Which came first, the chicken or the egg? This causality dilemma has been pondered since well before Aristotle’s day, and its proposed solutions, including those of modern, evolutionary-theory-based philosophers, are not entirely satisfactory. But more on that later. The more important paradox for me right now is “Which came first, the dog or the obsession?” Or more immediately, what has caused me to sacrifice real and substantial blood, flesh (yes, that too), sweat, tears, time, and money in the pursuit of arguably ephemeral and meaningless dog-related pursuits?
As far as the dog vs. obsession question, the answer is clear. Dog came first, or more accurately it was two dogs: (1) Kizzy and (2) Avi. Kizzy (HRH Eastlands Keziah) was our first Canaan Dog. After many months of research, many hours of talking with breeders, and a narrowly averted catastrophe involving house rabbits, we got Kizzy from Annette Israel in 1998. In retrospect, she may not have been the ideal dog for first-time dog owners because of her timid and wary personality. But we had been well educated about Canaan Dogs and knew what we were getting into, and at that time we still had deep reserves of patience, so we spent countless hours on socializing and desensitizing her. Progress was slow, so we got her a more easy-going Canaan Dog companion, Kaleb (Eastlands Kaleb Ha-Pere RN CDCA-HCX AHBA HCT). Much to our surprise, the more confident Kaleb quickly became the willing subject of the still timid Kizzy. Eventually, as if a switch had been flipped, the old Kizzy was simply gone, replaced by a newly confident Kizzy who quietly controlled all in (and out of) her domain. For example, one day we were walking the dogs in our neighborhood, and a young out-of-control Rhodesian Ridgeback came around the corner. Kizzy calmly turned to face the Ridgeback and gave it three staccato barks. The Ridgeback instantly stopped in its tracks, dropped into a submissive pose, and began drooling. That was the power of Kizzy. We could have any number of dogs and people visit without any problems because Kizzy controlled all, sometimes with a short bark, but usually with The Look. If you’ve ever known a Canaan Dog, you may be familiar with it. The all-seeing, all-knowing, I’ve-been-here-for-thousands-of-years look, which is unlike anything else in the world. And thus began the obsession. I still think of Kizzy every day, and I wish she were here to control that which I cannot.
Which brings us back to the chicken and the egg dilemma. The early philosophers considering the question basically just gave up trying to answer it. They ran into the infinite regression of causality, where each cause (the chicken and the egg) must seemingly be preceded by each effect (the egg and the chicken). Because there is no way to distinguish cause from effect, there is neither cause nor effect. But the philosophers had to acknowledge the inconvenient fact that chickens and eggs actually existed, so they simply concluded that neither came first, but that a poorly-defined “unmoved mover” got both the egg and the chicken, so to speak, rolling.
In our story Kizzy would be the unmoved mover. She hooked us on Canaan Dogs. But the obsession was still well controlled. Kizzy had been spayed (“I wish we knew then what we know now,” says today’s obsession in response to that mistake), so AKC conformation was not an option. We contented ourselves with walks and hikes and some herding and rally work with Kaleb. And we still had lives. We both worked in demanding professions, and with Annette’s kindness in lodging K & K for extended periods, traveled extensively throughout the Himalayas, the Andes, and the Alps. Even adding Salina (AKC CH UKC ALCH Eastlands Salina So Special RN CGC TKN FDC) part-time to the family didn’t change things much because Kizzy was in control.
But eventually the cruel hand of time intervened, and we lost Kizzy at 15 and Kaleb a year later. For the first time in almost a decade and a half we only had one Canaan Dog. We needed a puppy. Annette had what seemed to be a perfectly timed litter, but all the puppies were girls, and we needed a male for compatibility with Salina. We knew that Donna Dodson had just had a litter with two males, so we called to ask if either was still available. Donna said that one of the males was already taken, and we couldn’t have the other one. “Why not?” we asked. Because, Donna said, he was a show-quality puppy and we weren’t “show people.” But it was too late for us—she had shown us a photo of Avi—so we spent the next few weeks promising and pleading, until we were finally on our way home with Pleasant Hill Avram of Carters Creek.
Starting that very day we worked non-stop to socialize Avi. And of course we had promised Donna we would show him, so Jennie Larkin found us a wonderful beginning conformation class to add to Avi’s already active schedule. Avi’s personality and physique were developing quite nicely, so as soon as he turned 6 months old we entered him in his first show, with Cynthia handling. He was terrible, spinning on the end of his lead, and he lost. But fate was having none of that, and a couple of weeks later Avi ironically broke Cynthia’s finger in Canine Good Citizen class, so we needed a new handler. Once again Annette saved us and began handling Avi. And he immediately started winning. And winning. He earned his AKC championship just a couple of months later. At that point we knew Avi was special, and Annette had already done so much for us, so we began looking for a professional handler and ultimately found Brittany Cipriotti. And then, at just 11 months of age, Avi won the breed at the prestigious once-every-five-years Morris and Essex show. We were now hooked. And the rest is history.
