Dogs in Korea

Fred with native Korean Breed

Hardly had I recovered from jet lag after returning from an assignment in China, when I started the grueling travel mode again. As usual with my Asian assignments, it was more than 32 hours from bed to bed, with no sleep possible (for me) on any airplane. But this time the venue was Korea, and the assignment was for two weekends of shows plus a seminar for Korean judges at the office classroom of the Korean Kennel Club. Other than changing planes at the Incheon airport, this was my first trip to Korea. My assignments were four shows in two weekends: the end-of-May shows were a Working Group show and a GSD specialty in a Seoul suburb, and the June 5th shows (Toys, Terriers, and BIS at the all-breed show as well as another GSD specialty) were held in Jeon-ju, about 4 hours south of Seoul.

Thankfully, the only seats I could get at the last-minute (typical of Asian show schedules) enabled me to get into Korea a couple days ahead of the first show, so I was half-over my jetlag by the time I had to go to work. Between show weekends, I was treated to tours of museums, war memorials, palaces, and other historical attractions. I had two trips to the DMZ (de-militarized zone) with different parts of that no-man’s land view provided by each of the tour-bus companies. The DMZ and the military demarcation line that runs roughly down its center is a true “front-line” in what is left of the cold war, and there is definitely a chilling feeling to be standing on a bomb of sorts with the detonator ready to go off at any second. You can’t get any closer to war than the active conflicts now going on against Islamic and gangster terrorists in Iraq and Afghanistan. The few English-speaking tourists on the buses described it as “very scary.” Most of the buses were filled with Japanese tourists, possibly on a pilgrimage of guilt-cleansing for the atrocities they imposed on Koreans for half a century before their surrender to the Allies in 1945.

The Korean people are extremely polite, bowing frequently and carefully choosing their words in conversation. The food is notable, because most is highly spiced with hot chili pepper, much garlic, and other condiments. It seemed they eat kim-chee at every meal — this is the vinegared and fermented vegetable pickle made with lots of red chili, and mostly consisting of cabbage-family veggies, but including leafy dark-green veggies, radishes, and other unfamiliar fare. I broke down and went to a pizza place one evening. A couple of times we had unique traditional meals with marinated eggplant strips, tofu wrapped in kim-chee, rice wine, and other unusual dishes. A couple of days after the first show, some GSD people took me to a training school, where I gave some critiques on anatomy and tips on handling and grooming.

This publication will probably carry some of the photographs that were sent to me after I left. They would be helpful illustrations of the descriptions I intend to give in the next paragraphs, if they will reproduce well enough. In addition, I am sharing with you the interview that KKC did with me for more of a picture of the experience. That Q&A session will have been printed in the KKC magazine promptly, I was told.

The first show weekend was easy, with two events for me to judge. The Working Group show was something like the group shows at Terrier-only events in the USA, but for the (usually) much larger breeds. In a country with 48 million people, 24 percent of whom (11.5 million) live in the capital, Seoul, land is at a premium, so the most popular breeds are the apartment-sized ones. However, at the first weekend’s venue, there was a small plot of grass and parking areas, about half the acreage of a football field, owned or leased by KKC, and plenty of room for the big dogs. There were a surprising number of Great Pyrenees, a goodly number of Malamutes, and a good variety of other breeds.

The classes in Korea are divided by age, so you have both male and female classes for 4-7 month Baby and 7-12 month Puppies, then 12-18 month and 18-24 month youngsters. Adults are those over 24 months. When the Breed winners for the Groups come back for BIG, their respective age categories are combined, so you have one Puppy Group that can have a male and a female from each of the two ages — up to four of each breed in Puppy Group and the same for Junior Group. The Adult category can have up to two of each (one male, one female), so the Group judging in each of the three age categories is a bigger “ring-full” of dogs than Americans are used to. All three age categories had considerable in-depth quality.

In Puppy Group, I chose a wonderful, typey Great Pyrenees bred in Korea; it also won the following week under another judge and a different part of Korea. In the Junior Group, the award went to a handsome and very correct Tibetan Mastiff imported from China. In Adults, I picked a slightly-German-style Boxer (imported from Japan) who was not flashy the way some of the heavily white-marked, elegant American style dogs are, but who had the appearance of rugged toughness and good strong type of the true working dog. His name is Dream Panshe of M.T. Shuttle, but I don’t know his pedigree. I later learned that he had won Best In Show May 1st (the previous month) at a large show.

The German Shepherd Specialty was held on the same ample grounds in a ring of very adequate size. A couple of outstanding puppies and several excellent youngsters were proof that the Korean fanciers are using the best of German lines and doing something right. By the way, here as almost everywhere else in the world, one does not see the “AKC-type,” American-lines GSD that looks so different from his international “half-brothers.” There were two or three really outstanding world-class dogs in the adult competition, and I put up for the day’s “Sieger” a richly pigmented male of correct medium size, good outline, and excellent movement. The “Siegerin” was a large bitch that reminded me of Karly Arminius, with pigment that could have benefited by a more definite saddle and deeper tan-brown color elsewhere. She had the best forechest and front reach of all the dogs there, and very good drive and topline. I hope I will be able to add the pedigree information by the time this goes to press.

