Pet or Show Dog
Pet Quality vs. Show Quality - What Does It Mean?
by Debby Jackson
Most people who contact breeders looking for Rhodesian Ridgeback puppies tell us they are interested in a "pet" rather than a "show dog". But what does that request really mean? Does it mean that they aren’t interested in dog shows? Does it mean they are expecting a lower price? Does it mean they just want a Ridgeback, and that any Ridgeback will do?
Only a small number of dogs spend much time in the show ring. Most dogs are shown by their owners or breeders, and when they are not showing, they are those owner’s pets, living the same life as any other pet dog. The qualities of a good pet must also be evident in a show dog: excellent temperament, intelligence, and good health. If you have decided on an ANKC registered breed, you probably became interested because you read about the breed, saw one on television, at a show, or met someone who has one. You saw something in that breed that appeals to you, whether it was size, temperament, intelligence, coat length, or some other characteristic. You decided that this is the dog for you.
Each breed has a unique set of characteristics that make it different than other breeds, and these characteristics are described in the "breed standard". The Ridgeback standard describes how the RR should look, how they should move, what size they should be, the allowed colours, and many other things that make the Rhodesian Ridgeback unique. If a breeder is breeding purebred dogs, then their goal should be to produce dogs that come as close to the breed standard as possible. Breeding dogs without regard to how closely the dogs resemble the breed standard is not "pet" breeding, it’s poor breeding. Dogs that are produced in this manner may not grow up to look or act anything like the dog you fell in love with. If you have fallen in love with the Rhodesian Ridgeback, you want a dog that looks, acts, and sounds like a Ridgeback, otherwise you would adopt a mixed-breed dog.
Assuming that you find a litter of puppies that all look pretty much like the standard describes, does that mean they are show quality? Not necessarily. The differences in what makes a dog 'show quality' are more subtle.
A good temperament is a must for a pet dog, but in addition, a show dog should be a bit of a "ham". The best show dogs love to be the centre of attention and are happy to put on a show for anyone who will watch. They also love people and are not afraid of crowds. Does this type of a dog make a good pet? You bet!
Another difference in quality concerns the dog’s bite (how his teeth fit together). Requirements differ depending on the breed, but for the RR the ideal bite is called the scissors bite, where the upper front teeth lap closely over the lower ones like the blades of a pair of scissors. A level bite, where the upper teeth rest directly on top of the lower ones is acceptable, but not considered ideal. Occasionally, Ridgebacks will have an over-bite, or (rarely) an under-bite, just like people. Unless you plan to show your dog, you might never notice or care if your dog has an imperfect bite. A really bad bite, however, can cause a dog to drool excessively, have difficulty in eating, and may require more frequent cleaning of the teeth. Depending on how you feel about these problems, it is up to you to decide whether this kind of dog would make a good pet.
Another difference that can distinguish a pet from a show dog is bone structure. The standard calls for straight, strong forelegs with plenty of bone. This should not be misinterpreted to mean that the RR should be massive, since the standard also calls for an athletic dog, capable of a fair amount of speed. It does mean that when the dog is standing naturally, his feet should point straight forward, rather than inward or outward, and should appear to be strong, rather than tiny or fragile.
A very important characteristic of a show quality Rhodesian Ridgeback is a good ridge. This hallmark of the breed is formed by a strip of hair growing along the spine in the reverse direction to the rest of the coat. It should be clearly defined, tapering from the top (which should be immediately behind the shoulders) to the bottom (which should be near the hip bones). The ridge should contain 2 identical crowns (whorls in the hair) at the top, directly opposite each other. Ridgelessness is a disqualification in the show ring and missing or extra crowns are considered to be severe faults. Of course, the quality or lack of a ridge does not affect a dog’s ability to be a good pet, but since the ridge is the main distinguishing characteristic, it does reduce its likeness to it’s breed. After all, what is a Dalmatian without spots, a Shar-Pei without wrinkles?
Imperfections in coat colour (excessive white or black), eye colour (not in harmony with the coat), placement and shape of the eyes, ears, tail, and gait all effect quality. Again, these do not affect the dog’s ability to be a good pet, but they do effect how much it looks like a Ridgeback.
One very important physical characteristic that effects whether a male is show quality is the presence of both testicles. If only one, or neither of the testicles can be detected in the scrotum, the dog is ineligible to compete in the show ring. You need to be aware of this condition whether you show your dog or not, because undescended testicles need to be removed for the dog’s health and wellbeing.
The price difference between pet and show quality puppy may not be as much as one might think. The price of any puppy is small compared to the total cost of owning a dog over its lifetime. The price a breeder charges may be affected by stud fees, vet expenses, vaccinations, and worming. These fees are the same for each puppy, regardless of its quality.
When you purchase a puppy from an ethical breeder, you are also paying for the breeder’s time. A typical pet store puppy has had little human contact, was taken from it’s mother at a very early age (generally four to five weeks), and has lived in a cage with little handling until purchased. Most individual breeders spend a tremendous amount of time handling, socializing, and training their puppies from the moment of birth until about 9 weeks of age. The extra time the puppies spend with their mothers and siblings, and the extra socialization have a positive impact on the behaviour of the puppies, and the ease of adjustment to their new homes.
Ask breeders to discuss their definitions of show and pet quality as they apply to each puppy you consider. The ethical breeder will take the time to be sure that you understand the individual characteristics of each pup so that you feel comfortable with your final decision. Most importantly, remember that all dogs are really pets first!