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Everybody Loves Labradors, So Why Are They Underdogs?

In 136 Years of Westminster Show, Popular Breed Has Never Won Grand Prize

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WSJ: For the past 22 years, the Labrador Retriever has been the most popular dog breed in the U.S., tying the Poodle’s record reign atop American Kennel Club registrations. "They’re the greatest dogs in the world," said David Frei, the Westminster Kennel Club’s communications director. "Who doesn’t love a Labrador Retriever?"

The Labrador Retriever is the most popular dog breed in the U.S. But no Lab has ever won Best in Show at the Westminster Dog Show, making Labs the Chicago Cubs of show dogs: the most lovable of four-legged losers. WSJ’s Ben Cohen reports. Photo: Getty.

As more than 3,000 dogs descend on the city for the 137th Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, we take a look behind the scenes to find out how these four-legged champions prepare mentally and physically for the biggest stage.

The answer is judges at the Westminster Dog Show. In 136 years of the event, no Labrador has ever won Best in Show.

The Dogs That Haven’t Had Their Day at Westminster View Slideshow

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Stan Honda/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

Labrador Retriever Shayna Maydela attended an American Kennel Club news conference in New York, where the most popular dogs in the U.S. were announced on Jan. 30, 2013.

The Labrador hasn’t even made it out of the Sporting group to sniff at Westminster’s grand prize. In other words, Labradors are the Chicago Cubs of show dogs: the most lovable of four-legged losers.

Fifty-four Labradors will parade around Madison Square Garden’s ring Tuesday at this year’s Westminster show, which begins Monday. Only the Golden Retriever breed, another Best in Show shutout, has more entries. But the odds of a Labrador breaking the curse are 450-to-1, according to Johnny Avello of the Wynn Las Vegas casino’s sports book, making Labradors an underdog yet again.

"We all feel that we’ve been really ignored," said Mary Wiest, a Labrador breeder in Warren, N.J.

A black Labrador named Windy was given Best of Breed at last year’s Westminster show. Elizabeth Martin, her owner and breeder, only entered Windy because she thought Windy had a legitimate chance to win that award. But Ms. Martin harbored no such illusions about Best in Show or the Best of Group distinction placed on seven dogs. "I never even considered that," she said.

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AFP/Getty Images

Only the Golden Retriever, shown at an American Kennel Club news conference in January, and another Best in Show shutout, has more entries than Labradors this year.

Barbara Gilchrist, the judge who rewarded Windy, was "amazed" the Labrador didn’t fare better in the Sporting group, which consists of 30 breeds. Labrador breeders and owners talk about the drought "all the time," Ms. Gilchrist said. "It’s very hard to sit by and be quiet."

The last Labrador to make a fuss in the Sporting group was James, a rare two-time Best of Breed winner. As a 55-to-1 long-shot for Westminster’s top honor, Ms. Wiest’s pooch was the Labradors’ best bet since Mr. Avello began setting odds in 2007. And in 2010, when James placed fourth in the Sporting group, Labrador loyalists reacted as if he had taken Best in Show.

"If one ever wins the group? Oh my gosh, it’ll be just fabulous," said Robin Anderson, the Labrador Retriever Club’s newsletter editor.

Labrador owners aren’t alone in yelping for their breed. Westminster officials do, too. Mr. Frei said he always pulls for Labrador and Golden Retrievers because of the splash they would make with a win. "We’d have to rent an apartment in Manhattan to cover all the media stuff," he said.

Why they can’t break through is a question that hounds Labrador lovers.

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Windy

Their fans point to the bite of the Sporting group, which has produced 19 Best in Show winners, including the Sussex Spaniel in 2009, English Springer Spaniel in 2007 and German Shorthaired Pointer in 2005. Those dogs are what buffs call "flashy" breeds. "If I were to tell a Labrador person to have more flash and dash, they’d probably stone me," said James Reynolds, the 2011 Sporting judge at Westminster.

Unlike their peers, Labradors lack the extravagance of a long coat or the grace of a fast gait, making it trickier to catch a judge’s eye. "There are lots of Labradors that have given me goose bumps," said Cindy Vogels, last year’s Best in Show judge at Westminster, "but I think it’s an acquired taste."

