AKC conformation dog show entries have been declining steadily over the last 20 years. The sport is in a tenuous position. In the area where I live, Northern California, we have seen this issue first-hand. A kennel club that has been a conformation mainstay for decades is on the verge of going belly up. They have cancelled their annual show due to lack of funds.
There are undoubtedly multiple reasons for this slide. Conformation politics, a shortage of outfits with sequins, and the immense allure of performance sports such as flyball, agility, dock diving all play a role.
Many ideas have been floated about how to reverse this trend. However, tradition is a strong anchor, and sometimes, the tried and true has outlived its usefulness. It is time to rattle conformation’s cage.
First, a brief primer for any complete neophytes. At a conformation show, dogs show against their own breed. English Setters against other English Setters. Pomeranians show against other Poms. And so on.
After each breed is judged, the winner of each breed is sorted into a group. The winners of each herding dog group show against each other. The winners of each non-sporting group show against each other. There are seven groups.
The ways dogs are grouped now makes absolutely no sense. The assertion that different breeds aren’t judged against each other but against their own standard just doesn’t hold water when subjected to the scrutiny of an objective audience. While experts have come to accept contrasts such as the Boston Terrier and the American Eskimo, or the Akita and the Chinese Crested, in the same ring, another group – spectators – cries, “Say what?”
The answer is to create new groups that make sense to both participants and spectators. Here are a few possibilities:
- Dogs with Weird Hairdos
- Dogs that are Workaholics
- Dogs that Are Primarily Gristle
- Dogs that Snore
- Dogs that Shed Enough to Produce Another Dog
- Dogs that Require Surgical Intervention to Stay Healthy
- Dogs that Do Not Give a Rat’s Hiney about People
- Dog that Give a Rat’s Hiney about People
- Dogs the Size of a Pony
- Dogs Smaller than a Meatloaf
- Dogs that Can Still Do What They Were Bred to Do
- Dogs that Can’t See Where They Are Going
- Dogs than Run Faster than a Speeding Bullet
- Dogs that Waddle
- Dogs that Run in Packs after Moving Objects
- Dogs that Can Sling Drool on the Ceiling
- Dogs that Retrieve Everything They Find
- Dogs that Can Pull Three Times Their Own Weight
- Dogs Obsessed with Eating
Undoubtedly, you have already considered which categories might fit your breed. Many of you will have noticed that your dog could fit in more than one place. I would suggest that handlers could enter multiple groups. For example, a Pembroke Welsh Corgi might be entered in Dogs with No Legs, Dogs Obsessed with Eating, Dogs that Shed Enough to Produce Another Dog, and Dogs that Give a Rat’s Hiney about People. This would pump new life into the sport and give a sense of hope to a greater number of competitors.
Of equal importance, this new system would make sense to spectators and pull them into the action. Imagine their joy as the group winners sweep into the Best in Show competition. Around the arena, spectators would exclaim, “There’s the winner of Smaller than a Meatloaf” or “That’s the top dog from Dogs with Weird Hairdos.” I know this is a stretch, but what if the Best in Show judge was replaced with a vote from the audience like popular talent television shows?
Over the long haul, it is difficult to argue against a new system that will create a new grouping of people, defuse age-old rivalries, generate more winners, and pull those adrenaline junkies back from the performance sports. Remember, the future of conformation may be on the line.