Maintaining The Standard

By Sheila Atter

Show Dog? Working Dog?

Show Dog? Working Dog?

It is often said that the average exhibitor only lasts about five years in the competitive sport that is dog showing. A recent change in circumstances forced me to have a rethink of my commitment to the dog show scene.

I attended my first show as an exhibitor in 1977 or ’78. It wasn’t a KC show, but rather a Jack Russell show run in conjunction with the Town and Country Festival held at Stoneleigh in Warwickshire. Our six month old puppy came home with a fourth prize rosette – and I was hooked! In those days it was terrier shows for us, so the summer weekends were filled with trips to country fairs; lots for the rest of the family to see and do, whilst I got on with the boring, to them, business of showing my terriers and talking non-stop about them. Not that we newcomers did much talking. We sat and listened to the wisdom imparted by the old terrier men – and occasionally women! “Fix your type” was one piece of advice given to me. It’s something I have always tried to do, and the first time someone told me that they couldn’t tell my dogs apart I felt inordinately pleased! To achieve a recognisable kennel type has always been my aim as a breeder.

I visited Crufts once or twice in those early years. To me it was a magical place, full of the most wonderful dogs – to say nothing of the trade stands selling everything that the dog or his owner might want. Oh how I coveted those Neaverson kennels! But they were financially out of my reach, and the whole pedigree show scene was a world away from the working terrier world I knew.

In time I got to know some exhibitors through my local dog club, and eventually one, then two, then three Otterhounds joined our pack, and I took my first steps into the KC world. KC recognition for the Parson Russell followed – I was very involved in the discussions that took place – and soon I was at KC shows, rather than country fairs. In 1989 the first Cesky Terrier arrived in the UK and I was smitten – and for nearly thirty years this breed has been my passion.
Consequently, for around forty years I have been going to dog shows on a pretty regular basis. Forty years of getting up early; forty years of bathing and grooming dogs – well maybe only thirty years of intensive bathing and grooming! For the terrier shows a clean(ish) dog, a quick brush over and an occasional strip out of dead hair was all that was needed. Whilst I love to see my dogs looking at their pristine best, and am always gratified when a critique mentions good presentation, I also rejoice to see them puzzling out a scent in the woods on a wet muddy day, and sometimes it is hard to reconcile the two. Then an unexpected change in my financial circumstances meant that I had to look very hard at the cost of showing dogs.

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I am a great believer in fate. Things, it seems to me, usually happen for a reason. I was getting very jaded about the dog show scene, so maybe it was time for a complete change? I’m also a great believer in the idea that if something is worth doing, it is worth doing well, so when I was showing dogs I would attend as many shows as possible, campaigning my dogs in Europe as well as in the UK. I can’t afford to do that now – so I have taken the decision that my showing days are over. Do I miss it? No, not really. I miss seeing good friends, but I don’t miss the nasty, spiteful comments about exhibitors and their dogs that can be heard all around the showground. But if I want to keep up with both friends and the gossip, FB is always available! I’m not saying ‘never’, but at the moment I have no plans to exhibit again.

So what will I, and my dogs, do instead? Three years ago I sort of went back to my roots attending country fairs on a regular basis. Not this time as an exhibitor at the terrier shows, but rather on a stand promoting my very rare breed by introducing the Cesky Terrier to a wider public. For me it has lots of advantages, not least that it is considerably cheaper than attending a championship show – and I can take all my dogs with me, rather than worrying about leaving some at home. We have also discovered the pleasures of tracking. The Cesky Terrier’s traditional role has always been to hunt Wild Boar, either in a small pack driving the Boar through the forest towards the guns or individually tracking a blood scent. In this country it is deer, but the pleasure gained from working a terrier, watching how it learns to puzzle out the minute signs and follow a track with growing confidence, is amazing – far better than the transitory exhilaration of winning a prize in the show ring.

I am not alone. Talking to the other folk who man the various breed tents at our country fairs, it is noticeable how many regard the show ring as either totally irrelevant or at best just an adjunct to other more interesting activities. Most of the dogs in the gundog tents are ‘proper’ gundogs, out working throughout the season, but there are lots of other activities that our dogs can do. The Bavarian Mountain Hound Society organise the tracking training that my gang enjoy, and in addition to the Bavarians, there are many other breeds present ranging from Dachshunds to various HPR breeds, and a good smattering of others in between. Scentwork – the searching for hidden objects – is an activity that has a growing following. The more traditional canine sports such as agility and flyball have been joined by cani-cross and Rally. All of these serve to keep dogs and their owners fit and active. They all have a competitive element and rather than the subjective decisions made in the show ring, the achievements of dog and handler can be measured objectively. This seems to have the effect of making such events far more friendly – on training days we all rejoice to see a dog puzzle out a particularly difficult track or commiserate when the conditions are such that another dog seems to be having an off day.

