“People don’t like to campaign females because they don’t like to jeopardize their breeding program”
Our collective personification of animals has done far more harm than good. It began by pretending pets veritable children (they’re not) and now, Reuters is seriously considering a “glass ceiling” for female dogs at the Westminster Dog Show.
Male dogs win the prestigious dog show twice as often as females. The reasons are many, but mainly due to the fact that the peak breeding age of female dogs coincides with peak show time. For good reason, breeders have no interest in sacrificing their breeding program for a shot at a trophy.
Male dogs, however, are not as affected during their peak breeding age, making them better able to compete.
After the German shepherd Rumor won the top prize at last year’s Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show in New York, she had her first litter of puppies and retired from competition, like many female show dogs.
By contrast, most top male show dogs can keep competing for years, and it is no coincidence that they also win “Best in Show” in the prestigious annual competition far more often than females, breeders and handlers said as they prepared for this year’s show, which opens Monday, Feb. 12 in New York.
“Now she won’t show again, she’s done,” said Gail Miller Bisher, a spokeswoman for the Westminster Kennel Club, referring to Rumor. “But males can keep going. They can be used as stud and continue showing and keep their coat and keep their shape of body and all that.”
Female dogs, known in pure-bred circles as “bitches,” have snared Best in Show at Westminster 39 times since the award was first given in 1907. Males, known simply as “dogs,” have been victorious 71 times, almost twice as often.
A dog’s peak age for competition is 3 to 5 years old, which also happens to be prime breeding age for females, said Kimberly Calvacca, a professional handler and breeder from Westbury, New York.
The Best in Show winner crowned Tuesday night takes home a trophy. But the real reward is the increased value on the breeding circuit, which is one reason victory can end a female’s competitive career.
“People don’t like to campaign females because they don’t like to jeopardize their breeding program,” said Calvacca. “Males can be used to stud anytime, and still show and breed at the same time.”
As a consequence, females are less likely to compete at Westminster, the second-oldest U.S. sporting event after the Kentucky Derby.
Much like the gender pay gap debate among humans (which we discuss fairly regularly), fewer female show winners is not due to sexism in judging but can be contributed to fewer female dogs being entered into the competition:
…Ahead of this year’s opening day on Monday, there were 1,220 female competitors and 1,699 male challengers enrolled in most categories, including vying to be named top dog on Tuesday at Madison Square Garden.
…Betty-Anne Stenmark, the sole judge of this year’s Best in Show competition at Westminster, said appearance was important when it comes to picking a world champion. But she denied that the cards are stacked in favor of males.
Stenmark said each sex has a “50-50 chance” of winning and judging can be highly subjective, depending on a judge’s experience.
In the end, a male Best in Show winner can bring a bigger payoff than a female because a male can breed many times, and even have its sperm frozen, while females can produce only so many litters and puppies, said WKC’s Bisher.
There is no glass ceiling to be shattered at Westminster, there are biological considerations that make entering a male dog into the competition more practical for many.
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