Monday, December 18, 2006

Fitchburg Show Photo

This is by far the nicest show photo Dinah has ever taken (thanks to Kathy's expert puppy-wrangling). It isn't the biggest win, but heck -- it's her third point, and she looks lovely. Not a bad way to finish out the year...

Friday, December 08, 2006

First Snow

It never fails. Every single year it snows on the weekend of the Boston shows. Some of my Beardie buddies are showing there and doing very well, but for my part, I'm content just to stay home and keep letting the dogs in and out. It beats the heck out of having to drive the 90-odd miles into the city, fighting insane Mass. drivers who have never seen snow before in their whole lives. Not for me, thanks.

Here's the Lovely One enjoying the weather.

Dinah's in season right now, so it's just as well we're not down there. Kathy made the discovery last weekend at the Fitchburg shows. She was grooming Dinah's back end while I was holding the other end. She asked, "Is Dinah in season?" I replied that I didn't think so, as she'd only been in season about 4 months before. Evidence doesn't lie, though: Kathy held up a rag with blood stains on it. We made sure not to get too close to Trav or the other guys for the rest of the show. Trav had a dream date with another grrrl named Spirit, and Dinah probably served as an inspiration to him. (Turns out Spirit wasn't ready, so they'll try again this weekend.)

Not that being in season has cramped her style any. She had her "glamour makeover" this past week (more on that coming to soon). She also attended Tracy's handling class yesterday, where she served as a distraction training tool for Dan the Flatcoat. Poor Dan had a rough time of it, and shared the wealth with his mom Deb. He kept wiggling and wouldn't stand still, but at least he stopped whining after an hour with Dinah. Maybe after the next couple of lessons (while she's still in season), he'll be used to having a fragrant bitch in season right next to him in the ring. For Dinah's part, she didn't tease him -- but that might be my little challenge as the weeks go on.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Our Semi-Grand Finale

Worcester County KC Shows
12/2: Best of Winners, 1 point
12/3: Reserve Winners Bitch

(show photo to follow)

As finales go, we didn't do too badly. Dinah picked up her third point at the Worcester County shows in Fitchburg, and now we're ready to hibernate for a little while. It would be perfectly fine with me if we didn't see the inside of a show ring again until April, but I've decided to enter the Fitchburg shows in mid-January anyway -- partly to keep in practice, and partly to see how much we can accomplish before Dinah has to compete in Open in the spring.

For a while there, I thought I was the only one who was thrilled to bits at the prospect of not having to show for a good long while. It seems, though, that everybody in my crowd is feeling pretty much the same way. We're all a little burned out after the Springfield shows the previous weekend, and all we want to do is stay at home for a weekend (or a few weekends) and hibernate. I'll still plan to take handling classes just to keep working on my own skills as well.

It's an appropriate time to stay home and away from the shows now, as it turns out. Kathy was grooming Dinah for Saturday's shows when she suddenly asked, "Is Dinah in season?" I replied that that was impossible, since she'd been in season just in August -- and then Kathy held up a towel with blood spots on it. I've been told that if a bitch doesn't ovulate during her first season, that she is likely to come into season again when she does ovulate. Since her mother only comes into season once a year, it remains to be seen whether Dinah will have unusual seasons. I'm a little bummed out at the prospect of her coming into season in June instead of February, though.

One thing I do miss about not handling my own dog in the ring (actually, about having to hide from Dinah while she's being handled in the ring) is that I miss out on some of the ringside conversations and the judges' comments to the other handlers. The owner of the other entry in 12-18 reported back to me that Sunday's judge had looked over Dinah and Cocoa, smiling, and told both handlers that he'd judged Bearded Collies all over the world, but that he'd rarely seen as nice an entry as he'd seen that day in the puppy class. Although I still kind of wish that he'd picked Dinah over Cocoa, commentary like that is absolutely invaluable. I'd show Dinah to him again anytime. He's one of those judges who gives feedback to every individual in his ring, and he obviously loves what he does.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Thank You For Playing Our Game

South Windsor Kennel Club, 11/25 - 1st, 12-18
Springfield Kennel Club, 11/26 - 2nd, 12-18

There are lots of things I truly enjoy about conformation showing. I've run into people I haven't seen in 10 or 15 years. I get to hang out with my friends and their dogs, have some fun at ringside, and maybe go home with a ribbon and/or a point. It also never fails to impress me how easy it is to enter a conformation show. Unlike agility or herding trials that fill up months before the actual event, you can call up the show superintendent the morning of the closing date for a show and still get in. (Okay, invitationals and Westminster don't work exactly that way -- but practically all the other shows do.) Compared to herding trial entries at $60+ a pop, show entries are Bargain City.

All the same, I'm more comfortable doing performance events. When you show in a performance event, of course you can shoot for a placement and High In Trial, but you are mostly competing against yourself. You always hope to qualify, but the better you do, the prouder you can be of achieving a personal best that day. At some trials, everybody qualifies. At some trials, no one does. If you qualify in a performance event, no one else can take the Q away from you. You might not place, but if you qualify, you still win. A CD with three 170 scores is exactly the same as one with three 200 scores -- it's still a CD.

That's the thing about conformation events that I find hardest to adapt to. You can do your very best at everything, from training to conditioning to grooming to presentation -- and still, you can get dumped by a judge who simply likes another dog better than yours on a given day. You can actually lose at dog shows. That's a hard realization if you're not used to it. A couple of my friends have a great phrase they use to describe those days: "Thank you for playing our game."

