USA - NATIONAL SPECIALITY, RACINE, 1996
Racine Annual Dinner - Cocktail time beforehand gave a good opportunity to
meet lots of people (again, my thanks to Jim Hickie for introducing me to so many
people) and discuss the show in a relaxed setting. Cocktail time was
followed by a thoroughly enjoyable evening, sharing a table with
Archlyn Clot of the AHCA, Jim Hickie of Gengala (Australia) and the winning
Junior Handler and her parents. Her father had a 19 hour drive from the East
coast to deliver his daughter and Afghan to compete at Racine. The usual
ceremonies of introduction and welcome to overseas visitors, expression of
appreciation to all involved in making the National such a success, summary
and congratulations to the main winners etc. all topped off with excellent
food and appropriate refreshments. A perfect end to a thoroughly enjoyable
Editor Note - I wrote these notes way back in 1996. An intention was to convey a
word picture to my UK friends of my experience/observations of the
Afghan Hound in the USA, hence my references to US/UK differences and
some explanations on both systems in the report.
US System/Classes/AwardsThe US has puppy classes 6-9 and 9-12 months which are the same as Minor Puppy
and Puppy classes in the UK. The US 12-18 months classes equate to the UK Junior
(12-18 months) class. In parts of the UK Best Homebred and Best Bred By Exhibitor classes are scheduled as Special Classes and the winners do not compete for the Challenge Certificate awards. It is similar to Best Headed or Best Gaited etc at US Specialist Shows.In the US the winner of the American Bred Class and the winner of the Bred By Exhibitor Class do compete for championship points. In the US the sequence of judging is Dog Classes with winners competing for Winners Dog followed by Bitch Classes with winners again competing for Winners Bitch followed by the Best Of Breed competition with the Winners Dog and Winners Bitch also competing. In the UK, and after Junior class, we have a number of other classes (e.g. special yearling, graduate, post graduate, mid limit, limit etc.) before we get to Judge best of breed.
UK System/Classes/AwardsAs a general statement, as UK exhibits mature or win awards, they move up through the various classes. For example, young Afghans too old for Junior may compete against dogs of similar age and experience in classes such as Special Yearling, Graduate etc., until they move
into the senior classes (Post Graduate/Limit/Open). Generally, Juniors avoid direct
competition (in the same class) with the senior winning hounds, but they will
meet the senior hounds in the Best Of Sex (Best of Winners Dog, or Best of
Winners Bitch in the US) competition if they won their class. As I
understand the US system, hounds without championships compete in Open,
American Bred or Bred By Exhibitor, as appropriate but hounds with Championships
can only compete in Best of Breed.
In the UK, all dogs that have won their class compete for Best Of Sex - BOS
(Challenge Certificate/CC awarded to winner). This is also done for the
bitches. Best Of Sex/Dogs UK equates with Winners Dog/US and Best Of Sex Bitches/UK
equates with Winners Bitch/ US. The system for awarding Best Of Sex/Winners
Dog/Bitch is the same in both countries. There is however a difference in how
each country awards the Best Of Breed (BOB). In the UK, this is achieved
by the best bitch/dog competing against each other, whereas in the US there is an
actual class for Best Of Breed. The US BOB class contains dogs and bitches who are
already champions (that's an important point, you can't just choose to enter in a BOB
class without that) entered by their owners and these are joined by Winners Dog and
Winners Bitch. The Judge selects BOB (could be a dog or bitch from this mixed
sex class) from the BOB class. The US Judge also awards a Best Of Winners and a
Best Of Opposite Sex (opposite to the Best Of Breed that is), plus five Awards Of Merit,
Best Bred By Exhibitor and Best Puppy Regular Class.
