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.

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