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.)