Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Responsible Dog Show Viewing

As I write this there are hundreds of dogs being appraised for their various attributes at the Westminster Kennel Club dog show in NYC. I am just enough of a dog geek to really enjoy watching this spectacle on television. I love dog shows so much that I even watched one while at the hospital before I delivered the Child. The nurse had to turn off the television so I could start pushing. I think that was the only time that I willingly stopped watching a dog show.

But I have good reasons. I'm especially interested in watching the sporting group due to the fact that I own Labradors but I do try to watch pieces of all of the groups. I find that it helps me reach a better appreciation for the dogs (and their owners) who sign up for my classes. It does amaze me, however, that more and more non-dog people, those who are casual dog lovers and subsequently have no desire to train, breed, groom or show dogs, devote their precious evening hours for these two days to watch this popular dog show along with all the die hard dog "snobs", as I like to affectionately call them.

The thing that I fear the most about this shift in popular culture is the belief that those casual dog lovers that I just mentioned are watching this as they would watch the Home Shopping Network. The dogs who attend the WKC show are the best of the best, the most beautiful, and beautifully bred and trained. I imagine that its hard to resist those cute faces. And if you're even thinking of buying a dog to add to your family what better showcase than this dog show? But a dog is much more than the two or three sentence description that you hear from the disembodied voice on your television. A dog is much more than the pretty face and the elegant (or not, depending on the breed) gait that you see.

Every year it seems that the dog who won that year's Best In Show spikes in popularity. I don't have facts and figures to back this up, unfortunately. This is just my opinion based on observation. Last year's winner, for example, was a gorgeous German Shorthaired Pointer who, after winning, was paraded about Manhattan to various morning television shows where she stood dutifully with her handler. This dog was so well behaved that I just knew that I would be seeing a lot of GS Pointer puppies in my upcoming classes. Try as they might, the WKC does a fair job of letting prospective dog owners know what they're getting into when they buy one of these dog's but not good enough. Here's just a small sample of the WKC description of this breed found on their website.

"Introduced here in the 1920's, the Shorthair quickly earned the respect of serious hunters, who found him athletic, easy to train, and generous in nature. And with enough exercise, he's well suited to family life, too. "

There were a few key words and phrases in that description that should be driven into a prospective Pointer owner's brain. Words like athletic and with enough exercise. But what they ultimately hear is easy to train and well suited to family life. I've talked to a number of people who, since last year's show, went out and bought Pointers because those were the phrases that jumped out at them. These were people with the best of intentions hoping to get an easy to maintain and easy to train dog. What they got was a bundle of athletic, puppy energy. A cute pup who ate their shoes, remote controls, and pillow cushions because these well meaning people led normal, busy lives and didn't have enough time to devote to the pups exercise needs. They had a hard time training these "hyper" dogs and most were convinced they had unwittingly purchased a "dumb dog". They hadn't, but I had a hard time convincing them of that. If they would have done a little bit of homework before they went out to buy a dog these people would have found books and websites devoted to the breed, all with warnings that these animals need exercise and work to keep them, and their human families, happy.

The moral of this story (since this post has gotten Damn Long) in the most simplistic of terms is this... If you watch the WKC dog show, dear reader, and become smitten with the Pug or the Dalmation, for instance, please heed my warning. Do not buy a dog based on his or her looks or the fact that their coat won't take much effort to clean or if they'll accessorize well with your outfit (damn you, Paris Hilton!). Do your homework, find the breed of dog that will best suit your family's lifestyle, buy from a reputable breeder - not from a pet store - or adopt from a local shelter. Both will help you decide if a particular puppy is right for you.

Remember that you're bringing a living, breathing animal with specific needs into your home and you will be responsible for it for at least a decade.

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