Pondering the Age Question

“He did great as a puppy, but then I had to put him away for a while. I hope his front/rear/topline/body-part-of-choice comes back!”

“Yeah, so-and-so had this pretty red puppy that she finished really quickly, then we never saw it again.”

“I don’t know. I put his majors on him really quickly, but I’ve been chasing these last four points forever.”


Sound familiar?  I hear these and similar comments from dog show exhibitors time and again, across all breeds.  Someone takes a promising puppy into the 6-9 month class, does well — maybe even finishes — and the dog is never seen or heard from again.  Maybe because it has moved on to a “forever home,” maybe because he or she is back at the kennel performing reproductive duties.  Maybe you see a photo in a Bulletin ad, but often times they are just a name in a catalog and pedigree.  Which is too bad; I mean, wouldn’t you like to see how those dogs turned out?

I know I sure would.  Why?  Because evaluating breeding stock before it fully matures is speculative investing at best, and Magic 8-Ball-asking at its worst.  And yet, by awarding Championship certificates to dogs under the age of 9 months, the AKC is saying it has full confidence that you can do just that.

Now granted, I don’t believe our reputable breeders are breeding their 9 month-old dogs and bitches willy-nilly.  I also don’t believe that good, knowledgeable breeders are basing their breeding decisions on a piece of paper that says “Champion.”  But how many people ARE swayed by that prefix in front of a dog’s name?  The puppy-buying public sure is, because the stated purpose of conformation showing is to determine the best in breeding stock, and with that CH designation comes the not-unreasonable expectation that the breeding stock in question is indeed of superior quality.

And when that CH came out of the puppy class, that’s not always the case.

I think it’s a given that AKC is not going to raise the age of eligibility to compete in dog shows.  And I have no doubt that there would be a hell of an out-cry against it if they were to consider making such a change.  How many breeders really have the time and the resources and the number of slots in their house or kennel to raise a puppy not to 6 months to see how it is turning out, but to 18 months?  Or 24 months?  Damn few.  It would mean fewer litters raised, which means fewer litters registered.

Which means less money for AKC.

So what the heck do I want, anyway?  Why am I rambling on about this on my blog?  I mean, my house has plenty of glass — Magnum’s first two majors and half of his points came out of the 6-9 class, so who am I to throw stones?  Why should I complain about a system that allowed me those points?

Honestly?  I’m not sure.  Maybe I’m uncomfortable when I hear puppy buyers congratulating themselves on their champion-pedigreed pup, without any clear understanding of how much — or how little — that title may mean.  The longer I’m involved in conformation, the less meaning I’m assigning to the title, even though I’ve finally just earned one.  What matters is the dog, not the letters in front of its name.  I guess it’s my hope that, as we educate people about purebred dogs in general and our breed in particular, we’re passing on the knowledge to make informed evaluations about the health and soundness of the product they’re buying, and not just pointing to ribbons and certificates on the wall as proof that we are producing quality.

What do you all think?  Are you A-okay with awarding championships to puppies?  Am I just over-thinking the issue to give myself something to worry about?  Sound off in the comments;  I’d really like to know where you all come down on this, because I think it’s an issue worth some discussion.



Posted on January 18, 2012, in Breed Judging. Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. I’ve always liked the idea of making a certain percentage of points and/or one of the majors required to be won past a certain age…probably 18 months or 2 years. I know other countries have this requirement, but I’m not sure if it has ever been seriously discussed or considered in AKC. In the case of “true quality”, i.e. a really spectacular dog that will be specialed as an adult, it really doesn’t slow much down, they would just need to get that last major before they can start their specials career. But heck, these days a dog that looks awesome as a puppy can finish their Ch AND GCh super fast, and we never have any idea what they look like as an adult.

    Speaking personally, I’ve never had this problem of a dog that looked amazing as a puppy. Seems like all of my puppies look like heck and then pull it together when they’re older LOL.

  2. Different dogs grow differently. One of my Champions finished before he was 10 months old — he never changed — just went from being a handsome puppy into being a handsome teenager and a handsome adult. Not so with his son who earned a point from the puppy class and then went into the major fuglies. Nine months later, I took the bag off his head and there was the handsome dog that I had seen when he was 5-1/2 weeks old. Sometimes you must be more patient that other times. My experience is that a baby puppy that takes my breath away will grow up to be an adult that takes my breath away. I just need to let him/her get there. As an aside, I like to finish dogs early so I can have some fun with them. A Championship is a courtesy to the breeder and to the dog’s parents, my real pleasure is in obedience, herding, tracking, agility. Those later events are the real reasons I have Cardis.

  3. I’ve thought about this a lot as well. The requirements for a championship in the UK are winning 3 CCs at shows where they are available, under 3 different judges and at least one CC has to come after the dog is over 1 year of age. The Irish Kennel Club requires 7 Gold Stars earned under 7 different judges and one must be awarded after the dog is 15 months of age. A Norwegian championship can only be awarded to a dog older than 24 months. I believe some working breed clubs in Europe even require that the dog earn a working title before they are eligible for a breed championship.
    The US is all about instant gratification and that includes getting championships on our dogs. “Finished from the puppy classes” is a brag you see on lots of blogs, lists and bulletin ads. And, as you note, it’s rare to see those dogs continue their show careers. There are lots of reasons for that – not the least of which is financial.
    For me, personally, I would rather finish a mature dog vs. a puppy. WYSIWYG, if you will. I don’t have a lot of dogs though and I never intend to do a lot of breeding. The dogs I bring into my home will spend their entire lives with me, regardless of titles or potential as a stud dog or brood bitch. Ultimately, I think it boils down to personal preferences, goals and public education. A championship title is an easy way to convey value to the general public but, responsible breeders should also be able to explain why a particular dog on a pedigree does not have a Ch in front of their name but was still worthy of being part of a breeding program.

  4. I keep thinking that AKC could do well by having a “Puppy CH”, and a regular “CH” for dogs over 2, as then people would go out for the puppy CH, then go BACK for the adult CH, meaning more titles for owners/breeders (And we know how we like those!), and in turn, more money for the AKC. Potentially double, if it in theory takes as many shows to finish a puppy, as an older dog.

    Much like the GrCH status, and ‘levels’ are simply a dog show sales gimmick, I’d looooove to see a puppy conformation title, that doesn’t transfer into an adult title, but is separate from an adult title. I’d love to see dogs coming out to be finished, as they get their OFA x-rays done, so we can have it all on the plate up front when the dog comes out into the show ring. Makes the whole selecting breeding stock easier, to see adult dogs and hopefully health-tested at the same time, instead of a year plus down the road.

  5. I feel that puppies should be exposed to shows early, but I really don’t think that they should be earning the Champion title until they are a bit older. Some dogs change over time. Waiting to Champion a dog also gives time to ensure that all of the genetic testing comes out in your favor. What a shame it would be to get your puppy a Championship title, and then find out that it is developing _________ (any genetic disorder that doesn’t show up right away and can’t be tested until they are a little older). I loved seeing all of the older dogs in the group ring at westminster this year. I saw several that were between the ages of 6 and 10. They look as good as ever. I wish that all dogs stayed like that!

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