Is this the future? Has dog showing actually had its day? There will always be a place for the talented to show off their handling or grooming skills. There will always be a need for the dedicated breeder to subject the results of their breeding programmes to peer review. Are we, however, coming to the end of dog shows as an activity for the majority?


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About Sheila Atter

Sheila Atter
Sheila Atter lives in the Lincolnshire Wolds with six Cesky Terriers. She fell in love with this breed in 1989, and since then has owned, bred and shown them with success. In 1998 she was made a 'Member of Honour' of the Czech Breeders' Club for her work in promoting the Cesky Terrier in the UK. Before falling for the charms of the Cesky she owned Parson Russell Terriers and Otterhounds, and is the author of two books on Parsons, as well as contributing to another. She has written for most of the canine publications in the UK and several in the US.

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  1. Peter

    A fascinating and timely article. Having only been in dogs for 35 years and showing for almost 20, a lot of what you say is so true. I was a passionate 'newbie' doing almost 100 shows in my first year - but now I love showing in Europe far more than in the UK - mainly because I do not know anyone, judges do not know me and yet I have had a lot of success there too. Field Trialling, once my passion, has also declined in popularity because it has become so insular and uninviting to many newcomers and I stopped enjoying it because of the often negative atmosphere. We all love our dogs and spending time enjoying the company of my dogs trumps the company of most people anytime - whatever we do together.

  2. Cleevehill

    Will be sad not to see you over here on the continent. For me shows have lost a bit of favour too. I go more for the socialising than the actual show. Ive found judging these days to be very subjective;; ie who's on the end of the lead and many in my breed the Parson Russell have given up. Numbers are dropping rapidly in the show ring. Why I dont know... cost and not flat playing field has taken its toll on the keen exhibitors. They find other things to do with their dogs like fun days and actually just enjoying having their dogs.

  3. placido

    This is all very true, the atmosphere at the ringside is not very pleasant, However i do love the social side of the dog shows, but again the expense is not encouraging at all, , its not just the entry fee's it's everything else that go's with it, I also have to agree that these game fairs and such, are much more fun, and enjoyable, Life is too short to continue doing what is no longer enjoyable, I am certain you will be missed Sheila, but i also get where you are coming from,

  4. wardswillowmist

    I have been showing dogs since I was a toddler, with my Nan and Mum, and at 68 years old, I am still (trying) showing and also at Crufts. However my main problem, since my Husband died, is that i have no one at home to care for the oldies. So I am very restricted where I can enter. Either shows very close by, or shows that are reasonably priced for NFC dogs. Certainly the Champ shows are too pricey to take all the "passengers" and of course Crufts, it is not even possible. So for people on their own, with multiple dogs, a Dog Show has to be very carefully decided on. I rarely attend shows now, and although got 5 dogs qualified for Crufts next year, not at all sure how on earth I can manage it ! There must be others out there in the same situation and if shows are hoping to continue, it certainly would be helpful if they could accommodate NFC dogs at a much cheaper rate. Corinne Ward Blower. "Willowmist" Miniature Dachshunds.

  5. Dr Strange

    Well I can say from my perspective, I show for fun but there are a number out there who are nasty and spiteful as the writer says. So will I stop showing, probably not, I show a lot abroad but not because of people, no its more for the feeling of competition in the two breeds I show, both of which are small in numbers here and hence it does not really feel like a competition.

  6. Haradwaithe

    Unfortunately I must disagree with the writer in this instance. I, and my wife, have been showing dogs for almost 30 years starting with Weimaraners, then moving onto German Wirehaired Pointers and finally, due to health problems, downsizing to Tibetan Terriers. We have shown at virtually every Championship Showground (some that are no longer with us) and at every Open Show in the North of England and we are STILL enjoying the whole scene. True there are problems within the show scene, some purely down to the Kennel Club and its lack of insight into the grass roots of the show scene, some down to the Societies themselves and some down to the exhibitors. However many of the perceived problems is down to the judges and their method of judging but that is not something I wish to go into here. What I would like to point out to people, especially the author, is that many people, like us, enjoy our weekend showing and would really miss it if we were unable to show. Not everybody that has a dog also works it, most breeds do not even have any sort of competition other than showing, and being unable to show your dog would leave them bereft of opportunities to not only meet old and NEW friends but chances to see and admire dogs at their best in general. We do not ALL win the major prizes and are quite happy to be in that band of 'supporting players' and take our triumphs where we find them. Also the majority of exhibitors do not have the finances or the inclination to go abroad to show our dogs (achieving 'major' wins in very small classes) but are quite happy to partake of the wonderful variety of the domestic dog showing scene. We are sorry that Sheila has decided to stop showing and I am sure that she will be missed sorely but that is her decision.

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