These Springfield shows were the biggest all-breed shows we've ever entered. It seemed like a good idea at the ime -- majors both days and a chance to see and be seen around Beardie folks who don't normally visit much farther north. A bunch of my friends were going, so there'd be fun and fellowship -- and cider and cranberry bread. There would be lots of vendors, and plenty of shopping for everything from raw knuckle bones to agility equipment. What did we have to lose?

Well, I guess we had the dog shows themselves to lose. Neither of the judges really paid much attention to Dinah this weekend. Dinah herself looked lovely, behaved nicely for Kathy, and moved beautifully in the ring. This happens more often than not at large shows, but I had kind of hoped for at least a glimmer of recognition from either one of them. At least one friend's beautiful little black girl Spirit went Winners Bitch on Friday, and Dinah's buddy Traveler took Best of Breed on Sunday.

Kathy told me afterward, "I'm sorry we couldn't have been more successful." She has nothing to apologize for, though, and neither did we. We acquitted ourselves well enough out there among all the heavy hitters, and some people whose opinions I value got to see the little princess in action. I had kind of dreamed of her getting her first major at this show, but there will be other majors and other shows. Judges who won't put up anyone from the Puppy class aren't that much more likely to do so from the 12-18 class -- so we'll just pay our dues until we move to the Open class.

Next weekend's Fitchburg shows are the last ones for the year -- and for us, for the season. The show season in thsi latitude doesn't really start up again until next spring, except for a couple of shows in the middle of January and February. I'm looking forward to being able to take a break from showing, actually. As fun as it is to go, it can get to be a grind when you're going to a couple of shows a month, leaving four days a month in which to have a home life.

Not that we're going into complete hibernation or anything. Dinah and I can still go to handling classes just to keep in practice. I've also entered Seamus in three rally trials in March and April, so we're shooting for our Advanced title. We have a lot of training to do between now and then, but we're looking forward to it.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Now We Are Two

Kenilworth KC Show, Uncasville, CT 11/5/06

1/BOW/BOS, second point

This weekend's show took place at the Mohegan Sun casino in Uncasville, CT, near New London. I had entered Dinah there with the express purpose of meeting up with a handler who came highly recommended by a friend of mine. Kathy showed a number of my friend Judy's Beardies and finished them. Judy's male wasn't quite ready to be a special yet, so Judy recommended that Kathy and I get together and get Dinah finished in the meantime.

(I am feeling a little funny about going over to the Dark Side of hiring a pro after all my fine owner-hander speeches, but the truth is, I haven't had the heart to show Dinah myself since the National Specialty. More on that when I finally get around to writing about that show.)

Anyway, back to the casino. We navigated the long beltway around the place until we came to the lighted signs directing us to the AKC Load-In area. Anyone wishing to bring show equipment into the casino had to go through a security check at the loading dock. The casino even had teams of people assigned to route people through, and they issued passes good for a certain number of minutes of unloading time.

I called Kathy from the load-in area to let her know we had arrived. Because she had everything she needed except Dinah, she suggested that I just park the car and bring Dinah on the shuttle. We left all of the equipment and the crate in the car, and rode on a shuttle bus from the parking lot to the casino with lots of other dogs and their handlers. Dinah thought that that was just the best part of the adventure. She usually travels in a crate, but she got to sit up on the seat with me and watch everything going on (and say hello to all the other people and dogs).

The bus brought us into the loading area. The grooming areas (such as they were -- good thing this was a small show split over 2 days) were to either side, and the center entrance brought you right into the arena. Judy (the Beardie buddy who introduced me to Kathy) showed there last year, and described it to me as a smaller, cleaner version of Westminster. It had the bright lights, the silent blue carpeting, the banks of arena seats... plus it was much nicer-smelling than Westminster. (I watch that show on TV every year instead of going for a reason -- the air in there is enough to gag a water buffalo!) The people at the check-in tables gave us all colored "hospital bracelets" to wear to signify that we had already checked in at the show, just in case we decided to go gambling in the casino between times in the ring.

Dinah and Kathy hit it off right away. Kathy's a Newfie breeder, and I grew up with Newfies, so we had a lot to chatter about in addition to Beardie stuff. She got Dinah combed and sprayed early, and then spent some time gaiting her and getting used to her. We made a big show of saying goodbye at one of the gates so Dinah could see me leave (but I sneaked behind the big forest of potted plants at the Best In Show display and watched from there. Sadly, no photos -- I'd forgotten the camera in the car, plus I was hiding in the potted jungle the whole time.).

This was Dinah's first entry in the 12-18-month class. She was the only entry, so of course she took First. She then went on to beat the class bitch (a beautiful brown) for WB and BOW. After that, she went BOS in Breed to the male special (who was out there with a very well-known handler, though he wasn't that impressive himself). Dinah got only one point, since there were only four dogs entered, but she did beautifully for Kathy.

I have to mention that the owner of the brown bitch did a very nice and sportsmanlike thing by coming to the show this weekend. Her bitch only needs a major to finish, so she could easily have stayed home and reduced the number of points to zero -- but she didn't. She didn't need the single point, but she came anyway. She had as good a chance to win Breed as any of the rest of us did.

Here's the best part: After I rejoined them outside the ring, Kathy raved about Dinah and then asked me to gait her around so she could see how well Dinah moved. She said, "I couldn't believe how she just floated on the other end of the leash. I had to see it for myself."

I'm not too heartbroken about not taking BOB yesterday. Like Westminster, the club scheduled group judging and BIS for nighttime on the second day of the show, so we would have had to have stuck around there for about 9-10 more hours before getting a few seconds' worth of time on TV and then leaving the show at some ungodly hour. Kathy and I both have day jobs; we were glad we could get out of there early.

