Friday, December 07, 2007

Newbie's-Eye View: Welcome to the Show!

My friend Tracey is probably the closest thing I have to a mentor in the . I'd joined the club shortly after I acquired my first (and thus far, only) show dog, figuring that the best way to understand how shows work is to get inside the machine and help run it. She has patiently explained all manner of things to me over the past couple of years, from the history of the club to the joys of finding a show sponsor.

While I rode down to the show this morning, I emailed her to tell her where I was going and what I was up to. She responded, "If you haven't been there before, you are in for such a treat!"

She's right -- and if you haven't been to the cluster before, you're also in for a treat. You're even luckier if you're going to the show on Saturday or Sunday, because all the best spectator events and exhibits are happening at the weekend shows!

So Where Do I Start?

Once you enter the show through the lobby, the first thing you should do is to look to your left and greet the nice club members sitting at the table with the show programs. The programs contain just about everything you might want to know about events at the show, including a map of the area, listings of all of the exhibits and demos and their times and locations, and extensive listings of all of the dogs showing in the breed, obedience and rally rings -- plus where and when each of them is showing. If you're here to see a particular breed or event, you'll want to dog-ear the Index of Breeds page near the front of the program and refer to it often.

It's not mandatory that one buy a program at a dog show -- there have been many shows where I've forgotten or haven't had time -- but the monies raised by program sales go back to the clubs to help them fund other activities -- such as the next dog show. Buy a program from the club table and consider it a good-karma donation. You'll make good use of the information it contains.

Next, locate the map in your show program. (I have the Friday program, and they all vary slightly, so sorry that I can't give you exact page numbers.) Dog-ear that page, too.

Look on the left page of the map, where it says Hall A. If you haven't strayed too far from the club table yet, you're already in Hall A.

Stuff You Need

The very first place you'll want to go is to the Pedigree booth. The nice folks at Pedigree have a huge black-and-yellow booth you can't miss, and the booth features all sorts of nifty things such as the computerized Dog Breed Finder. If you're wondering which breed of dog might be a good match for your household, give it a try.

I asked one of the women running the booth what sorts of questions the Pedigree folks were getting from newbie visitors to the show. She replied that many people ask about adoption, since Pedigree sponsors the Adoption Drive. (I can't even look at those commercials without sniffling every single time. I always want to pick all the dogs who say, "Pick me!".) She went on to say that many people also asked about canine nutrition and about selecting the right breed of dog for one's household.

The Pedigree booth hands out beautiful, ginormous plastic bags with some samples of their products inside. If you're planning to do any shopping at the show or pick up any literature, you'll be very, very glad you visited Pedigree first. (My three dogs were thrilled that I visited Pedigree first. The bag I received had samples of their products, including Marrobone biscuits -- a long-time major-league favorite in our household. When I brought my bag home tonight, my entire four-legged fan club mobbed the bag and demanded that I release the Marrobones held captive inside.)

Got your bag? Good. The next place you should go is to visit the booth not too far from the Pedigree booth. No matter what you'd like to know about purebred dogs, dog sports, show rules, laws affecting dog ownership, how to get started in dog showing, or dog events for kids, the AKC is your resource. The booth has the Beginner's Guide to Dog Shows, which explains a lot of the terminology and how dog shows work. This Guide might be useful for decoding some of the language in your show program (plus there's a picture of Beardies in the show ring on page 13!). The AKC booth also has Getting Started brochures on a variety of topics, coloring books for the kids, and publications covering almost any dog-related topic plus AKC magnets, bags, poop-bag carriers, pins, and a variety of stuff for sale. there's so much information available at the AKC booth that you're going to be very glad you stopped at the Pedigree booth first for one of their bags!

I was able to visit for a bit with Lisa Peterson, the AKC's Director of Club Communications. Lisa writes the Ask AKC column in the . She generously loaded my hands with copies of all of the introductory brochures AKC had available for newbies, including the Beginner's Guide I just mentioned. She'll be able to answer questions you might have on just about any dog-related topic. Tell her I said hi!

(Silly me -- only after we talked, and after I came home and went to the , did I realize that her breed is Norwegian Elkhounds. My uncle and cousin showed Elkhounds for years, and my cousin is still a head honcho in Elkhound circles -- I believe she's held office in both the parent club and in the Norwegian Elkhound Minutemen Association.)

Okay, I Have My Bag and My Information. Now What?

