Lately I’ve been reading the new book Showdog: The Charmed Life and Trying Times of a Near-Perfect Purebred. And it’s having an effect on me. What, don’t you become completely enthralled by the goings on of a Specials dog (specifically Jack the Aussie)? You’re not fascinated by the commentary from his professional handler? Don’t you feel like you’re soul mates with his owner, a regular Jill just like you and me? Jeez, what’s wrong with you! I’m so wrapped up in this book that even though I want to devour it I force myself to read only a couple chapters a day. I don’t want it to end! A nice change from the books I force myself to finish.
So maybe you’re not as completely taken in by Showdog as I am, but even still it has a ton of great insights into what it takes and what it’s like to own a special. What am I taking away from this?
To be a top Special, your dog must be at 100% in all things. Really there are just three things, but that’s a deceptively small number since these three things are the foundation for success. Without them you cannot succeed. With them even a good, but not great, dog can have success.
First, condition. Your dog must be in the very best shape possible, which for the Aussie in this book meant biking or jogging for 1-1.5 miles 5 days a week. In addition your dog must be in alignment as certain activities (Frisbee catching, roughhousing) can throw the spine out of alignment and cause a roach to appear where none really exists. If this book is any indication, everybody who’s anybody in the show world takes their dog to a chiropractor.
Second, coat. Whatever is considered top notch for your breed, the coat should be there. In an Aussie that means shiny and thick. For a Border that means coarse and tight. Use whatever products, food, and supplements needed, and put in the grooming time, to get to 100%.
Third, handling. A great show dog is effortless to handle because he knows his job to a T. You never see pros hand stacking a top Special on the line, do you? These dogs can walk into the perfect free stack and have the cadence down pat for gaiting. I’m thinking of Fifi right now, a pure show dog if I ever saw one. All of this is learned. That means that even Wally, who has always been notoriously difficult in the ring due to his enthusiasm, can one day look like the #1 dog in America!
Even the winners lose. Since this book is about an Aussie I read a lot about Beyonce, the black tri bitch that was #1 in 2010 (I think, my year might be off). Beyonce had about a 90% win percentage for BOB — which is phenomenal — but 10% of the time she was beaten. So even the top dog will lose sometimes, and that dog is showing every weekend with a pro handler and a raging ad campaign. That is to say, they have the odds in their favor but everybody has bad days and everybody has bad luck.
Know what is a big deal (even when it’s not what you wanted). When Heather Bremmer, a handler with multiple Top 10 dogs and a large string of clients, gets excited about BOB with a young Special it makes me feel better about my own success. It also shows me what realistic expectations are. Things to get excited about: BIS, any kind of placement at Westminster or Eukanuba (AOM, BOS, BOB), any kind of Group placement, BOB over a competitive crowd, BOS to the #1 dog in your breed. Obviously BIS would be brain-exploding excitement up in here.
It’s only one judge’s opinion. I’ve heard this numerous times in real life and it was quoted numerous times in this book by some of the best in the sport, including judges. Judges are only human, which mean they suffer all the same weaknesses as you and I. They also might not be very nice people all the time, or ever, which is just how the world turns. Do what the pros do and stack the odds ever more in your favor: avoid judges that won’t show love to your dog. For a newbie this is tough since you don’t know what they like, but with breeder-judges I like to see what their own dogs look like before entering under them. Having a mentor or pro handler can make this a lot easier, too.
Lose for the right reasons. If you lost because of something you had control over that’s a waste of everyone’s time and money. This would include conditioning, coat, training, and stress reduction. If you lost because the #1 dog in your breed showed up, give yourself a break! Take responsibility for what you can control.
Campaigning for Top Dog is expensive. In real life I’ve heard about handlers and groomers that only worked for one dog, meaning the owner paid the salaries of two people. I’ve also heard about dogs with private jets. In this book I read about a dog with his own personal trainer, a chauffeur, and the cash to sign a one year handling contract at $2500 per month. Many top dogs spend upwards of $30,000 per year on advertising! I’m not independently wealthy and I don’t have the connections to find a backer, so the odds of me ever getting into the Top 10 all-breed are painfully minuscule (having a Border makes that dream even more unrealistic). But that’s OK! I have big goals, and most of them will eventually be realized. The giant purple and gold rosette from Westminster, maybe not. But a giant red, white, and blue rosette from XYZ Kennel Club Dog Show? It’s possible!
Bottom line: campaigning a dog is a ton of work, lots of money, and an emotional roller coaster. Like any good drama, you’ll laugh and you’ll cry. Do your homework between shows to make sure that you and your dog are ready to kill it every weekend. Sometimes you’ll win, sometimes you’ll lose, and either way you may not know why. Keep it fun for both you and your dog, keep it friendly with the folks around you, and don’t take it so seriously. After all, it’s just a dog show! [So they say, it sure feels important though.]