“Guts and Governance” of purebred dogs, the Bull Terrier and Breeders
Hon. David Merriam was given a White Bull Terrier in 1953. “Gigi” was the gift that keeps on giving, starting a 65-year love affair with the breed and purebred dogs.
When Merriam was given Gigi, he had some Collies. “They were not very good collies, conformation-wise,” he said. “Then I was given this bull terrier and she won quite a bit,” he added, in regard to why he’d chosen the Bull Terrier breed. “And winning is better than losing. They grow on you. You become very chauvinistic about them.”
Judging Similarities in Court or in the Ring
Merriam was a trial court judge in Southern California for 20 years and president of the Golden State Bull Terrier Club while still in law school.
“There’s a similarity in judging law cases and dog shows,” said Merriam, who presided over Best in Show at Westminster Kennel Club in 2015. “Each has a standard. AKC has a standard for each breed. In the courts the standard is known as the law. In the courts you receive evidence… testimony or physical evidence. In a dog show the evidence is the dogs in front of you. What you see and feel and the application of the standard to those animals.”
History and Judging of Bull Terriers
The essence of the Bull Terrier is the head, Merriam noted. “It’s an egg-shaped head. It’s only commonly been found in the last 20 years or so. Heads have improved enormously. Alva Rosenberg said, ‘Close your eyes, put your hand on the head. It should feel like a velvet egg.’”
The breed was developed as the *white* bull terrier, Merriam said. “Those devoted to the White Bull Terrier thought the Colored dogs were mongrels,” he added. “It wasn’t until the late 1930s that the Colored Bull Terrier was imported to the US from England. There were huge fights within the bull terrier club and the American Kennel Club about recognition of the variety. “Colored (bull terrier) development was slow. It wasn’t until the ‘70s that the quality began to be developed,” he observed.
“It’s been a successful marriage,” Merriam said of the two varieties. He remarked on some problems associated with white bull terriers, including deafness and skin problems. Research by the BAER hearing test program showed that “(In) white to white (breedings), one-third of the litter would have some hearing deficiency. White to colored that went down to 6 percent.”
BTCA presented the information to breeders, who then found value in the Colored variety and began using them in breeding programs. “If you give competent breeders the tools and the information, they’ll help correct the situation,” Merriam said.
Guts and Governance
As a long time AKC delegate and past Chairman of the Board of Directors, Merriam noted that the “guts” of the sport is at the level of the next dog show and the next breeding.
“The governance of it, whether in the delegate body or the Board of Directors, is of lesser interest to all the people here at the dog show,” Merriam said. “How many exhibitors or breeders read the minutes of the board meetings? They only become aware of those when a new regulation comes down.”
Calling himself a “traditionalist,” Merriam challenged some of the ideas and directions of the American Kennel Club.
“If I were king, I would divide the kennel club,” Merriam stated. “I would have the traditional part of conformation and field trials in one group and then I would have all of the other (companion events) in another group. … Each of the two organizations would have to support themselves.”
“The most important thing,” Merriam said in summary, “is that each breed has a coterie of outstanding breeders. They are what moves the breed ahead. Nothing that AKC does changes that.”
We hope you enjoy this thought-provoking, challenging and fascinating conversation with one of the legends of our sport.
WKC AGILITY WINNER SHARES HER THOUGHTS
Jessica Ajoux and her Border Collie, Famous, won the WKC Master Agility Championship in February. She shares her insights on how a dog’s structure affects its performance on the agility course.
PASSION FOR AGILITY STARTED EARLY
This February was her first time winning the prestigious WKC competition, but Ajoux started in the sport of agility as a teenager. Her mom drove her to her first classes and agility shows, which were scheduled around school and homework.
Watching an agility competition for the first time on television, Ajoux noted, “I’m not joking when I say the skies parted, angels sang, and I went, ‘Oh my goodness I’m going to be doing that!’ And I have been doing that since that particular day in … 1999.”
Ajoux began her agility competition with a mixed breed dog who she says taught her a lot and was very forgiving. When she graduated from college and was ready to begin competing at the next level, she began her search for a Border Collie.
BORDER COLLIES BECOME THE FOCUS
“One time a friend of mine actually let me run one of her Border Collies and that was it,” Ajoux said. “And I knew that that was the breed of dog I was going to pursue. … They can’t compete at the lower heights … because they obviously don’t measure in. But I just find that they’re the most competitive dog. That doesn’t mean that they’re easy – getting a Border Collie doesn’t solve all the problems. They’re ‘special.’ … you have to actually like the breed too you can’t just think of getting a Border Collie for agility ….”
