The Dog Alphabet

Published: December 28, 2011
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I went to a conformation dog show the other day. Dog people call them "breed" shows. As I walked past the rings with all of the different dogs of each breed vying for the big win, I couldn’t help but think of Charles, one of my patients.

Charles is a 100 pound German Shepherd who spent the first hour of his appointment with the front half of his body under his owner’s chair. Charles had been fearful since he was four months old. He is three years old now and he's already bitten two people. The owner, seeking answers, looks to me and says what so many clients before her have said: "I don't understand. He’s from championship bloodlines."

Ah yes, those championship bloodlines. If I had a dollar for every time an owner told me that her behaviorally inappropriate dog was from championship bloodlines, I would be very rich. This got me thinking. Do most people know what those letters before and after a dog’s name really mean? That is the topic of this week’s blog.

What do championship bloodlines mean anyway? Let’s look at a simplified example. I am mostly Italian and a little French. So I have Italian bloodlines. My husband is Irish and a bunch of other stuff, so my daughter is Irish, French and Italian with something else mixed in. So, she has Italian bloodlines too. Despite that, she doesn’t have very many of the Italian character traits possessed by my great grandparents who came over from Italy, because she is too far removed from the original source of those traits.

This is the situation for dogs as well. If your puppy’s parents were champions, your puppy is likely to have a fair number of their characteristics. If the closest relative to your puppy had championship great grandparents, it is unlikely that she will have very many character traits of those champions. Yet, the breeder can claim that your puppy has championship bloodlines. In other words, what really matters is what is in the two generations before your puppy’s litter.

And what does "champion" mean anyway? It depends on what type of champion you are talking about. A dog can have a working championship like agility (MACH), obedience (OTCH), tracking (CT), herding (HC), Schutzhund (SchH3), or she can have a conformation (breed) championship (CH).

All of the aforementioned titles are American Kennel Club (AKC) titles and appear in front of the dog’s name, with the exception of the Schutzhund titles, which are awarded by a different registry and appear at the end of the dog’s name. There are lots of other registries outside of the AKC which award titles and championships.

You are most likely to encounter a breed or conformation championship (CH) when you are looking for a puppy. A breed championship means that a dog looks and moves as it should when judged against the written breed standard. To get a breed championship, the dog must have beaten other dogs of the same breed in order to accumulate the required number of points. Breed champions don't necessarily have to have wonderful temperaments, be good with kids or free of health problems. The only test of temperament for dogs that are breed champions is that they can stand still for a minute or two while a judge examines them and not show fear as they move around the ring. The judge looks at the bite, physical conformation and movement of the dog; she does not examine them as a veterinarian would, so she cannot tell if there are inherent health problems.

Each working championship is a little different. In general, dogs complete three successful attempts at each of three levels to have the privilege of being allowed to vie for the championship. Then, dogs have to accumulate points (sometimes by beating other dogs) and may have to qualify in multiple classes on the same day to finally get the coveted championship in that sport. Working championships are difficult to achieve. They must show that the dog and the handler can work together as a team, as well as that the dog is intelligent. Just as in breed, these titles are not necessarily a testament to the health or temperament of the dog, although dogs with orthopedic problems or extreme fear would find it very hard to be competitive in any of these sports.

Agility titles show that the dog has high-energy, drive and good working ability. Agility is a sport in which the dog has to jump, go through tunnels, and weave through poles as she runs against the clock. All work is done off leash in agility. Dogs with these titles are used to working and love to work.

Obedience titles show that the dog is trainable and intelligent. When competing in obedience, the dog must show that she can stay when the owner tells her to, perform precise footwork, follow directions, jump, and retrieve. The sport requires precision, focus and impulse control. Dogs who compete in this sport must be intelligent and trainable.

Herding titles show natural ability and good impulse control. Dogs must herd sheep, ducks or cattle while taking off leash direction from the handler. These dogs must have drive and stamina as well as intelligence. Only certain breeds can compete for these titles.

Schutzhund titles show up primarily in the pedigrees of working dogs, including the Belgian Malinois, Rottweiler, Doberman and German Shepherd Dog. These dogs must be able to perform in three categories: tracking, obedience, and bite work. In order to achieve the SchH3 title, dogs must be fit, obedient and have great impulse control. These dogs have been taught to bite people under certain conditions, so purchasing a dog with Schutzhund training is a responsibility that should not be entered into lightly.

Where does this leave you when you are looking for your next puppy? I would not worry about adopting a dog from parents with a championship title unless you are looking for a dog with the characteristics required for that title. For example, if you want a beautiful dog, get one out of CH parents. If you want to show your dog in agility, look for parents with agility titles. Even then, follow the guidelines from previous blogs to look to the behavior of the parents, and choose a puppy that is not fearful. From that point on, it is up to you to help the puppy be the best that she can be.

Dr. Lisa Radosta

Image: joyfull / via Shutterstock