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.