Anyway, Dinah now has twice as many points as she did before we went in there, with only 13 to go. Kathy and I are talking about the shows on the weekend after Thanksgiving out in Springfield, MA (November 24-27), and I have a couple of days left to decide what we want to do. It's a 4-day cluster, but I really don't want to show on Friday after driving all over Massachusetts for the Thanksgiving holiday on Thursday -- and I can't imagine who would stick around to show on Monday. Not us folks with jobs, anyway.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Bless Her Pointed Little Head

I know I should be catching up on all of the adventures we had at the Specialties (plus our Puppy group 2), but those stories will have to wait a little while longer. Dinah got her first point today at the Penobscot Valley Kennel Club show, the very last weekend of shows before her first birthday on November 3. Not a bad way to bid farewell to the puppy class.

Except for the Specialties, the majority of shows we've attended this year have had two entries in Beardies: Traveler and Dinah. We've grown used to the drill: Dinah shows, gets Winners in Bitches. Traveler shows, gets Winners in Dogs. Put them together, and Trav gets Best of Breed. Dinah goes Best of Opposite, and sometimes Best Puppy.

As a result, we have loads upon loads of ribbons, but we've never managed to gain any points for any of our wins because we've never defeated another dog before. You need to amass 15 points before your dog can be called a Champion, and the number of ribbons you collect on the way is immaterial.

This weekend, we have one other entry in class Bitches. Her name is Bliss, and her breeder is an old friend of mine. Bliss's owner is a newbie handler like me, though Bliss is an adult and has 11 points toward her championship.

Although some people have stories of taking 6-month-old puppies in the ring and finishing them them in a single weekend, going BOB over hordes of Specials... I don't know anyone who has ever had this happen. In general, I've found judges rather reluctant to put up a puppy over the adults. Since I'm still paying my dues in show-land, I've accepted that as my lot and have just kept plugging on in the puppy class.

My friends whispered to me, "Bliss is nice, but Dinah's nicer." I didn't think too much of it, really, since Dinah is a puppy and Bliss is an adult, and I simply expected that the natural order of things would be the rule again this time.

As it turned out, the judge picked us! Dinah has been out of practice since the Specialty, and was sitting in the ring, acting goofy, and in general not paying much attention to the fact that she was in the show ring. I trotted around the ring, vowing to myself that I would get to those Monday night drop-in handling classes down in York. Imagine my surprise when he pointed to us!

I collected our ribbons and handed them to Traveler's mom so I could go back into the ring for Breed. She exclaimed, "Congratulations! Dinah has her first point!" I couldn't see my own reaction, but my jaw probably dropped open. "She has a what?!"

Of course, tomorrow is another day with another judge -- but no matter how we do, we still have our very first point.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Pictures Now, Stories Later

I'm just so happy that Blogger beta -- while still holding first place as the most crippled piece of blogware on this earth -- has finally fixed its picture loader that I'm going to quickly upload all the show photos now, and will follow up with the tales from the road later on.

First of all, here's Dinah's Best Puppy in Show photo from the Canadian Specialty (photo courtesy of Kathleen Schaffer of Pup Art):

Next, a shot of Dinah in the ring at the Northwest Bearded Collie Club Regional, where she placed 4th in her class (photo by DogHouse Arts):

And finally, a photo of us with our loot after Dinah earned her first herding title at the BCCA National (thanks to Ray Salmon).

There will be stories!

Sunday, September 03, 2006


I just spent hours writing a new blog post detailing our adventures at the BCCC Specialty and at the Mid-Coast KC shows, and either Firefox or Blogger choked on the lot. It's all gone, and I just haven't the intestinal fortitude to redo it just yet.

Anyway, here's the short version: Dinah won Best Puppy in Show (plus first in her class) at the BCCC Specialty, and a Puppy Group 2 plus 1st/BOW/BOS at the Mid-Coast show.

I will probably move this blog to .Mac so this sort of thing doesn't happen again. Thanks a heap, Blogger.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006


We received the judging program for the Specialty yesterday. There are five entries (including Dinah) in the Senior Puppy Bitch class in Sweepstakes. This will be the very first time we've ever been in the ring with any other puppies. I hope we do well!

As for the regular classes, all of the bitch entries have been lumped together. All I know is what time we start, and the rest will be a surprise.

Pssst... Mom just turned her back on the grill. Whaddaya say we make off with the hot dogs while she's not looking? Posted by Picasa

Monday, August 14, 2006

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Go With What You Know

Before I forget, here's a picture of Dinah and me at the Augusta shows. Photo by Fritz Clark, The Standard Image. Both Fritz and the judge, Margaret Cook, showed saintly patience with us while we struggled to get Dinah's head and feet pointing in the right directions. Looks easy, doesn't it?

Dinah's been in season (her first), so we've been staying away from the shows for a while. We can still take lessons, though we're doing private sessions until her season is over.

You'd think that there wouldn't be much to just grabbing a leash and prancing around the ring with a pretty doggie on the other end, wouldn't you? I sure used to think that while watching the shows, either at ringside or on TV... and then I got to try it for myself. Let me just say that I've come away with a whole new appreciation of the handler's craft: it involves making a dog look its best while not appearing to be doing anything. Talented handlers are like stage magicians, allowing a dog's good points to appear and draw the judge's attention while making the not-as-good aspects disappear (or at least fade into the background). It turns out that I have much more to learn than I thought.

