The “Sporting” Group of Westminster

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Ozzy showing form and function both in the field
Watching Westminster last night, the “sporting” group in particular, and my subsequent post on Facebook about it along with the ensuing arguments and comments, really got me thinking. When I get to thinking on things dog like this it inspires me to write, and I have a lot of thoughts on the so-called “sporting” dogs that paraded around the ring on television last night.

As I am clearly very passionate about German Shorthaired Pointers, the “sporting” group is my favorite, but last night I was very disappointed by the group overall. I keep putting “sporting” in quotations because I didn’t see a whole lot of dogs that looked very sporting to me. There were so many extremes and vast divides in breeds from field to what was in the ring last night. The Labrador was grossly obese and looked like it was tired and out of breath after a trot around the ring—a far cry from the working retrievers that are fit athletes built to go all day through harsh conditions on endless retrieves. The Golden had better hair that most beauty pageant competitors, hair that would be an absolute nightmare in either water for duck retrieves or the woods and fields of upland work. The setter breeds were caricatures of their working brethren who are kings of the grouse woods and masters over field trials. Including the Reserve Best in Show winner, the Irish Setter, seen here: flowing locks hanging from a long giraffe neck, sloping topline, and over angulated rear. OVERDONE, in my humble opinion. Irish Setters are RARELY seen as actual working hunting dogs any more, and when you do come across one in the woods or at a trial, they are called Red Setters because: 1.) their owners don’t want them lumped in with the dumb non-hunting dogs the breed has become and 2.) they have crossed in hunting line English Setters to bring back instinct and ability. Oh and then the American Cocker spaniels…I don’t even know where to start with this “sporting” breed. When was the last time they were ever used to hunt birds? They couldn’t make it 10 feet into the woods with those coats; hell apparently they aren’t even allowed to poop on regular ground for fear of messing up their lovely coats and have to go on grates.

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A lovely field Llewellin (English) Setter, courtesy of Kyle Warren and Paint River Llewellins
Now, I am not saying EVERYTHING in the “sporting” ring was non functional. There were some very nice dogs in there, like my own breed, that you cannot discern from just looks as to how functional they actually are. The GSP, GWP, Spinone, Welsh Springer Spaniel, Irish Water Spaniel, and the Wirehaired Vizsla to name a few, all looked balanced, not overdone, and like dogs you might see working. However, I saw very few with any hunting or any kind of performance titles. I fully understand these dogs may have titles with other venues therefore not shown on their AKC registered name aired on TV. An example of this is the Wirehaired Vizsla (which was a lovely dog and my personal favorite in that ring) who has titles with NAVHDA and CKC. I am fairly certain that NAVHDA titles are now recognized by AKC and I would think that in campaigning a dog primarily in AKC, you want to make sure that the title was added to the dog’s name. But I looked a few others up at least in NAVHDA as I was watching and came up empty. Dogs like the WV are unfortunately the exception and not the rule when it comes to dogs showing at this level earning hunting titles.

What’s in a title? Well, whether it be a hunt test or trial it tells you that dog has at least some natural ability and instinct. The higher the title, the more significant, and higher titles also speak to the trainability of that dog. Some will argue titles can be meaningless if you can test a dog over and over and over to get passes, blah blah blah. While that may happen, overall the testing systems and trialing are evaluations of instinct and ability and tells you at least a little something about the dog on paper. When I brought up the fact that there were few dogs with hunting titles in the “sporting” ring, some posters responded with arguments that dogs can be fantastic hunters with no titles. Of course they can. But how does that preserve the pedigree and future for you? With no hunting titles on the dog, what will that tell people about the dog generations from now when reading pedigrees? All well and good for the present and for locals who can see the dog work in person, but it doesn’t put anything on paper for the future. I say if your dog has the hunting ability and instinct and you want to help preserve the breed, get out there and prove it for the future through some titles. Those who poo-poo testing and titles are typically those who either have never done it with their dogs or CAN’T. I’d even say some testing venues ask more of a dog than they might actually do in the field. I’ve seen some great working hunting dogs that can seriously find birds that couldn’t pass a basic hunt test due to various factors—disobedience, not steady, can’t mark fallen birds, and/or won’t retrieve. These requirements in hunt tests are not just for shits and giggles—they are part of game conservation. I can’t stand when people lose shot birds because of shitty dog work.

