Sunday, December 23, 2007

Going the Distance

Today I'm going to diverge a little from news of puppies and talk about ... puppies; but in a different regard.

As a show breeder - meaning someone who breeds their dog with the intention to show the offspring - I will obviously end up showing the puppies while they are still puppies. This is a good way to introduce them to the show ring and get them used to the noise, smells, ring procedure, people, and travel. There are puppy classes in showing, usually split by sex and then by age; 6-9 month and 9-12 month puppy. All the puppies in the breed compete for best puppy in breed and then those puppies go on to compete for best puppy in group and onward to best puppy in show. A puppy can win Best of Breed and therefor head into regular group etc. There's a lot for a nice puppy to win.

However, when it comes to puppies achieving champion status, winning hither and yon with puppy groups and shows and even regular group placements all before the age of 9 months old I'm a bit torn. Oh really ... I'm not torn at all ... those puppies disappear and you never see them again. What you do see is their offsprings a couple years later - offspring from dogs you haven't seen as adults and suddenly they are producing winning puppies. What do the parent's look like now? It's all well and good to win win win but can the dog prove itself in the big picture - can it go the distance - and I'm not just talking show career. Can it compete in other venues successfully? Agility, tracking, herding, drafting ... ?

Many many many a puppy has looked just outstanding but falls apart when it matures. Stucture is not just about bones; muscle, ligaments, and tendons all combine to produce a sound dog. In a puppy, just as in any baby, everything is soft, supple and incomplete. As the dog matures those elements harden into a solid dog, especially in a large breed. How often do we tell our puppy buyers not to work the dog hard because there's too much strain on joints and it's not mature til it's 2? And yet we are all thrilled when an "incomplete" dog wins at a show and we make big noise and brag about it? We are putting pressure on young dogs to win when they should just be allowed to be puppies.

Why is a puppy career so important to some breeders? In the USA puppy group is a "fun" experience for the puppies. Not all shows offer it and it's not really taken seriously. Why? Because these dogs are not mature and shows are a venue for evaluating breeding stock. No responsible breeder is going to take their 9 month old finished puppy and breed it - validating their decision by saying "Well, the judges awarded this puppy its championship and that means it's breeding stock." This is why in the US - particularily in Ridgebacks - very rarely do you see puppies awarded majors - because against mature dogs they are not competitive. So in a breed that can take up to 3 years to mature ... why the pressure in Canada to finish as a puppy? What's the hurry?

Why do I think the way I do? I grew up in a breed where it was basically unheard of for a puppy group placement. Last year my mom won a puppy group and I thought "Was she showing a Puli?" because I think in Canada there's been about 3 or 4 puppy group placements by a Puli. I am accustomed to little or no pressure of a puppy to place in group or even contemplate it - I grew up knowing that a mature dog win is more important to the breed than a puppy win. And for a Puli to be competitive as a special means it needs to be at least 4 or 5 years old. Puppies go to shows to play, maybe get a point or two, but the expectation of anything else was just a bonus. Some people now advertise these wins as the dogs grandest acheivement.

I can tell this - there is no way on earth Raimi is going to finish as a puppy, much less place in any group. He is a train wreck in the ring. Last time he was in the 6-9 month puppy class, his next show will be in the 9-12 month class. Do I imagine that some miracle will occur and he will suddenly stop acting like a puppy in the ring? Why would I want him to behave like an adult dog when he's not? Mentally the poor guy is still agoggle with life in general ...

Halo was 18 months old when she finished her Canadian championship, 2 1/2 for her American one, and had her first litter at 3. By that time as an adult she'd been evaluated by at least a dozen judges, several independent breeders and handlers and determined to be of breeding quality. It took her til 2 1/2 to really be able to evaluate her properly - until that point she was still maturing. Two years after her very first show as a puppy it was finally apparent what I had in Halo.

The slumbering giant on the couch next to me will likely not win a puppy group, a puppy show, or any other accolades other than a having a positive show experience as a puppy. He doesn't care; all he wants is to be with me, have fun and get treats. And that's all I want too ... except the treat part ... he can have all those.

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