I am not a natural athlete. Although I played a couple of sports in high school, I had to work very hard just to be mediocre. Once I get something into muscle memory, though, it stays there, and I can reproduce that action (or sequence of actions) just about exactly the same way over and over again. Until the point where muscle memory takes over, though, I'm awkward and self-conscious about my lack of coordination.

In Dinah's and my first few shows, I've tried my best to apply the things I've learned in our classes. Without muscle memory, though, I've tended to forget parts of the showing routine that she's taught me. Even though we haven't had any competition (so we always get first place), I don't generally walk away from the ring thinking "Gee, that was my best performance yet." I almost always forget something, some detail or action or part of the routine that would have made our presentation so much smoother.

Thanks to Tracy, I had a breakthrough of sorts in how to commit the routine of showing to muscle memory. We were practicing entire routines at once, from entering the gate to standing for exam to the gaiting patterns. Tracy watched how Dinah and I stopped, started, and gaited. "It's just like heeling in obedience," she said. "Lead off with your left foot each time and the rest will fall into place."

It DID! I can't quite explain why that little tiny detail did it for me, but things just seemed to fall into place, and I was able to get us to perform the same way each time we tried. Assuming I don't space it due to performance anxiety, this should make a huge difference in our ring presentation.

I am still reluctant to mess too much with Dinah's feet during stacking. She has a fine sense of balance and usually places her feet right where they should be without any help from the other end of the leash. Any attempt I make to perfect an already well-balanced stance just throws her off balance and makes her wiggle.

A bunch of my Beardie buddies are entering the Fitchburg shows in mid-August, the weekend immediately before the Canadian Specialty. I had argued with myself for weeks over whether to enter Dinah in those shows and finally opted not to, preferring to save my energy and hers for the trip to Ontario. Now that so many of them are planning to show in Fitchburg, I'm waffling again. I have a little less than a week to decide, but the option is still available if I decide to join them all down there. Dinah would be showing in 9-12 Puppy for the very first time -- not that we'll see any more competition in that class than we've seen in 6-9 Puppy, mind you.

The Canadian Specialty will be the site of another debut for both of us. It will be the very first time I've ever shown in any venue in Canada, and you could definitely say the same for Dinah. There, Puppy 9-12 is referred to as Senior Puppy. Because it's a national specialty, we'll definitely have company in the Senior Puppy ring for the first time since we started the whole beauty-contest game. I'm likely to be the only newbie handler there, but it will be fun to see all the other puppies of Dinah's age. The judge is English, which is a break for me; she won't want to see the Beardies all teased and clipped, and I don't know how to do any of that stuff anyway.

Friday, July 14, 2006

What About BOB?!

(Dinah says, "Yeah. What about it?")

We drove up to the Lakes Region KC's show yesterday figuring that we'd probably go BOS to the male special who was entered, just as we did to Trav at the Augusta shows. No points, but brags are worth something too.

Imagine our surprise when we discovered that the special had not checked in, leaving Dinah as the sole representative of Bearded Collie-dom for the whole show! You might call it the fast track to Best of Breed.

The breed judge, Joseph Gregory, was lovely. He's judging herding breeds (including Beardies) at Westminster next year. He appeared to like Dinah, and might even have picked her if we'd had any competition. At least he didn't laugh too hard when I looked at the BOB ribbon and said, "Wow. Our first trip to Group." He was gracious and patient as we wrestled for another goofy show photo. Two handlers, Greg, the judge, the photographer, and I all struggled to get Dinah into position and looking like a show dog. Guess we'll find out how that went when the photos arrive.

Wish the weather had cooperated a little better for him, poor man. The grooming area was covered by a huge series of tents, but the rings were all exposed to the elements -- and there were some elements, believe me! That poor judge, in his nice suit, had to judge a gazillion junior handlers in a downpour.

Up until now, we've been done showing for the day as soon as breed judging is finished. This time, we had to wait from 10:15 in the morning until 1:45 PM, when the breed judging commenced -- and did I mention that Herding was the last group to show? By the time we got around to actual Group judging, the downpour had ended and the summer heat had started to return to the fairgrounds. Pounding sun is not kind to little black puppies, so I kept Dinah in the shade as much as possible.

Our first trip into Group was quite the different experience, but fun. In Group, dogs enter the ring roughly from fastest to slowest. As the only puppy in the lot, we ended up third from the last, after the Malinois and in front of the Corgis. The Group judge, Linda More, took quite a bit of time to look Dinah over, and watched us carefully as we gaited. She didn't pick us over the adults with clean feet, but I think she liked us more than I expected she would. The two stewards were friends of mine, and they made quite a bit of noise applauding as we circled the ring. I think it helped to have our fans there, too.

Anyway, we brought home our sleepy puppy and our collection of ribbons, and called it a good day's work. Whether or not she had to beat anybody to get there, we're proud of our little Best of Breed puppy. She might end up going around the Group rings more often in the not-too-distant future.

This was our last show for about a month or so. Dinah appears to be starting her first season, and we aren't entered in anything else until the Canadian National in August.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Stacking 101

Now that Dinah's eight months old and we have a few shows' worth of experience, Tracy has started to expect more from us in our handling classes. We started out with just standing up (as opposed to sitting in the mud), and have progressed to a little more self-stacking with attention work. Just as we're beginning to get used to self-stacking, Tracy is moving us on to actual stacking and placing of the dogs' feet.

This lesson comes just in time. Dinah's last show photo was 80% WWF wrestling match, 20% photo shoot. Although I've been handling her feet since I brought her home, she didn't take too kindly to my messing with them in an unfamiliar place, in front of a bunch of people she hadn't met before. After considerable squeaking and tossing of toys and other distractions, the photographer managed to get a reasonable shot of Dinah with four on the floor and the very-patient judge smiling.

