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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

Labrador Retriever – Still America’s Favorite Dog

1990s & 2000s: Labrador Retrievers

Bill Clinton’s Chocolate Lab, Buddy, remained his buddy even during the dark days of the Monica Lewinsky scandal. Despite being portrayed as rambunctious in the book and film “Marley & Me,” the Lab remains the most popular dog in America today.

Because of their even temperament, they excel as guide dogs for the blind, as part of search-and-rescue teams, and with law enforcement.

Black Lab.mediumchocolate_lab

Chasing Juneau

A non-theological note on a very theological dog (He literally devoured the New Testament and several writings by Sproul). Juneau was killed when he ran under the prop of an airplane on August 21st, 2009.

Let me begin by saying the dog dies at the end of the story. I always read stories about dogs with hesitation, because I so dislike falling in love with the antics of the animal, only to finish the piece in tears when the dog peacefully falls asleep at its owner’s feet. Or, behind the woodstove in the case of Jack in “Little House in the Prairie.” There is no peaceful falling asleep here; it was violent and horrible. And yet I’m writing about it, trying to make some sense out of a “Life just happens…” event.

I despise clichés, but it is easiest explained to say I am walking through some very muddy waters in areas of my life right now. I am trying to let Christ carry me though them, but just like you probably do on occasion, I spend hours trying to get my own boots out of the muck instead of letting The One Who Isn’t Encumbered By Muck carry me. When I have been stuck (waist deep and refusing help) there has always been Juneau, swimming around me in the bog, trying to bark and carry someone else’s stolen shoe at the same time. He was a friend, a family member, and a picture of what I wished I could be a bit more like. Yes, I know he was “just” a dog, but he was a constant reminder to me to laugh, to play, to go riding on the ATV if for nothing but the pleasure of that great, black head resting on my shoulder as we checked fence lines.

Juneau - the black lab Juneau’s days were spent chasing hawks and vultures as they soared over the cliffs by our home. He loved it when Sam pulled out the blower, because it meant chasing the leaves and stirred-up grass. His tail provided him with endless hours of pleasure – the toy that was always available to pursue if the hawks were sleeping in. Any work done around the house was made better by his company – changing the oil, mowing the lawn, doing school. He tore into the basement with anticipation of what he could destroy – in one day alone, he happily devoured a two pound Costco bag of chocolate truffles, a map of Wales, an airport approach book, and both a paper plate and the cookies that were on it. He did not eat the wax paper covering the cookies, but he gave it the old college try. I could write pages about the silly things he did – riding on the ATV, playing with his puppies, but it can be said most succinctly in this – Juneau was joy itself poured into a black coat.

When I read The Last Battle, CS Lewis’s picture of heaven made sense to me. Where a hundred theological statements had failed to paint eternity, Lewis broke through my foggy understanding with a mouse and Aslan. I suppose Christ’s creation just makes more sense to me through that portion he spent the first part of the sixth day on. Reepicheep was just a mouse – a vivid analogy of courage and faith. Remember when he gnawed away the cords that bound Aslan? Did you cheer when he challenged the dragon? And didn’t your heart go over the edge with him when he sailed away in his little coracle to Aslan’s Country? And didn’t you know you were going to have fun when you drove up to my house and Juneau ran to you, eyes merry, carrying something he had stolen from someone else to give you as a gift? Again, Juneau was “just” a dog. But like Lewis’s portrayal of Christ as the Lion, I was daily reminded of God’s gift to us of joy – a fruit of the spirit made flesh in a bumbling, magnificent Labrador Retriever.

I am sure to be making little sense as I write this, and I am also sure to offend many by drawing a comparison of a dog to something holy. It is difficult to type while crying, and even more difficult to share how much one dog can mean. No, I don’t worship animals – although I did live in Eugene long enough to see some pretty strange things. And I am not putting my dog on the level of a human, with his value more than, or even equal to, my husband or children. There will still be larger-than life moments in my world – a solo for one of the kids in a play, a ribbon from the State Fair, a special dinner to celebrate many years spent together. But I’m trying to imagine a night out on the deck without his 80-pound body wedging itself between David and me, and I’m not succeeding very well. How do you laugh at joy destroyed?
When I covered Juneau’s mangled body with a blanket, I understood the expression “He’s not with us anymore.” Animals, like people, seem smaller when they’ve died. Like the area the soul occupied is void – the balloon has popped, and there are wrinkles where the space was occupied by something larger than the lining. I’m not suggesting dogs have souls – why would they need them? They never questioned the One. If even the rocks would cry out and worship, where do you think dogs would be? At the front of the chorus, I am sure. I have no desire to debate whether animals go to heaven. I only know on that day when I face Christ, when He who died for my sins runs to embrace me, He will be missing his right sandal. And Juneau will be right behind him, carrying it in his big smiling mouth.