As Ajoux progressed in her agility training, competition and understanding of the sport, she began to notice that certain dogs were better able to handle the unique athletic requirements of the sport. And she started to see correlation between their underlying structure and their actual ability.
“I train a lot of agility dogs and I watch a lot of dogs do a lot of athletic things,” Ajoux said. “I have a pretty good eye for watching movements and especially related to agility. What I find is that the Border Collies are very athletic and there’s a lot of variation even between the individual dogs. Fame happens to be an exceptionally athletic dog … She has a long neck, a long back, she’s very light and she is able to accelerate and decelerate very well which I think is the key to agility. It’s not just about speed, right, they can run very fast in a straight line but that doesn’t mean that they’re able to slow down and turn, right? They have to be able to downshift well.
“I have another Border Collie, my younger male, and he’s a lovely dog but he’s a little heavier boned. He’s a little straighter in the front and he doesn’t have the ability to what I describe as get underneath himself. … So, he has a much harder time in agility because if you run at a jump at full speed and you’re expected to turn it’s very useful to be able to rock your weight back, have the rear under, have some flexibility in the spine to do that. And it’s just much harder for him and that’s simply based on how he’s built. You can train, you can try to help them with their weaknesses, but ultimately how he moves will never be the same as how Fame moves for example. And it’s very predictable, based on the dogs that they’re related from and that type of thing.”
Agility competitors and breeders are producing what Ajoux described as “sport dogs” bred specifically for the conformation needed for agility. While Border Collies are very successful, she noted, they are originally bred to herd sheep, not jump. While the breed’s inherited speed, dexterity, focus and drive make them a good choice for agility, the functional structure changes some with the particular application of the sport.
“…one of the saddest things I see is people getting upset at dogs and their performances because they’re not ‘doing what they want,’” Ajoux said. Even though training has a huge part of it, I’m never going to be a professional basketball player. I’m not built to be – it’s not going to happen. Right? So you have to be realistic with what they can and can’t do.”
Ajoux talks about the unique structure of the Westminster Kennel Club Masters Agility Championship. She even adds details on injury prevention in canine athletes. Listen to the full length podcast or read the full transcript below. We hope you enjoy this fascinating conversation on the actual application of form following a specific function.
ALLISON FOLEY’S TIP OF THE WEEK
And don’t miss Allison Foley’s excellent discussion about showing your dog’s bite to the judge!
HELMING THE GARDEN – WESTMINSTER KENNEL CLUB
Westminster Kennel Club’s newest show chair, David Helming, has certainly experienced this prestigious events from all ends of the spectrum. Helming took over as show chair for Tom Bradley last year. But he has judged his breed, Newfoundlands, there and, he and his wife, Peggy, bred and owned Josh, the 2004 BIS winner, shown by Michelle (Ostermiller) Scott.
The Helmings whelped their first litter of Newfoundlands 50 years ago. Their Pouchcove dogs are iconic in the breed, earning AKC Breeder of the Year accolades in 2005.
“I’m very excited for this year,” Helming said. “I got an email from Tom Bradley the year we moved to the piers asking if I’d be the grounds chair.” From that point, Helming transitioned to several years as assistant show chair to Bradley before taking the wheel last year.
“This is a show of many people,” Helming noted. “We have tremendous staff working on it. It’s a true production.”
ENTRIES AT WESTMINSTER KENNEL CLUB
Helming noted that this year’s 3200 total entry include 201 of the 202 possible breeds and varieties, 95 junior handlers and a conformation entry that reached its limits for the first time in several years.
“This is the second year televising with Fox,” Helming added. “This is a great group to work with. These are experienced sports people. This year we’ll have new coverages, better camera shots and interviews.”
Westminster Week will air on three parts of the network: Agility Finals, recorded Saturday night, will air on the main Fox channel Sunday afternoon. NatGeoWild will offer *live* coverage of breed judging at the Piers from 1 to 4 p.m. Eastern. And FS1 will return with live showing of the groups and best in show at Madison Square Garden on Monday and Tuesday evenings.
LIVE AT THE PIERS
“We’ve expanded this quite a bit over last year,” Helming said. “It’s exciting for exhibitors and adds a twist that at some point exhibitors and judges at the Piers might be on live television. It’s great coverage for our sport and the event.”
