Let’s talk about Scottish Terriers in the show ring

I must admit, I have been becoming more and more uncomfortable with the idea of purebred dogs as of late. I still get a kick out of dog shows, especially the big ones like Westminster, in the same way that I like going to zoos. But, but, but … I’m finding it increasingly hard to justify the practices behind both these institutions.

I am getting the feeling we are approaching a turning point on this whole issue. Here’s what Joseph Harvill, publisher of Great Scots Magazine, has to say:

Judges who make pronouncement upon breed ‘perfection’ based upon atypical, one-dimensional, solely appearance-based assessment, and those whose selective breeding is influenced by such parodies of true breed assessment, in truth know little of the breed. The modern Scottish Terrier, the contemporary poster-dog for the National Institutes of Health’s genetic bladder cancer research because our Scotties are 20 times more at risk for bladder cancer than any other dog, is broken and we broke him with our trivial pursuits. The Scottish Terrier needs friends of deeper connection than the superficial, friends who reject quick, shallow appraisal of perfection in this ‘garden.’

For too long we’ve abdicated the Scottish Terrier to showring culture to trivialize our dogs’ function as well as our breed’s health and well-being. The Scottie’s future depends upon a new breed of friends who will circle slowly, walk through lingeringly and intimately and compassionately, and who will thereby become true defining instruments to fire the old ‘gardener’ if necessary or at least the old practices as needed to cultivate in the Scottish Terrier authentic “well-bred” perfection that embodies life and health, not mere show.

Please add your opinions and I would really like to hear from those who show Scottish Terriers as well as breeders.

10 thoughts on “Let’s talk about Scottish Terriers in the show ring

  1. Your first sentence sums up my personal feelings as well. We should just love dogs for what they are, not what we make them.

  2. I like to raise the healthiest, most loving puppies I can while trying to get good conformation. I prefer my dogs to look like the diehard we see from the early 1900 pictures. And I like for them to have that Scottitude but be loving as well. That's a lot to ask from a dog, but it can happen. But to me health is more important than looks.

  3. Let's face it — we love our breed because of their looks. If anything else were true, we could visit the local shelter and adopt any dog. I want a dog that looks approximately like the Scotties I see in the books. I want short legs, big paws, long muzzle and a Scottitude. My Scotties have come from different backgrounds. My best one came, unbeknownst to me, from a puppymill Mennonite breeder. None of my Scotties are perfect specimens; but they look approximately like a Scottie. That's good enough for me. Having said that, the show dog breeders need to be a little less focused on the 'perfect looks' issue, re-think their breeding practices, and perhaps our breed won't die out one day. The judges are what they are; I don't see them ever changing. I have never been convinced that one human being can be an expert on exactly how 165 (or however many AKC breeds there are) different dog breeds 'should' look. But that's just my opinion.

  4. " I like to think that all those dog's who have a "thin" time on earth will, in a heaven of their own, recieve in large measure all those joys which were denied them here. It pleases me to imagine all those countless little terriers whose good looks made their lives a burden, and were dragged from show to show, who have never known the joys of chasing the elusive cotton tail through the thick undergrowth and never pinned a rat, doing in their particular paradise all these things, and fulfilling the purpose for which God gave them a sensitive nose and four active legs and an egar spirit. K.F. Barker Dog illustrator, artist and author. 1930's Waveney

  5. I too believe that conformation showing is fundamentally flawed. I feel that this has been proven over the last 100 year with the sorry state many breeds of dog are in. We are lucky that Scotties aren't suffering many of the obvious physical issue some breeds are, but as the owner of a VWD dog, I can offer first hand insight in to the other problems the level of breeding over the last 100 years have introduced. I feel that Dog breeding governing organisations have a lot of thinking to do and need to introduce some fairly radical changes to the whole fabric dog showing to ensure it is still around in another 100 years, but I am unsure what they can introduce that will achieve the desired outcomes, or how it would be acceptable by the showing community. Good luck us – I think we are going to need it.

  6. What a thought-provoking discussion… The last poster wrote about having a Scotty with VWD, which brought back memories of my sister's most wonderful dog, Duncan, who had VWD and lived to be 12 years old, thanks to her care. When she discovered the problem and tried to contact the AKC and the breeder, no one wanted to hear about it. I wonder how many other VWD dogs that breeder brought into the world, and how many were lucky enough to find people who had the resources (emotional and financial) to care for them.

    I've had two wonderful Scotties, neither of whom fit the standards for the breed in terms of appearance. But they've got that great Scotty feistiness, and as other posters wrote, the personality (and that distinctive boxy-headed appearance) is what makes us love them. The Rocky Creek Scotties breeder wrote about trying to recapture the standard of the early Scotties, who were tough little working dogs, and the breeder we found our second Scotty from said the same thing: she looked to those old photos from the turn of the century as her ideal.