Dinah hasn't been enjoying these stacking lessons. Part of it is due to my technique, I'm sure. She allows me to place her feet, but she dances and wiggles. Tracy showed me how to hold Dinah's head (by a handful of Beardie beard) so I could better control her. If we practice this, it might work someday. Dinah is not a big fan, however. I think Tracy thinks she's a spoiled brat. That might be true, but Dinah does learn when she's shown what is expected of her.

The other technique, which I have to UN-learn, involves how much I talk to my dog. I'm still operating in puppy kindergarten, where chattering to your dog is expected, and where you praise for every little thing. Tracy made me realize just how much I yammer to Dinah, and I'm trying to cut down on the chatter a little so she'll listen to me when I do speak to her.

Our next show is the Lakes Region Kennel Club show next week. There are only two Beardies entered, and Dinah is the only class dog (the other is a male special). I guess we're on the fast track to BOW/BOS again. No points, but no complaints either -- we enjoy bragging rights.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Horseshoes and Hand Grenades

North Shore Kennel Club and Middlesex County Kennel Club, June 16-18

You've heard that old saw before about how almost doesn't count except... yadda yadda yadda. That's also true in dog show-land, but sometimes "almost" can really give you hope.

Since the last post, we've been out showing for the past two weekends. We attended all three days at the Topsfield shows June 16-18, and went right out again last weekend to the Augusta show on the 25th. Dinah took home the firsts in her class every time (since we were the only entry), but there really is more to tell.

The Topsfield shows had a respectably-sized entry for a show in this area: 10-12 Beardies overall, 3-4 specials. Of course we didn't do anything in Bitches with the older dogs and the professional handlers, but Saturday's judge gave us a reallllly long look. For one brief moment, I honestly thought she was going to put Dinah up over the adult bitches. She ended up picking two of the older dogs, but I had a Sally Field moment there: "She likes us! She really likes us!" At minimum, we should plan to show under this judge when Dinah's a little older and my handling skills have improved. My spies at ringside told me that Dinah moved beautifully, and looked better than just about all of the adult dogs out there. We're just still paying our puppy dues.

Dog shows seem to bring out old friends whom I haven't seen in years. In my early days in Beardies, the local Beardie club in Massachusetts was large and active, with a strong and congenial presence at the local shows. Most people showed in conformation, and only a couple did any sort of performance events. By the time I became active in performance, the old gang had pretty much dispersed, and the new gang underwent a series of changes. The new gang, for the most part, didn't do any sort of events with their dogs, but they did throw wonderful get-togethers (and still do) a few times a year.

Anyway, the old gang still shows in conformation, so I've been running into people whom I haven't seen in 15 years. They're showing the grandpups and great-grandpups of dogs I knew back in the day, but it seems as though we've all just picked back up where we left off 15 years ago. Funny how time passes, and yet it doesn't.

Central Maine Kennel Club, June 25

We entered only one day of the Augusta shows last weekend because Seamus and I had rally business on the other day. (Post coming to Greetings from Blogdog soon.) The only two Beardies entered in the show were my friend Val's Traveler (Tolkien Haven of Eldar) and Dinah. Trav was there to gain some experience in the group ring, now that he's one three-point major away from finishing his championship. (He got the other major at Topsfield, under the judge who liked Dinah so much.)

This show was held in the Augusta Civic Center, and it was Dinah's first indoor show. I wondered how she'd adapt to the noisy atmosphere indoors and the strange surfaces on the floor (i.e., not dirt or grass). The small entry helped keep the racket to a minimum, but the smells in the carpeting and on the rubber matting provided some new distractions we hadn't encountered before. Dinah stopped to sniff one particular spot in the ring, and not even the presence of her sweetie Traveler in the ring could distract her.

Because we were the only bitch entry, we ended up with first in her group, Winners Bitch, and Best of Opposite to Trav. The judge did compliment us with a "nicely done", so I like to think we earned our ribbons (even though all we had to do was show up).

Goofy new puppy parent that I am, I just had to have a picture takens with the judge. This was Dinah's first BOS at the age of 7 months, after all.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Getting to Second Grade

Our handling classes have become much more detail-oriented, now that we've survived our first two shows and have learned the basics of how to get into the ring and go around it. Tracy is attempting to refine our technique and get us past some of our newbie habits. If all goes as planned, we might not always look like the world's goofiest amateurs out in the ring.

First objective: Get Dinah to remain standing and "at work" for the whole show experience, both in the ring and while waiting. Tracy had me correct her when she attempted to sit, which made Dinah wiggle and rebel until she decided that she could live with the idea. We've also made our first progress toward free-baiting, which pleases me because we can both stand up straight and look confident for the judge. If we practice, someday I won't have to hold her up to keep her out of the dirt while the judge is examining her.

I'm sure going to miss Dinah's puppy coat when it grows out, though. It rarely mats and is a dream to groom. I half feel guilty at the shows, watching Val and Pat work for ages to get Traveler to look "just so," and finishing up Dinah with one flourish of the brush and a couple of squirts of water mist. When Dinah's adolescent coat comes in and I'm up half the night taming mats, I'll look on these days with longing.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

The Mud Bowl

Vacationland Dog Club shows, 5/20 and 5/21/06
1st in 6-9 Puppy, RWB

Note to self: Never wear a skirt suit to an outdoor show the week after 17" of rain falls on the show site. Oh, and while you're at it, test the panty hose you plan to wear to make sure the elastic's not shot on them first. That way, the pair you wear won't slip down your body while you're showing and threaten to land in the mud at your ankles.