Very helpful to judges in Korea is the European practice of having a local judge do the preliminary checking of teeth, testicles, and tattoos. If there is anything that the main judge should know about, it is brought to his (my) attention; otherwise, the time is better spent judging the other features and adherence to the Standard. Likewise, I did not have to bother with any paperwork the way judges’ time is “wasted” in the West. The well-trained steward (usually another local judge) makes sure the dogs are in the right class, lined up properly, and their placings marked in the book. All the officiating judge has to do later is scribble his initials on each page of records. What a tremendous savings in time for both judge and exhibitor! Something we could benefit from in North America.

The second weekend, hours south of the capital, was held on the spacious grounds of a Women’s College. There were four large rings. I had one for the Terrier and the Toy breeds and groups, and later for the GSD specialty. Fellow judge Paul Hewitt from Sydney had another ring across a wide aisle, where he did Sporting, Hound, and Non-Sporting breeds and groups. Most numerous for him were American Cockers and Golden Retrievers. A third ring was under the jurisdiction of KKC Chief Judge Mr. Koh, for the Herding (other than GSDs) and Working breeds. In the fourth ring, Hidecki-san from Japan did the Shibas, Akitas, and the Korean Native breeds. These three are the Jindo, the Pungsan, and the Sabsari. The Jindo looks a little like a large Shiba-type dog, or similar to the less-known Kai, Shikoku, and other medium-size Japan breeds. It was almost eradicated during successive wars and other periods of hardship in Korea, but survived largely on some islands off the southern coast. The Pungsan is larger, white, and its origin spread over the northern part of the peninsula, but still of the Akita-Shiba-Jindo “northern Spitz” appearance. The Sabsari, originated in Northern Korea, reminds me of a cross between a Briard, an Old English, and an Italian Maremma — a rather large and very hairy dog bred for watchdog and guard use. It is said to be very good for guarding one’s house against ghosts.

In my ring, there were several excellent Miniature Schnauzers and one very good Wire Fox Terrier that came to the fore among mostly average-quality terriers, but when I got to Toys, I was almost overrun by hordes of super Shih Tsu and Maltese. Toy Poodles, one of the many breeds I used to handle, had a large and very high-quality contingent for the size of the show, too. I was told that there was a bit of an “upset” when I gave 3rd place in one age class to a Poodle that had been doing a lot of winning, but I know what I was looking at and had no problem with my choices. One Shih Tsu was on the upper end of the preferred size range and should have had an undershot mouth to be perfect, but his coat, proportions, movement, and all else made him worthy of winning the Junior Group. I believe his name is Final Kennel’s Zeus Junior. The outstanding Maltese Adult BOB-BIG winner, Champion of Tinker Bell White came back under me at the end of the show for his well-deserved Best-In-Show.

German Shepherds are not shown with the other herding breeds in Group competition, and that does not seem to be a problem. This, after all, is not a breed that is typically standing around waiting for one spin around the ring before standing and waiting again. It may be done in many countries, but usually it is the non-international style that you would see in the ring with other breeds. In GSDs, I chose the same big female for the (adult) “Siegerin” position that I had given that honor the previous week. While he did not have competition in his adult age group, the “Sieger” was worthy of the respect and made his owner Mr. Roh (curiously pronounced “No”) very happy. Roh is a famous TV and movie actor, and a day after the show we got together for lunch and a baseball game. The thousands of people who smiled, bowed, waved, blushed, and gushed over him everywhere we went were testimony to his great popularity. This big-boned, well-pigmented masculine dog has great character and stability, and may contribute much to the gene pool in Korea.

Overall, the experience of judging in Korea was very enjoyable, and I hope I will be invited back to do some more groups and GSD specialties. As in other far-off countries, it’s well worth the arduous trip! For those interested in the political structures of the two Koreas and the cultural aspects of the country, a copy of my two-part column for a newspaper in Alabama is available on request and possibly soon in some websites.

Korean Kennel Club INTERVIEW with Fred Lanting

Q: Since this is your first trip to our country, what are your impressions of Korea?
A: Korea holds much meaning for me, because I remember the war very clearly, and I have friends who survived it, as well as having been close to others who did not. I have both studied the history of Communism and lived through much of it and World-War-2, as well as the Korean conflict, so the trips to the DMZ and the war museums were very meaningful and emotional for me. The countryside has about the same hilly terrain as where I live in Alabama, and the summer climate is almost as warm, so I felt at home. The food is delicious and the people are very polite, so the time apart from the dog shows and the cultural experiences was also very much appreciated.

Q: How did you enjoy the KKC?
A: I was impressed by the professional management of the registry and records business, and the hospitality of the KKC. Your use of overseas judges will help your club and your judges, by exposure to the experience, ideas, and procedures used in other parts of the world.

