Mediocrity, Horse Racing, and Dog Shows

Mediocre: adj.Neither good nor bad; average; ordinary; commonplace.
In other words, it ain’t great, but it ain’t that bad, either. It’s middle of the road. It’s common. It’s nothing to write home about. It’s certainly not memorable.
What brings up this discussion about mediocrity? A couple of things—first of all the hype over California Chrome’s chances in the Belmont. Let me say up front, I want to see another Triple Crown winner as much as the next racing fan, but unfortunately, I don’t think “Junior” (as it’s reported is his stable name) is the horse to win the Triple Crown. I hope he runs in the Belmont (that is if the NYRB will allow him to run with his nasal strips) and I really hope he proves me wrong. Junior is a good Thoroughbred, but he’s not a superhorse—not the likes of which we saw in the mid to late 70s. He certainly isn’t in the elite ranks of horses like Affirmed, Alaydar (the horse who finished second in all three races to Affirmed and raced his heart out to be an “also-ran”), The Slew, A.P. Indy, the incredible Secretariat, Sham (another horse who was an “also-ran”, finishing second to Secretariat in the Derby and Preakness and exhausting himself trying to keep up with the big red horse in the Belmont and eased up by L. Pincay to save him, ultimately finishing dead last), or even the incomparable and ethereal Ruffian. Junior is a good Thoroughbred, but he’s not a great one.
Another thing that brought up my consideration of the word “mediocre” was a discussion I was following on Facebook about breeding dogs and a comment was made about breeding for winning versus breeding for improvement. This was followed up with what I took as a slam against so many of the really good (and a few of the great) dogs in my breed that are shown at all breed shows and how so often those animals who are ranked are not the best we have to offer. Maybe I took it wrong, because I have a smooth collie who finished 2013 as the # 6 smooth in the country.
Vander and I accomplished that feat by winning at BOTH all breeds and specialty shows. We did it on a very limited budget, without spending a dime on advertising anywhere other than on a web site devoted to collies. And, we only ran four ads in 2013. Vander had multiple group placements (that elusive group 1 is still eluding us) in 2013, won more than his fair share of BOVs (Best of Variety) at specialty shows, and took quite a few BOS to BOBs (Best of Opposite Sex to Best of Breed) at those specialty shows. To top it all off, at our national specialty last month, Vander was chosen as “select” in the specials ring. To my non-dog show readers, that means he was the second best champion male in the ring out of more than 50 champion males. Mediocre is NOT a word I would use to describe him.
I wasn’t the only one who was offended by the comment that our group placing, group winning, Best In Show winning collies were mediocre. The following are the thoughts that another collie fancier/breeder/owner of a top winning dog(s) had to say about that Facebook conversation. Because this person needs to protect his/her identity, I agreed to host those thoughts on my blog.
A comparison of top Collies–by Anonymous
There was a conversation in FB this week where a number of Collie Fanciers supported statements that breeders were conducting their breeding programs to produce group winners and not specialty winners.  Many supported comments that the group winning dogs were mediocre at best.  I do not understand these comments as many of those All Breed Best In show- Group winning – group placing Collies have wonderful specialty show records including acknowledgements at the National Specialty. Whether intentional or not, the statements were taken as insults against some great Collies that are out there telling the Show Fanciers that Collie breeders are serious about our breeding programs and intentions to look at the Collie as a whole dog, not just a head piece.
I feel blessed to breed Collies.  When I talk to people in other breeds, I find their breeding programs haphazard.  They look at individuals without any consideration for parentage or families.  Many breeds do not have lines or families that are reliable for bringing certain qualities forth in most of their puppies.  One of the comments going around this week was that there can be no more than two show quality puppies in a litter. I do not understand that.  If we are continuing in a successful family, how often do we see ‘cookie cutter’ litters where the differences between puppies can be very subtle?  The test of those puppies may not only be in the breed ring, but in the whelping box.  If any of those puppies experience any difficulties in the fertility and/or mothering instincts, we will be glad to have kept litter mates that may not experience those difficulties.  Does this mean that we should not show the get until they have proven themselves in the whelping box?  I guess we as a group can say that, and in which case we will see our clubs and entries decrease even more. I do not have a problem with showing the get before they achieve a reproduction record as their parents and grandparents have a record, and the puppies only continue to provide proof of their record.  And of course, the other side of waiting for the get to mature is that would eliminate show proofing any of them as we will always be waiting for the next generation to mature and prove itself, and endless period of waiting before showing and proofing. 
If we are crossing two successful families, the idea of keeping only two to test the cross is often difficult as there may be two puppies that appear true to each family, but until grown out, the test is not complete. Also, each puppy may have inherited a different specific quality for which you did the breeding. As a breeder, you may wish to keep a few to make sure that those qualities stay in those puppies and if you can keep those qualities in the next generation.  This is where the future of the Collie is frightening me.  The days of the big kennels that can test their breeding programs by keeping large numbers of dogs is gone. This is due to a lot of causes not the least of which are the current animal rights laws and the high cost of keeping large numbers of dogs.  I foresee the Collies going the route of other breeds with haphazard breeding programs. Many people currently in the breed will not travel beyond 2 or 3 hours for dog shows or breeding. It may limit the ability to line breed, and outcross.  Then we will see the return of 1 and 2 show puppies in litters, if we are lucky.  We actually may decrease the quality of our show Collie.  These large numbers of quality is actually an advantage to new fanciers.  With this depth of quality in a litter, new fanciers may be able to pick a very promising puppy and development a wonderful mentor relationship to aid in their promising future in the breed.
