by Susan Kilgore
What is a ‘Great Dog’ as compared to a ‘Top Winner?’ Sometimes they can be one in the same, but not necessarily. Certainly, everyone who has studied the AKC Breed Standard at length might think they know exactly what a great Shih Tzu is. However, sometimes a nicely bred, well groomed dog who does a lot of winning and appears to be an exquisite specimen of its breed in photographs and from ringside never seems to reproduce itself, whether linebred or outcrossed. Is it, then, a ‘Great Dog?’
The Internet has enabled us to get much more information about what breeders have and are producing. Digitally produced photographs and video clips can be quickly and easily shared to a broad audience. However, I believe that a ‘Great Dog’ is not determined by highly prized show wins, digitally made and mastered picture(s) or video clip(s). What kind of competition did the dog face when it did all this winning? This is a coated breed, making it easier for presentation and handling skills to hide a multitude of sins. An able photographer and/or a master groomer exhibitor can make a dog look better than it is in reality. Thus, a winning record may or may not reflect the dog’s actual physical characteristics or genetic makeup.
A ‘Great Dog’ is the whole package—including breed type, balance, correct movement, and above all good health and temperament—plus the ability to reproduce those qualities. Such a dog may or may not attain AKC title upon title, or show well enough to finish a championship, or be groomed well enough to look like a winner. The quality of its offspring should not be judged upon its ability to produce flashy markings or colors, but be subject to greater scrutiny. Does its pedigree contain quality dogs that have contributed genetically to its phenotype? Were there any other dogs of similar quality in its litter? Do its own offspring regularly exhibit characteristics that constitute a good to exceptional example of the breed standard?
A friend once told me that the greatest dog could possibly be enjoying life in someone’s backyard, never having been shown at a dog show yet producing great offspring that would highly conform to its breed standard. That may very well be the case. If it is, sadly, the interested audience and the breed that would most benefit from the opportunity to see and utilize the genetic makeup of this/these dog(s) will never know about him/her/them. You never know who will be attending, viewing, and appreciating those exhibited at dog shows.
The key role of a breeder is to capture and preserve the most highly valued traits in their breed(s) and to carry them forward to future generations. If your breeding program has achieved consistency in producing excellent breed type and outstanding soundness in health, conformation, and temperament, it may include one or more ‘Great Dogs.’ Showing such dogs, win, place or otherwise, is important because, if they are not shown at all, no one will know about them. After all, it is the ‘Great Dogs’ that will, over time, provide people with a greater appreciation of our breed and allow them to enjoy living with well-bred Shih Tzu on a daily basis. A ‘Great Dog’ is one capable of producing generation after generation of consistent quality. And remember…a ‘Great Dog’ may well be a bitch!