This blog is written by Guido Perosino.
It's purpose is to increase the level of knowledge and respect for one of the greatest and most beautiful dog breeds.
Pictures and drawings will be used to illustrate the breed's type, morphology and character.
All posted informations will be carefully chosen in order to bring knowledge, responsibility and care. I welcome opinions and informed comments from other lovers of this noble breed. As editor I will chose content that presents the breed in its most favorable light in support of the corret breed standard...

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adminApril - 22 - 2013 1 Comment

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The first thing that may come to some people’s minds when they think of conformation showing is a beauty pageant. Some people feel the Leonberger doesn’t belong in the show ring, not because they’re not beautiful, but because they are a working breed. What place does the Leonberger have in the conformation show ring? I asked owner/handlers, breeder/handlers, and judges to find out why they felt it was important to show, not only for themselves and their own companion, but most importantly for the advancement of the Leonberger breed.

It is true that the Leonberger is a working breed and some feel it’s more important to see them performing working tasks (i.e., obedience, agility, tracking, search and rescue, seeing eye dogs, water work, service dog work, therapy work, herding, drafting or just being a companion). However, of equal importance, a Leonberger should look like a Leonberger while still being capable of performing working tasks. A good gauge in determining the phenotype, or physical appearance, of the breed is within the conformation ring.

The Leonberger Club of America’s Code of Ethics state that the club aims to “encourage the development of high quality Leonbergers” and “encourage cooperation in the improvement and advancement” of the breed. Dr. Guido Perosino, Breeder and FCI Judge, Berljon Kennel, states, “To improve and maintain the typical features of a breed means to select reproducers with reference to the standard.” Without dog shows the advancement of the Leonberger breed would be mediocre at best. The BACL (Breeder’s Acceptability Checklist) is a useful tool for evaluating one dog at a time and to compare on paper. However, it cannot replace the value of attending dog shows and dog showing as an important means to assess and compare many dogs at one time. This comparison is an invaluable tool in maintaining and continually improving the quality and conformity of the dogs we are producing.

I know for myself, not being a breeder, I initially got involved in conformation showing for the fun of it. Over the years I have come to realize that dog showing is much more complex. Guido Perosino stated, “To show a dog is more responsibility than fun. To show a dog is a service to the breed.” He goes on to say that dog shows were “born not for competition but in order to compare the dogs and choose the best and to use the father and/or mother in the intuition of the possibility of fixing the characters of the parents. To choose means to select and the first intuition became a science and a technique commonly used for breeding. After the knowledge of genetics and the laws of Gregor Mendel have been stated it was then clear that the similarities among relatives and the breed’s improvement had a scientific basis: the phenotype is the external expression of the genotype, resident into chromosomes and DNA. Reading up on the phenotype and the conformation, we have the possibility of addressing the reproduction as soon as we have selected targets and a policy of improvement. Dog shows are the main way, still used, to select on a morphological basis. The importance of showing is strictly connected to the responsibility of participation at the selection process, in order to keep and improve the breed features.”

It is important to remember that the competition in the conformation ring is not against the other Leonbergers but against the FCI standard. The judge selects the dog which most closely resembles the ideal. Dr. Guido Perosino, states that “the breed standard is a description of the ideal specimen of the breed and it is used when the better dog, closer to the standard, is our target Of course a target can also be the health or temperament; both are in a sense considered into the breed standard as well”. Success in the ring can be especially rewarding for the breeder of that dog because it validates their breeding program and confirms that their dog possesses the structure, type and temperament closest to the standard. Alida Comtois, von Alpensee Kennel, states that, “Most judges are breeders themselves, so obviously are believers in exhibiting dogs to gain feedback on a breeding program.”

Judges have a tremendous impact on the welfare of a breed and should take their job very seriously, according to Waltraut Zieher of von Stutensee Kennel. Waltraut Zieher began the Health Committee and the Leonberger Health Foundation, she is currently a co-chair of the Health Committee as well as one of the founding members of the LCA, a LCA Judge and working on becoming an FCI Judge. “Even though I was already an approved LCA judge, I chose to train to become an FCI judge in Germany. I knew I would benefit from the vast knowledge of the judges in Europe, the larger number of dogs I would see and judge as well as from their rigorous training program. Judges are not only to judge “beauty” or type, but temperament, structural soundness and balance of the dogs. Within the show ring, judges have as much influence on a breeds development as breeders do.” As a judge, Waltraut conducts a thorough exam of each dog and watches it move. “A judge will evaluate the dogs “structure and soundness which are the cornerstones of good health in a breed. It’s not so important whether a dog wins the show but how the judge evaluates it. Dog owners should take the written critiques from experienced judges seriously. A “showy” dog might win the show but he or she might not be the best breeding dog. In the US, dog shows are considered a sport, they have moved away from the original purpose of breeding pool evaluation. Shows should be a way for owners to get an expert opinion on their dog and a way for people to evaluate different dogs for themselves. Most of all it should be fun and provide an opportunity to hang out with friends who love their dogs as much as I do.”