Despite a wardrobe malfunction waiting to happen, we really did have a good time at the vacationland shows. My friend Val referred to the event as "The Mud Bowl," and the name will probably stick. Some year it's going to be 85 degrees and bone-dry at that event, and it'll still be called the Mud Bowl. (Hey, where else can the grooming tent be considered "waterfront property"??)

Look closely at my legs in the closeup shot of Dinah being prepared to be set up for judging. They are spattered with mud from ankle to knee. (It was windy. Her coat looked fine when the judge went over her.) As I mentioned, we've had something like 17" of rain within the past week, so the show grounds were swampy and all of the rings were half under water. A few people slipped and fell, and some lost shoes while going around the ring. I managed to keep both my shoes, but my muddy pantyhose started slipping downward, and I thought I would lose them if we'd had to go around once more. (The vendor selling rubber clogs and wellies sold out completely by Sunday afternoon.) Good thing I have a puppy who loves mud, and who didn't decide to show that love by rolling in it!! (Lesson learned: I wore brown trousers and Bean boots today.)

Anyway, I'm proud to announce that Dinah took firsts in her class and Reserves both days. She didn't get Best Beardie Puppy on Saturday -- an older male puppy with a professional handler did -- but she did beautifully, and the fans at ringside said that she looked as though she knew precisely what she was out there to do. Both judges were lovely, but Sunday's judge made a point of telling me what a nice puppy I have. That made me happy. There were a few old-timers at ringside whom I've known since I started in Beardies, and they said she looked wonderful and behaved beautifully.

I think what tickled me most is that a couple of nice owner-handlers from Massachusetts (they have mother and son, and the mother is from Charlotte Laning) went over Dinah with me after today's showing was over. (The husband was handling the mother, and she took breed over all of the pros. We were all overjoyed!) Anyway, they were really impressed by the depth and width of Dinah's chest and her nice tail set, as well as her overall structure -- so we know she's growing up nicely. The wife finished by telling me that I would definitely be successful with her, and gave me a Facts of Life-type talk about politics in the ring. I'm happy and impressed that she thinks enough of Dinah to be warning me about the poor sports already. I've always known that Dinah's a really good specimen, but she might actually be a really great one if I don't hold her back.

I'm not yet sure when our next show will be. Val says that the Saturday judge at Topsfield in mid-June is very nice and knows Beardies. I'd also like to go to the Augusta show on June 25, but I have Seamus entered in a rally trial in Massachusetts the day before. It all comes down to how many miles I'm willing to drive, I guess.

Is It Plagiarism If You Steal From Yourself?

I posted the following to the ShowBeardies email list a little while ago, in response to a discussion about professional handlers vs. owner-handlers...


Thanks for having this discussion, warts and all. It helps to know I'm
not alone, and that other people feel just as daunted by the prospect
of being an owner-handler in a world of pros. My puppy is great in the
ring; her owner's the one who's naughty. :-)

I'm all too painfully aware of my newbieness in the conformation ring,
and I worry that I'll actually be a handicap to my dog. I don't know
the least thing about chalk, trimming, Dippity-Do, or how people
manage to stay clean and well-organized when they have to show in
skirts. I don't mind telling you that I'd rather be herding in the
rain in 2" of mud than loping around the ring with the professionals
on my heels.

There is an upside, though. I like hanging out with my buddies at
ringside, and they've been really helpful and reassuring. Not only
that, but entries in 6-9 Puppy are cheaper than my handling classes,
and we get to bring home some really nice souvenirs. Who knows? Maybe
we'll both enjoy this sport when we've been around enough to get used
to it.

Till then, though, just the prospect of having to go compete for
majors someday makes me want to crawl back into bed and pull the
covers up over my head. I know when I'm in my element, and I guess my
element is Mud.

Friday, May 19, 2006

It's Showtime!

York County Kennel Club of Maine, 5/7/06

After finishing Seamus's RN title the day before at this show, I came to the Sunday half of the show with a carload of equipment, a snappy new suit, a freshly cleaned puppy, and more than a little trepidation. For years I'd snickered at conformation as a dog sport. It didn't require any real skill, right? All you did was dress up and trot around the ring, and the judge picked the handler -- er, I mean picked the dog. It struck me as more like buying lottery tickets, only you had to run around.

As I pulled my show-crap-filled car into the parking lot, it hit me that I'd never needed even remotely this amount of stuff to go out and do performance events. Maybe there was more to this conformation stuff than I thought -- and what if I had all the wrong stuff?

Dinah and I had had to arrive at the show site at approximately oh-dark-hundred that morning. I'd volunteered to help by stewarding in the obedience trial, and I'd been assured that I'd be able to finish up there in plenty of time to show Dinah.

Fast-forward to after the obedience trial. Dinah and I walked around the show grounds so she could see what was going on. She never showed the slightest sign of fear or even nervousness (unlike her owner). She just took everything in, and rested peaceably in her crate when we weren't walking.

My Beardie buddies had set up in one of the grooming areas closest to our ring. Bless their hearts, they'd saved space for me to set up my grooming table and Dinah's crate. They groomed, I brushed the wood shavings out of Dinah's butt-fur, and we all chattered until...


Since we were the only puppy entry in Bitches, we watched the dog judging (one dog in Open, one in Bred-By)... and then it was our turn! All those weeks and months of worrying, and now it was down to this! I led Dinah into the ring and stammered, "This is our first time in this ring." The judge smiled, replied "Me, too," (he was kidding -- the guy's judged Beardies in the past), and asked us to go around the ring to our judging position. In the back of my head, I heard Tracy's voice say, "Thumbs up!" We loped around the ring, and neither of us tripped the other.