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Ozzy working on his Started Hunting Retriever title
On the flip side, I do have to say something about some field bred dogs when it comes to conformation. They can go far to the other extreme. While I’ve seen a lot of wonderfully put together athletic dogs in the field, I have also seen some absolute atrocities. Dogs that are so messed up in their build they are getting around purely on heart, but likely suffering in pain and early arthritis from poor build like wide fronts, elbows turned out, little angulation in the front and rear, and pasterns down on the ground. It’s why we need a balance, why both worlds of conformation AND function are equally important. But, the world of conformation needs to be brought more into reality for all breeds and groups with a stronger idea of function in mind in evaluating every single breed, rather than fads and popular looks.

Is there a solution? I don’t think there’s an easy fix. Some of these breeds are too far gone to be reclaimed to their original purpose and function, like the American Cockers. Perhaps they should be re-classified into another group. Other breeds, such as the English Setter and the Labrador, are so vastly divided, I don’t know how to bring them back to a happy medium. The field people won’t bring their dogs to the ring and most of those show bred dogs aren’t going to hunt. Then there are breeds such as mine that don’t have an obvious physical divide. Breed clubs control the breed standards, but I’d like to see AKC putting pressure on them to push more performance, hunting, and function. That’s at least a step in the right direction.

UKC is far from perfect, but they do have a Total Dog program, where dogs showing in conformation are awarded for performance as well. Total Dog Best in Show at Premier is the pinnacle of the weekend. For those unfamiliar with Total Dog—dogs must have a conformation win and also a performance qualifier to obtain the award. At Premier, a hunting title is a buy-in now for performance as there are no hunt tests at the event. I’d LOVE to see AKC adopt a similar program and award. It would be a huge step in the right direction in putting the “sporting” back into some of these hunting breeds. Ideally, I’d love to see performance or hunt titles eventually as a pre-requisite to becoming a CH or a GRCH, though we are a long long ways from that. But a girl can dream.

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That headpiece tho
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11 thoughts on “The “Sporting” Group of Westminster

  1. The American Water Spaniel, Blew, was the most highly titled dog in the group. Blew has a SH (Senior Hunter) and a JHR (Junior Hunter Retriever) In addition, they could not list his HR (UKC Title ….Hunting Retriever) or his WDX (American Water Spaniel Working Certificate….Working Dog Excellent). I, like you am very concerned about the non-sporting abilities of the Sporting Group.

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  2. Very well said. All of the WKC judges interviewed said they were looking for form and function, including the BIS judge! I have had similar concerns especially about the Golden Retriever; it is rare to see a Golden Retriever that looks like it could go for hours in the field – what they were designed to do. I have a 5 year old (not at all “Fluffy”) who is a two time Canadian National Master Hunter and has AKC MH and WCX titles. I plan to show him in Conformation this year – should be interesting to see how he does! For many years the Kennel Club in England will only award a full Championship if the dog has a performance title.

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  3. I am sorry to see that you did not mention the Chesapeake Bay Retriever, the only retriever breed in recent history to title Dual Champions (show champion plus Field Champion). Our parent breed club, its members, breeders, and dog owners, place great emphasis on maintaining the CBR as ‘one’ breed, fully capable of performing the demanding work the dogs are bred for, and maintaining correct confirmation to the breed standard. In addition to our Dual Champions, we have many dogs that are various combinations of CH, GCH, AFC, SH, MH, in addition to a host of other titles in venues such as obedience, agility, tracking, barn hunt, etc..

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  4. While I agree with some of these observations. There are many purposes for these breeds now, other than hunting. I am a Labrador breeder. My dogs are in the conformation ring. I have an owner of one of my dogs who successfully completed his first level working certificate last summer. This gentleman doesn’t hunt. He did want an activity to participate in with his dog. A good number of my dog owners do hunt with their dogs but not on a competitive level, purely for their own purpose. Some of my dogs are being trained in service roles such as PTSD. For this reason they can’t be too highly wired as the field dogs tend to be. There are many purposes for this breed and their personalities must match that.

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  5. I beg to differ on your opinion on the Am Cocker, while I have mostly show lines all my dogs are very birdy… I also have gsp’s and my cockers gravitate to the birds at a much younger age then the shorthairs do. I also know a lot of ppl who hunt with their cockers

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  6. There is a similar concern about the english springer as this result in an obvious physical divide between a show dog line and a sporting one. It’s almost two different breed.
    Il y a une différence très marquée entre une lignée pour la conformation et une pour le sport chez le springer anglais. C’est presque deux races différentes…

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  7. I find your comments on titles interesting. I disagree to some extent as I own racing Greyhounds. In professional Greyhound racing there are no titles. This method has created some excellent runners. I agree that ability has to be tested in sporting dogs but the Greyhound proves that you can have a very successful untitled dog. It’s hard to find a balance as some owners are crazy for titles and will continue to trial a dog to pick up point here and there but I not sure if those dogs would be ideal candidate for breeding.

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