Source:  Justlabradors.com/MSN

Dogwise, All Things Dog! Monthly Feature: BEHAVIOR PROBLEMS IN DOGS

Marley & Me

Marley

Tales from a Dog Catcher

Posted:  Just One More Pet

September 20, 2009 Posted by | animal behavior, Just One More Pet, Pets | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Dog Saves Owner – Campground closes after mountain lion attacks dog

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A campground in Cleveland National Forest has been closed tonight as authorities search for a mountain lion that mauled a dog earlier today as he tried to protect his owners.

William and Candy Morse were taking their black Labrador mix, Hogie, for a walk near the Blue Jay campground when a mountain lion appeared ahead of them on a trail at about 1 p.m., according to Orange County Sheriff’s spokesman Jim Amormino.

The attack occurred near the Falcon Crest gate off Ortega Highway, Amormino said. The lab intervened at the moment the cat was going to attack his owner, William, and probably saved his life.  William said he is sure that Hogie save his life and was moved to tears as he talked about the incident and the loyalty and bravery of his dog.

The dog underwent surgery at Clinton Keith Veterinary Hospital and received approximately 40 stitches. Hogie is doing well and has left the hospital.

The Morses rescued Hogie about 3-years ago just before he was to be euthanized.  Today Hogie rescued them.

By, Marion Algier/Ask MarionJust One More Pet

May 6, 2009 Posted by | Animal or Pet Related Stories, Animal Rescues, animals, Just One More Pet, Pets, Stop Euthenization, Success Stories | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

UK Kennel Club Changing Standards

Aylesbury, Bucks, United Kingdom (Jan 15th, 2009)

A national debate in the UK regarding the health of pedigree dogs that are bred solely for appearance has led to the UK’s Kennel Club changing regulations and breed standards.

UK Kennel Club Announces Healthy Regulation for Pedigree Dogs 

After a BBC documentary titled “Pedigree Dogs Exposed”, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) raised concerns that hundreds of thousands of pedigree dogs are vulnerable to illness, pain and discomfort because they’re primarily bred for how they look rather than with health, welfare and temperament in mind. Following this, the BBC decided not to broadcast the world renowned dog championship Crufts in 2009 and Pedigree withdrew it’s sponsorship.

In response, the Kennel Club launched it’s “Fit for Function: Fit For Life” campaign, designed to prevent the kind of breeding that can lead to health problems. The first outcomes of this campaign include a review of all breed standards to ensure that all dogs are “healthy, of good temperament and fit for their original function”, and a strict banning of the breeding of close relatives. Examples of the suggested amendments include a revised standard for the Shar Pei, which removes the exaggeration of loose skin folds across the neck, skull and legs. Other changes include the preclusion of excessive weight in Labradors and a move to stop breeders exaggerating substance in Clumber Spaniels, in order to ensure they would be fit for their original purpose of working in the field.

Caroline Kisko, Kennel Club spokesperson, said: “We want the New Year to begin well for pedigree dogs and the changes that have been announced today underline the Kennel Club’s deep commitment to ensuring that every pedigree dog has the best possible chance of leading a happy, healthy life.”

And the RSPCA has warmly welcomed the changes. RSPCA chief veterinary adviser Mark Evans said: “The fact that from March the Kennel Club won’t register puppies from closely related parents is brilliant news and a significant step forward for pedigree dog welfare. We haven’t yet had the opportunity to look at the Kennel Club’s reviewed breed standards in detail, but our initial concerns are that the changes don’t appear to be radical enough to really make a difference.”

January 16, 2009 Posted by | Animal Rights And Awareness, Just One More Pet, Pet Abuse, Pet Events, Stop Animal Cruelty, Success Stories | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment