Rare Breeds, Popular Breeds and Somewhere Inbetween

My Background, Popular Breeds

I grew up with golden retrievers.  Ranking #4 in the country in 2008 according to AKC registrations, they are a popular breed to say the least.  From their I purchased a boxer to show.  They were ranked #6 in the country in 2008 according to the AKC.  My golden and my boxer didn’t finish for various reasons, not the least of which was that neither one had great movement.  My experience with goldens was that many people choose to hire a handler, but despite being a very popular breed many people do show their own dogs successfully.  Boxers are a different story.

When I got my boxer six years ago, I was told that if I wanted to finish a boxer I had to hire a professional handler.  There was no other way to do it.   Of course at the time I was also told I could not finish a boxer unless it was flashy (had white markings) and had cropped ears.   Boxers have come a long way since then and many plain or classic (not flashy) boxers and even boxers with natural, uncropped ears are finishing now, but the boxer breed is still considered a “professional handler breed”.

The Journey Into Rare Breeds

When I decided to get another dog to show I wanted a smaller, healthier breed that I could show myself.  I was also pretty sure that I wanted another sporting dog – something closer to the goldens I grew up with.  I decided in my “infinite wisdom” and from some of the things I had read that a rare breed would be easier to show myself, but I had almost zero experience with rare breeds.

I finally narrowed it down to either a welsh springer spaniel or field spaniel.  I did prefer the “cuteness” of the welshies over the “elegance” of the fieldies.  Both of those breeds had their health issues like they all do, but seemed to be longer-lived and in general have much better health than say a boxer with an average life span of about 10 years and a myriad of health problems including major heart disease; however, I read a little about welshies having epilepsy, so that made me lean toward the field spaniels at first.  I found field spaniel breeders who were more than welcoming and introduced me to some wonderful dogs.

I was very close to deciding on a field spaniel, but read that epilepsy was quite rare in welshies, so I decided to go with the breed that appealed to me most.  I had a very hard time talking to any welshie breeders until I met a few at the local all-breed dog show.  I met Tucker’s brother, Alexi at that show and fell in love with his beautiful head.  His owner told me how to get in touch with his breeder and one thing led to another.  I got my new show dog.

The Grass Isn’t Always Greener

I started showing Tucker in October 2008.  I should say here that I decided not to show him myself because I just did not feel like I was a good enough handler and he seemed to behave more for other people.  He has one point towards his championship and we’re really just getting started.  He has tons of attitude, so that makes him a great show dog. I certainly love that he only has to beat one dog to get a point.  That’s certainly the upside to showing a rare breed.

The downside is that they are rare, so sometimes it can be hard to find any competition at all.  With more popular breeds you just enter your dogs and, in most cases, you can assume there will be competition, but that’s not the case with the rare breeds.  I’m finding that some of the shows near my house that I want to enter have no competition, so entering would just be a waste of money.  The answer to that dilemma is finding the shows that other welshies will be entered in.  There are regular, big shows that welshies are entered in every year, but finding other, smaller shows throughout the year can be difficult.

This makes it necessary to become much more of a close-knit community among other exhibitors of your chosen breed, so you can share information about which shows your are willing to attend and how many dogs you will be entering.  The Internet can help people coordinate shows to attend and share information, but it can still be difficult to get that information unless others are willing to participate and share.

Is There an Ideal Popularity Level?

Perhaps the “Ideal Breed” is the one that’s right for you.  Looking at the amount of grooming required, size and activity level are far more important than any other factors since a show dog will be your companion, first and foremost.  But if there were an ideal, I think it would probably not be as popular as a golden and not as rare as a welsh springer or field spaniel.  Somewhere in the middle means you will probably have competition at most shows, but perhaps you won’t run into issues like getting into a breed that you “can’t owner handler”.  That should be a choice that’s left up to the individual.

Amatuer owner-handler classes are now offered at many AKC dog shows.  Those classes are available to give handlers that don’t have a lot of experience showing their own dogs a fair shot at at least winning a class and getting a chance at winners.  UKC dog shows are all owner handlers, since professional handlers are not allowed.  Those are just some of the ways that you can handle your own dog even if you have a more popular breed.

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