Showing Dogs in AKC Conformation

by: Michael G. McGuire (August 2017)

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My wife Alicia and I consider ourselves "Breed Ambassadors". All of our dogs, for the past 30+ years we have been married, have been highly obedience trained and socialized in just about every physical environment imaginable, and are quite able in Visitation Therapy work. This requires us to intimately know our dogs, know our breeds traits, and certainly know how to handle them in varying conditions and situations. Whenever we are out with our dogs we always seem to attract more than our fair share of attention. Some of this due to the relative infrequency with which most people come into contact with Northern Breeds in general, but especially with the Alaskan Malamutes. In reality though they most of all are intrigued with the sheer majesty of a Malamute in full coat and splendor. It's like drawing moths to a flame.

Sure, we always hear, "Oh, I just love Huskies!", and we must politely inform them; "No, this is not a Siberian Husky, this is an Alaskan Malamute." This introduction usually transforms us into Breed Ambassador Mode where we describe the differences, as well as the commonalities, between the two breeds. Most people ask a standard litany of questions, love on the dogs for a bit, then happily move along. But every once in a while we come upon a person truly interested in learning something new about a newly introduced breed they may very well have never seen before. These types of contacts with the general public are what I personally relish most because it gives me an opportunity to talk about, what I consider to be, the most majestic breed of dog on the planet.

One recent conversation was with a middle-aged woman whom we met at a local PetSmart. She came in the door, saw us walking around, introduced herself, then began the normal dog-related conversation. Her questions progressed through the standard range, but quickly stopped short when she was informed that both our dogs were purebred and show dogs in addition to everything else previously describer to her. The reaction was rather vociferous and short. One has to be careful at times like this, so I gingerly investigated the cause of her abrupt attitude reversal. It turns out she described a horrific experience she'd had with a not so legitimate, or ethical, "breeder" from a neighboring county. Due to this experience she lumped all "breeders" into her vision of what breeding is about. A sad thing because one bad experience turned this woman into an unwitting accomplice to the Animal Rights groups true objectives. Remove the ability to breed purebred dogs, and further to remove the ability to even own a dog. Sad, but true.

Which brings me to the point of this article; In the last 40 years or so, people have become so distanced from utilizing animals for anything but a pet/companion, and the constant barrage of the Animal Rights (AR) mantra, most people simply have no idea what really is "ethical" breeding or what part the AKC or Conformation Showing of purebred dogs has to do with the matter. This gave me the opportunity to attempt to diffuse some of the myths this woman carried and preached, and to maybe inform her why finding a local show dog breeder would be cheaper in the long run, and also help reduce homeless pets found in shelters.

I asked a simple question; "Do you know why reputable breeders show their dogs?" That is a simple question, with a decidedly not so simple answer. Of course she said "Yes, so they can tell everyone willing to buy their animals that they won a lot of ribbons." "Perhaps, but that is not the intent.", I said. "What do you mean?, she asked. I said "It's a bit of a story, do you really want to understand it?" "Sure", was her response.

The entire matter goes back to the purpose for which a certain breed of dog was created. In most cases, Man "created" each breed, from the combination of two or more existing breeds, in order to create a type of dog with certain characteristics designed to accomplish a given purpose. Every dog breed on the planet is either the result of mans intervention for a specific purpose, or it is the product of it's environment and natural selection over millennia. A Golden Retriever, not much more than 150 years old as a breed, was bred by the combination of several different breeds (specifically the Newfoundland, Tweed Water Spaniels and the Irish Setter) in the mid-1800's. The initial breeder, Dudley Marjoribanks, 1st Baron Tweedmouth of Scotland, did so by combination and progressive line-breeding in order to produce a beautifully golden colored dog which could be used for both water and upland game fowl hunting. In other words, a bautiful and versatile "gun dog" on both land and water.

Conversely, you have what we today we call the Alaskan Malamute. This dog breed is most likely a result of 4000, to more probably closer to 7000 years as a breed, and is a direct product of a dog used for the very survival of its inuit masters over that time period. Unlike the golden Retriever, it is a product of natural selection over thousands of years. No one intended for it to be a "breed", but coming to be in an isolated area for thousands of years of harsh living created an animal distinctly suited to live its life in a very real and harsh environment where its physical attributes dictated whether it lived or died. Survival of the fittest! You would require a double coat which would keep out the cold and shed water so you wouldn't freeze to death, you lived and could possibly reproduce. If one didn't have a coat like that, it died. Period. End of story. Over thousands of years this scenario played out. Eventually you had a very similar looking appearance and consistent physical attributes which produced time and again no matter which two dogs in the pack were bred. This is known as consistent "breed type".

Fast forward to the early to mid 1800's in England. The first dog shows are conducted between hunters to show off their working field and hunting dogs. It was a way to look at your future breeding, see what all the other like-minded individuals were breeding, and a reason to get together in the "off-season". Eventually, as all competitive sports do, rules were enacted in the form of how dogs are displayed in competition as well as the standards to which a breed must comply in order to be considered adequately constructed to fulfill their specific task.

All of this brings us to the 1920's when a woman by the name of Eva Seeley decided to breed the Alaskan Malamute and introduce that breed to the AKC. Mrs. Seeley selected several dogs of contested origins and closely bred those animals until a consistent "type" emerged. What, who and from where these dogs came is still a  matter of speculation, as is even if the Malamute of today is the same dog as it was thousands of years ago.