This is first and foremost a personal opinion not meant to offend anyone. Everyone has dogs for different reasons, we approach breeding and showing at different angles and there is nothing wrong with that. I believe eventually we will all end up in the same place.....but by different roads....may take longer for some than others.
In the past year I have been very fortunate enough to have done well in the show ring with my dogs. Dog showing is a sport and everyone likes to win. However I have come to realize that in the past year or so, everyone seems to have a different take on showing dogs. I am NO expert at showing or grooming so like to think that my dogs win on their own merits and not who is showing them, who I know or how well my dog is trained or groomed.
That being said I don't feel those avenues to winning are bad for anyone to follow, but they are not for me.
When I first started in Cardigans it was because I wanted a farm dog that could do what it was bred to do: herd cattle. I soon started researching breeds of herding dogs and I wanted something without the long lustrous coat of most herding breeds (we had collies, border collies, English shepherds in the past) and wanted somethings a bit more easy to manage (like our GSDs and ACDs of the past). Soon after finding the Cardigan I found the only breeder in MN at the time that I could find on the CWCCA website and she had a litter of pups that had just been born. The girl was a show prospect and since I had shown poultry and pigeons and sheep in the past, how hard could dog showing be? My entire purpose was to have a dog that could work the animals, show in the conformation ring and be my house companion.
Things very quickly escalated to full out show fever and I tried my best to learn how to show, purchase the proper clothes, equipment and everything else associated with showing dogs. It was bug i had hard.
I imported a dog from Europe with huge dreams with my firs two dogs. We did it all. Rally. Obedience, Agility, Herding, Conformation. We drove all over the state and took lessons from different kennel clubs. I enjoyed my dogs thoroughly, but loved it even more when they won or when we had a qualifying score.
As the years progressed and I researched pedigrees, bloodlines, temperaments, health issues, and the breed itself I became even more in love with the breed. I painstakingly went over stud dogs for my bitches and with the help of their breeders tried to find something that would best suit the girls. I was a nervous wreck during their pregnancy. Did I do the right thing? Am I ready for a litter? Am I ready to be responsible for the life of the puppies? Did I breed to the right dog? All these things raced through my head. It was never about making money on the litter. It was about finding my next show dog and moving forward with those puppies genetically in my breeding program.
After having hit and miss wins randomly throughout the years, this past year really made me think long and hard. Was I just being lucky? Had I really been fortunate enough to have some quality pups from these litters that judges and fellow breeders alike found to be worthy of their wins? To be closer to the Standard of perfection?
No one is harder on my own dogs than myself. I've placed dogs because I couldn't stand to look at them, only to have others tell me they were certainly capable of finishing. I've kept dogs longer than I thought because I hoped they'd turn out. Each litter has been so different in terms of growing that I enjoyed being able to see how each progressed (or didn't) and how similar yet different they could be from their parents or siblings.
I was asked by my mentors Barb and Jon numerous times about what I wanted to have as goals with the breed. What do you want to eventually do with them? Be known for? 5 year goal, 10 year goal. Lifetime goal. Such serious questions but ones I answered as honestly and truthfully as I could. My answer was never to have a BIS dog, a #1 in the breed Cardigan, or anything related to showing. While all of those things would be nice, I wanted to be known for other reasons.
I am now, after a year of showing and being blessed enough to win at nearly every weekend I was out showing.....have reaffirmed my commitment to the breed. To their health. To their temperament. To their improved structure, and to the breed as a whole. If I don't win at shows, that isn't going to change what I have in my house for dogs. It isn't going to change my breeding goals or long term plans.
I want to be looked back on at the end of my life with Cardigans as being a good steward of the breed by health testing all of my stock, by improving them conformationally (no dog is perfect but we can all try) and that I will have a distinctive bloodline my dogs can be recognizable as (what I think the ideal cardigan looks like from my interpretation of the breed standard).
I do not follow judges around. I do not know all the big handlers or their names. I do not know any all breed judges and do not show under them for that reason solely. Do I know BREEDER judges? Absolutely. Will I show to breeder judges? Yes again. Our breed is so small in numbers that I do know most of the breeder judges. I do not think any of them at a specialty or supported entry would ever put up their long time friends over a better Cardigan. I think we all hold each other accountable for that.
I am also still learning about grooming for each specific dog. The standard says only whiskers and pads on feet should be trimmed but who doesn't bathe, chalk, brush or manipulate the coat in some manner? That doesn't make it right, but learning these tricks of the trade may give dogs the advantage.
I also need to become a better handler. Having two girls I feel are worthy of specialing locally means that they need more ring time, more practices with dad and to become the stoic show dogs instead of the super naughty pups they were at St Paul (ahem Ballantyne).
So what does this mean to anyone else, showing or anyone reading it? To those who show, probably not much. I will still lose to dogs that are better trained, shown by a big name, or out handled by me, or because a judge knows the person showing the dog. Such is life. That part I cannot change. It is a 'game' and those that are hell bent on winning any way possible will do so, because they have learned how to. Will that make me do the same? Absolutely not. What I do think this means is that I am ever eager to continue improving my dogs so that regardless of my shortcomings, my dogs will outshine others in their quality and breed type (amongst other items), when my dogs of course are better than the others. And depending on the show, this may not be the case, or it might.
What does this mean to those readers who have gotten dogs from me, or are thinking about it? Know that I am not kennel blind. I will not sell something that is not from health tested stock, that has severe structural issues or that I sell dogs just to make money. None of those things could be further from the truth.
I care so much about this breed that if I never won another show, it wouldn't matter. I would still be committed to the long term future of this breed in all aspects...instinct, health, structure, temperament. And after those who get tired of playing the game to win are gone, I will still be here, and my dogs will be better and healthier, living long healthy lives.
And as for the title: Winning vs. Improvement, I believe that by focusing on the latter, and not the former, I will attain both :)