Labradors also go home empty for the same reason they are such reliable companions: their good temperament. Some dogs are divas. Labradors like to share the spotlight with their handlers. "Labs aren’t selfish enough," Mr. Frei said.

Some say the problem is the Labrador’s breed standard. Show dogs don’t compete with each other so much as against the standard, or the guidelines for a dog’s appearance and movement. What judges examine in a Labrador are its head ("clean-cut" with "broad back skull"), coat (black, yellow or chocolate) and tail (like an otter’s). Also important: "powerful jaws" and "friendly eyes." The American Kennel Club’s breed standard calls for a "strongly built, medium-sized, short-coupled" dog to retrieve game, hunt in the water and, yes, melt hearts.

Dogs bred for field work tend to be longer and leaner than Labradors bred to prance around conformation shows. To conform to the Labrador breed standard, males should weigh between 65 to 80 pounds, and females 55 to 70 pounds. "A Labrador that’s over 100 pounds would be very difficult to deal with in a duck boat," Ms. Gilchrist said.

Labradors should stand between 22½ and 24½ inches as males and 21½ to 23½ inches as females, according to the standard. A half-inch deviation results in disqualification.

In 1994, when the Labrador Retriever Club developed the standard to be implemented by the AKC, it was so contentious that six breeders sued. The case lasted six years and ended when their attempts to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court were unsuccessful.

Diane Ammerman’s black Labrador, RJ, in 2008 won Best of Opposite Sex at Westminster—the prize for the top male when a female takes Best of Breed, and vice versa—and will have one last Westminster hurrah Tuesday. Her theory for the Labrador’s dry spell: other dogs have waged better campaigns. Show-dog owners can burn six-figure fortunes by advertising in trade publications and traveling to shows across the country. Along the way, Ms. Ammerman said, they hope their dogs gain a higher profile. "Pure, simple politics," she said.

Despite the breed’s popularity, Westminster judges don’t go out of their way to throw the Labrador a bone. "I don’t think anyone consciously goes in the ring saying, ‘Well, a Lab’s never won the group, but at the Garden, I’m going to change that,’ " Ms. Vogels said.

So every February, Labrador enthusiasts end up repeating a well-worn mantra of fans of the Chicago Cubs, who haven’t won a World Series since 1908: there’s always next year.

"Never say never," Mr. Frei said.

Write to Ben Cohen at ben.cohen@wsj.com – A version of this article appeared February 11, 2013, on page A1 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: Everybody Loves Labradors, So Why Are They Underdogs?.

February 15, 2013 Posted by | Adopt Just One More Pet, Animal or Pet Related Stories, animals, Dogs, Dogs, Just One More Pet, Man's Best Friend, NO KILL NATION, Pet Adoption, Pet and Animal Training, Pet Events, Pets | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Goldens Bearing Gifts

Goldens - Amer SpectorCute story out of:  Sea Isle, N.J. — The big news here is that Simba, our one-and-a-half-year-old golden retriever, just won “Best of Show” in this year’s dog show on the boardwalk.

“Paws on the Promenade” is not exactly the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show at Madison Square Garden, but he had dozens of good competitors, including five other top-notch goldens, a beautiful Bernese mountain dog, a cute Jack Russell terrier, and a big black poodle wearing a nylon net tutu.

Simba won $155 in prizes, consisting of two free tickets to the upcoming “Great Balls of Fire” concert on the Ocean City Music Pier (I don’t know if dogs are allowed, or if he can get a date), a $100 gift certificate at Parkway Vet in Cape May Court House (we donated it back for someone adopting a pet), and a $25 gift certificate from Pawsitively Pets, a local dog-toy store. Simba loves toys! His favorites are tennis balls, some furry stuffed squirrels and a musical Christmas tree.

The contest is sponsored by Beacon Animal Rescue, a local no-kill adoption shelter. They make money in the local beach communities in a unique way, offering a “Goose Chaser” service: “We’ll bring our dogs to you and let them chase the geese off your land. The geese find somewhere else to go, our dogs get exercise, and you get your land back. Small donation requested.”

