Typically, the breed we choose to raise and show over many years and generations is the one to which we are committed for life. Yet sometimes, there are reasons — physical or emotional — that we are drawn to another breed. As exhibitors, we probably all have dozens of breeds that we admire at shows and watch being judged. But what if the attraction moves from “must watch” to “must have”?
Downsizing. Much as we might like to keep showing our big-moving sporting, hound, working, and herding breeds forever, the time comes for many of us when we simply can no longer do so. Back, knee, and heart issues intervene and must be addressed. For some exhibitors, this is the time to start using a professional handler, but if you don’t want to give up the pleasure of showing your own dog, finding a more size-appropriate breed is the answer. Often it is a breed with a similar appearance from the same part of the world, but in a smaller package. Many Akita people have succumbed to the charms of the Shiba Inu; Old English Sheepdog and Bearded Collie folks tend to appreciate Tibetan Terriers; many Afghan Hound people have added Whippets, Chinese Cresteds, or Italian Greyhounds to their households; and more than a few currently active Cavalier King Charles Spaniel breeders started in English Springer Spaniels.
Many of us will downsize our homes, as well. As an acreage in the country gives way to a house in the city or even a condo, so the occasional litter of Havanese becomes more practical than a litter of Briards.
Grooming. Many exhibitors refuse to give up hair entirely, but need a slightly smaller canvas to work on, when arthritis and carpal tunnel syndrome rear their ugly heads. It may be the time for an Airedale Terrier exhibitor to transition to a Welsh Terrier or Lakeland Terrier, or even an Affenpinscher. Standard Poodle people may opt for a mini or toy. Of course, some exhibitors of big-coated breeds do make a dramatic departure by choosing a hairless Chinese Crested or Xoloitzcuintli. (Although we know hair-free does not mean maintenance-free.)
Cultural connection. I have several friends of Hungarian descent with fond memories of visiting their grandparents in the old country, who kept a Puli or two on the homestead. Choosing a Puli as the breed they would own and show provided them with a strong link to their past, and the dogs represent an important feeling of family connection, especially as relatives have passed over the years.
A fashionable Italian friend, who always looks chic and put together, nonetheless chose Neapolitan Mastiffs to own and show. She was drawn to their majesty and brawn, but had also gotten to know the breed in its native country.
Pioneering a rare breed. Sometimes, after you’ve bred scores of champions over generations and savored many great wins, you may feel that you’re on autopilot, with few challenges left to get excited about. If you want to give back to the sport, helping to establish a rare breed in this country may be just the adventure you need. Many of the people involved in the Foundation Stock Service (FSS) and miscellaneous breeds are new to the sport and would appreciate the guiding hand of a longtime breeder-exhibitor. From getting a new parent club on its feet to polishing the breed standard to mentoring novices in show-ring protocol, there is so much that experienced conformation people can do for a new breed. When I look at the state of our recently recognized breeds, there is no doubt in my mind that the Pumi, Berger Picard, and Lagotto Romagnolo, among others, have made such great strides because of the long-established AKC breeders, exhibitors, and judges who worked on their behalf.
When we consider other sports in which many successful athletes are all washed up by their mid-30s, it is gratifying to know that our sport is inclusive and accepting. If, as we age, a change of breed might be necessary for some of us to continue participating, that transition is made easily. Let’s toast our sport for its refreshing lack of ageism.
Allan Reznik has been an Afghan Hound fancier since the early 1970s and also owns and exhibits Tibetan Spaniels. He is an award-winning journalist and broadcaster who has served as editor-in-chief of several national dog publications. He appears regularly on radio and TV discussing all aspects of responsible animal ownership. He is also on the boards of the Afghan Hound Club of America and the Tibetan Spaniel Club of America.