The Ribbon that Runs Through History—Its Meaning, Purpose and Goals
by Leila Grandemange
Who would have thought that holding the winning ribbon could bring a person so much joy! But what exactly does the ribbon symbolize? Why do we seek it, and how does its meaning spur us on to become better exhibitors, competitors, breeders, and dog owners? Let’s unravel the ribbon and follow the thread through history, and look behind the scenes of a dog show to better understand what this piece of colorful fabric is really all about.
Have you ever wondered when, where, and why dog shows began? Dennis Homes, the breed historian from the UK Cavalier Club, shares his thoughts:
There is no single animal species on Earth that is as diverse in both size and appearance as a dog. From the tiny Chihuahua to the Neapolitan Mastiff or the Chinese Crested to the Great Dane, they differ so greatly and yet they are all the same species. Nobody knows for sure how the human/canine bond first came about and for many years experts believed that domestication first occurred around twelve thousand years ago. However, recent archaeological digs in places as far apart as Belgium and Eastern Russia have discovered fossilized remains of domestic dogs in early human encampments that date back to around twenty-five thousand years ago. How canine domestication came about is the subject of much speculation but it does appear that dogs evolved from a wolf type ancestor.
Dogs were probably first used by humans for work functions such as guarding, herding, retrieving, catching vermin, etc. Those that excelled at certain functions were most likely bred with others that had a similar trait and over time this is how certain breed types evolved. It wasn’t until around five hundred years ago that dogs were bred purely for their looks, and these were probably only among companion pets of ladies from wealthy or aristocratic families. By and large most dogs were bred for their working abilities.
Showing dog, otherwise known as the “sport of conformation”, did not start until around the mid 1800s. The earliest known record of a dog show was in 1859 in Newcastle-upon-Tyne in England where Pointers and Setters were exhibited. There soon followed many other small shows where breeders were able to exhibit their dogs and display to other enthusiasts what type of dogs their kennels were producing. Although breeders were competing against each other the primary motive of these early dog shows was to display their dogs to the public at large.
There was no registration system or keeping of pedigrees at this time, so as these shows started to become more popular the English Kennel Club was set up in 1873 to provide rules and regulations for dog shows and to provide an accurate register of pedigrees. Dog shows were also starting to gain popularity in the United States and in 1884 the American Kennel Club (AKC) was established to maintain breeding records of purebred dogs in the United States. In 1911 the Federation Cynologique Internationle (FCI) was established; it is based in Belgium and oversees the rules of national kennel clubs from around 75 different countries.
Throughout the twentieth century dog shows gained huge popularity all over the world and to many people it is regarded as a sport. Obviously sport is closely linked with competitiveness, which in turn leads to rivalry. The terms “sportsmanship” and “sportsmanlike” are linked to the word “fairness” as epitomized in the true spirit of the Olympic Games. Competitiveness in this sense encourages people to strive to improve their personal best, to respect one’s opponent, and to graciously accept a win or a loss. However, the downside of competitiveness is where rivalry leads to jealousy. If dog showing is to be likened to a sport then it is imperative that there should be friendly rivalry and fairness, as at the end of the day we are dealing with living animals and the welfare of these animals should always be our number one priority. Showing dogs, as shown in the original purpose, should be about exhibitors and breeders striving to improve their dogs in breed type, appearance, soundness and, most importantly, health.
These days, the object of the sport often appears to be simply about winning in the ring. Yet knowing the history behind the ribbons reminds us to see the bigger picture
and focus on the original purpose of the sport of conformation: choosing those dogs worthy to carry on blood lines and the betterment of purebred dogs. That is where true success awaits, and winning ribbons for everyone involved! Whether we’re planning a breeding, choosing our next hopeful puppy, organizing a show, or entering the ring with our beloved show dogs, we must allow the original goal to shine through and spur us on to good sportsmanship and excellence in all we do. This same principle would apply to any event such as agility, obedience, or rally. But we cannot achieve this on our own —as the saying goes, “it takes a village”! Dedicated breeders, mentors, exhibitors, judges, and all those who contribute to this wonderful sport have a role to play, and we all need each other to make the show a success! I’m also reminded of the all volunteers and club members who tirelessly work behind the scenes to ensure that the show runs smoothly, and that everyone is safe and having a good time, including our dogs.
The next time we are privileged to participate in a dog show event, let’s pause for a moment and recall the rich history behind the ribbon we long to hold. Apart from that, the ribbons are only meaningless pieces of fabric that collect dust, but the memories they make and the meaning they hold is what will last forever. I wish you all glorious success and a rainbow of winning ribbons. But mostly, I wish you to simply enjoy your dogs.
Leila is the recipient of the AKC Responsible Dog Ownership Public Service Award. She writes to inspire love, care, and compassion for dogs. About the Author.
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Do you enjoy participating in dog shows?
Do you have more than one canine companion?
Do you like to stay organized?
If you answered yes to any of the above questions you’ll enjoy this book— My Beloved Dogs, Record Keeping for the Canine Competitor and Multi-Dog Home. Check out the BOOK TRAILER to learn more about it.
Check out this wonderful Dog Show Record Book!