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Major Pain

By Jess Pearson

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One of the first lessons I ever learned in dog shows was the importance of majors. I was always taught by my mentor that you never break a major, regardless of the circumstance. Nowadays with Covid, we are seeing record entries. Due to health restrictions changing almost daily, many people double or triple enter shows in hopes that at least one will not cancel, and many travel across the country to find majors in their breeds. Breaking the major appears to be a more common occurrence.

In this post quarantine time of the pandemic, majors and large entries at shows are the norm, at least in my breed of Boston Terriers. Some days, we are right on, and others, we are over. Occasionally, like a couple of weeks ago, we had an overage for a major, but all but 3-4 dogs were absent, resulting in only a single point to be earned in the breed instead of majors. As a fellow exhibitor with no shows in my area, I understood when I saw that a handful of exhibitors had opted to attend a show closer to home. With shows few and far between in our area, the chance of a major is even slimmer, making it a challenge to finish quality dogs.

Another challenge is judge changes. It is almost guaranteed that there will be judge changes at every show. With record entries and overages, judge changes have made it exceedingly difficult to keep entries. In addition, with a smaller pool of judges willing to travel during the pandemic, this sometimes means we end up showing to the same handful of judges each weekend.

In a recent poll on Facebook, it appears that majority of exhibitors who responded agreed that an exhibitor should make every attempt possible to hold the major. It is not only respectful but a display of good sportsmanship as well. However, if circumstances such as illness of dog or exhibitor, family emergency, or weather should arise, breaking the major would be permissible as long as every attempt to notify fellow exhibitors is enacted.

In events where a dog may finish halfway through the weekend, these exhibitors agree that the rest of the exhibitors should be polled to see if the dog should stay to hold the major, moved up, or declared absent. By removing yourself from the decision making, you allow the other exhibitors to decide what is best for them and then are not liable for the major breaking. One breeder/owner/ handler stated, “If you are breaking the major, the major would not have even been possible without your entry.”

From a professional handler’s standpoint, “If my client wants their class animal moved up to a special, then that is what I am doing. I am there for my clients…” This perspective is another take on what to do about a major breaking or holding. Another pointed out that “people expect you to walk in and intentionally lose.” This is another tough battle as we always strive to make our dogs look their absolute best. Some dogs, no matter how hard you try, are natural showmen or structurally sound enough to make it rather difficult to “lose intentionally.”

Another handler commented about the large entries within her breed (golden retrievers) stating, “Golden people are good about trying to hold majors because usually they are very hard to come by. I and others have left dogs down for a day or two to hold the major.”

After looking into major requirements for Golden Retrievers, I can understand the struggle. In Region 15 (my region), it takes 14 class bitches for a major. For Florida, 14 dogs and 21 bitches are needed to make a major. While these numbers are high, in states such as Alaska, only 4 dogs and 5 bitches are needed for a major. In comparison to some breeds like the Spanish Water Dog, goldens would require cooperation amongst exhibitors to build majors at smaller shows. In Brooksville, the entry for Golden Retrievers exceeded 100 entries per day.

In 2020, AKC kept the same point counts as 2019 due to the ongoing pandemic. According to AKC’s August 2020, minutes consideration is being given to adjust the point counts for 2021 based on 2020 numbers.

Many of the exhibitors polled feel that every attempt to hold the major should be taken. However, one exhibitor summed it up best by saying, “This is a hobby which a) should be fun, and b) should not demand one sacrifice home, health, and family to appease everyone else.” In my twenty-five years of showing dogs, it appears that times have changed, and exhibitors have adapted to the unwritten “don’t break the major” rule. Whatever you decide to do, you always have to do what you feel is best for you and your dog.