane….not a good idea.  I know of way too many horror stories.  When you don’t know what you’re doing, breeding is way too risky.  One woman called me and wanted to breed her male.  All she wanted was one puppy for herself.  We declined, but I did warn her about the risks.  She found a lady who owned a female and was willing to use her male as a stud.  They attempted to breed.  The male did breed the female.  He went to dismount while tied with the bitch, lost his balance, feel over backward and broke his back.

I had a gentleman call me for a stud service with one of our males.  I explained that we didn’t breed out, but he insisted that I, at least, look at his bitch.  He kept insisting, so I finally told him that I would not breed her to one of my males, but that I would take a look at her for him.  He brought his bitch and her pedigree.  I really liked her, and to my surprise, she was out of some of my old bloodlines.  He would have allowed us to place all of the pups except the one that he wanted to keep.  It would have been to my advantage to breed her, but it was obvious that he loved her very much and I certainly did not want to see him lose her.  I explained to him that, although you seldom lose a bitch to a pregnancy, it does happen.  He thought long and hard and phoned me to let me know that he had changed his mind about breeding.

If you attempt to breed without knowing what you are doing, both or either of the dogs can be injured, you can lose your bitch to a pregnancy, the male’s penis could be ruptured, you could be injured.

By the way, just because a puppy is out of your dane doesn’t mean it will be anything at all like the dog you love so much. Just as in humans, a pup can be more like an aunt, uncle, grandparent or cousin than either of its parents. 

If you want another dane and you’d like it to be related to the one you have, call the breeder who bred your dane and purchase a pup that is related to the dane you have. 

To Make Money:

Well, this one’s almost a joke.  Some people consider our pups a little on the expensive side.  We have yet to have a single year where we have made money.  These dogs are expensive to feed and vet properly.  Others might say if we had fewer dogs, we’d make money, but we are not willing to kick out an older dog because it can no longer be bred.

Our retirees are kept inside and turned into full time couch critters.  We are not breeding to make money.  We are breeding because we love this breed and want to see healthy, intelligent danes with wonderful temperaments out there for people who appreciate them.

Some novices feel that they can make money if they just have one or two danes and breed them.  They seem to feel that you breed them; a few weeks later have a nice litter; and then sell them…easy as 1,2,3…..wrong!  Sometimes breedings don’t take.  If you don’t know what you’re doing, you don’t know what to do for your bitch before you breed to reduce the likelihood of problems with the litter.  Either or both dogs can be injured during a breeding when handled by novices.  Whelpings can be riddled with problems.  You can lose pups during a whelping or immediately thereafter, especially if you’re a novice.  You can lose the entire litter to health problems or due to the behavior of your bitch.  The bitch could require a C-section in the middle of the night.  By the way, most vets expect to be paid immediately for a section.  Depending on the time and the complications, they can run over a thousand dollars. You can lose the pups and still have to pay for a section. The pups can develop problems before they are sold that require expensive veterinary care.  They also need shots and worming.  Advertising the litter is not inexpensive.  If you don’t know what you’re doing, many people will not buy from you.  Pups sell better at certain times of the year.  They grow fast.  A four month old pup eats the same amount as an adult.  Also, growing pups can be very destructive if improperly housed.  If the pups develop genetic problems after they are sold, the people are going to be contacting you.  This is not an endeavor where you wing it.  If you are attached to your money and would like to make more, run, don’t walk, the other way when someone suggests breeding!

To Allow the Bitch to Have a Litter Before She is Spayed:

It is simply not true that it is better for a female’s health to produce one litter before she is spayed.  If you have no desire to become a serious breeder, do yourself and the breed a favor and spay your female pets before they come into their first heat. They can be safely spayed at four to six months.  I won’t spay earlier than that but some breeders have their pets pups spayed before they go into their new homes.

To Allow Their Children to See the Miracle of Birth:

You’d be surprised how many times I’ve heard this reason for breeding from novices and/or pet owners.  My comment to these people is:  Rent a Video or Film Your Own Labor.

To Allow a Male to be a “Male”:

Get a grip and call me when you learn to be a responsible pet owner!

General Advice:  If you are not seriously committed to attempting to improve the breed, don’t become part of the problem!!