DANELINKS.COM                                                                                                                           5.1.05                        


               By SIERRA MILTON  (United Kingdom)


© 2004 Sierra Milton, Stormsong.
Please contact the author at  
sierra.milton@ntlworld.com  with comments and for permission to reprint.

Cheap champion!  Who has not heard those words used derogatorily with a bit of a sneer?  All too often it is used to describe the competition – most often those dogs that are the speaker’s most ardent competitors.  Of course, the epithet is also used in explaining to ringside quidnuncs why the best of breed winner just can not be considered suitable for breeding.

That phrase has also been used more than once to validate the archaic show system used by the Kennel Club of the United Kingdom in comparison to the systems used by the rest of the world.  It is not any show system that creates cheap champions; and every champion that you do not own or plan to breed from is necessarily a cheap champion.  There are a great many differences when looking at the show systems, most notably in the number of shows held within each country and the manner in which the championships are awarded.  However, what is undeniable is there is little difference in the percentage of championships awarded in each country.  Yet, American champions, as well as others, continue to be disparaged by exhibitors in the United Kingdom.

The American use of the words ‘cheap champion’ is totally different to that of the British counterpart.   Americans refer to cheap champions as those who obtain their championships through nefarious means, such as professional handlers who are willing to finish a dog they know is not worthy with judges who lack the intestinal fortitude to say… ‘Bring me something better!’  The British however refer to ‘cheap champions’ as every dog in every country that has a championship that is not British.   Only the UK system of awarding championships is legitimate to them. 

There are some champions in every country that falls into the ‘could not get a championship without the good ole boy network’ and every system should acknowledge and work toward eliminating the way this type of ‘cheap champion’ occurs.  I have already pointed out that in the US, dogs that could not finish on their own merit are put with professional handlers who take the dogs to judges who turn a blind eye.  There are also top breeders who can finish the majority of dogs they handle, based on their reputation and not the merit of the dog.  Some judges unfortunately judge by reputation and not by the performance or competition in the ring on the day.  It is no different in the UK, where often a dog will finish based on which breeder-specialist judge is willing to trade a win for a future win on one of their dogs. 

We all need to work to eliminate these types of truly cheap champions through tightening up the show system, educating judges and demanding that closer scrutiny and greater emphasis is placed on both integrity and ethics.  With all its faults, the US system still produces fewer champions that do not deserve the title than other countries.   Consider some of the FCI country titles where competition is not even required, simply the certificates from judges stating the dog has been found worthy.  Politics in the US normally occur within the group and best in show levels, whilst in the UK, politics pervade every single aspect of the breed level. 

Even when faced with the miniscule percentage difference, British exhibitors will point that their dogs must compete against finished champions to obtain the necessary three ‘challenge certificates’ for a UK show champion.   In the US, dogs compete against unfinished dogs for the Winners’ class and then go on to compete against the finished champions for Best of Breed.  What is amazing though is the very small number of champion dogs that continue to compete against the huge entries for unfinished dogs in the UK.  For example, at Crufts 2004, there were twelve champions (seven dogs, two of which were foreign and not UK champions, and five bitches) in a total entry of 206 dogs for German Shorthaired Pointers, less than one-half of one percent.  Compare those numbers to some of the larger shows in the US where Best of Breed classes may have eight champions and 30 class dogs competing for spots in that Best of Breed class.  British exhibitors tend to point to the huge numbers of entries they have at their shows as a validation for claiming the ‘best champions’; perhaps somehow they are confusing quantity with quality!  It should be noted also that, as Dr. Morgan-Jones’ pointed out in his recent article, “Dogdom British Style”, politics plays an astonishing part in KC shows.

Everyone has different criteria for defining a ‘cheap champion.’   It may be a numbers only one – number of dogs defeated; number of shows it took to finish; number of champions defeated along the way.  For some it may be the judges that gave the dog the wins necessary for that championship title.  The crucial requirement for some owner-handlers may be that the dog was professionally handled.  Still others may point to the locale or lack of prestige at the shows where the dog earned its title.  And for the ethnocentric owner, it may be that the dog must have obtained a title in a specific country and all others are really not quite championship material.

The numbers of dogs defeated in the breed, while sounding very impressive in advertising campaigns, really does not make a dog more or less than any other champion.  It is quite possible in every single country for mediocre dogs to win against large entries depending on who is judging and who is handling the dog.  In the numerically small breeds it is impossible to compete at the ‘my dog won against hundreds of dogs to win its title’ game – particularly in those breeds where the majors are exceedingly hard to find.  A Golden Retriever may have defeated hundreds of dogs on the path to championship, while the American Water Spaniel may have defeated a mere 20 and taken Best of Breed along the way.  Does that make one champion more credible than the other?  In Ireland, some breeds may have seen little to no competition in their own breed but instead may have garnered the major wins necessary through group wins.  

So, can we look at the number of shows it took before a dog finished its title in our quest for ‘real’ champions?  Many people show young dogs that need maturing before they will ever have significant wins.  If we use the number of shows to determine our ‘real deal’ then we automatically cheapen every dog that was shown as a youngster, garnering experience and showmanship.  And, we may be giving more weight than necessary to that title won by a dog in three shows under handpicked judges with the heavyweight professional handler. 