This brings me back to the people who go all out and promote their Collies in both Specialty and All-breed venues.  We are a breed who, like many others, are suffering from a loss of fanciers.  When Collie fanciers deny all breed judges the ability to see quality Collies at the all-breed shows, it is no wonder that these judges get a distorted sense of what is a quality Collie.  For those who do not get to see excellent quality Collies, they may feel that what they are seeing is the intended and desired type.  For those who know they are not the desired type, they become disillusioned with our breed and do not help any judges or fanciers take the Collie seriously.   Thank you goes to our breeders, owners and handlers who are pursuing wins at all breed shows.  They are saying to the judges this is a serious Collie, and the more serious Collies the judges see, the better off our breed will be.  And those who are advertising and promoting our winners, are also sending a message that we are a breed to be respected with our history and ability to compete at all-breed and specialty levels.  And thanks to you folks, all Collies are seriously being looked at by more judges. The fact is that our beloved Collie is stronger for being recognized in both venues. 
This moves to another subject that has been criticized over the past couple of years.  I hear old time fanciers complaining about the small entries at specialties and it is not like the old days.  In the old days, often 30-50 class Collies per sex would come out to the specialties.  The specialty clubs were able to keep the interest of their pet puppy sales and their families would show their pets at the specialties to help achieve these huge entry sizes.  Then we hear how we how a good 50% of the entry was made up of these people who knew their Collies were not competitive against the other class Collies from the great kennels, and the handlers and owners of the renowned Kennels where grateful that the families came out and supported the shows.  Those are wonderful stories, and we, as the audience, appreciate those days and the various depths of the competitions.  However, I am also tired of hearing how we are now building cheap majors.  We have been discussing above how the expenses of keeping dogs is causing us to lose people in the breed, and can make it difficult to finish champions.  The fact is that our entries are down, and our point scales are down in ratio to those down entries.  It is often difficult for our specialties to bring together enough class dogs to build majors.  So what are we to do to finish quality Collies?  I have worked with others to build majors at all breed shows.  When we work together, we are usually bringing 6-12 dogs or bitches to compete for majors under a variety of judges, most of whom are respected by Collie people or we wouldn’t suggest it. A majority of the entry is usually non-champion Collies who have obtained at least one major or major reserve at a quality entry.  Yes, sometimes we enter youngsters who have a promising future for experience, and sometimes we have to add a couple of dogs who are not show quality, but the pet quality represents as many as 20% of the entry versus 50% of the larger specialty entries from the 1960s and 70s.  In turn, the judges appreciate seeing so many excellent quality Collies at one time, and it is an opportunity for them to either prove their knowledge of the our breed, or be exposed to a higher quality of Collie than they have seen in the past.  As a national club, we have done wonders in developing a program to educate all-breed judges on how to judge our breed.  The next step is allowing them to judge our breed by giving them quality entries to judge.  As fanciers, if we find they are confused or have a misconception, we can contact our Judges Education committee to follow up with these judges. 
Now, on to the criticisms of breeders who are able to finish more than two champions in one litter.  There are many dreams in the life of a Collie owner and breeder.  The first step in breeder dreams is to purchase a puppy good enough to finish its championship as we are told that championships are a way to acknowledge that the Collie is good enough to be used for breeding.  That first champion acquired from another breeder says that we are on our way.  Now we do our homework reading anything in print about how to determine who should be bred to whom, talk to our breeder, talk to a variety of breeders, and plan that first litter.  If we can avoid keeping the sweetest one who isn’t the best or the runt that is attached because of all the extra attention it was given, and manage to keep one or two puppies that grow up and successfully achieve their championships, fantastic!  We now are a kennel.  Are we a breeder yet?  Not really…. A breeder produces generation upon generation of champions.  So we breed the next generation, and finish one or two champions from that litter…   This is a simplified version of the numbers of champions from the numbers of generations, but it is the repeated ability to achieve wins from judges who are evaluating our breeding stock that turns us into successful long term breeders.  If we are successful in developing a family, we will have more and more depth of quality in our litters. When that level is achieved, it is our dream to have one of our Collies achieve the ROM status.  And then more than one collie to achieve the ROM status.  And while many say records aren’t important, until a dog who holds one and which you bred or who is sired by your dog, it is difficult to believe that anyone takes you, the breeder, seriously.  Frankly, it is not until we have consistently achieved multiple champions from multiple litters that we could even believe to be considered as a serious Collie breeder.  It is of course not that simple if you want to develop a family who becomes an important resource to our current and future Collies however I think this brings long time breeders back to their dreams and how they have changed throughout their years, and new fanciers to realize that it is okay to adjust their dreams.
Anonymous brings up many good points. I have my asbestos suit on, so if you want to disagree with this blog post, go for it. 


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