I must admit that I'm very proud of my little Dinah-mo. She never sat down in the ring, she remained alert and focused the whole time, and she let the nice judge examine her teeth without wiggling, jumping up on him, or rolling over on her back. We gaited, we did our circuit of the ring, and we cruised to a halt in front of him.

"First," he said. Of course, we were the only entry in the class, so there wasn't much we could have done to not take first, but hey... a blue ribbon is a blue ribbon, and it was Dinah's first.

We didn't place at all in bitch judging, but I didn't care. I'd survived our first time in the show ring! We could brag to our breeder and the owner of Dinah's litter sister. Best of all, it was over!

Girl Clothes

Two Days Until Showtime

So why is it that most decent outfits don't have any pockets on them whatsoever? Do clothing makers assume that women always have their purses with them? They obviously don't design clothes for women who go to dog shows.

After pawing through my wardrobe of rarely-worn "nice" clothes, I discovered that not a single outfit had a pocket anywhere -- and that the only clothes that actually fit me were either black (which meant they'd blend in with Dinah's coat) or too casual for dog show use. There remained only one solution: Mercantile Therapy.

Shopping malls were gobs of fun when my sister and I were growing up. Our little town didn't offer much in the way of entertainment, but as soon as I had a driver's license, she and I would head off to the nearest shopping malls. We ate Food Court food, bought stuff (or didn't), chatted up guys in the record store, and wandered around for hours looking at everything and nothing. That was a blast, compared to what we would have been doing at home.

It's been a long time since I've regarded shopping malls as fun. Maybe my regular life is more exciting, or maybe my tolerance for Orange Julius has decreased over the intervening years. Whatever the reason, my main objective upon entering a shopping mall is to exit again as soon as possible, preferably with the object of the search nestled in a bag in my left hand.

Since there was nothing else for it, I marched myself into Macy's with my goal firmly in mind: to find the one suitable suit in the store and to walk out with it again in as short a time as possible.

This task proved to be a tad more difficult than first imagined. For one thing, I'd managed to parlay the classic "newlywed's 20" into another dress size, and I was appalled that I would have to shop in the (gasp) women's section. In addition, all the nice suits were black, and the rest didn't have pockets. I admired a fancy-looking red suit with a skirt and wondered how much it would detract from the overall presentation if I simply went into the ring with a hot dog dangling from my neck.

"May I help you find something?" My savior arrived in the person of Kathy, a chipper Macy's saleslady who had been hanging new suits on racks as she watched me frantically speed-examining every outfit in her department. A little breathlessly, I replied, "I-need-a-suit-with-pockets-that-isn't-black-and-it-preferably-has-pants-but-skirts-are-okay-cause-I-gotta-wear-it-in-a-dog-show..."

Kathy probably deals with a lot of this in her job. She smiled and practially led me by the hand on a much slower tour of the department. She lifted a garment, we'd examine it for pockets, and then reluctantly let it drop back into place on the rack.

Eventually, she selected a rather fetching off-white jacket with gray and taupe pinstripes and a coordinating cocoa-brown pair of trousers -- the only pair of its kind in the department. Miracle of miracles, the thing fit me perfectly. I offered up a chorus of thanks and hallelujahs to Kathy, and then sprinted for the car.

Note to self: On some non-show weekend, do some reconnaissance and buy everything that has pockets.

Thumbs Up!

Our final class before the first show was both a hopeful sign and cause for dread. Dinah still sat at the end of every circuit and whenever her body wasn't being held up with one hand while the other hand held up her head with the leash.

At least we seemed to be making some progress overall. Tracy, always encouraging, made suggestions on finer points of technique and exhorted us to keep our thumbs up whenever we were in motion. Nothing we were doing had exactly become second nature yet, but it did seem like a teensy bit less of a struggle.

I have to admit to a little frisson of dread when Tracy said she'd be attending the shows. If I screwed up badly, I sure as heck didn't want an audience.

Handling Classes

If I plan to do anything with this dog show game, I'll have to learn some techniques. To that end, I've started taking private or semi-private lessons with Tracy over at .

Like most people in the dog fancy, Tracy's a morning person. I have no idea how she manages to be so chipper while the clock is still showing single digits.

Our first private lesson wasn't exactly a disaster, but we weren't exactly ready to take on Westminster, either. Sue and I had joked in puppy class about Dinah's insistence on heeling on my right. "It had to be because they drive on the wrong side of the road where she comes from." I'd made some headway working with her and luring her along on my left side with a treat. At handling class, though, Dinah kept wiggling and crossing into my path to get to my right side.

Standing for exam was more "pick her up off the ground and hold her up for exam." Dinah's generally eager to please, but she definitely didn't think much of this new game. At least she had fun circling our "ring" a few times. As for me, my back ached from running half bent over.

There's so much to remember between where to hold the leash and when, how to keep one's distance, when to present a profile after going down and backm how to hold a wiggly puppy still for the exam, and so on. I'm not coordinated on a good day and I stink at memorizing stuff on the fly and under pressure.

Our first few sessions were private -- just Tracy, Dinah, and me. As the time for our first show grew nearer, though, Tracy had me switch our lesson time to an even earlier slot so we could practice working with another dog/handler team.

We were introduced to Deb and Ruckus. Ruckus is a Flat-Coated Retriever puppy, somewhere around a year or 18 months old. Deb has another Flatcoat, Dan, who is currently being shown by a handler... but she decided to take Ruckus in herself, and so she's really just as much of a newbie in the ring as I am. She's far better coordinated than I am, though, and her puppy is older. He's taller, too, so she gets to stand straight up.

