Last night was my favorite night in televised sports. It has been on the calendar for months, a night when my family knows that they should not plan on anything other than my favorite event being on the television. Last night was night two of the Westminster Kennel Club show.
Night two of the Westminster Kennel Club show always starts off with the Sporting Group. If you are not familiar with the different groups of a dog show, this group includes breeds who have been bred to assist bird hunters in various ways like finding birds, flushing them from tall grasses, or retrieving them from fields and ponds for the hunter.
I grew up with Labrador Retrievers and German Shorthaired Pointers because my father hunted waterfowl and upland game, so our dogs were beloved pets all week and hunted with Dad on weekends. While they loved snuggling in bed with us, playing games of fetch and swimming with us, they were never happier than when they were out in a marsh or a field with Dad as the sun rose on a Saturday morning, waiting for their chance to fetch some ducks or quail. They would come home later in the day and crash in front of the fireplace, sound asleep, paws twitching as they ran in their sleep and most likely dreaming of their next hunting trip.
Dad always gave me his issues of Gun Dog magazine when he was finished reading them because he knew how much I loved to look at the puppy photos that readers had sent to the magazine. Although I had no interest in actually going hunting, I loved reading the articles about the different types of dogs, how they worked, the connection between dog and hunter, and how using a trained dog helped preserve wildlife because they insured that each bird that was killed was brought to the hunter instead of lying un-utilized in the field. Each bird that Dad and our dogs brought home ended up on our dinner table.
As a result of a lifetime of browsing through Gun Dog magazine, I have vast knowledge of the breeds of the sporting group and they are my “favorite” types of dogs. Watching the Sporting Group at Westminster is like sports fans watching their teams advance through the playoffs; first and foremost I am team Labrador, with the German Shorthaired Pointer as a very close second.
One time one time when my mom and I were out for a hike and met a woman who was walking a medium-sized reddish dog with white markings. I had just read about the “toller” who has a very unique job of luring ducks closer to the shoreline. “Oh my gosh, is that a Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever?” I asked, bursting with excitement. “Uh, no, it’s a mixed breed of some sort,” she responded as both she and my mother looked at me as if I had gone crazy. “What?” I asked Mom as we walked away and she was laughing at me, “I read Dad’s hunting magazines all the time.”
As a three-year old German Shorthaired Pointer named CJ won Best In Show last night I stood in my living room cheering the same way we cheered the years Chicago BlackHawks won the Stanley Cup. I missed my own late German Shorthaired Pointer Dutch as I watched CJ gait around the ring and then stack up for judging, such a perfect example of the breed with his speckled coat, the regal lines of the dog’s perfectly muscled body, and the piercing intelligent eyes.
And then I had an “oh no” moment. And that “oh no” moment was followed by “what if?”
The “regal jester” as the GSP is nicknamed is a magnificent looking dog that houses a whole lot of energy and, to quote the great Margaret Mitchell in Gone With the Wind, “a passion for living.” Or as I like to call them: crazy dogs.
What if people went out and bought German Shorthaired puppies based on seeing this beautiful and unique looking dog win Best In Show and did not do their research to find out what the breed is really like? How many of those puppies will end up surrendered, or locked up in kennels and crates as punishment because their owners don’t know what to do with their energy? How many puppy mill and backyard breeders would increase their supply of GSPs to keep up with a demand that “good” breeders would be smart enough not to respond to?
In the late 1990s animal shelters around the country reported an alarming increase in Dalmatian surrenders following the release of the live action 101 Dalmatians movie. This was a result of parents purchasing Dalmatian puppies because of the way the dogs were portrayed in the movie without doing their research about whether or not the breed would be a good fit for their family. Conversely, a 2004 study of Best In Show winners from 1946 to 2002 showed that winning Westminster did not cause an increase in the popularity of the winning breed, but that study is now 12 years old and was done before social media became a factor, so I would personally be interested in the authors of the study doing an update.
As a result of my “oh no” and “what if” moments, I came up with some suggestions on watching the Westminster Kennel Club show or browsing the descriptions of different breeds and how to translate some of the descriptive phrases about each breed into regular everyday language.
“And with enough exercise, he’s well suited to family life, too.” This was on the Westminster Kennel Club website to describe the German Shorthaired Pointer and I had to laugh, wondering if they wanted to write, “This breed is insane and full of energy.” Every German Shorthaired Pointer I have ever known has had endless energy and was full of silly antics. Dutch took games of zoomies to an entirely new level and showed no signs of slowing down even in his senior years.
When Jackson was a puppy and full of youthful Labrador energy we met a neighbor with a GSP puppy the exact same age, so of course we visited a few times for puppy play dates. Little Banelli would run circles around my Jackson and tire him out so much that I had to carry him the few blocks home because he was too tired to walk. Before their play dates I would not have believed it was possible to wear out my sweet and energetic puppy, except that I had previously had my own GSP and knew how much energy was contained in that regal looking body.
Active family: This means ACTIVE, in all caps, bolded and in italics. Active like interested in hiking or taking long, long, LONG walks and spending plenty of time outside playing fetch and other games with the dog. Couch potatoes need not apply. A dog who needs an active family will drive you crazy if you are not truly active and 100% committed to taking time to exercise with your dog. A quick walk around the block is going to be insufficient and unfair to such a dog. Without an active family the dog will be bouncing off the walls, getting into “trouble” though no fault of his or her own, all because a potential owner did not understand how active the dog needs to be.
Keen intellect: Dogs with a keen intellect will be eager to learn. However, if you do not train your super smart dog, he or she will find something to do with that sharp mind, and it probably will not be something you like or want your dog to do. If you cannot make a commitment to putting a lot of time and energy into training a dog who has a keen intellect, as well as doing lifetime continuing education with the dog, you and your dog will be equally miserable. Dogs with a keen intellect will excel in a job like a therapy dog or a fun dog sport with you by their side. Once again, this is a warning to owners who want a dog who is happy chilling on the sofa and simply spending time with their humans.
Not a Breed for the First Time Dog Owner: I heard this used to describe a large breed from the working group. What does this mean? This means that you will need to be a firm (but humane and fair) leader to your dog to ensure that your dog knows the rules of the house and that you are always in charge. Training will be critical to your dog’s future as well as your own; training is not something that can be skipped or taken lightly.
With Strong Character and Extreme Stubbornness: These go along with the above listed, “not a breed for the first time dog owner” and should be taken seriously. Unless you are an experienced dog owner with the ability to put in the time and train your dog correctly, including proper socialization and temperament training, some breeds are just not for everyone. No matter what sort of gorgeous coat or unique look that they have, if your dog is in control of you (instead of vice versa) and unwilling to obey the rules of living in a human house, you will do both of you a disservice by adding him or her to your home.
Fortunately there are many dogs who are described as “easy to train”, “easy-going” or “gentle nature” who are great for new or less experienced dog owners whether you are going with a purebred dog or a mixture of breeds. There are also plenty of dog trainers available to guide you every step of the way since no matter the breed description, raising a healthy and happy dog will always require patience and continual training whether they are extremely stubborn, keenly intellectual or easy-going.
Some great resources for researching a particular breed of dog include:
Westminster Kennel Club: http://www.westminsterkennelclub.org/breedinformation/
American Kennel Club: http://www.akc.org/dog-breeds/
Pet finder: https://www.petfinder.com/dog-breeds/
Most importantly, if you find yourself set on getting a purebred dog, definitely check with breed specific rescue groups. Sadly millions of purebred dogs are abandoned by owners who did not do the research needed before acquiring a dog and you can give one of those dogs a new life and the loving and committed home that every dog deserves.