In the conformation ring at LCA Regional and National Specialties, the exhibitor is presented with a written evaluation and rating of their dog. From the evaluation, breeders and owners can gain valuable insight from judges where their breeding program is effective or determine areas needing improvement. Written critiques and feedback from judges can also be effective in discouraging kennel blindness to the quality of one’s dogs. Educating yourself as to the quality of your dogs is not done in one show but over a course of time. Ann Rogers, Cherrywood Kennel, feels you should get many different judges opinions and from more than one show. She states, “You start to see patterns on strengths and weaknesses of your dogs.” Ann didn’t feel you “should use only one show or one judge or one person’s opinion to make a decision on what you have. Dog show wins reflect a judge’s opinion. Different day, different judge, different opinion.” It’s also important to keep in mind that some dogs and lines will mature at different rates so age will have some bearing on results.

Through conformation showing at LCA National Specialties, European judges have given us valuable input on how our dogs measure up to the international Leonberger community and competition. Sarah Mahoney, ForeverGreen Kennel, finds that, “It is always interesting to show the same dog under a number of different judges (from different countries, particularly) to see the differences, opinions and priorities of not only that particular judge, but the country he/she represents.” The European Judges that have judged at our National Specialties have provided us with a window to the international Leonberger world. Since the U.S. is isolated from the European competition as a whole, showing under the European judges has provided us with a broader picture. In addition to the individual critiques provided on each dog, on the last day of the LCA National Specialty, the Specialty Judge always provides an overall assessment of the dogs he/she has judged. This overall assessment allows the LCA Breeders and community to determine what areas we should concentrate on.

Many breeding decisions are made around the conformation ring. Some breeders have referred to it as “window shopping”. Many breeders not only come to show their dogs but to specifically look at the male prospects in person. This can also be said for the stud owners to look at the females. Most breeders would prefer to see prospective mates in person, for firsthand knowledge of temperament, movement and structure. Manfred Kaufmann, LCA Judge and Sylvia Kaufmann, Editor of the LeoLetter, both of von der Heckenrose Kennel and two of the founding members of the Leonberger Club of America, commented that looking at a picture of a dog just can’t replace seeing a dog in person. “You see the temperament of the dog inside and outside of the show ring and therefore can determine which dog is a “couch potato” and which dog has “guts”. This is the most important fact why dogs should be seen in life – which, in this case, is in the show ring. Even if judges will rate a dog low, or high, the breeder and new puppy owners will have “hands on experience” with the dogs shown and are able to make their own decisions. All in all, showing dogs is an essential part of any breed. Pictures, even videos do not replace the life experience future puppy owners or breeders can gain by attending dog shows.” Waltraut Zieher, von Stutensee Kennel, emphasizes that temperament is one of the most important aspects to her. “A Leonberger has to be of sound temperament, and more often than not, that can be evaluated in the show ring. A shy or aggressive dog should never, ever be placed. Depending on the degree of the problem, the dog should be excused from the ring. Leonbergers are companion dogs and a shy or aggressive dog cannot be a pleasant companion in all situations.” Sandi Ling, Anchor Creek Kennel, said, “The only time we can physically see many dogs is at a show. Pictures are fine, but do not compare to watching a dog move and being able to put our hands on him. This works in reverse as we like to offer people the chance to see our dogs up close and personal too.”

Breeders will not only look at the prospective stud(s) they are considering but also look at the progeny, brothers, sisters or parents. Breeders may be looking for studs that are prepotent in passing along certain characteristics they would like to introduce into their line or to reinforce a trait that is already present within their breeding program. The conformation ring is an excellent place to see many dogs and many lines in one place, and by showing your Leonberger, the breeder, the judges and the public can see these traits firsthand.