Of course, Dinah and Ruckus wanted to play immediately, but Deb and I had to squelch that. Much as we'd love to let these two play, we don't want them to think that they're able to play with the other puppies in the ring. (Of course, since we're the only entry in 6-9 Puppy and she and Ruckus are the only entry in Flatcoats, it might be a while before we actually have to worry about company in the ring.)

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Registry Roulette

I felt considerable trepidation when I first joined the ShowBeardies list. I was sure to be out of my league, surrounded by long-time competitors who could barely suppress snickers at the silly questions of trembling newbies. I couldn't have been more wrong.

Both Seamus's and Dinah's breeders are on the lists, as well as the breeder of Duncan and Doogie's father (whose dogs I have admired for a very, very, very long time). The breeder who owns Seamus's father (and who imported him from Germany 12 years ago) has not only been very helpful, but also has been sending me pictures of Dazs and other dogs in the "family."

I had first posted to the list to ask about registering Dinah in Canada, and to answer another question about Canadian microchips because I'd just called CKC about that very subject. Dinah is microchipped, but the chip used here in the US is not acceptable as a permanent form of ID in Canada because it doesn't conform to the ISO standard. This means that in order to register her in Canada, I would either have to drive the 4 hours to Montreal to get a second chip implanted, or have her tattooed.

Turns out that there is a second type of registration you can use if you and your dog live outside of Canada, but you want to show and earn titles there. It's called an Event Registration Number, or ERN. The ERN does not have the same ID requirements as "regular" registration, though it does have its limitations. If your dog whelps in Canada, the puppies are not automatically CKC registrable. (If they're born in the US, they can be registered.) Also, the Canadian titles don't automatically appear on their pedigrees. Since I'm not planning to breed Dinah for a long while if at all, the ERN will suit our purposes just fine.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Official Show Dog 'n' Everything

Dinah's AKC registration arrived yesterday, in spite of Now that the little Princess from Wales is officially a resident alien, it's time to enter her in a couple of local shows.

I've chosen the the first weekend in May for the maiden voyage of the USS Dog Show Newbie. YCKC is my local kennel club, so the folks will be congenial and the site is close by. It's also not a huge show with majors in all breeds, so I won't have to worry about being run into the corners by the ultra-competitive types and the professional handlers. Last year, the weather was so horrible on the weekend of the show that only two Beardies showed up at all, so there weren't any points available to fight over anyway.

I have to steward in the obedience ring that day too, so who knows how that whole adventure will work out? Anyway, we'll have a cheering section. (I'm showing Seamus in Rally at this show on the Saturday, and Dinah makes her breed ring debut on Sunday.)

Tracy at offers private handling lessons on Fridays, so I've signed us up for a couple of Fridays in April. We won't have had extensive experience by the time we hit the ring, but hopefully we'll have enough to make a halfway respectable showing.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Help Is On the Way?

Even though I haven't yet started posting regularly to this blog, a great deal has been going on behind the scenes. Dinah's UK registration and export pedigree finally arrived, so I was able to ship copies to AKC. I'm now awaiting her AKC registration so I can start entering her in shows. With luck, her ring debut will be on the first weekend of May at the York County show. With even more luck, Seamus and I will have finished his RN before then, so I can concentrate on one dog at a time.

I've also inquired with a local trainer about Show Handling for Dummies. Although she isn't offering group lessons at the moment, she can sneak us in for some private lessons on Fridays. When my work schedule frees up more, I'll take her up on that.

I also sucked up my trepidation and joined the ShowBeardies email list. Don't get me wrong -- some of my dearest friends are show people -- but I'm feeling distinctly out of my element here. Another herding buddy gave me the name of a decent handler if I chicken out.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

What Am I Doing Here, and What Am I In For?

I've been "in Beardies" since 1989, the year my first Beardie was born. Merlin was a show-quality puppy who just didn't like being shown, and my ex handled him in the ring. In his short career, he took one placement: a third at the Ladies' Dog Club show. I've had a soft spot in my heart for that club and that show ever since.

In the years since then, though, I've had mostly rescued and rehomed dogs, and took up performance events with them (particularly Duncan, Charlie, and Seamus). Watching all the sniping, backstabbing, and bad feelings emanating from the conformation ring, I felt secure in my assertion that the dirtier you get in a dog sport, the nicer the people are. A certain camaraderie develops at an event when you and everyone around you is ankle-deep in mud and sheep poo in the midst of a blinding downpour. Herding trials, like Broadway shows, definitely embody the saying "The show must go on."

So here I am, seven Beardies later, and I've actually agreed to take Beardie #8 into the show ring. Yikes! Was I drunk when I agreed to put on dressy clothes and makeup and trot around the ring with all the high-powered professional handlers? I'm not a competitive person. They'll eat me alive! Why, oh why, did I sign myself up for that kind of punishment when I could be happily loping around the agility ring in my jeans and sneakers?

Here's the answer: Beardie #8.

Meet Dinah, Breaksea November Storm. Not only is she my very first girl after years of Beardie boys, but she's also my very first UK import and my first show prospect. This little missy, even as a tiny puppy, already showed the kind of charisma and fearless attitude that fairly shouts "Look at me!" How could I not want to take her out and show her off?

Anyway, I decided to start this blog because everyone loves a fish-out-of-water story, and this one is mine. Maybe, if we do well in the ring against all the sharks out there, it might inspire some other timid, non-competitive soul to pick up the show lead and come out and join us. We'd sure be glad for the company.