Friday, January 16, 2009

The article below was featured in The Shih Tzu Reporter Winter 2008 Issue

It was written by my very good friend and AKC Judge Mrs Janis Clary McGee

NM: How did you become involved in the sport of dogs?

JCM: In 1983, a beautiful little Shih Tzu named Tzusie, a gift from my husband, Don, led to my entrée into the sport of dogs. We chose to breed her to a lovely Champion dog and his owners encouraged me to become involved in the sport.

NM: What was your first breed owned? Shown? Bred? Licensed?

JCM: The first breed owned and bred by me was Cocker Spaniels through the 1970’s. Since my marriage in 1983 and the gift of Tzusie, it has been a love affair of owning, showing and breeding Shih Tzu.

NM: Why did you originally decide to breed and/or judge Shih Tzu?

JCM: It was truly a challenge to me to breed a better dog. Though my Tzusie seemed oh so perfect to me, many people challenged the fact that she hadn’t much of a pedigree. I did spay her after the one litter. It must be said, however, that her daughter, Saki, went on to earn her R.O.M. (Register of Merit) through line breeding. Saki earned that title from only two litters (a total of eight puppies) – one champion from her first litter and three from her second litter. She was spayed at the age of seven years and went on to live a healthy and happy life to the ripe old age of seventeen years and nine months – she was a Shih Tzu of extraordinary health and playfulness.
Jam-Ups Shih Tzu, the prefix from the nickname given me by my father, has bred and finished many dogs. While I have never been a terribly prolific ‘bunch of puppies’ top producer, I bred enough to continue showing for the last twenty years, finished many dogs that I bred, co-bred or purchased for my own purposes. I imported a beautiful girl from the U. K. and finished her as well. Of course, I have had my share of "also rans" too – not everything is meant to be a champion! The main focus for me, personally, was/is breeding a sounder dog: Dogs of sound conformation, health and temperament.

NM: Why did you decide to pursue judging?

JCM: The decision to become an AKC judge was simply a matter of natural progression. Believed to have an "eye" for a good dog – it seemed only natural to follow a path to judging by educating myself as thoroughly as possible through all the avenues available; that is practical experience, seminars, AKC Institutes and being mentored by those I felt made great contributions to the sport, as well as their respective breeds.

NM: When judging, what is the "must have" quality you look for in a Shih Tzu?

JCM: Condition, conditioned and conditioning! Condition – picture of health – cleanliness and possessed of good conformation. Conditioned – prepared for a specific action – i.e., being shown. Conditioning – the process, or result, of inducing (the dog) to new or modified behavioral responses so that it can be judged fairly and honestly on all factors encompassed within the breed standard. All of these points are so clearly evident when an exhibit presents in the ring – the eyes clear and sparkling, the coat is clean and well groomed and the exhibit displays confidence and gaits with a fluidity born of excellent conformation married to excellent training and attitude. It is a beautiful sight to behold when this happens.

NM: Tell us your definition of breed type in a Shih Tzu.

JCM: The term "breed type" is today’s ‘soccer term’; while all involved in the sport of dogs kick it around, few seem to really score on the meaning. It is used and bandied about with ever increasing frequency without anyone seeming to understand exactly what it encompasses. The old adage ‘if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it must be a duck’ is NOT actually applicable as some seem to believe. Breed type, by its very definition, has to be as subjective as is the job of judging itself. It cannot be defined in absolutes except as it represents a sum total of a judge’s INTERPRETATION of the specific breed standard to be applied.
It is not too terribly common to find complete agreement among judges, exhibitors/breeders and/or, for that matter, AKC Representatives as to what constitutes breed type of a specific breed. We all have choices and each see through a different set of eyes that are affected by our original breed and the experiences within that breed and/or breeding program. I, as an artist, am going to see many things that may not be seen by others. Balance is extremely important to me, but – I personally feel that breed type fully encompasses the "whole package" – the look, the feel (conformation), the movement and the attitude.

NM: Type and structure - Are they the same? Why or why not?

