Carroll County Times

Horsin' Around: What's In A Dog Show?

It's odd how one thing can lead you to a train of thought that widens to include a lot of other things all of which are (more or less) relevant if you simply allow your subconscious free rein to wander along the paths that it chooses.

For me it was the televised dog show at the Westminster Kennel Club.

I like all dogs unreservedly. Several times in this column I have made reference to the Australian Cattle Dog that shares my life. He was bred locally by a friend from high school days who also breeds Champion Parson Russell Terriers as well as Australian Cattle Dogs. What attracted me to the ACD's is that they have a very independent mind set. I value that highly in both dogs and horses. I don't want a slave, I want a partner and that is exactly what I got.

Although Bentley has in his bloodlines AKC Champion ACD's with Companion Dog certificates (and herding certificates!) anyone who knows this breed will admit that showing a heeler to a CD is a dicey undertaking. ACD's don't like being drilled on something that they already understand fully and they don't see the sense in being asked to "sit" several times in a row when they feel that it is a fine day for standing. They are masters of the blank stare. For some folks this makes them an exercise in frustration; for others it makes them an amusing companion. If you don't like that attitude find another dog and both you and the ACD will be far better pleased.

Harking back to my reference to the WKC dog show, it came to mind while I was watching that dogs are genetically predisposed to being bred to amazingly different shapes and mind sets. They among all animals have become anything that a human can imagine as fulfilling a perceived need. And then they have been willing to become a foofarawed uber-conceptualized caricature of that dog so that they can be showed.

Humans have a tendency to do this to animals. We have taken the sturdy Shetland Pony and created a highly flown show pony that bears little relation to the good-hearted Merry Legs of Black Beauty fame. Fortunately a group of people are creating a Shetland Pony that has returned to a child's wonderful companion. Appaloosa Horses, once a hardy and, admittedly sometimes less than lovely breed, have been largely bred to the standard of the Quarter Horse and now are spotted pretty things more than the athletic but quirky characters that they were. It's too bad; I liked them the way they were. I must have. I lived with one for 35 years and miss him dreadfully still.

It seems that when humans get ahold of something good we have to breed it out of all recognition of its original use. Possibly we should hold a mirror to ourselves and take a good long look at us to see if there is something we can do for us instead of just picking on animals. I am sure we could find some improvements if we were honest. Now you see where your mind can go when you let it off the leash?

The one thing that I comforted myself with during (and after) the televised dog show is that the Australian Cattle Dog that entered the ring first in the herding class looked exactly the way it should. Not only that but it made no impression at all on anyone that I could see which ensured its safety from most of the doggie lunatic fringe.

The dog came in, stayed absolutely unimpressed by all of the commotion, checked to see if there were indeed any cattle present that needed herding and, seeing none, went on about its business almost unnoticed in the more flagrantly humanized breeds. It won't be made fluffier as it isn't fluffy to begin with, it won't be made to have more exaggerated action when it moves as it isn't a flashy mover anyway, and it won't be bred to hyperbolic colors as its colors are already sufficient to its ancestry. I can't tell you what a comfort it was to realize that.

I am proud to have a friend that can think independently. He forms attachments from what is in his heart and is picky about the people whom he espouses as friends.

Having made up his mind he is a staunch ally. Although only a medium-sized dog he can be quietly daunting in the extreme to those of whom he does not approve; like Queen Victoria he can show himself to be "not amused" and is capable of quelling others with only a look.

I wish I could do that. I could learn from this dog.