Back home in Pittsburgh, Simba is fascinated with what began as our backyard bird feeder but ended up as a hanging basket full of squirrels. We bought him a family of toy stuffed squirrels of his own.

Goldens love to bring gifts and each day Simba carries one of his stuffed pet squirrels out to the basket of real squirrels. The floor underneath the hanging squirrel basket is littered each day with an assortment of toys and gifts from Simba. Perhaps these are a sort of peace offering to the real squirrels, we thought, until one morning we found him on the back porch with one of the squirrels squirming, feet flying and pinned to the ground. Simba had him by the neck (the squirrel got away after we yelled for Simba to back off).

Simba can act tough, but he’s afraid of the dark. When we let him out at night in the backyard, he treads cautiously, looking around for any monsters or giant squirrels that might be lurking back there, with his musical Christmas tree playing “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” to ward off any evil spirits.

Simba’s toughest challenge, though, is our bed, which he has always thought of as his permanent puppy pile. But our 9-year-old golden, Chloe, thinks he has outgrown the pile, and so do we. So Simba is kicked out of bed most nights and left to fend for himself alone around the bedroom.

To keep him off the bed, Chloe makes a face at him with her eyes glowering and her teeth bared. That used to work for her with our other golden retriever, Nugget, but Simba simply won’t give up. He brings us crazy things in the middle of the night, which to him are sort of like hostess gifts. Some nights, crying and whimpering, he brings us his stuffed squirrels.

One night he jumped into bed between us with his largest stuffed squirrel, soaking wet, pushing it on our faces. We had no idea if he had left it out in the rain or if he had been dipping it in the toilet.

Last week, after being kicked out of bed by Chloe’s growl and evil face, he jumped back into bed crying and carrying in his mouth — the bathroom rug!

We could have told the people at “Paws on the Promenade” that there was no getting ahead of this dog (his Dad’s name is Bad-As-I-Wannabe). Simba came to the contest late and had to sign up in the only remaining category, “Best of Show.” He walked over to the judge, laid his head gently on her knee and looked up into her face with his soft dark-chocolate eyes. She patted his head and said, “He’s so sweeeeet!” As she started to melt, he laid his head on her chest and gently licked her neck.

“What’s his number,” she asked. There I was with a big number “35” around my neck but she couldn’t take her eyes off Simba. Said the male judge sitting next to her, “Boy, that dog knows how to win.”

By Ralph R. Reiland –   The American Spector

Posted:  Just One More Pet

June 25, 2009 Posted by | Animal or Pet Related Stories, Just One More Pet, On The Lighter Side, Pet and Animal Training, Pet Blog, Pet Events, pet fun, Pets | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Many of yesterday’s Mutts are today’s Hybrid or Designer Dogs…

“He wa’n’t no common dog, he wa’n’t no mongrel; he was a composite. A composite dog is a dog that is made up of all the valuable qualities that’s in the dog breed — kind of a syndicate; and a mongrel is made up of all riffraff that’s left over.”  …Mark Twain

(Many of yesterday’s Mutts are today’s Hybrid or Designer Dogs…)

Doggie DNA Testing

Big Family

 

Unknown Mixed Breeds

Cheech and Duke

Through the marvels of DNA testing, some of the greatest mysteries of Mutt-dom are being revealed.

Dogs of vague or unrecognizable ancestry — whether fluffy white mongrels with Chihuahua ears and beagle-like voices or massive hounds that resemble nothing previously seen in nature — are being exposed for what they really are, genetically speaking.

DNA testing can disclose what breeds dominate their family trees. And thousands of people are happy to pay, about $60 to $170 depending on the method and company chosen, to end the what-do-you-suppose-he-is speculation of mixed-breed dog owners everywhere.

The first test was unveiled less than a year ago. Now, consumer interest is growing so fast that more companies are jumping into the doggie-identification business, websites are being enhanced, and additional breeds are being added to testing databases.

“Pure curiosity, getting the answer” is the reason most owners seek out the testing, says Neale Fretwell, head geneticist for Mars Veterinary, maker of the Wisdom Panel MX Mixed Breed Analysis. The analysis can determine which of 134 breeds recognized by the American Kennel Club composes a dog’s genetic makeup.

