Watching the Westminster Kennel Club dog show every year brings out the stage mother in many of us. Our dogs are gorgeous, smart, and every bit the champions we see on the most famous dog show in the world, right?
Let me recount my first showing experience way back in 1990. I had a lovely Rottweiler puppy named Maura. So convinced was I in her superiority that at the tender age of six months, I decided she was ready for her first show. Since I was already a full-time dog trainer, I confidently entered her in puppy conformation and obedience.
First: conformation. This is when the judge looked at my dog’s general appearance, including body style, eyes, ears, teeth and girlie parts. I had taught Maura to stand without me propping her up, and she stacked rather nicely, with back legs extended behind her and head held straight. I stood there with a loose leash, waiting for the accolades I was sure would be coming our way. All went well until the judge, a no-nonsense woman in a powder-blue pantsuit, cupped her hand under my puppy’s aforementioned girlie parts. My cute little Rottie let out something between a belch and a growl that only lasted a second, but I felt it resonate all the way up the leash. The judge paused, cocked her head and cupped between Maura’s back legs again. I actually coughed loudly to try and cover up any sound that may come from the puppy’s mouth. The judge looked balefully in my direction and moved on. OK, I thought, onto the obedience ring, where we’d really shine.
Next: obedience: This was my wheelhouse. I had this. Maura was young, but I had lots of time to work with her and she knew her commands. She flew through the easy stuff: Sit, Come and Stay. Then came the off-leash Heel, where she was required to match my pace exactly, turn with me, and sit when I stopped. She did me proud until a full-on fight broke out five feet from us between two Briards. This is a breed that looks much like cousin It from the Addams family: we assume they have eyes but they are hidden behind lots of straight hair. Maura jumped out of the way, but in dog show land, this was no excuse for not staying in formation.
We still had the last obedience exercise to show off: the down-stay. In this exercise, the dogs are lined up about three feet away from each other and asked to lie down by their handlers. Then the handlers leave and helplessly observe from about twenty feet away. My Maura was placed between a mastiff puppy, all floppy legs and heavy head, and a peppy cocker spaniel puppy. The three minute wait is an eternity in the dog show world. Witness what happened during this seemingly brief period: A lab puppy began to whine, and eventually got up and simply left, the handler hustling after the puppy before he got to her car. Another pup, this one a tiny Chihuahua, stood up, walked over to the German Shepherd pup next to her and began to lick the other dog’s ear. The German Shepherd pup groaned happily and laid over on his side. Meanwhile, my puppy was holding her down-stay beautifully until a fly began to buzz around her head. Only I knew that insects of any kind were an intolerable interruption in Maura’s world. Flies must be snapped at repeatedly until caught, chewed, and loudly hacked up onto someone’s shoe. This is exactly what she did, snapping so precisely and with such gusto that the puppies on either side of her began to creep away so that Maura was soon by herself. In spite of her mission to catch, chew and release, she held the down-stay and completed the exercise. We made haste back to the car before the other handlers could run us out of town. Now
I watch the handlers at Westminster and feel their pain. Dog showing is no walk in the park!