Q: Please describe what you thought of the dog shows.
A: It was a good idea to hold two events on successive weekends, to get maximum use out of a visiting judge such as myself. The first shows, on May 29 outside of Seoul, involved one GSD specialty and one Working Group show. There were some 3 or 4 world-class GSDs, and several that would do well in most countries. In the Working Group show I was pleased to award First place in Puppies to a beautiful Great Pyrenees (Pyrenean Mountain Dog), and First in the Junior category went to a very correct black-and-tan Tibetan Mastiff imported from China. In the Adult category, I chose a well-constructed Boxer of more-or-less European style. I have judged many Boxer specialties and at all-breed events in the USA, and am sure he would be a worthy competitor in both Europe and America. The shows on both weekends were held outdoors with very adequately-sized rings.

In the June 5 all-breed show held in Jeonju, several hours south of Seoul, I was selected to judge the GSD specialty and the Terrier and Toy Groups as well as Adult BIS competition. I find the quality of Shih Tsu, Maltese (both very numerous), and Toy Poodles to be very high. At the end of the show, I found that the Maltese I gave BIS to is one that several American judges have given the same awards. There was a reported “upset” in adult Toy Poodles, when I placed third a dog that had been winning a lot; on this day, that dog was moving a bit too wide for my liking and the smaller dogs competing in its class were as typey and performed well. The decision was a close one, though. Other outstanding dogs included a puppy Yorkie, and most of the Miniature Schnauzers (one of which I awarded Reserve BIS). Some classes and breeds had only one or a few entries, yet the dogs themselves were often of very high quality, nevertheless.

The owners of German Shepherds, as is the case in several places I have judged, prefer to have their breed judged as a specialty show and not compete in the Group ring, where they would not be used to standing around and waiting for individual turns at re-examination. Although the entry was small, I found an excellent bitch for “Siegerin” (first place bitch over 24 months) who was the same as the winner the week before, a handsome Junior male, and an outstanding baby-puppy. The winner (Sieger of the day) in the 24-month and up class was a dog named Sacco, owned by one of Korea’s most famous movie/TV actors, Ju-Hyun Roh. Over all, the GSD breeders and fanciers in Korea are doing as good a job as those in the most popular “apartment-size dogs” that predominate in Asia’s big cities.

Q: Any suggestions for handlers, judges, and KKC?
A: Handlers are as good as, or better than, anywhere in the world at ring procedure — I am especially pleased with their politeness and sportsmanship, which I hope will always be a hallmark of Korean exhibitions. It is a great idea that the KKC has judges attend seminars given by overseas judges. I would suggest that KKC also make some of these seminars open to the dog handlers, and that you encourage dialogue and mutual education between them and judges. In some places, such as with the SV or the UKC, this practice is very open, but in many organizations such as AKC and some other national clubs, there is an artificial wall erected between owners or handlers and the judges. This creates the impression that the god-like judge has nothing to learn from breeders, and such separation is very detrimental to both groups. To the judges, I repeat what I said in the seminar: increase your knowledge, be decisive instead of hesitant once you have studied the situation, and practice humility. For the KKC, keep doing the great job you already are doing, but try to plan shows and judges commitments further ahead — “last-minute” arrangements are an Asian “custom,” it seems, but it makes for higher airfares and reduces the number of judges to choose from.

I have often been accused of “rowing against the tide” or going in a different direction that the crowds, and the following suggestions are examples of my “contrarian” thoughts. I would suggest that KKC not get too worried about not having a “championship points and titles” system similar to many countries. Your system works fine the way it is, and in one way it is similar to the shows in Australia: “champions” compete on equal footing in the classes along with untitled dogs. The KKC system now is also similar to the highly effective and reasonable SV system whereby dogs are shown in classes arranged according to age groups, not according to what previous judges have thought of them. To me, this is most fair. If people want to brag about the wins their dogs have earned under certain judges, they can advertise in your magazine or let “word of mouth” spread the fame of their dogs. Notable and frequent wins are more important than any “champion” titles. However, the many ribbons for “Best of Breed” are excessive — this award should be restricted to what the term means: only one dog can really be “the best of its breed” on any particular day and show. A first-place ribbon for each class should be sufficient. If you want to reward a dog that meets the Standard of its breed, in addition to the placing ribbons, you can use a ribbon or a notation in the judges’ records that indicate the ranking of the dog as to “excellent,” “very good,” “good,” etc. But even that would be more record-keeping than is necessary. Drop the extra BOB ribbons instead.

For the entire experience, and for your trust in my judgments, I again say, “Kam sa ham ni da.”

Fred with native Korean breeds

Fred Lanting

Fred Lanting is an internationally respected show judge, approved by many registries as an all-breed judge, has judged numerous countries’ Sieger Shows and Landesgruppen events, and has many years experience as one of only two SV breed judges in the US. He presents seminars and consults worldwide on such topics as Gait-&-Structure, HD and Other Orthopedic Disorders, and The GSD. He conducts annual non-profit sightseeing tours of Europe, centered on the Sieger Show (biggest breed show in the world) and BSP.

Books by Fred Lanting