And some of the answers are real stunners, not only for the owners but also for the veterinarians who have made their best guesses, Fretwell says.

The procedure requires an appointment with a veterinarian to draw a blood sample, and when analysis is completed in two or three weeks, a follow-up visit to discuss the findings. The pricing is set by individual veterinarians, $135 to $170.

Another reason owners go the testing route is to uncover possible explanations for behaviors that might be inherited, such as herding people and other pets or rooting around in chipmunk or mole holes.

Other owners want to know whether their dogs have a high proportion of a breed predisposed to a particular ailment or frailty, although experts caution that it’s impossible to know which traits, including propensity for disease or medical problems, a mongrel might inherit from any particular breed.

No one offering such tests suggests a mongrel assumes some sort of elevated status upon learning a purebred bloodhound or dachshund entered his ancestry generations ago.

Indeed, the companies celebrate the characteristics of mixed breeds, and some experts applaud “hybrid vigor,” the belief that mixing unrelated breeds can create a stronger, healthier dog than purebreds, which can pass on genetic conditions found in specific breeds.

Many clients are “very surprised” upon receiving word of what breeds populate their dog’s background, Fretwell says.

Meg Retinger, chief administrative officer of BioPet Vet Lab in Knoxville, Tenn., says: “Some people say, ‘That’s just exactly what I thought.’ “Others” have such preconceived notions about what their pet is they just won’t accept the results.”

In January, the lab began marketing its $59.95 DNA Breed Identification kit, which tests for 61 AKC breeds using cheek cells scraped by the owner.

But the signature appearance characteristics of a particular breed don’t always materialize, even when there’s a high proportion of that breed in a dog, Fretwell says.

A mongrel with a German shepherd parent or grandparent, for example, might not have the black and tan coloring, the saddle pattern on its back or even the long muzzle. Some could not show any shepherd characteristics.

Size, color and a host of physical features such as ear and muzzle shape and tail type are influenced by genetics, and when several breeds meld in one dog, it’s tough for even experts to eyeball a mutt and accurately assess what lies within.

Connie Steele of Colorado Springs learned that. This year she adopted a black-and-white dog that shelter personnel thought was mostly border collie and about 1½ years old. She soon discovered from her veterinarian that Ellie was still a puppy, probably less border collie than believed and almost certain to grow a lot more.

Steele had Ellie tested because, she jokes, she wanted “a bit of warning if I’m going to need to plan ahead for a larger house to accommodate a 2-year-old pony-sized dog.”

Upon receiving Ellie’s results, Steele did not begin house-shopping, though she was surprised by the breeds found in her background. Steele believes the information she now has about Ellie and also Kayla, another recently adopted shelter dog, offers clues about how to approach their training.

Most DNA tests show three or four different breeds in the mixed breeds’ ancestries, and many show five or six, experts say. Several more probably are in the mix, but the amounts have been so dissipated over the generations, they are merely weak traces, unlikely to influence a dog’s appearance or behavior.

And, yes, a few dogs comprise so many disparate breeds, the experts and their tests just can’t solve the puzzle.

“Even the best test can’t answer every question of biology,” says Dennis Fantin, chief of operations for MetaMorphix, a company in Beltsville, Md., that has done testing for the AKC for years. The company now offers a $119.95 mixed-breed cheek-swab kit. The Canine Heritage XL Breed Test can detect 108 breeds.

Sometimes, any pure DNA has become “so diluted” by encounters with mixed breeds over the generations that no answers emerge, Fantin says.

Their owners are told the mystery must remain.

From USA Today

Chorkies           &              Chiweenies

Designer Breeds

“My name is Oprah Winfrey. I have a talk show. I’m single. I have eight dogs — five golden retrievers, two black labs, and a mongrel. I have four years of college.”  …Oprah Winfrey, when asked to describe herself during jury selection

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May 20, 2009 Posted by | Animal or Pet Related Stories, Just One More Pet, Pet Friendship and Love, Pet Health, pet products, Pets, responsible pet ownership, Stop Euthenization, We Are All God's Creatures | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment