In Which I Go to a Dog Show

On the issue of purebred dog versus rescue mutt, I am Switzerland. A really, really overthinking, emotionally compromised Switzerland. Which is all I have room in this post to say.

Anyway, when I realized yesterday that there was a big dog show in town, I decided to go. (No photos, both because the few I snapped are bad, and because I didn’t ask any kind of permission.) The day I picked was actually kind of boring, from the purely show side, as it was very early in the process and most of the classes were quite small. This also meant that I didn’t see a huge variety of dog breeds, because only some breeds were showing. It was also hard to keep up with what was happening where, since there were at least 15 show rings running, intermingled with vendors and grooming stations.

Despite it being not terribly exciting from the show perspective, I found the whole experience to be emotionally exhausting.

I think there’s pretty general consensus that some show dogs are genuinely lovely creatures, and some are genetic disasters. (Trying to get people to agree about which are which is the trick. Also, some of those genetic disasters are out there for everyone to see, but others are hiding on the inside in the form of serious health or temperament issues.)

What I didn’t expect is that TV is a terrible averager of dogs.

Dogs that look lovely on TV looked amazing in person. As soon as I was inside, I ran across a class of Dobermans that was breathtaking. The Golden Retrievers looked like they just stepped out of fashion magazines. Scrappy Norwich Terriers vibrated with joy to be in the ring. Those strange looking Bedlington terriers are, in person, kind of adorable. I texted a picture of a Basenji to my husband, and he immediately asked if Silas needed a sibling.

Unfortunately, I also found the opposite to be true. I walked in to the arena from a back way, where many of the big dogs were milling around outside with their owners. Literally the first dog I saw of the entire event was a poor German Shepherd whose back legs wobbled pathetically with every step. He wasn’t even the worst; no wonder Westminster doesn’t show that angle. Dogs that seem just a little too much on TV were way too much in person. I saw a Basset Hound who was one leg wrinkle away from not being able to walk, and several Sharpeis who were surely incapable of seeing.

It was also obvious that some of these dogs were deeply loved and some of them were commodities. (If an unstressed, healthy, non-toy dog freely uses the bathroom in his crate, the message I take away is not that he is a beloved family pet.) In that regard, I found the breed-specific rescue booths, with their adoring volunteers, comforting, although then I had to feel bad for the poor homeless dogs.

Like I said, emotionally exhausting.

I will say, I think anyone who wants a purebred dog should go to the shows before they’re dead set on a particular breed. Most people pick their “ideal” dog breed from a picture and a general description of its temperament, which is only a tiny part of the picture. For instance, Viszlas, which were pretty high up on my fantasy dog roster, routinely emit a howl that sets my teeth on edge. Scratch that.

Have you been to a dog show? Did you enjoy it?

9 thoughts on “In Which I Go to a Dog Show

  1. Very interesting! I have never been to a dog show, although my boss always invites me to the local one around here, as she is a fancier. I’ve always wanted to go, but I have such mixed (mostly negative) feelings about kennel clubs and the breed standard (Exhibit A, as you mention, what they’ve done to the German shepherd’s back end), that I’ve always felt like I couldn’t go in good conscience, or that I would be too upset most of the time to enjoy the event. I loved your descriptions, though, of the dogs who sparkled more in person than they did on the TV.


    1. “Enjoy” might be overstating the sum total of my feelings. It was really quite a roller coaster. But it was definitely worthwhile–I think you should go next time you’re invited.


      1. I go to the big AKC show in Denver every year and fully enjoy it, but perhaps because I always do a very specific set of things. I watch the Norwegian Elkhound judging, and perhaps because they are somewhat uncommon they are lovely, lovely, form-meets-function friendly, happy dogs. I usually lurk around the most approachable-looking handler until I can get my elkie-petting fix. I visit the rescue booths, the vendors, and usually watch some agility or other sport. I try not to look at the GSDs and I’ve wandered through the grooming area one too many times and seen dogs being primped and prodded and polished until they hardly look real. It’s a strange world.


  2. I used to enjoy dog shows, but the more I learn about how deformed and unhealthy the rosette winners really are, the enjoyment factor is no longer there. The flat faced dogs and the German Shepherd dogs with frog legs are especially depressing.


  3. We go to shows and compete in them. It is unfortunate that the only ones who think GSD’s of the show ring are lovely are the show ring GSD breeders. Whenever we have been in a ring next to them, most of our group just shakes our heads. Even the Golden’s of the ring are a far cry of what they were when we got our Golden in the 90’s. They are a working breed. How well do you think those coats would hold up in a swamp? And the big heads with shorter muzzles are not really suited to holding birds. Thank goodness the Golden breeders are rethinking the direction they are going with the dogs put up in the ring and hopefully they will revert to something that looks more capable of working in the future. I would love to see them have more CH dogs with working titles.


    1. I think you and I have agreed about this before–a lot of the working/hunting dogs are drifting, because so few people still use them for anything other than pets. And they don’t want the “working” lines anyway, because they don’t want a dog that energetic. Take away the function, and people can do whatever they want with the form. I’ve seen rants that most of the terrier breeds are too big to work underground anymore, and you’ve mentioned a few problems with the hunting dogs.

      I’ll go out on a limb: I think it would help a lot of breeds if agility competition would start splitting non-Border Collies into a separate class. I’m not really wild about agility as the be-all-and-end-all of dog sports, but it does get a lot of people out training their dogs to do something active.


      1. I was going to say that I think part of the reason that the Goldens are trying to get back to more athletic dogs in the ring are because many people are competing in things like dock diving and agility. Still, they are a gun dog and I hope breeders preserve that part of them.

        We were at a hunt test put on by a Golden Retriever Club this weekend and saw a lot of nice Goldens.


  4. I watched a BBC documentary recently on purebred dogs and showing that just made me both physically and emotionally ill. If you can get beyond the inhuman breeding standards for many breeds, I still do not understand how it is much of a life for a dog to be constantly groomed, crated, marched around, transported and repeat. I’m sure some dogs like the attention and excitement but I don’t think that makes up for the unnatural lifestyle. I don’t mind physical competition based events but the visual show dog judging is just too bizarre for me.


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