The World Challenge: Eukanuba in the Rear View Mirror

by Susi on December 20, 2010

in Crufts, Eukanuba National Dog Show, Euro Dog Show, Hungarian, Komondor, World Challenge

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Some of the bloggers at Eukanuba

Of all the things I saw at Eukanuba, it was the World Challenge that most had the makings of international pageantry and drama. It was also the one event I least understood, and the one I came to suspect had yet to live up to its potential.

When it does, I think it’ll be big. Really big.

But first, credit where credit is due.

We who show our dogs in the United States do so in a bubble. We typically compete against dogs from within our own state or region, and the most “international” competition we’re likely to encounter will be at a national specialty – and even there, most of the dogs are American-bred. To see how our dogs would stack up in diverse international competition, we’d have to enter Crufts, the World, or the Euro Dog Show.

Eukanuba saw this void and filled it. They brought international competition to us with the World Challenge, now in its 4th year. For 2010, Eukanuba invited 41 selected dogs and their handlers from around the globe to compete at the World Challenge which was part of the AKC/Eukanuba National Championship weekend in Long Beach. As with previous shows, visiting dogs and their handlers were brought over on Eukanuba’s dime. That’s an all-expenses paid five day trip including air fare and accommodations for a dog, his or her handler, and in some cases,another person. Perhaps it’s because I’m still shell-shocked by what I paid to fly my dog and me to our national specialty, but this fact staggers me.

Bear with me now and consider the next few paragraphs to be the small print of a legal document. It may not be riveting reading material, but you’ll wish you’d read it later especially if you watch the televised show next month.

The dog that represents its country is determined by that country’s national kennel club, or by a dog’s awards or achievements at FCI or UK Championship shows in that country. The winner of the Eukanuba Breeder’s Stakes in North America also receives automatic tickets to participate in the World Challenge. I’ve simplified this process, but you get the idea.

It’s possible that the same breed may represent several countries. This year, two Whippets represented two different nations. Breeds that are not AKC recognized and that are from FCI countries are judged according to FCI standards; AKC recognized dogs from the UK, Canada and USA are judged according to their country’s standards. Are you with me so far?

The Insanely good seats the bloggers had

Dogs competing in this year’s World Challenge were divided into 4 sections unrelated to the dog’s breed, country or group type. Each section was judged by a different judge. The section each dog was assigned to was determined (by lottery, I believe) at the World Dog Show in Denmark back in June, 2010.

The three best dogs from each section went into the final competition where the winner and two runner-ups of the Eukanuba World Challenge were chosen. Thus, the final of the Eukanuba World Challenge consisted of 12 dogs from which the “Eukanuba World Challenge Champion 2010” (and recipient of $10,000 prize money) was chosen. I won’t spoil the outcome here, but all will be revealed when ABC airs the show on January 23, 2011.

The Komondor from Hungary entering the ring

…and advancing to his place in line

With all that said, I knew little of this when the dogs entered the ring. So forget everything you’ve read up until now. I want you to imagine that you’re watching the World Challenge for the first time like I was that night. I was dying for a Diet Coke. We had just finished watching one of the groups when a special announcement was made indicating that the World Challenge competition was next. Handlers and their dogs were brought one at a time, section by section, each dog accompanied by a flag bearer holding the flag of that dog’s country. It was the canine equivalent of the opening ceremony at the Olympics. And it was very cool. Once all the dogs were in the ring, the judge of the first section came in, moved his group of dogs around the ring while the other sections waited in line, and then made his selection. The handlers were happy, their dogs were excited, the audience clapped (European style – in unison) and then the judge and the dogs from his section left the ring. It was on to the next judge and the next section.

The ring fills up

The sections are lined up

Now at this point, do you feel like you’re missing something – especially if you’re a seasoned exhibitor or fancier??  Can you guess what it is?  Let’s review: Dogs enter the ring. Dogs gait around the ring. Dogs are selected. Dogs leave the ring.

Did you wonder when the judges actually examined the dogs? Looked at their bites, felt their angulation, muscle tone, depth of chest, rib spring, bone mass, head proportions, pigmentation, coat texture, length of muzzle, the stop, ear set, hocks let down, length of loin, cobbiness, tail set…….. you know, all that “little stuff?”

It was done earlier in the day. While breed judging was occurring for the AKC show, World Challenge judges were assessing the dogs in their section in other rings. In that regard, the World Challenge is very European and what you’d encounter at a World Dog Show.

The only time the public is allowed to see a judge really go over a dog at a World Dog show is during breed judging. After that, group judging occurs out of sight of the public where  the judge goes over the dogs once more. The judge makes his group placements but doesn’t reveal them until later when the dogs enter a larger arena for “the show.” Here, much hoopla is made over each breed and its country of origin. Since the judge made his decision earlier in the day, the ring pattern each dog performs is done for the benefit of the audience, or “for show.” At this point, the judge makes his first cut, then finally announces the top four placements.

The dog from the United States

Though I’ve attended Crufts, I’ve never been to a World Dog Show and needed the insight of someone who’s been to many of them, my friend, “Leanne.” It took some getting used to the format, Leanne said, but what has sold her on the FCI system is the written critique each dog receives from the judge.

After my conversation with Leanne, I “got” it. When I go to a World Dog Show, I’ll be ready to understand what I’m seeing. But when I saw Eukanuba’s World Challenge for the first time a few weeks ago, I wasn’t prepared to appreciate it even as a 30 year veteran of the dog fancy.

On a cerebral level, I understood the nature of the World Challenge. In my head I knew that dogs from all over the world were vying for top honors. But judging dogs has a visceral (and subjective) aspect to it that comes when assessing beauty, perfection, and the intangibles that set a good dog apart from a great one; They’re the nuances one needs to see through the judge’s eyes when it matters most: At the moment of decision making, which was the dog that “asked for it.” The dog with “heart.” The dog with attitude.

Since the actual judging was done earlier in the day, lost on me was how competitive the World Challenge really was. What I saw in the ring that night was a formality, the afterthoughts of judges who’d made their decisions hours before. The general public wasn’t disappointed, they didn’t know better. But dog fanciers are ringside quarterbacks. We wonder, “Where’s the beef?” We’re the people who watch judges judge. When a judge puts her hands on a dog’s shoulders, we’re inspecting the angle of her hands. When a judge opens a dog’s mouth, we lean forward to see if the premolars are there. When an Old English Sheepdog handler is asked to slow down, we squint and look for the amble. We watch.

Bloggers were given 2 minutes for photographs. This was a startled handler when I thanked him in Hungarian.

I hate sounding critical. People more experienced than I am spent countless man-hours determining how best to conduct a competition that honors the achievements of the dogs that enter it. The AKC and Eukanuba have my admiration for identifying the absence of international competition in America need and filling it. But when the World Challenge was over and all was said and done, I kept thinking, “More, please.” I would liked to have seen each dog assessed in the ring. I would liked to have witnessed more than the end result. Perhaps what I wanted was to experience the process that would increase the drama leading up to the win. Not everyone gets to watch breed judging, and the television audience next month certainly won’t have had the chance – unless, of course, each dog was filmed during breed judging and those clips are aired after the first group cut is made. I’ll be finding out at the same time you are.

I’m nearing the end of my series of reports on Eukanuba. My next blog will be a buffet of Eukanuba moments along with some final thoughts. Then it’s on to new adventures…..

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Jeni December 22, 2010 at 12:33 pm

Wow Susi you summed up what I felt too watching. Very good! I'm still recovering from my own personal emotional roller coaster of that weekend, once I work through it, and Christmas i'll be writing more.

Have a great Christmas!

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