JCM: NO – type and structure are not the same, but each is relative to the other. If structure is poor it can, and often does, have a negative impact on the exhibit in that it can destroy the movement. It can ruin the flow of outline, particularly in profile, which is often described within the breed standard.
That said - lack of good structure does not always negate type. Occasionally an exhibit can somehow manage to use that lack of soundness so well that you cannot, in your wildest dreams, even begin to understand how in the world they do it. I have experienced it; I have seen it and I have judged it. So while type and structure are not the same, and are certainly relative each to the other, you can have one without the other on occasion.

NM: What do you look for on the table?

JCM: When an exhibit is tabled, it is my job to assess conformational soundness and evaluate through a ‘hands on’ examination the specifics as described within the breed standard. The table is my tool for discovery and the floor is the point of my ultimate decision.

NM: What do you look for in movement?

JCM: I like to see smooth, easy flowing movement with reach and drive of equal measure along with a display of level and sound top line and appropriate head carriage. I want the dog to cover good ground at the given speed without any hint of being strung up or raced around the ring. Natural speed varies in all breeds. While some dogs move at a naturally faster pace than others, it is so terribly obvious when a handler races the dog around the ring to try covering faults with speed or by stringing the dog up. How unprofessional it looks as the dogs involved either look terrified to the point of running for their life and/or when strung up, the poor little things have their front feet pulled off the ground. Both things are surely less than complimentary to the handler and the dog!

NM: Health, Conformation, Temperament - What do you feel is the order of importance and why?

JCM: All of these factors are of equal importance and somewhat interdependent. Health would include the musculature and skeletal structure of the dog and, therefore, becomes relative to the overall soundness. If a dog suffers any discomfort due to some deviation not fully evident it would, in turn, affect temperament. Though such flaws are not always evident in a young dog, it will be precipitate for the future of any breeder who fails to recognize a problem in its infancy and to take appropriate and responsible steps to correct the issue.

NM: If you could address someone just coming into the sport of dogs, specifically conformation and Shih Tzu, what advice would you give a novice?

JCM: Ah, the novice - sometimes referred to as ‘the newbie’. What a welcome addition! My advice would be fourfold:- Talk to everyone while being terrifically discerning.- Find a reliable, respected and respectful mentor (not necessarily a competitor) and give them you unquestionable loyalty.- Believe in yourself; trust your instincts with regard to your dogs and the people you surround yourself with.
- Welcome diversity in dogs, pedigrees and people.
Be prepared for:- The good – the joy of owning/breeding a great dog, the wins, the friendships built and the joy of the journey itself.- The bad – losses (including your beloved dogs as they age), defeats in the ring and friendships that really weren’t in the first place.- The ugly – jealousy, miscommunications and other aberrant behaviors that sometimes plague competition.

NM: In the US, the Shih Tzu is currently in the Toy group, in Canada, Non-Sporting. There is a movement by AKC to possibly move the Shih Tzu into the Non-Sporting group in US competition. Where do you feel the Shih Tzu is a better fit and why?

JCM: Welcome to the twenty-first century. All areas of life today seem cast in a global market. Group re-alignment is just one step for the AKC in a world of competition encompassing more and more registries along with more and more breed recognition. At some point there must an alignment more in tune with the globalization of the sport itself (yuck! That sounds politically terrifying!). Be it with smiles and accolades, or kicking and screaming, things must actually change in order to grow and remain competitive. My personal feelings aside, re-alignment is a truly complex issue. There are some really perplexing questions regarding the wisdom with which this will be accomplished. Judges are confused as to what will happen to their ability to judge the group change-ups. I have empathy for the judges department in their deliberations on how they can possibly make this palatable and fair for all of us concerned. More still, I feel for those of us "in process" and having things confused by this realignment.
The Shih Tzu could fit or compete well in either the Toy Group or the Companion Group. The ties into the Toys is such a long standing relationship that being moved into the Companion Group could cause some very negative effects. Without very close monitoring it could also lead to far too many deviations from the present breed standard. Small changes seem to somehow become the accepted and approved, and over time, become the norm. I truly would not like to see the Shih Tzu changed into some larger and/or less beautiful version of itself.
There are, at present, some breeds recommended to re-alignment that I do not agree with while there are at least three toy breeds I feel could benefit from the re-alignment. Whatever the outcome of AKC’s decision, hopefully it will be of benefit to the breeds involved along with the breeders, the judging community and still allow for continuity of growth for the good of the sport.

