Why Dog Shows?

Why dog shows?  Seems like a silly thing to do.  We have all seen them on TV, all the different dogs competing for a ribbon, and we can't imagine why people spend so much time and money  on a beauty contest for dogs, when the really important thing about a dog is his personality.

And you are right if you don't know the whole story.  And the whole story starts with the reason for having purebred dogs in the first place.  In the beginning, when Paleolithic man first started feeding the wolves that hung around the clan campsite, he realized that these creatures, when they became friendly and began to defend the campsite and accompany hunting parties, could serve several purposes.  Their acute hearing alerted them to the approach of strange predators, and their acute sense of smell could lead hunters to game.  This set the stage for selective breeding.  By breeding the best hunters to each other, man could produce a "super hunter".  And breeding the most alert and watchful to each other they could produce a super guardian.  The breeding of purebred "specialist" wolves was underway.

Those specialist wolves are your little Lhasa Apsos today.  The Apso originated, like many other breeds from a canine stock which traveled with nomadic pastoral people in Central Asia. The larger members of this stock were transformed, by selective breeding into the large livestock guardian Mastiff, the medium sized Tibetan Terrier, used for herding, and the smaller Lhasa Apso, used as a domestic sentinel.  The apso was alert, sharp of hearing, and suspicious of strangers, ready to alert the family or monastery at the approach of any stranger, man or beast.

Along with these behavioral qualities, he was a sturdy small dog: small enough to live in a small yurt or house, but sturdy enough to endure the harsh climate and high altitude (12,000 to 16000 feet above sea level).   These abilities were the result of his structure: slightly shortened legs, large lungs, and his long, hard coat.  The demands of climate and purpose, resulted in a very reproducible physical type that we recognize as the Lhasa Apso today.

But today, the apso no longer has to alert the family at night, nor does he have to endure the -50 winter winds nor the 16,000 foot elevation, so low in Oxygen.  His ancestors lived or died depending on how well they fit the requirements of purpose and environment, but these conditions no longer determine which ones reach maturity and reproduce.  The unique characteristics that defined the essence of this breed, and were largely determined by the environment, are in danger of being lost, unless the breeders are vigilant in preserving them.  In order to keep those qualities that were developed under the influence of the Lhasa Apso's native environment, we need to breed only those animals which show the greatest degree of "breed type" and soundness of body and temperament.

And that's where dogshows come in!  We go to Dog Shows to find the dogs which exemplify these breed characteristics, so that we can employ them as parents of the next generation.Besides breeding for the correct characteristics to keep the original look, physiology, and purpose of the breed, we have to maintain the genetic health of the breed as well.  One breeder cannot hope to do that, because no one breeder can keep a sufficiently large population of dogs to maintain the genetic diversity of the population.  To avoid inbreeding, breeders have to work together to breed a healthy population.  How do we find the right mates for our animals?  Dogshows, of course!

A breeder who does not show his/her dogs is in the same position as a scientist who never publishes his work.  The scientist might make many important discoveries in his laboratory, but if the rest of the scientific world never knows about it, what good is all his work?  And no matter how beautiful my dog might be, if no other breeder ever sees him, how will his genes ever benefit the breed?  Breeders bring their dogs to shows mainly to be able to compare their work with the work of other breeders and to find dogs and bitches whose characteristics might complement or improve their own.

Beyond the implications for the preservation of breed characteristics and health, breeders find new lifelong friends and socialize with people of similar interests.  It is a rich learning environment, and often a great social environment as well.  We have fun!

So if you are really interested in the breed, come to a dog show.  There are many different activities there.  Besides the "beauty contest", Conformation, there are performance events as well.  Even if your dog is not Conformation champ material, you might want to learn to compete in Obedience, Rally or Agility.  You will meet breeders and exhibitors that can help you with any problems you may be having with your dog, and you will learn a lot.  There is also a lot of good shopping for doggy stuff at shows - stuff you can't always find at your local PetsMart!  You can find a Dog Show near you at  http://www.infodog.com .  Bring the family, a folding chair, and a picnic basket.  See some beautiful dogs, and make some new doggy friends!