For those of you who live under a rock or are otherwise not aware, The annual Westminster Kennel Club dog show just happened. As it does every year, the subject of fat show dogs has surfaced as a major criticism of Westminster, dog shows, and show-bred dogs in general. It's easy to sit at home and criticize people who show their dogs fat, but frankly it's much more complicated than just showing dogs in good condition.
One of the caveats of being considered a "good" or "responsible" breeder is to have titled dogs. In many breeds, it is preferable that breeding dogs have titles at both ends to prove that they are not only structurally correct, but are "more than a pretty face."
Without conformation titles, it is easy for breeders to be demonized for breeding unfinished dogs. Their dogs will be less likely to be used in other breeding programs, and it is less likely that they will be able to breed to the outside dogs that they feel would improve their bloodlines. Simply put, stud dog owners prefer to breed their dogs to champion bitches, bitch owners prefer to breed to champion stud dogs, and exhibitors prefer to purchase show dogs with a pedigree full of dogs that have been "proven" to be good examples of the breed. Heck, even pet buyers want their puppy to have champion parents, even if they have no idea what that even means or why it's important.
I'm going to borrow my friend Rachel's make-believe Floofenterrier breed to illustrate why many breeds are shown fat and will continue to be shown fat, despite many exhibitors not liking it.
Let's say the Floofenterrier breed standard contains this sentence to describe the idea Floofen body: "The typical Floofenterrier is classic and powerful without over-refinement, and possesses ample substance without appearing coarse or sluggish. Lack of substance is to be heavily penalized." As time goes on, the more substantial dogs are rewarded and the reedy specimens are not. The frame of reference for substance slowly shifts as people breed to the motto of "some is good, but more is better." At the same time, society's need for real working Floofens is decreasing. Floofens aren't needed to go to ground and hunt Blabbersnitches, because you can get Blabbersnitch beaks at the supermarket. Using Floofens to retrieve Gruntle eggs is an expensive and all-consuming hobby, so most Floofen owners don't have the time or resources to do it. Grobblesquirts have been hunted to extinction, so Floofens aren't used to flush them anymore. The checks and balances that previously kept Floofenterriers from becoming too beefy are gone.
But many Floofen breeders still know what a Floofen should look like. They don't breed Floofens only to be show dogs, but they do show the Floofens they breed. Unfortunately, in order to be competitive, they pack extra weight onto their dogs during the show season. That added weight makes their Floofens look more like the other Floofens, and they are able to finish their championships.
And the cycle perpetuates. Many Floofen owners and breeders begin to not realize their dogs are fat. Others realize they're fat but can't make them thinner or else they'd never finish any dogs and thus lose their status as a "responsible" breeder.
That's really the crux of it. Exhibitors are simply not able or willing to sacrifice years of hard work and thousands of dollars to get their breed back to how it originally was, especially when the very act of doing so would eliminate those efforts from the breed's gene pool. Despite showing fat dogs, some people are smart enough to take those extra pounds off once the dog is finished showing. Some people are in breeds where the "fat problem" doesn't apply. But some people really have no idea their show dogs are fat, and that is a sad reality of the dog game.
I'm not immune to the fat show dog issue. When I show my dogs at a healthy weight, they lose. My time and money is wasted, and in no way does that help me improve my breed or reputation. I follow orders; I put 5-10 extra pounds on my show dogs during the show season. But that weight comes off when we're done showing, because we have better things to do than be fat.
Kaylee, 2 years old, and 5-7lbs overweight.