by Robin Stark, Star*Kees* Keeshonden
The purpose of CONFORMATION may be to some the most exciting thing in the world OR to others like watching cement set. Let’s start out with the word itself: It’s Conformation; never Confirmation. As a writer, editor and proofreader, it makes me go bananas to see how many otherwise dog knowledgeable folks insist on spelling it “confirmation.” Nope. Confirmation is something Catholic folks go through in their youth AND it literally means you are confirming something.
Conformation is lifted from the horsey set and it means that your dog does or does not “conform” to the standard of the breed. It quite possibly was hatched by those riding horses and attempting to figure out why some horses gave the rider a pleasant ride and others made you feel like your butt and lower back were beaten to death. They studied those horses and began to breed only to those who were suited to their needs; fast ones to win races; draft horses to pull a heavy load; small ones for the kids; and smoother movers for those who were astride.
Many dog breed standards are heavily lifted from horse standards. A fox terrier stands over ground “like a well made hunter” is one such term.
Here is one of my favorite reason WHY those of us NOR-CAL folks persist in showing in conformation.
Many moons ago, Dr. Ronnie Sue Leith (“Shrink” to be exact) showed her puppy in the 6-9 Months Puppy Dog class at the San Mateo KC. A nice lady who judged a great deal and judged Kees in California quite often, was the judge on that day.
Ronnie Sue has always had obedience as her first love and had only shown in conformation when a gun was to her head. But she decided that after many decades she could show a good Kees in both obedience and conformation, so “Byrt” joined her furry family. As I recall, Byrt was in what I refer to as “The Big Bird” status … about 8 months old and deep into being silly. All legs and neck with a promising coat blooming but hardly fully bloomed. There were a few other pups in the class, and all were doing as only Kees can do-being goofballs. This lady judge thought they were all cute but found Byrt for her 1st Place winner.
Ronnie Sue was thrilled! After all, she’d only entered him because the show was close to where she lives and for “experience.” She came out of the ring beaming with pride. Surly, old me dashed her joy by reminding her that she had to go BACK into the ring for Winners Dog. Uh-oh. Her nervous system took a small dive and I THINK she tried to palm him off on me or Jimmy or Satan. All of us said, “Nah, he’s just a baby, go back in and get the two of you the experience you both need.”
It was a 3- or 4-point major. The Open Dogs were in the ring now and for one reason or another, they weren’t too hot. The better ones were out of coat or being bad; the lesser ones were–well, just that: “Also rans.”
The judge’s expression at what was a pretty motley crew led me to say to Jimmy in voce sotto, “If Byrt’s not a TOTAL ass, he could win this.” We decided not to share this mutual thought with Ronnie Sue as she was already nervous enough.
In went the Winners Dog class–comprised of all dogs that had won a Blue Ribbon. Ronnie Sue gulped as I physically shoved her into the ring and said, “Relax. He’s ‘just a puppy.’ Have FUN!”
It took about 45 seconds for Byrt to be pointed to first and get his first Purple ribbon. Ronnie Sue was in total shock. The ring steward had to kick her out of the ring so that the Reserve Winners Dog could be selected. I stopped Ronnie Sue at the ring gate and said, “Wait! As a psychiatrist, I honestly want to know what it is about having a total stranger point to a placard and say, “Winners Dog.” What exactly IS that emotion and how can you explain it–you know, as a clinician.”
Her glassy eyes almost focused on me and she said, “I don’t know but it sure feels GOOD!”
True story and the best summation of WHY we do what we do.