    I love Scotties – and when I watch the dog shows, I'm fascinated by the amazing variations. How can a giant Schnauzer, a dachshund, a clumber spaniel, and a Chinese Crested be the same animal? It's fascinating – so I don't want to totally discount the dog show as a way to showcase the different breeds. But it is absurd to think of how one can judge a dog "Best in Show" – why not just admit it's the judge's favorite dog on that evening?

    – Grendelzdam

  7. I have long admired Joseph for his wise outspoken views that do not always sit well with the established order. He has a deep love for the breed and it's future. I hate our breed nickname of "diehard" because I have witnessed 2 Scotts that did die very hard to the ravages of cancer. I know that is not the origins of the nickname but that is what I think of when I see it in print. I am more than happy to see the breed change physically if it means more healthy years.

  8. I think we are all agreed on this one, (although I'm not a big fan of the K.F. Barker books as he was ultra sexist and into wild Otter hunting … both I have strong views against. Then again, he did do great illustrations 🙂
    Personally I went for the breeders, only because I loved the Scottie type and wanted a good likeness. Also, I didn’t like the idea of puppy farms. I got Kirk cheap, (though I would never tell her that.) Instead of paying £390, she was reduced to £180. She is pedigree, but due to her extra large tail and red hair the breeder said she could never be shown, so was prepared to bargain for her… and I didn't care because I fell for her at first sight, despite having two other pups to see that afternoon. We locked eyes and that was it.
    So I'm on the side of Scotties looking OK and being breed more-or-less the same. But I'm not hypocritical and also concerned how you keep the breed true if you consistently allow inconsistencies like Kirk? I'm worried about over-breeding and would like a comprimise.

  9. Dr. Harvill knows very little about what breeders really do. The opinion of dog show judges is just one single factor of the many that we consider as we plan future matings. For us, dog shows are solely for the purpose of evaluating the dog's appearance and temperament. It's important to preserve breed type. We all want Scotties to continue to look and act like Scotties.

    On other hand, it doesn't matter how pretty a dog is if the dog or its offspring are not healthy. After all, every breeder wants to continue having healthy dogs to show, and every breeder wants to be able to sell healthy puppies.

    STCA show breeders were the driving force behind Jean Dodds' initial vWD research and the U. of Mich/MSU project that found the vWD gene. STCA show breeders and the AKC are now funding and supporting the research that will eventually find the gene that causes CA. STCA show breeders and the AKC are supporting and funding Dr. Ostrander's search for a genetic component in bladder cancer.

    There will always be breeders whose priorities do not include health, but those breeders are, to some extent, self-limiting. The way to eliminate them is to put them out of business by not patronizing them. With the information available on the internet, it's not hard to find a good breeder–good breeders have good reputations.

    It may be possible in the distant future to breed living creatures, human and animal, without any genetic problems, but it's not possible now. Our dogs will continue to die of cancer (like many of us), because they don't die of infectious disease, trauma or heart problems. But no matter what you hear, I can tell you that the vast majority of dog breeders–including commercial and home breeders–do their very best to produce healthy dogs.

    Dr. Harvill tars show breeders but we are the people who are LEAST likely to sell you an unhealthy pet. The qualities that make a good show dog–outstanding temperament, great skin and coat, adaptability to new situations–also make for great pets.

    We fund research, we fund rescue, we provide a source of knowledge about training and care. We produce the occasional problem dog not because we are uncaring, but because the knowledge to prevent the production of such a dog does not yet exist. Frankly, I'm tired of being flogged by Dr. Harvill who claims to love the Scottish Terrier more than those of us who stay up nights bringing new lives into the world, nursing the weak ones, and lovingly easing the departure of the old ones.

  10. I agree about dog shows not getting totally to the point – but it is an approximative way to get the breed to look also in the next 100 years as it is now.
    much more important than the shows is a lot of input coming from the breeders. And in all respect that is what I think we should be focussing on for the love of this breed – and that is also the very big point where all of us can bring our force to work. Because we, the buyers of little scottish puppies can discriminate – we can select the good breeder (who looks out for good character, elevates the dogs in a loving home, shows them many different noises, floors and other dogs in their first weeks of live) and WE CAN refuse to buy from the neglecting, only-show-oriented, dogs hoarding, illness accepting, cave bringing up breeder. And only WE can refuse to buy any puppy from a puppy mill, full of illness, maltreatment, unhealthy food etc.

    Apart of all that we must say that luckily the scottish terrier is currently not a most-favorite dog race (like golden retriever, westies, jack russel etc.) and therefor the over-breeding seems not an imminent problem. Additionally these dogs are difficult to breed compared to many other races and therefor the puppy mills are not a very big supplier here.
    Infact scotties are a rare breed and we are happy for all the breeders who do take the time and effort to bring up the puppies – although the male scotties are not overambitious about breeding and the female scotties often have a difficult birth or even only with a cesarian cut. So lets all hope that good breeders will continue to exist and that our scottie race is not going to get extinct at some point.

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