Page 276 - ShowSight, March 2020
P. 276

                to get a true sense of the breed and the wide variety of individual characteristics one might encounter.
At what age do I start to see definite signs of show-worthiness? The dogs have not fully completed their growing until approxi- mately 22 months of age. When they are growing, different parts may grow at different rates (temporarily). There is no way to get a sense of possible great show movement before at least four months, and things will not have fully settled until later than that. It should be noted that the coat takes many years to develop and a full coat (from approximately four to six years) should not be rewarded by judges—the younger dogs with immature coats should be put up against a mature-coated dog if they are better in other respects, but unfortunately the mature coats often win out in the non-puppy categories.
The most important thing about the breed for a new judge to keep in mind? The Bergamasco is all about movement. They do not need to run in their work—they need to have a good easy trot that will not tire them out even after hours of work. Their body should be ever so slightly longer than tall, which for anatomical reasons facilitates the proper gait for the terrain (mountainous) the dogs work in naturally. Very important—the Bergamasco should not hold its head high (or be kept on a short leash to pull its head high) when in the ring—the proper look is for a straight, level topline, including the head. The dogs are serious workers who know that they’re doing without signals from the shepherd, so they should be looking sideways to keep an eye on the sheep. An uplifted, smiling face and a show-offy prance is totally inappropriate for a true Bergamasco.
The best way to attract newcomers to my breed and to the sport? Contact the Bergamasco Sheepdog Club of America. We are happy to talk to anyone interested, and can tell you about upcoming shows where you could meet some Bergamascos and their owners, who are always pleased to share their experience with newcomers. We are an informal and friendly group. We have an annual get-together at a show (in 2020 this will be in early May) where there are many people who come with their Bergamascos just to meet up with oth- ers and let the dogs play, without showing. The Club is also plan- ning Fast Cat and other events that are lots of fun for onlookers. Please contact the Club.
My ultimate goal for the breed? To preserve this wonderful, ancient breed, staying true to its historical roots, abilities, confor- mation and character (and not “cute-ifying” it for the show ring).
I live in Virginia and outside of the dog world, I work in my family’s produce company.
The Bergamasco is currently ranked #187 out of 192 AKC-rec- ognized breeds. Am I comfortable with this placement? Do these numbers help or hurt the breed? I’m comfortable with this ranking. Because this is rare breed, the sheer numbers of puppies being born each year are not there to change that ranking significantly. To me it shows that the few breeders that are here are not trying to mass produce puppies.
As far as showing, it probably hurts the breed as judges are not as familiar with the Bergamasco as they are with other breeds. As a family dog or participating in other events with the Bergamasco, I don’t think it affects the breed.
Does the average person recognize my breed? No, depending on their age, they are usually mistaken for either Pulis or Komondors. As puppies, I’ve had one of mine mistaken for an Aussie doodle, but it creates a great conversation starter.
Are there any misconceptions about the breed? Yes, their hair really does grow naturally like that.
At what age do you start to see definite signs of show-worthi- ness? Between two and three months, you can start to see how they are put together and their personality. Some dogs enjoy the show ring and others don’t.
What is the most important thing about my breed for a new judge to keep in mind? The coat is not the most important trait of the dog, but build and movement are. The only way to really know about the build is to feel the dogs. They are a rugged breed that is not supposed to be overly groomed. They are supposed to be longer than tall and their movement is different from other herding dogs and they don’t make the direct eye contact.
What’s the best way to attract newcomers to my breed? I think competing the dogs in other sports is a good way to bring visibility to the breed. It makes them seem more accessible than just see- ing them on TV. We are fortunate to be in a breed that a lot of people show their own dogs, so makes it more of community feel for newcomers.
Ultimate goal for my breed? To bring awareness of these great family dogs. They dogs have been around a lot longer than people have been showing them and I would hate to see them altered just for show ring success.
I live and work in the New Haven, Connecticut area, although I do spend some time (and bring my dogs along, too) in my family’s home in northeast Ohio. I am a pianist, a working musician, and a teacher/professor when I am not passionately engaged in the dog world. It makes for an interesting and somewhat crazy balancing act for me, but one I wouldn’t have any other way.
I’m fine with this “popularity”. The people who are interested in our fascinating, magnificent breed always manage to find us, and we have had a close-knit circle of helpful friends and supporters for as long as I’ve been with the breed, which is now close to 20 years for me. Too much fame and popularity can be harmful to any breed, let alone such a unique breed as ours is. To bring in another of your questions: Many more ‘average’ people these days are able to cor- rectly identify and recognize the Bergamasco, due to the availability of online sources of information, and having a few more tireless and committed breeders and advocates for our dogs spreading out in the US and worldwide. When I was first involved and brought out my first Bergamasco, my jaw would drop to the ground if a ‘Joe Q. Public’ passerby actually knew what our breed was, and certainly it was worth stopping to chat a bit with him or her and show off my lovely girl, Ellie.
Misconceptions I’d like to dispel: Lots, but mainly the difficulty of the coat. As an adolescent dog, most need some amount of hands- on ‘setting’ of the flocks of hair when their third kind of hair starts coming in—however, once the flocks are set up, the coat is fabu- lously easy to take care of and very low maintenance. Also, there is absolutely no way I would be able to enjoy a multi-dog household if I had a lot of maintenance (or shedding!) to cope with!
A special challenge to all breeders, but particularly breeders of a rare dog such as the ancient Bergamasco in our current society, is twofold: The marginalization and shrinking of the more histori- cal and diverse roles for dogs, for instance in a much diminished agrarian world where most humans work and reside, means that

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