Handling/movement - Handlers were very smartly dressed, and on best of
breed day there were some colourful outfits and a few bow ties I think (on
the handlers, not the Afghans). A popular handling style is to hold the lead
on an outstretched hand at shoulder height and run the hound round. Handlers
moved quite athletically and in general seemed in harmony or partnership and
got their Afghan going well. The pace at which the hounds were moved was
generally slower than I was expecting, at times perhaps a tad too slow with
the exhibit not really getting into a stride. I think this comment applies
mainly to the younger classes as it seemed to me that as the competition
progressed the pace stepped up a gear - but even so, never reached the
breakneck speed reported by others. Generally the lead was set high up on
the exhibit behind the ears. Often the lead was held taut on entering the ring,
but once the hound is up to speed the tension was relaxed in many instances.
There were also some instances of a looser lead technique/style. Handlers were able to relax their hounds in
the ring whilst other exhibits were having their turn and there was friendly
chatting amongst the exhibitors whilst in this relaxed mode. The exhibits
were stacked and set up without legs being pulled back to the extreme. (There
was one example of an exhibitor determined to set his Afghan on its rear
knees - the Afghan won the tussle. Every time its legs were pulled back, it
pulled them forward to a comfortable position. This was an exception rather
than the norm). Overall - the best word to describe handling throughout is
"professional" (and consistently so). Although handling is different in
the US to the UK - I have to say US handlers get the very best out of their
exhibits, more so than in the UK. I have read a lot about "attitude and
stylish movement" in the US and certainly stylish movement was very evident.
Observation and Comment - I think it is undeniable that the UK needs to
improve its handling in order to "show" the Afghan and to achieve the style of
high order. It is interesting to compare the taut/loose lead tecnniques. As reported above, the US handlers usually have sufficient tension on the lead so that communication between handler and dog can take place, whilst not having the lead so taut that the performance of the hound is altered. By contrast, the loose lead in the UK, can often really mean a "slack lead" where the handler has no communication or control with the hound. Whether the UK emulates the US style or invents something different can be debated, but in any event the quality of handling in the UK needs improvement. As well as the technique of handling, there is the
physical aspect. Both hound and handler must be fit and athletic to some
extent - after all we are trying to run with a large and galloping breed.
Some handlers in the UK are (to be blunt) too old and/or unfit and this inhibits
the hounds movement, or fails to get the best out of it. In a situation where a poor/slow
handler is leading a line of hounds on the move - all the hounds behind suffer the
limitations caused by the leading handler. Many Judges in the UK have commented
about the importance of conditioning - if an Afghan is allowed to become a couch potato,
then it will not move stylishly in the ring. Then there is the matter of
conformation, form and function - and that's the hardest problem to solve.
Improved handling would be a good starting point to help reverse visitors criticisms of lack
of stylish movement in UK Afghans.
Preparation/Presentation - Simply superb. Each morning I would go for a
stroll outside my hotel where many of the exhibitors also stayed. Considering
many exhibitors had driven hundreds/thousands of miles with
Afghans in the back of cars/vans or crated etc., hounds then sleeping in crates
overnight - they looked fantastic in the morning. This morning stroll was
almost an Afghan show in itself with hounds looking superb and exhibitors
friendly and happy to have a chat whilst exercising their hounds. Interestingly, often
the closing comment from exhibitors I spoke to during these morning strolls
was "got to go now and bath the Afghan". So clearly an enormous amount of
effort is put into preparation. At the show, the hounds arrived superbly
groomed and the handlers just had to put finishing touches to them. The only
"Top Knots" I saw (Bo Bengston please note) were on young Afghans with short
sticky up fur, or more particularly on maturer hounds where the handler had
backcombed the fur to make it stand up. Enhancements such as
tail stripping, fixing saddle etc. were not so apparent to me but I
understand this occurs. An obvious and easily spotable enhancement was
shaving under the chin/neck. I Didn't see a lot of it, in fairness -
but I did see a few examples. I don't like it, nor did anyone else in the US I spoke
to about it.
Observation and Comment - UK Afghans are generally heavier coated than Afghans in the
US. I believe that preparation in the UK is comparable and in fact at a high standard
in most cases. The major difference seems to revolve around "enhancements"
(trimming, stripping, shaving, stone rubbing etc. techniques). Assuming the
UK does not adopt the practice of shaving chins/necks, then the US can
probably show the UK a trick or two to further raise the standard of UK preparation.
