Judging Sighthounds at the "Nordic Winner Show" in Stockholm
Dog shows in Scandinavia are in many ways quite different from what we are used to in the U.S. They are in general much bigger, often with several thousand dogs entered even at fairly average shows, and the best ones are much more than just conformation events. There's Freestyle and Heelwork to Music, Junior Handling, Rally and Obedience, and at least at the Nordic Winner Show that I attended in Stockholm on December 14 and 15, the actual dog show — with more than 7,000 dogs entered — was only part of a much larger event. There were lectures and entertainment non-stop, lots of cafés and restaurants, even a picnic area where you could eat food you had brought. There were a couple of "photo corners" where you could take pictures of your dog on a podum, a "Meet the Breeds" area with lots of booths for different breeds, and of course several places where you could purchase all kinds of dog-related articles. (Immediately inside the entrance, next to the Swedish Kennel Club information booth, was a large space with crates, x-pens and very realistic-looking toy dogs that squeaked …)
The "Nordic Winner Show" is held annually in a different Nordic country, and this time it was Sweden's turn to host the year's most important dog show in Scandinavia. [What's the difference betewen Scandinavian and Nordic countries? I don't really know, and I was born there … Wikipedia explains: "While the term 'Scandinavia' is commonly used for Denmark, Norway and Sweden, the term 'Nordic countries' is used unambiguously for Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland and Iceland, including their associated territories (Svalbard, Gerenland, the Faroe Islands and the Åland Islands). Now I know.]"
But of course it was the "real" dog show I had come for. I was mostly not judging Sighthounds this weekend (Dachshunds and Poodles, with North American breeding doing well in both breeds), but I was delighted to get a chance to judge a relatively large number of Azawakhs (14 entered!) and later go over all the BOB winning Sighthounds in FCI Group 10. Both the breeds and the Groups are a little different from what we see at AKC shows: the FCI recognizes many more breeds than AKC does, and that's obvious even in the Sighthound Group: how many Americans would recognize a Magyar Agar? A Chart Polski? A Galgo Espanol? As if Azawakhs and Sloughis weren't difficult enough …
Several breeds that we would consider Sighthounds in the U.S., though, aren't part of FCI Group 10. The Pharaoh Hound, the Ibizan Hound and the Cirneco dell'Etna, for instance, compete in FCI Group 5 ("Spitz and Primitive Breeds"), as does the Basenji, while the Rhodesian Ridgeback, which can compete as a Sighthound at lure-coursing in the U.S., is considered as part of FCI Group 6 ("Scenthounds and related breeds"). On the other hand, the Italian Greyhound, which is considered a Toy breed in the English-speaking countries, is a full-fledged member of the Sighthound Group at FCI shows.
Obviously, what's considered self-evident in one country can look completely different when you're somewhere else and looking at things with different eyes …
Azawakh judging: left, Best Dog (& BOB); center 2nd Best Dog; far right 3rd Best Dog. Photo Paul Lepiane.
My only Sighthound breed judging, as mentioned, consisted of a very interesting and surprisingly large entry of Azawakhs. I have been judging them in Europe since the 1980s, but it's a rare show where I've seen more than a mere handful entered. It's a unique, fascinating breed that has developed without any interference from modern show breeders in the arid Sahel areas of north-Eastern Africa: Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso. It's used as both a hunter and a guard dog by the Tuaregs and is notoriously feral, sometimes downright hostile, to strangers. To judge them requires a much lighter hand than most AKC judges possess, and for a while, after the Azawakh came to the U.S., I worried that its unique appearance would make it the darling of sophisticated big-city types, but fortunately that does not seem to have happened. Few breeds are less suitable to live with someone who only wants a casual pet…
Almost immediately upon arriving at my ring I was fascinated by a striking dog who was standing right outside the ring, looking down his aristocratic nose at everyone else. He was entered in the Junior class and so stunning that I didn't care he was not going to let me get even close to him, far less touch him. (I didn't even try … The breed standard, after all, includes the term "distant, reserved with strangers" according to both AKC and FCI (although the FCI standard adds "very" before "reserved"). If his owner manages to make her dog slightly more "socialized" (not a whole lot; you don't expect an Azawakh to ever enjoy being touched by a stranger), he could go far. His name is Ingenue Idanse Balthazar, and he's sired by an Azamour dog from Italy, Ashraf, out of a French bitch named Malia de la Route Jacques Coeur.