Certainly we can look at the number of champions defeated on the ribbon-strewn road to glory – or can we?  Some dogs may not have defeated even one champion, particularly if the dog competed against a heavily campaigned, well-advertised champion shown week after week with multiple Group and BIS wins.  Others may have won over a mediocre champion or two, or have won under sexist judges who would not dream of putting a bitch, even if she were a champion, up over a dog. 

The country where the dog won has to surely be important then, right?  That is, some countries have systems where non-champion dogs have to compete against champions and win over those elite title-holders before they can be called ‘champion.’  Surely, that has to mean that fewer champions are produced and that those champions have to be better than the dogs that competed against only class dogs to win.  A recent analysis into the championship trends between the US and the UK showed that there is actually a very small difference between the numbers of champions finished yearly when compared to the numbers of dogs competing – 1.3% of all dogs competing in the US finish their titles in a given year, while in the UK 1.0% do the same, a very insignificant difference of less than one-third of one percent.   Hardly a statistic momentous enough to raise the hue and cry about ‘cheap American champions’!

In some countries where breeder-exhibitor-judges are the norm and not the exception, the waters can be even more muddied, depending upon who bred what dog to what bitch, who is rewarding stud fee considerations with wins, who is ensuring their stud dog progeny wins, who is willing to return win favours, and breeder-exhibitor jealousy.  Too cynical, you say?  After over thirty years of showing in multiple countries, I simply call them as I see them.  Who hasn’t been to a show recently and heard by 8:00 a.m. who will win the breed or the group or BIS that day and then hours later have had all the rumours confirmed as the BIS ribbon is handed out?

Hmmm!  If it’s not the numbers or the system that matters, then by process of elimination it must be the prestige of the judges that makes the difference; right?  Certainly esteem could be considered a defining factor, but then what determines the valuation of the judges involved?  Some exhibitors and breeders would consider breeder-judges to be held in higher regard, while others believe that the breeder-judge can often be tainted with breed-blindness and current trends, and prefer the manner in which an ‘all-rounder’ places emphasis on balance rather than any one or several aspects.  Perhaps the popularity and frequency of judging assignments could be considered an indicator.  Popularity is often based upon personality characteristics, willingness and ability to interact with the exhibitors rather than a clinical assessment of judging abilities.  Some very taciturn judges are very competent and rely upon keeping themselves apart as a means to further ensure they will not be subconsciously influenced by friendships or camaraderie. 

Are there really any ‘Cheap Champions’ then?  Of course, there are!  We have all seen dogs with that almighty ‘Champion’ in front of their name that we have scratched our heads and wondered how on earth it happened.  If we enter the foible world of dog shows then sometimes subjective judging will come back to bite us.

However, it is not the numbers defeated, the numbers of shows it took, the judges under which the dog won, or even the country that determines whether a dog is champion-material or not.  It all begins with the breeder who sold the puppy as a show-quality or show-potential dog and continues through the owner who takes a hard look at the dog and determines whether it really IS championship quality or if extraordinary means are going to be necessary to accomplish the task.  The handlers who take on a client, knowing that the dog is of average quality but relying on their ability to hide faults, courting ‘friendly’ judges, and the all-mighty advertising campaign, continue to add to the mixture.  The judges who turn a blind eye to faults because of a friendship or professional relationship with the handler who ‘really needs to get the dog finished and out of the truck so they can start showing a dog that can win on its own merits’ help to undermine the future of all the breeds.  And, finally, those people who will then breed to the dog solely based upon that impressive appellation in front of the dog’s name complete the cheapening process.

Dog shows should be about finding the best possible future breeding stock.  Unfortunately, for many competing has become the 21st century equivalent of the 1950’s bowling teams – a chance for a day out with other enthusiasts, spent in gossip, mutual self-appreciation and trophy garnering.   Dog shows have become big business and staged with a view toward entertainment.  Look at the number of televised dog shows currently, the ‘special events’ rings at major dog shows, and the large number of vendors.  As highly entertaining as the new fads of fly-ball and dog-dancing has become, they really have little to do with the primary reason that dogs should be shown and shows should be held – that of finding the best possible breeding stock to enable breeders to continue on their quest for better quality, healthier dogs in a breed they love.   Not all dogs should finish their championships and certainly many of the dogs currently being shown on every continent should not be encouraged to be shown. 

Championships should be about the quality of the dog – not the ego of the person owing the dog, showing the dog or even judging the dog.  All involved need a good dose of reality.

  • Breeders need to be more realistic in their assessments and understand that it is actually unusual to have a high percentage of championship quality dogs in a litter.  It is about quality – not numbers!


  • Owners need to understand that not being a champion does not detract from the dog’s ability to fulfil their companionship role and that owning a champion does not add to the owner’s personal acclaim.  It is about quality – not ego! 


  • Handlers need to be honest with themselves and their clients, many of whom rely upon them to determine whether a dog is worthy of showing.  It is about quality – not money! 


  • Judges need to take a firm stance and, great as the handler or owner may be, judge the dog solely upon merit, forgiving less and expecting more.  It is about quality – not friendship! 


  • Finally, future breeders need to look beyond that championship and critically evaluate the dog itself before deciding to breed.  It is about quality – not a title!


So what is a cheap champion?  It is whatever you and I as breeders make of it!

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