US Afghans (General Observations) - . Head carriage was very good, mostly held
proudly high. Where I did see instances of the head too upright or held back,
this may have been caused by the handler holding the head with the lead taut
whilst on the move or pulling the head back too far, rather than holding it up
and forward when stacking the hound. (Please note the previous comment
about handlers easing the tension once handler and hound were up to speed)..
Front assemblies - I did see some
examples of what appeared to me to be straight fronts (as viewed from the side) and some
dogs even moved in an upright manner. This is probably the one contentious
point in these notes, but I can't shun the observation just because it might
offend. I see this same fault in the UK also, but to a lesser extent than I
saw it in the US . There is a counter view that has been put to me - in that
acknowledging the front assembly problem occurring in some US Afghans, the
counter view is that many UK Afghans are over-angulated in front resulting
in poor head carriage..
Stop - the US standard calls for "little or no stop" and I guess I was
expecting to see no stop more often than little. In the event, I saw slight/moderate stop
mostly and thought this was excellent..
Toplines - I was impressed with toplines and wonder if the good US toplines
are due to the lighter/leaner US dogs who are more athletic and have better
muscle condition than is generally seen in the UK. At the home of one of
the friends I visited, it was great to see her Afghans free running as a pack. Needless to say,
they all had good muscle tone - so there may be an environmental factor as regards
the more athletic US Afghan. .
Rear angulation - I thought very good and didn't see much evidence of the
extremes I was expecting. I also saw lots of powerful driving from the
Tail sets - I think generally I saw a higher incidence of high set (and oft
curled over the back) tails than I am used to seeing..
Size - mostly good and within the range documented in the US standard..
Racine Results - although I marked placings etc. in the catalogue I didn't
make individual notes about exhibits, so am unable to comment widely on
individual Afghans. I obviously remember Ch Regency who moved very well,
especially for a dog at nine years of age. I was also impressed by Ch
Tifarah's Hi-Flying Victory, Ch Yucatan Korelec Ixion and Ch Nazira's Edge
Of Night to name but a few. Its probably unfair of me to name just three
Afghans as there were many others that also impressed, but enquiring minds
have asked me my thoughts - so there you go. I didn't realise this at the
time, but having studied the catalogue since the show I notice that all
three were sired by Ch Pahlavi Rythym Of The Night , so I suppose I am showing some
Racine Seminars - The national also included a couple of
seminars/presentations, one on Afghan Health Problems (General Interest
Seminar) and also an interesting/novel idea and presentation by a
representative of the AKC in the use of computer graphics. The AKC are
considering developing a "computer graphics model" of the Afghan showing
good/bad points to help newcomers and potential judges understand the breed
essentials. I am advised that this computer imaging by the AKC has already been done very successfully in a number of breeds in conjunction with the Breed Parent Clubs. The problem with this presentation was that it was done by a (Bulldog) person who admitted to no knowledge of the breed. The result was that the altered images were little less than distortions and consequently failed in their objective. It has also since been pointed out to me that the AKC successfully developed the breed slide shows and subsequently the breed video tapes (some of these were only the Slide Shows transferred to tape). Additionally the video tapes on the judging of dogs, the way to show dogs etc are wonderful innovations (dont think I have heard of such video's being available here in the UK?) and have proved useful and positive in other countries.. Personally I think the AKC initiative
is both bold and imaginative but suspect they will find the going heavy as
dogdom (not just Afghan people) will find it hard to agree on the detail of
the model to be developed for each breed, but it will happen in due course. Also, the AKC have only got limited resource (staff) to take this forward - so it could be quite a while
before there is any real output. It has been suggested to me that presentations like this one may be designed to get the financial support of the Parent Club to expedite the project. Credit to the AKC for their initiative and thanks to the AHCA for laying on an interesting speaker and subject matter.
Steve Tillotson 1996
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