Speaking of breed standards, the FCI standard allows only fawn color (any shade, from sand to mahogany), with or without black brindle but with minor white markings — obligatory on the feet, allowed in a few other, specified places. All other colors are disqualifying. Nevertheless, the AKC standard says simply that "Color and markings are immaterial." What a pity there can't be international agreement even on such a basic point.
When Balthazar came up against a beautiful, mature champion male there was no question that the older dog had to win — especially as he also behaved in a very dignified manner: he didn't like me very much but allowed me to touch him. He was also a fairly easy Best of Breed: Ch. Japejukan Az'Ajman, who I learned afterwards is a multiple Group and BIS winner in his native Finland. (Most of the best Azawakhs came from Sweden's neighbor country to the East: Finland is definitely ahead of the other Scandinavian countries in this breed.) Az'Ajman descends from two Azamour champions from Italy, Ayman and Nur. Two of his litter sisters who headed the champion class for bitches were BOS and 2nd Best Bitch, Ch. Japejukan Az'Annuka and Ch. Japejukan Az'Amica.
An entry from the famous German kennel Aulad Al Sahra was unfortunately absent, as was a champion bitch from the Garde-Epée establishment in France. However, there were a couple of nice young bitches, including one from the Netherlands, Swala's Signature, who was sired by a litter brother to the Junior dog's dam, making them cousins. They could hardly have been more different, however, in that she as a bitch was considerably smaller; she behaved much better, and although she was very beautiful she was almost — not quite — fat … OK, "well covered." That's one thing you don't ever expect an Azawakh to be, and the male was Best Junior. However, I told his handler not to even think of taking him into the big ring for the Best Junior in Show competition, and I think she understood me. The noise and goings-on in the Group ring would have ended any chance of that dog ever behaving sensibly at all …
Azawakh champion bitches. Photo Paul Lepiane.
SIGHTHOUND GROUP JUDGING
The Group ring was beautifully decorated, more like a theater stage than a dog show. The backdrop was that of a large and very colorful (but of course one-dimensional) house, with several doors and windows and occupied by turn-of-the-century (from 1800s to 1900s, that is) figures in time-appropriate clothing (and hats, fantastic hats!). Most interestingly, four large Christmas trees were lowered to the floor to indicate the placements — 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th — of each competition, and then hauled up to the rafters again to leave space for judging and the dogs to move. (Would the young Azawakh have freaked out? Probably … but it didn't seem to faze any of the contestants as far as I could see.)
Anyway, the "real" ring was only used for the last few minutes of each Group. As in most FCI countries, the Swedish Kennel Club employs the method of pre-judging, allowing the judge an opportunity to go over all his or her BOB winners in a separate, "behind the curtain" ring. You are supposed to decide on your finalists fairly quickly once the BOB winners enter the big ring, and you then tell the ring steward your placements in reverse order.
In spite of the fact that Group 10/Sighthounds is one of the smallest Groups at FCI shows, and although the BOB Irish Wolfhound didn't turn up for Group competition, there was a lot for me to choose from. The Saluki was 11 years old, Int. Ch. Dabkas Italy, but didn't look anything like his age; he would have been my fifth choice if I had one, and he must have been a strong contender in the Best Veteran competition that I didn't watch. Fourth place instead was occupied by a lovely Sloughi bitch, Ch. Al Jabbar Lekkerbit, and third by a young but quite impressive, big and strong Scottish Deerhound bitch, Galeritas Moira, whom I look forward to seeing again when she's mature. Runner-up to Best Sighthound was the beautiful Azawakh, Ch. Japejukan Az'Ajman, and Group First went to the brindle Whippet bitch Ch. West Chelan Quick Look At Me, alias "Posh," so exquisitely feminine, of ideal breed type and with a nearly perfect outline.