DOG SHOW 101
Another program Helming touts is Dog Show 101, designed to educate the public and spectators about what they are seeing in the ring. The program, debuted last year to rave reviews. It features judges such as Jim Reynolds, Bradley, Dottie Collier and David Haddock talking to groups of spectators to explain ring procedures, judging criteria and more. Exhibitors receive educational materials along with their personal guidance from some of the sports luminaries.
Helming added that the junior showmanship participants are going to be put to work helping with the Dog Show 101 programs and even the live filming at MSG.
“Cliff Steele (best junior showmanship judge) is going to have a lot of fun and very tough choices,” Helming said.
Listen to Helming talk about the memories of the Garden, the mystique, the essence of what it means to “get out there on that green carpet, get your dog set up and start looking around. The excitement is incredible.”
“It’s hard to find someone who doesn’t have a story”
TODAY ON PURE DOG TALK – WESTMINSTER
Join David and Laura as they talk about the intense, exclusive experience that is “The Garden.”
A new public perspective and perhaps public outreach opportunity is offered by Gail Miller Bisher, the Director of Communications for Westminster Kennel Club, in this episode of Pure Dog Talk.
Winning Westminster Dog Show, or affectionately known as, the Garden, has been the dream of many breeders and exhibitors. Any change to the perceived purity of the "Garden" may be met with resistance from the sport.
But as we listen to Gail Bisher, consider this... Westminster has the public's eyes and ears. Who better than Westminster to be the positive voice, to bring heartwarming stories of the love and dedication of our purebred dogs and fanciers.
While the Garden will always be... the Garden, maybe the show of shows has a greater role to play.
Greener Pastures for the Garden - Westminster Kennel Club
Here are a few highlights for 2018:
- $10,000 Scholarship for Best Junior Handler
- $10,000 Scholarship for Agility
- $10,000 Scholarship for Obedience
- Art Contest - $15,000 total ($5,000 each) - to be awarded to 3 Parent Breed Clubs for Rescue
Gail Miller Bisher - Westminster Kennel Club - Director of Communications
Gail Miller Bisher (pronounced By-sher) is a second-generation dog person with more than 35 years of experience in the sport as a handler, breeder, trainer, writer and spokesperson.
As with many exhibitors in the sport, her experience started as a family affair. Bisher was a team with her parents. While they handled most of the breeding (and her mother was a parent club president for many years) Gail did the grooming, training, conditioning and handling. In addition to conformation, she has earned titles on dogs in obedience, rally, advanced CGC and earthdog.
Bisher handled her first dog to its championship when she was just 12 years old. From her WD win at the first BCCA Specialty in 1979, she continued to handle her dogs and clients’ dogs to National Specialty BOB and BOS and All-Breed Best in Show wins, numerous top ranked positions and Junior Showmanship history. Gail was the first junior handler to qualify for the Westminster Kennel Club’s Junior Showmanship competition with a Beardie and the first to place, capturing second.
Since 1988 she has been judging regional specialties and supported entries and now is an AKC-licensed judge of Bearded Collies, Shetland Sheepdogs and Junior Showmanship competition. In 2015 she judged the BCCA National Specialty. Although time does not allow for much other than a limited number of judging assignments while raising her daughter, Gail has stayed involved by earning four titles each on both of her miniature dachshunds, who recently passed away.
Her club work includes serving the BCCA as a former breed columnist and club-approved breed mentor, specialty conformation chairperson and she is currently the club historian. Additionally, she is a member of the Dachshund Club of America, Morris & Essex, Greenwich Kennel Club and the Dog Writers Association of America.
She has nearly 10 years of experience directing the marketing, brand development and public relations for the American Kennel Club and Webvet.com. In 2003 AKC hired her to be an on-air spokesperson appearing on national media outlets to promote the sport and purebred dogs.
Bisher credits her Junior Showmanship experience for creating the foundation for a successful professional career where she has gained recognition in advertising, marketing and the public relations industries. She is a Clio and Mobius Award winning broadcast producer with 12 years of experience in the advertising industry; has managed licensing programs to LIMA awards and produced a TV PSA that was featured on America’s Funniest Commercials. Additionally, she is an ACE-certified personal trainer, has earned a Master of Arts degree in Communications and created the Super Fit Fido Club to educate pet dog owners about the importance of canine fitness.