Well, not exactly, because we’re not done yet. Nor were philosophers done with the chicken and the egg causality dilemma. But they had to wait a couple thousand years for the development of evolutionary biology. Under Darwinian principles, species evolve through favorable reproductive mutations. Therefore, the modern chicken is the result of a proto-chicken laying a fertilized egg with just the right DNA mutations to create a chicken. Thus, as summarized by Neil de Grasse Tyson, “Which came first: the chicken or the egg? The egg—laid by a bird that was not a chicken.”
I don’t find this solution entirely satisfactory, because it changes the question in order to answer it. But when you have a question, or for that matter an obsession, and you can’t deal with it head on, perhaps that’s the best course. Due to our obsession, we have been showing dogs as a full-time second job for four years now. While that doesn’t seem like much in a multigenerational hereditarily biased pursuit such as conformation, it amounts to a whole lot of dog shows, particularly when you’re going to 125+ shows a year and entering two or three dogs per show. (We added Anni (GCHB Pleasant Hill Anni Aharona of Carters Creek) to the family in 2017 and Vino (CH Velikayas SH Yayin Shen Ari) in 2018.) So after over 500 shows I have a few observations, most of which are likely self-evident to anyone who regularly shows dogs in the U.S.:
• Dog shows are often unfair, just like life.
• Judges are human. They have varying degrees of knowledge and interest. They have different likes and dislikes. They have friends, acquaintances, and adversaries.
• To be truly competitive at the top levels of the sport, you almost always need a professional hander.
• The AKC Owner-Handled Series is taken very seriously by the owner handlers, but not so seriously by anybody else.
• Showing dogs is expensive, even without a professional handler.
• Some show-sponsoring clubs cater to the needs and wants of the average exhibitor, but many do not.
• The AKC does a variety of things well, but not everything. For example, their disciplinary process is at best opaque and often fails to protect aggrieved parties.
• We’ve met some of our newest and best friends at dog shows. But not everyone wants to be your friend.
• If conformation success is your primary goal, pick a breed other than the Canaan Dog.
I find much of this highly frustrating, which leads me in turn to question why we continue showing Canaan Dogs. The obsession, of course, but like pulling the proto-chicken egg out of a hat to answer the causality dilemma, that’s not a satisfactory answer. Nor will I resort to highfalutin concepts like “sacrificing” to “save a rare breed,” because I’ve ultimately realized that just like changing what’s wrong with dog shows, we can’t make a meaningful difference for the breed on our own no matter how hard we try. So for the new decade I resolve to do what I can, but also to try and accept that which I can’t change.
* * * *
So what happened in 2019? Vino won an apparently unprecedented second Best in Sweepstakes at the Canaan Dog Club of America (“CDCA”) 2019 National and earned his AKC Championship at that cluster of shows. In addition, he’s now two-thirds of the way to his CDCA-HCX herding and AKC Lure Coursing and Fast CAT titles. He’s proved he can do almost anything, if he can pay attention long enough.
Salina continued to amaze. For the third straight year she won the Veterans Sweepstakes at the CDCA National. She also won Best Veteran and Best Altered at the Israel Canaan Dog Club of America (“ICDCA”) 2019 National, and earned her UKC Altered Championship. She also won yet another UKC Best Altered in Show. In her spare time she earned her Farm Dog Certified Title. She was named CDCA Dog of the Year for her lifetime of service representing the breed to the public. And in September she won an AKC Best Veteran in Show. Salina turned 14 last month.
Anni has one big handicap—she usually shows against her brother. Nevertheless, in 2019 she became only the fourth Canaan Dog bitch to earn an AKC Bronze Grand Championship, and she’s now #5 on the lifetime Canaan Dog Grand Championship Points Ranking. She was Best of Opposite Sex to Avi at Westminster and the National Dog Show, and Reserve Champion to Avi at the ICDCA National. For the third year in a row she was the top Owner-Handled Canaan Dog in America, and she is #1 in lifetime Owner-Handled Points. She also won the breed at the 2019 AKC National Owner-Handled Series Finals.
And then there’s Avi. By any objective measure, in 2019 he cemented his place as one of the greats in breed history. He was one of the top 25 Herding Dogs in the entire country. He won the breed for the second time at Westminster. He won the breed at the National Dog Show for the third time. He won the CDCA and ICDCA Nationals, each for the second time. He won a UKC Best in Show, followed by the Best of the Best in Shows at the ICDCA National cluster of shows, and his UKC Grand Championship. He won his second AKC Best in Show and his fourth Reserve Best in Show. He has now won the Herding Group more times than any other Canaan Dog in history, and he is second in lifetime group placements. For the third year in a row he is the #1 Canaan Dog in America in breed, all-breed, and Grand Championship points. He is the only Gold Grand Champion in breed history. He is MBIS MRBIS MBISS GCHG UKC MNBOB GRCH Pleasant Hill Avram of Carters Creek CA CDCA-DOTY CDCA-HCX—Avi.
And finally, thank you to all of our dog show friends and acquaintances that have supported us and our dogs in ways small and large. Thank you to Donna Dodson for the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to live with and show Avi and Anni. Thank you Annette Israel for, well, everything. Our lives would have been incomparably less fulfilling without you. Thank you (I think) Isabella Zirri for Vino and Cydne Clark for wrangling him. Thank you Kristi Allison for providing a caring home away from home when needed. And thank you Brittany Cipriotti for doing everything within your power to feed and yet help us control the obsession.
Happy New Year!