I had never seen Posh before but knew who she was, as she has won a lot in Europe and was BOB at Crufts earlier this year — the kind of fairytale success that is even more amazing when you realize that she is from her owner's first litter. (That her owner and breeder, Shelby Mowbray, is an American, still in her 20s, and has been living in Italy and Belgium for the past few years doesn't make the story less impressive.)
Whether Posh has enough pizzazz and glamour to appeal to AKC allrounders I don't know, but any serious breed specialist judge would have to recognize her quality, regardless of where in the world you come from. The AKC and the FCI/English/Swedish standards differ in some respects, but Posh fits very well into both.
More was to come, however. The Best-in-Show judge, Dan Ericsson, a famous breeder of Scottish Terriers and equally famous for his world-wide judging of all breeds, liked Posh so much that he eventually made her Reserve BIS from the 7,000 dogs to the Papillon who had won Crufts — also with Dan as the judge. One of the best lines of the very entertaining loudspeaker commentary called Dan's judging of Best in Show at Crufts in March this year a "rehearsal" for this show … I don't think that was meant as anything but a joke, but in some respects the Nordic Winner Show in Stockholm was probably almost as important as Crufts.
A red ribbon is for first place in Sweden, blue for second! Group winner (and later Reserve BIS from more than 7,000 dogs) was the Whippet Ch. West Chelan Quick Look At Me ("Posh"). Photo Dora Levstek.
Irish Wolfhound BOB, Ch. Setanta O'Marksby. Judge Björg Foss, Norwy. Photo Paul Lepiane.
Breed (number of dogs entered), judge, name of Best of Breed winner (sire x dam), breeder and owner.
Afghan Hounds(44), judge Björg Foss, Norway: BOB Agha Djari's Revival for Karkati (Int. Ch. Agha Djari's Karkati's Comeback x Ch. Agha Djari's Leontyne). Breeders Stefan Boieck & Nico Kersten, Germany. Owner Peter Floesser, Sweden.
Azawakhs(14), judge Bo Bengtson, USA: BOB Ch. Japejukan Az'Ajman (Ch. Azamour Ayman x Ch. Azamour Nur). Breeder Jari-Pekka Kahelin, Finland. Owner Jussi Lindholm, Finland.
Borzoi(53), judge Anne-Marie Class, France: BOB Ch. Borscana Sukhoi Flanker (Ch. Borscana Aviator x Ch. Kozlowski's Ophelia). Breeders & owner Lise Edland & Rickard Sellin, Sweden.
Chart Polski(3), judge Irina Poletaeva, Finland: BOB Int. Ch. Stoneville Who's Better Who's Best (Int. Ch. Ignac Arcturus x Marunka Arcturus). Breeder Tomislav Klemencic, Croatia. Owner Helena Månsson Håkansson.
Galgos Espanol(22), judge Knut Blütecher, Norway: BOB Ch. Magh Ita's Chumin (Ch. Randeros Melquiades x Int. Ch. Magh Ita's Arien). Breeders Ursula Naess Evje & Jan Evje, Sweden. Owner Ursula Evje, Sweden.
Greyhounds(16), judge Knut Blütecher, Norway: BOB Ch. Epic Perfect (Ch. Epic Narcissistic x Int. Ch. Epic Juicy). Breeders Anna Lena Almgren & Johan Rosengren. Owner Anna Lena Almgren.
Irish Wolfhounds(28), judge Björg Foss, Norway (& Silva Zeferino, Portugal, Junior classes): BOB Ch. Setanta O'Marksby (Cornovi Keats x Ode to McKenzie from O'Marksbay). Breeders Knut Olav Wille & Öivind Larsen, Norway. Owner Kut Olav Wille, Norway.