NM: What is your feeling of the grooming techniques of today in comparison to those practiced when the Shih Tzu was first acknowledged by the AKC?

JCM: This subject is bandied around as much as the "breed type" comment/question. There is no reason to even begin to try a comparison because there is none!
Attend just one National Specialty and you should come away with the knowledge firmly implanted that Shih Tzu breeders and owners/handlers are among the top groomers in the world. The dedication, the attention to detail so prevalent in the Shih Tzu ring today becomes so much clearer and so very much more appreciated when one attends the National.
Yes, one might be crazy to want to compete in Shih Tzu with all that work, but the result is breathtaking. When sitting at ringside at the National, it is a glorious site to behold! Admittedly, I AM PREJUDICED!
I would possibly change the overdone topknot of today. Okay, what constitutes overdone? Well, if you puff it up until it sits on the dog's nose – it might be overdone! I can still find the longer nose, the eye white and the lack of fore skull as well as the breadth of skull - so why put your self or the dog through all of that. You can make the dog look deformed. I do appreciate a lovely, smooth and complimentary bubble, but truly do not like overdone!
Next, while I appreciate, too, enough height to accomplish lovely balance, some topknots are obscenely tall with rubber bands out the ‘wazoo’. Further, no attempt whatsoever is made to conceal them. THEY CAN BE CONCEALED! The topknot is the most daunting challenge to anyone new to our breed. Most Shih Tzu look absolutely lovely in maintenance bands, braids or however we keep them daily – yet we put pressure on ourselves to perfect the topknot.
What we actually accomplish with all of this ‘stuff’ is to discourage and suppress interest in our own breed. New folks feel they just cannot compete because they cannot do a perfect topknot. They also have no interest in trying because many of us go nuts when someone walks up and wants to talk to our dogs or touch them before they go in the ring. Many of us have been guilty of this at one time or another! Embarrassing – huh?
Yes, I want beauty but not that which borders on sublimely ridiculous! If they are ironed, that is fine. I want beauty, not topknots flying around and falling over the gorgeous face and into the mouth and eyes. I want them clean and fresh and glowing and beautiful.

NM: In what qualities do you feel, overall, the Shih Tzu breed is strong? Weak? Where do you feel breeders need to concentrate and improve?

JCM: As breeders, it is imperative that we take on the issue of structure – particularly the front assembly. Bouncing, rocking and/or swaying in the top line are so prevalent. It is not an optical illusion, as some suggest, created by the dog's hair. Fronts are all over the place; shoulders up under the ears, no chest. Therefore they feel like both front legs come out of the same hole (not just in Shih Tzu); then there are bowed legs and elbows loose or out, necks too long or too short, straight stifles or sickle hocks. We have some rears overdriving the straight front assembly messing with the movement. Straight stifles are causing the dogs to stand under themselves showing a top line that looks more like a Havanese. We have Shih Tzu that move around the ring with Cocker Spaniel top lines because their angles cannot allow them to do otherwise. Sometimes, it is difficult to understand why they are being shown at all – and some of them in the Bred-By class.
Most folks feel it is a bad idea to try talking with individual breeders about what you see as most of us – well – we can be really sensitive because we have our own hearts tied up in these beautiful dogs! Perhaps the time has come for National Clubs (and not just Shih Tzu) to begin a program to educate breeders regarding structure and how it effects movement. Small attempts have been made but, I believe, a serious effort must be made.
The Shih Tzu has always been referred to as a head breed. There has been, for sometime now, a tendency toward smaller heads and eyes that are either smaller or showing excessive eye white.
It is not too late to fix these issues. There are some really fine dogs out there. Attend the National; talk with each other openly and HONESTLY. If you have been around awhile, share your knowledge freely and reach out to the novice and help them along. It is so very difficult to learn everything alone and many people just don’t have the ‘moxie’ to fight that battle!We can breed a better dog when, and if, we work together!

No comments: