Tag Archives: dog show

Like any sport, it takes a winning strategy

In prior posts I’ve mentioned that serious show competitors have a strategy. They don’t enter shows willy nilly and dogs don’t drop off the face of the show planet for no reason — there’s always something behind those decisions. Below is a perfect example of this, where someone thought carefully about their show weekend.

I’ve done some of this myself with Wally. Just having turned 2 in March, he really wasn’t mature enough to be incredibly competitive as a special. Then we went through a few months where I simply didn’t have the time to make showing a priority and as a result Wally lost his show conditioning and coat quality dropped due to lazy grooming. Had I chosen to show him anyway it would have left a poor impression on judges and competitors, in addition to being a waste of time and money. Instead we’re taking some time off to mature and play, not to mention wait for Baby Girl to come around. Then we’ll see about getting back in the ring!

Show Strategy



Posted by on May 21, 2013 in Shows


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Losing Sucks (Especially When You Should Have Won)

Everyone who enters a dog show thinks they should win, otherwise why pay the entry fees?  You squeeze into pull on your panty hose at 5am, pack your car as though the world were ending and the foremost things on your mind were your dog’s beauty and comfort, and forget to throw in a couple of folding chairs but remember to bring 30lb of freeze-dried liver just in case you win Breed. Checking in with the steward you think, “nice, we can totally pull this off!”

Fast forward through six other breeds, 5 class animals, and the the go-’round. You lost. You didn’t even get Select! “WHAT THE HECK“, you think to yourself, “I clearly had the best Lithuanian Puffin Snotzky, what gives?!” So you trundle off with your now unnecessary 29.9lb of liver and grumble all the way home as your LPS snores in the backseat.

Everybody loses and there are lots of reasons for it:

  1. Sorry to say it, but perhaps your dog isn’t a great example of the breed. It never hurts to have someone knowledgeable and unbiased give you an honest evaluation of your dog.
  2. The dog that won was better conformed than your dog. Maybe your dog is pretty decent and they just weren’t the best dog this day under this judge. Try again tomorrow!
  3. You might need to work on your preparation and handling skills. If the other dogs are better groomed, conditioned, or handled then you’re at a disadvantage no matter how great your dog is.
  4. The judge prefers handlers/breeders/amateurs/women/men/etc. I haven’t been showing long enough to see this play out but, for example, I know men who won’t show under specific judges because “she only puts up women”. A judge who used to be a handler might put up mostly handlers. A judge who is a breeder may only give Winners to the Bred-By class. Judging is subjective, so maybe there’s validity to this? Then again it could just be sour grapes.
  5. The judge is a head/topline/gait/expression/coat person. Perhaps they give more weight to one aspect of the standard and your dog doesn’t ring their bell.
  6. The judge doesn’t know the standard that well. Most judges start in their own breed, then branch out to the rest of that group. A bulldog breeder might be judging Standard Poodles.
  7. Politics. A professional handler once gave me this piece of advice when I asked about how to become a pro: to truly succeed you have to have excellent connections and know the judges personally.
  8. It’s your unlucky day. Your dog is throwing his hock out in a weird way or your bitch is extra bloaty from being in season or you feel unusually flustered. Maybe the show grounds have another event going on or you’re right next to an airport (been there).
  9. Your dog is too young, especially if you have a male. Puppies can and do win majors from the puppy classes but it’s rare.
  10. Your dog hates showing. Even the most phenomenally gorgeous Lithuanian Puffin Snotzky might absolutely loath going in the ring, and a dog who hates what he’s doing is definitely not going to look good doing it.

Even when you are absolutely certain that you should have won you will sometimes lose. And it’s frustrating! Conformation is a subjective sport and you may never know why you won or lost. So enjoy your dog — even if he was today’s loser he’s your everyday winner.


Posted by on September 22, 2012 in Shows


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Weekend Wrap-Up

Wally and I went to the Redmond, WA show over the weekend where there was a Terrier specialty on Fri/Sat and an AB/O show on Sun (we just went Sat/Sun). While we didn’t win anything either day it was still a really good weekend!

On Sat we had the best ring performance of our lives. Wally was on point and a total stud, keeping focus and doing everything right. We gaited much better, thanks to some advice from Carmen Ruby, and he did great on the table. I was hopeful since the judge was Linda Wells, who has put Wally up before. I think she would have at least given us Select except for the unfortunate mix-up where she thought Wally was a bitch and tried to give him BOS. Oops! This wasn’t all bad though since after realizing her mistake she commented on what a nice dog he is.

Almost perfect! Just gotta lower my hand to keep his head level

Sunday was less stellar. Wally hadn’t gotten enough sleep on Sat evening and was pretty pooped, so he kept losing focus in the ring. Then the judge snapped at me for giving him bait on the table (which, I admit, we need to grow out of). This judge was clearly eying Gizmo for the win and had no interest in Wally, not even for Select. Again, we got nothing. However it was still a great day! Danielle Green, Gizmo’s handler and the handler who campaigned Harley, gave me a grooming lesson after our class. She went over everything from nose to tip of tail, ears to toes — plus some handling tips to emphasize and play down certain features. I now have a Word doc filled with her advice and Wally has a much more otter-like head. I’m so grateful to Danielle for all the support!

The general consensus was that Wally needs more weight and more maturity, at which point he’ll be enormously competitive. I completely agree, but it sure is hard to exercise self-control and not enter all the cool shows! Guess I better start planning and saving… :)

My otter head, passed out after a big weekend

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Posted by on August 28, 2012 in Shows, Wally


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Enumclaw, over and out

Wow, am I beat. Somehow I feel MORE tired after this weekend than when working for Val! Probably because I went to a friend’s wedding Sat night, and also because showing your own dog is both emotionally and physically wearing.

Mr & Mrs Chris and Allie Ramsey

This weekend I got a taste of what it’s like to be a handler myself, albeit one with a very small string and who doesn’t get paid. :) I showed Seven at the specialty on Fri, then on Sat and Sun too. Hard as I am on myself, I think I improved dramatically in just those three days. Still unlikely to win anything with a Shorthair but definitely getting better! It helped that I was able to watch some old Westminster vids and had time to watch the classes. It’s true that handling is often best learned by observing, but when your job is to work at a dog show you find you seldom have time for idle observation!

Yay for action photos!

Wally showed on Sat and Sun, taking BOS both days. On Sat we ran late and arrived at the ring after BOB had already started, yikes! With no time to change leads and grabbing liver bait from the nearest angel, we were lucky enough to be allowed in. Unfortunately Wally dislikes liver so once he realized I had lousy bait he totally lost focus. Amazingly we still managed to take BOS. Sun was a LOT better with plenty of time to prep. We walked in there and rocked it. Wally looked like a stud and stacked beautifully (I had string cheese!), taking BOS again.

BOS, the sexy man himself

Another really fantastic thing is that Gabriel Rangel, one of the top terrier handlers in the country, wants me to work for him at WA/OR shows! You might recognize him as the handler of this year’s and last year’s #1 terriers. Gabriel is such an awesome guy and his dogs are always immaculately groomed, I’m feeling pretty lucky that he wants to work with me. It’s a good thing Wally and I rocked it today, too, because Gabriel was watching us ringside. Apparently I made a good impression. :) So yay, excited to work with Gabriel in the future!

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Posted by on August 20, 2012 in Shows, Wally


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Being a quitter isn’t always a bad thing

When people find out that I’m quitting my job as assistant to pro handler Valerie Nunes-Atkinson, they usually assume that it’s because the work was too hard. Or they think I was homesick. Actually neither of those things are true. So why did I quit? Because I had an apocalyptic revelation!

Dog Looking at and Listening to a Phonograph, ...

I think I just heard the voice of DOG! (Photo credit: Beverly & Pack)

A couple months ago if you had asked if I wanted to be a handler I would have said, “heck yeah!” But now that I’ve seen what life is like for the typical full-time handler I’m not so enthusiastic. In fact I’ve had an about-face and realized that this was not the career for me. What is life like?

First of all you miss out on the important moments in life since those events usually happen on or around show weekends. Weddings, Thanksgiving, birthdays, taking your kids to camp… You will sacrifice a LOT of your personal life.

Then there’s the fact that you don’t really work with dogs one-on-one. Most handlers have a big string of dogs, usually 15 at a minimum and up to 30 on important weekends or specialties. With that many dogs you don’t have time to get to know each one, their personality, and their needs.

The kicker is that dog shows aren’t even fun anymore, they’re your job. You’re so busy prepping dogs, checking rings, and showing dogs that you don’t have time to relax and enjoy just being at the show. I thought a job doing what you do for fun would rock, but it turns out that the thing you love becomes tarnished along the way.

Ultimately it all came down to an epiphany: this wasn’t what I wanted. I want to enjoy life with the people I care about! I want to help dogs one on one and enjoy getting to know them! And I want to have fun at dog shows! I quickly realized that my backup plan of starting a business conditioning and rehabilitating dogs was what I actually wanted to do. Which makes me think that maybe my backup plans should be the first place I look for what I’m actually passionate about…

I still want to hone my handling and grooming skills, working some weekends for a pro. It turns out that most people start as part-time assistants on weekends anyway, not as full-time live-in assistants. And I haven’t given up on the career entirely. One business model I did admire was that of Erin Roberts: have only one dog per AKC group, allowing you to work with each dog every day.

So as of Aug 1 I’m moving back to WA and starting down the path of building a business doing what I love. And I’ll get back to the business of loving dog shows with my friends!

Life lesson? I can’t say it any better than Danielle LaPorte:

You can be deeply certain,
and slightly doubtful. You can be scared,
and really, really ready.

In the end, do what makes you happy even if it’s a hard thing to do. Don’t compromise out of fear.


Posted by on July 30, 2012 in Other Stuff


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Houston Cluster 2012 in Pictures

Granted not a lot of pix of the actual show (ya seen one, ya seen ’em all), but here we go!

Not the most scenic start to our trip. I had been warned that the scenery was simply STUNNING (do you detect sarcasm? You should)

But then it actually WAS scenic.

In TX for the first time ever!

Wally disapproved of San Antonio’s “more efficient” freeway system

Making friends, we watched Bella win BISS (this isn’t Bella)

This is Bella! Finally worn out after playing with Wally for so long that even he was tired of her. A first!

Oakley, #1 dog all systems, with handler Phil Booth; lots of top dogs in attendance!

Although WA isn’t nearly as humid as TX, Wally handled it better than Bella and Joker

On the road home, it was an exhausting trip for Wally. Being Super Awesome takes a lot out of him

A soft cooler is an awful lot like a hammock

Goodbye Texas, you sure take forever to drive through!

From a distance these things look uniquely beautiful, but up close you see their evil thorns of death


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Posted by on July 29, 2012 in Shows, Wally


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Weekend Report

You’re all just burning in suspense, wondering “how did the weekend go?”

It was great!

Maybe you’re wondering what it’s like to be an assistant? Well, first you wake up at 4:00-4:30 am and spend no more than 30min in the bathroom. About 10min before you plan to drive to the show you have to turn on the truck to prime the air brakes and take the puppies out to pee. On your way to the grounds you stop for Starbucks to order a venti with extra everything and get some oatmeal or a sandwich for breakfast, which you must down quickly because as soon as you arrive at the grounds you have to turn out all the dogs into the x-pens or take them for walks. If it’s day one you first have to set up your set up, meaning put out giant mats with a bunch of x-pens on them and raise the EZ Up, then get out the grooming tables and tack boxes. After all the dogs are done with their morning potty you get to drink your coffee and relax for a few minutes.

Once you’re groomed you can’t sit down!

The first class always starts at 8am, so any dogs entered in 8am classes must be prepped starting at 7am or so depending on the breed. A Rhodesian Ridgeback needs a lot less prep than a Borzoi or Airedale! Starting at 8am you’re ringside holding a dog or going to get a dog or taking a dog back to the truck. If you’ve been with your boss (themselves a pro handler) for a while you might even be in the ring showing since they can only be in one place at a time. This goes on all day: groom a dog, take the dog up, show the dog, let the dog potty, give them a quick clean up, put them back.

Hanging out in the x-pen

If the dog wins Best of Breed they will have to go in for Groups, which usually start around 2pm. You get a lunch around noon, but any dogs going into group will need re-groomed. Same thing: groom, show, potty, back in the truck. The end of the day is around 5-6pm, at which point you do dinner and pass out. If it’s the last day of the show you have to tear down the set up first though!

Val & Bella competing for BIS

There is down time, but for the most part you always have to be ready to go. We took 17 dogs, 3 of which did not show, and 3 or 4 dogs met us at the show. So a total of 17 or 18 dogs were in the ring over the course of a day, with each one needing groomed at least once!

What did I think? For one thing, I finally met Lauren (and made other friends too, yay!) and she’s fabulous. Super fun, super nice, and knows what she’s doing. Since Val is injured she spent as much time as possible off her feet, so I spent most of my time with Lauren and her opinion means nearly as much as Val’s, so it’s a good thing Lauren was impressed by me. As for the work, I was dead tired on the first day. I slept like crap on Fri night, got up a 4:30am, and was on my feet all day. The second day was better, perhaps because I got a larger coffee and drank a Rockstar. That said, the work didn’t really feel like “work”. I enjoyed it! It’s not always easy, but it’s fun. Granted this was my first show with Val and the end of my first week at Briarcliff, but so far so good.

When we got back Peter came up to the truck and asked me “what did you think? Are you staying?” I replied, “you can’t scare me off that easily!”

What did Wally think? He didn’t like being away from me so much and really didn’t like not sleeping with me (I didn’t like that either, next time he should be able to tho; Peter’s Stafford came with us so Wally had to sleep in the truck). He still doesn’t really understand why I put him in a crate or x-pen but do things nearby, why don’t I just let him out with me? But overall he did well and got better as the weekend went on. Mainly he was exhausted from all the activity and excitement.

I’ll be under here until you turn out that light

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Posted by on June 19, 2012 in Shows


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