From the monthly column "BECOMING". ShowSight Magazine, November 2018 issue. Click to subscribe.
When I got my first Bedlington Terrier, her breeder, David Ramsey, informed me that I would now be clearing my calendar the first week in October so I could attend Montgomery County. I thought he was kidding. How in the world could I go to Montgomery County when MY breed, Basset Hound, had their National that same week somewhere else? I had attended every Basset National for 20+ years, and I wasn’t about to give up my Basset National for a terrier show in Pennsylvania. I told him I might be able to make it that one year because I did not have a really competitive Basset, and my Bedlington was beautiful, but he could not count on my presence any year after that. I love my Bassets, and their National is always fun. That was 1996. Since then I have not missed a Montgomery County, though I have only been able to get to about 4 of my Basset Nationals which usually overlap the entire week of Hatboro and Devon. I even missed most of the Basset National when it was held 20 miles from my home. I was on my way to Pennsylvania. Montgomery County had summoned. Hatboro could be missed, but not Montgomery County. I would never have guessed this would happen to me—a die-hard Basset breeder who just wanted to dabble in terriers.
I really do miss my basset National. Basset people are like our dogs. We run in packs, we love to be underestimated, we’re independent, we don’t try to kill each other, we’re smarter than people think we are, and we’re good at entertaining ourselves. Very good at entertaining ourselves. If you want to have a really good time, and learn a lot about the breed, then attend a basset National. The puppies are the cutest in the world, and the real breed experts are plentiful, and fun to chat with. The only down side to this event is that it is held on the same week as the Montgomery County shows, so I can rarely get to it. But if you don’t own, breed or judge terriers I highly recommend attending a basset National. You will not be disappointed.
Montgomery County is unique. It is all about the breeds and the breeders. It draws people from across this country, and from around the world. It is not ambiguous about its mission. Montgomery County is all about all terriers, and it proudly accepts the title of “Largest Terrier Show in the World.” Everyone who has an interest in terriers must attend this show. It is also the largest gathering of terrier enthusiasts in the world. Everyone around every ring has a vested interest in the breed they are watching. They know the best of the best are going to be at this show, and this is the show they come to when they want to see their favorite terriers. The rings are surrounded by breed owners, judges, aspiring judges, breeders and occasional casual spectators. Depending on the breed, the observers can be 4-5 people deep around the rings—and they watch the whole assignment, from the puppies, to the Best of Breed, to the Stud dogs, Brood bitches, and Brace. Nobody comes late or leaves early—unless another of their favorite breeds is being judged at the same time. Scheduling conflicts are excruciating for Montgomery County fans.
Montgomery County is not at all like any other show in the country. It is not a show for ribbon-chasers or TV hounds because the judge’s pointing and the TV airing means less to the attendees than seeing the lineup of dogs brought in to show. This show, unlike any other I know, is all about the depth of quality in the breeds. Of course it is always enjoyable to win at this show because of the quality of the dogs brought in to compete, but we all understand that judges are not all created equally, and some judges’ opinions mean more than others. Breeder-judges are the best, but few terrier breeds have an abundance of these expert judges. Next best are the judges who have spent their careers in terriers—real terrier judges—but even these judges are becoming rare. That means many of the breeds are being judged by people who have not specialized in terriers, and that makes a difference. Terriers, unlike most other breeds, require an extraordinary amount of detailed knowledge. The difference between a generic good dog, and an outstanding representative of breed type may be as small as a quarter of an inch here, or an eight of an inch there. Terrier standards must be studied in great detail, preferably with a mentor or two who have been in the breed dozens of years. Montgomery County does its best to hire mostly terrier experts, but they cannot always cover all breeds with that level of expertise. And we breeders come anyway, because we know the quality of the dogs will be deep even if the quality of the judging may not be what we hope for. For serious breeders, this is a show that cannot be missed. This show will provide the best opportunity to see what breeders from around the world are doing in their breeding programs.
I am never disappointed with the dogs I see at Montgomery County. It seems that every year as I watch a few of the breeds and all the group judging, I will find a dog that makes me do a double-take. This year the dog that made me look twice was a Miniature Schnauzer that took my breath away. After working with some really good Schnauzer breeders for several years, I think I finally found the dog (bitch, actually), that can stick in my head as my personal breed standard. I have my mental picture of what to look for in a Miniature Schnauzer, now. This lovely bitch was in both the Bred-by-Exhibitor Group, and the regular Group. She caught my eye every time I saw her, and I was disappointed that she did not get a ribbon in the group.
My only regret at this show is that by the time I get my own entries ready to show, and show them, I rarely have much time to watch other breeds. I try to watch a different breed every year, but at this rate it will take me about 20 more years to get through them all. I know I am missing some of the great ones, but I just don’t have the time. This year there was a lot of buzz about the Irish Terriers and the Wire Fox Terriers, and I missed the judging for both. I just hope I will have opportunities soon to see the dogs people were raving about. I don’t think there is anything more exciting than to witness first-hand, the introduction of an exquisite representative of a breed to dog shows. I have such a vivid recollection of the first time I saw the Kerry Blue, Torum’s Scarf Michael (Mick) shown by Bill McFadden. The dog took my breath away, and brought an instant smile to my face. He set the Kerry Bue standard for me, and I always loved watching him.
And that’s another part of Montgomery that makes it different—and better than most shows. Mostly people at this show are talking about what they like in the dogs. There seems to be a lot less tearing-down the exhibits, and a lot more, “Did you see that STUNNING……?” I think that’s healthy, and should be encouraged, especially among the relative newbie breeders/exhibitors who seem to love to criticize and tear apart more dogs than they like. It is always good to have a healthy appreciation for things that are right. Montgomery County brings in a lot of terriers with a lot of things right about them, and the competition is exciting.
Every year for the past 5-6 years I hear about the dwindling entries at dog shows. Montgomery County is no different in that respect. The numbers are down. Not all terriers have their National at this show, and some breed entries are becoming woefully small, but at least there are still entries for all terriers in the group. It is the only show in the country besides Westminster that can make this claim, and the number of terrier entries in each breed is far greater at this show. That makes it a truly special event. In addition to fewer entries, there are fewer vendors who regularly come to the show. It is not the same grand spectacular that it was when I first started attending 22 years ago, but it is still a must-attend event for a terrier breeder. I am grateful for all the hard work the club puts into this show, and I will continue to attend as long as I am able. And I will also continue to suggest to my parent club that they consider holding the Basset National on a different week, because I really do miss that show. But I have priorities, and unless I am judging at the Basset National, it’s a good bet that I will be at Montgomery County in Pennsylvania the first weekend in every October.