By Carol Kearney
How do you know if you are kennel blind? Well, if you think that every dog you own is perfect, and that the dogs owned by others are never as good as yours, you probably are.
Now, I am not saying that you should not love and admire all the positive traits of the dog that you bring home. The danger is if you cannot find anything positive about anyone else’s dog. If you cannot be objective enough to see your own dog’s weaknesses or flaws, how can you move forward in terms of the dogs you may own in the future? If you look around the ring and cannot honestly give credit to other good representatives of the breed, then you will find it difficult to ever learn from others. You will be at a standstill.
You should know your competition. Know what makes them stand out or excel in their particular endeavor, and learn to identify what was done to bring the dog success. If you cannot honestly assess the dogs in the ring, that task may be impossible. A basic understanding of the rules and regulations, a thorough knowledge of your breed’s standard, and feedback from experienced owners are fundamental requirements to moving forward in the sport of dogs. Everyone has something to learn, and if you think you know it all, you are at a dead end. Maybe it is how one handler loose-leads a dog that might otherwise throw his front. Another trainer always has dogs that appear to enjoy going through their obedience or agility commands. How does one owner groom his dog’s neck so that it blends perfectly into its back, or groom the head so it looks long and smooth? Another highlights her dog’s movement by doing something as simple as making sure that her clothes do not get in the way of the dog and are not a distraction to the judge.
I believe you should be the toughest critic of your own dogs, your own training techniques, your own grooming, and your own breeding practices. To avoid rationalizing your way through many of the assessment issues, you may need to rely on the input of experienced dog owners and breeders who are not afraid to be honest with you. You must be willing to accept their sincere analysis. Criticism is never easy to endure, but if it is constructive, it is appreciated in the long run.
Breeders often ask other experienced owners to evaluate their puppies in terms of both conformation and temperament. Their honest assessment helps the breeder to place the pups in the most appropriate new homes. Welcoming that type of advice is a great initial way to avoid the trap of being kennel blind. Why should inviting the help of other knowledgeable dog people stop there?
The feedback you receive from experienced owners and trainers should not end with the evaluation of the puppies, for it is with continued honest and frank dialogue that improvements in the breed are made. It is with unprejudiced assessment of our dogs and the dogs owned by others that everyone’s achievements can be appreciated.
This article appeared in the November, 2009, AKC Gazette and is reprinted with permission.