Showing spayed or neutered Leos is as important as showing unaltered dogs. Despite the spayed/neutered Leos being unable to reproduce, if there is an excellent representative of the breed, the breeder can look to siblings of that dog.

It is of equal importance to show our veterans. The Veterans can give us insight to lines with longevity and good health. Years ago, an all breed judge said to me that all too often, once a Leo has a championship (which is usually at a young age), they are never shown again. In a slow maturing breed like the Leonberger (with some lines taking longer to develop than others), some of the most magnificent examples of our breed are our veterans. It’s also important for all-breed judges to see the beauty of a fully matured and coated Leonberger.

The more activities an owner shares with their Leo, the stronger the bond they can develop. You don’t need to be a professional handler to show. Even if you’re a novice handler, showing can be extremely beneficial for both you and your Leo. Teri Whalen, a new Leo owner and new to the conformation ring commented, “I put in a lot of time and effort into socializing and training my puppy. The show ring became our goal. Neither of us had ever shown before and so it was fun to learn together. I have been a spectator at many dog shows, mostly AKC shows. I always watched in awe. The whole process seemed so overwhelming! The venues currently available for the Leonberger are just not as intimidating as an AKC event. There has always been someone who was willing to give advice, critique our run, or just say “good job!” And, every time in the ring is a new learning experience. Most of all, as I have been told from the beginning by some very dear mentors, it has been fun. The relationship we choose to have with our dog is only enhanced by participating in events where performance depends on both dog and handler.” Diane Mulkerin, a Leo owner and novice handler said, “Being new at it is a great learning experience for me, not just about showing but really learning a lot about the breed. I love the evaluations that we get from the judges and like it even more when the judges make their comments out loud so that you can look at all the dogs in the show and know why one dog is chosen over another. I love meeting and talking to other Leo lovers and especially love meeting their dogs.”So even if you’re not showing, attending dog shows can be beneficial. A great deal of knowledge can be gained around the conformation ring just by listening and watching.

Many breeders and owner/handlers find that showing is deeply rewarding and satisfying. Sondra Boos, Sentez Kennel, says that “Showing is a great way to socialize dogs, as they are expected to handle themselves well with lots of distractions, other dogs of all ages at close quarters, people petting and jostling them, judges opening their mouth and placing hands on very private places. There is no better way to get a dog used to a huge variety of situations. I love the camaraderie of a dog show. The Leo breed produces good people as well as good dogs. We all clap and hoot and holler for our competition and that is a rare thing in this world of dog eat dog competition.” Alida Comtois, von Alpensee Kennel, said “the best part of showing is that it’s fun!! It’s a great way to meet other Leo lovers, socialize your dog, and learn more about the breed. It also can help build a stronger bond between you and your dog. If you work at it just a bit, you’ll find that you and your dog can be a great team together, and it is immensely satisfying. A dog show is a stressful environment, and if a breeder’s dogs are generally well-tempered at a show, this gives a good indication of overall temperament being produced by that kennel.” Sarah Mahoney, ForeverGreen Kennel states, “I suggest to my puppy buyers that they show their dog (even if spayed or neutered) for a couple of reasons. It promotes the owner/puppy working relationship, is a wonderful socialization tool for the puppy and helps introduce the owner to the Leonberger community at large.”

Some people just enjoy showing in general. This can be especially exciting when you have a dog that just loves to show, making the showing experience a joy in itself despite whether a ribbon is ever won. Judy Johnston, Dragonslair Kennel, reminds us that, “In the grand scheme of things, very few puppies go on to be stars in the show ring or well-known studs or brood bitches. Most are what the breed is best at – they are someone’s best friend and companion. So don’t worry about what your dogs are not – rejoice in what they are.”

Although the original intentions of dog showing was for breed selection, dog show aficionados also found that they enjoyed the competition, fun, camaraderie, and socialization of their dogs that came as a result. In the early days of the LCA when the breed was virtually unknown to the U.S. population, a conformation show was a place for gathering and bringing the breed to the public’s attention. It was important and necessary for the LCA breeders to promote and show their dogs. This was also a time when the breeders were able to see how the puppies they had bred were developing as well as just visiting the puppy owners. The breed has come a long way since then and is now more widely recognized within the United States. One thing that still has not changed to this day is that conformation shows are still a place for gathering, visiting with fellow Leo owners, promoting your dogs or kennel, bringing the Leonberger to the public and to participate in the breed selection process.


Cyd Erich

from “The Leonberger” by Guido Perosino



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