Italian Greyhounds(33), judge Knut Blütecher, Norway: BOB Soltar's Quantum of Solace (Ch. Lovoly's Skyfall x Ch. Soltar's Iron Lady). Breeder & owner Jukka Lillstrang von Wendt, Finland.
Magyar Agar(3), judge Knut Blütecher, Norway: BOB Illa-Berek Cserje (Kucorgó-Dombi Folyondár). Breeder Ferencné Jakkel, Hungary. Owner Tiina Vaittinen, Finland.
Salukis(83), judge Saija Juutilainen, Finland: BOB Int Ch. Dabka's Italy (Ch. Kan-Ya-Ma-Kan Degletnour x Int. Ch. Dabka's Cassandra). Breeders & owners Liz-Mari Seiholm Persson & Anders Persson, Sweden.
Scottish Deerhounds(21), judge Björg Foss, Norway: BOB Galerita's Moira (Ch. Lilac Wind Modjo To Galerita x Ch. Galerita's Good News). Breeders Cecilia & Ylva Nordström, Sweden. Owner Ylva Nordström, Sweden.
Sloughis(10), judge Knut Blütecher, Norway: BOB Ch. Al Jabbar Lekkerbhit (Int. Ch. Ghazoot Bashshar x Ch. Ebba Nuri Al Baida). Breeder Helen Ohlson, Sweden. Owner Sara Hägg, Sweden.
Whippets(95), judges Frank Kane, U.K. (& Diane Anderson, USA, Junior classes): BOB Ch. West Chelan Quick Look At Me (Ch. Crème Anglaise's Panna Cotta x Ch. Sobresalto Yo Mammeta E Tu). Breeder & owner Shelby Mowbray, Belgium.
NOT COMPETING IN THE SIGHTHOUND GROUP:
Basenjis(43), judge Ricky Lochs-Romans, Netherlands: BOB Shahrans I Got Framed (Ch. Celebrity Stile Dominant Star x Int. Ch. Shahrans Tutti Frutti). Breeder Therese & Maria Kindberg, Sweden. Owner Ann-Charlotte Fritz, Sweden.
Cirnechi dell'Etna(8), judge Hassi Assenmacher-Feyel, Germany: BOB Trucker's Eight Miles High (Trucker's Apple Of My Eye x Wilma Della Baia Delle Sirene). Breeder Sanna Koponen, Finland. Owner Sara-Maria Lehto, Finland.
Ibizan Hounds, Smooth(13), judge Hassi Assenmacher-Feyel, Germany: BOB Ch. Kalo Skilo's Bow Bells Guns N Roses (Clavel del Gallinero de Sutcott x Ch. Rosenhill's Jaquenetta). Breeder & owner Maria Knudsen, Norway.
Ibizan Hounds, Wire(6), judge Irina Poletaeva, Finland: BOB Sinsline Salvastro (Ch. Rosenhill's Hybrida-Nur Mahal x Ch. Jota de la Sierra de Availa). Breeders Annica Kroon & & Sven-Olof Jönsson, Sweden. Owner Annica Kroon, Sweden.
Pharaoh Hounds(27), judge Hassi Assenmacher-Feyel, Germany: BOB Ch. Vaskurs Gisela Harabo Qiwidotter (Int. Ch. Faouziah's Faramir x Int. Ch. Northgate's Kalahari Queen). Breeder Jenny Hall & Joakim Gustafsson, Sweden. Owner Jenny Hall, Sweden.
Rhodesian Ridgebacks(81), judge Svend Lövenkjaer, Denmark: BOB Ridgerules RV Next Move (Int. Ch. Ridgerules Ifa My Treasure x Int. Ch. Ridgerules Tell Hera You Love Her). Breeders Maria Kierkegaard Lundström & Robert Lundström, Sweden. Owner Veronica Thorén, Sweden.