Still with me? Now it's time to go off and enjoy the show! Here's just a partial list of the things you can see and do at the Bay Colony Dog Show while you're there:

Find out where and when the Meet the Breeds exhibit will be. The booths will be staffed by various breeds of dogs and their people, and the people will be happy to answer any questions you might have about their breeds -- plus you get to visit with some beautiful dogs! If you're looking for a particular breed or type of dog, or if the Pedigree Breed Finder turned up a breed you might not have considered before, but might be a good match, this is your chance to go and meet some representatives of that breed.

Go watch the agility trial. Agility is a fast, exciting dog sport, and it's almost as fun to watch as it is to participate. This is a can't-miss!

Go shopping. Oh, the shopping! If there are dog lovers on your Christmas list -- or if there are dogs on your list -- you'll be able to find something for everybody at the many booths around the show. I indulged in a bit of "mercantile therapy" and crossed a few names off my shopping list while I was there.

Definitely go visit the public education booths in Hall D -- you can find them against the wall with blue backdrops. You can visit with various representatives from breed rescues and get to meet some rescue dogs -- especially little Denver the Old English Sheepdog puppy, his mom Martine, and Grannie Annie from New England Old English Sheepdog Rescue. There are also two lovely Great Pyrenees who are Delta Society-certified therapy dogs, a beautiful lurcher (greyhound mix) who looks as though she stepped right off a medieval tapestry, several lovable Goldens, and a group of 4-Hers who are raising funds to help victims of the California wildfires.

While you're at that end of the building, watch some of the obedience and rally trials. Some of those dog and handler teams make the sports look easy, but trust me -- a lot of work went into looking that smooth.

If you're at the show on Saturday, try to see the Rescue Parade in Ring 14 at 1 PM. Little Denver the Sheepdog will be there along with some of the other rescues from the booths, and the MC for the parade is none other than the . Ask Dog Lady is a hilarious question-and answer Web site about dogs, life with dogs, and suchlike. I'm just sorry I missed her by coming down on Friday. Enjoy the festivities for me!

And of course, check your program and go cheer on your favorites in the breed rings!

All Right, Already. Can We Go Watch the Show Now?

Sure. Just a few things about watching the conformation showing, and I'll let you go.

Remember that Index of Breeds page in your program, the one I suggested you dog-ear so you could find it again quickly? The few pages immediately after it in your program are what's called the Judging Program -- and they're intended to let you know where and when a certain breed is showing, how many dogs of different breeds are showing before and after that breed in the same ring, and the name of the judge.

A note about times in dog-show programs: All of the ring times you see are start times for everything happening in that ring, not just the one breed you might be looking up in the judging program. For example, suppose that you come to the show on Sunday to see the Miniature Poodles. You check your judging program and see that they're on in Ring 10 at 10:30 AM, so you hustle on over to Ring 10 and you see Silky Terriers in the ring, not Miniature Poodles. Don't worry -- just recheck your judging program. 10:30 is the start time for the ring, but after the judge is done with the Silky Terriers, he has Shih Tzus and Yorkshire Terriers to judge before your beloved Miniature Poodles come into the ring. Just wait; they'll come.

When the Mini Poodles come into the ring, flip the pages in your program until you come to the Non-Sporting Group breeds. In a show program, the breeds are listed in alphabetical order within their respective groups. Under each breed listing is a list of all of the dogs in that breed who are entered at the show. You can identify which one is which by the handler's armband number. Boys show first, then girls, then Best of Breed.

Well, I've talked enough, and you now know what you need to know to get started. Go have fun and enjoy the show!

Later on, I'll post a chronicle of my own adventures at the show. There's just so much to say, but you go have your own adventures first. We can talk about mine later.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Newbies on the Road!

Yes, I know I haven't finished my post about Thanksgiving weekend, but I'm still not feeling too terribly thankful about it. I promise I'll get there. Let's just say that as season finales go, ours ranks down there with the last episode of "The Sopranos," only Tony at least got some crummy onion rings before the lights went out.

Anyway... A couple of weeks ago, I received an email from Julie Dennehy, the principal PR person for the . Turns out she reads this blog, and was wondering if I would like to attend the show and blog about it from the newbie's-eye view. (Hi, Julie!) The resulting article will appear here on Dog Show Newbie, and there'll be links to it from the Bay Colony Web site.

I thought about Julie's invitation for a few minutes, and then fired back a reply: "Weather permitting, count me in!". Julie mentioned that there would be a photojournalist from one of the South Shore papers down there taking candids, and that the members of the Ladies' Dog Club (hosts of the Friday show, which is the one I chose to cover) were wonderful to work with. We swapped phone numbers and contact information, and we're looking forward to meeting up down there at the club table.

(I might have mentioned that I've always had a soft spot in my shriveled little heart for the Ladies' Dog Club, ever since my very first Beardie got his first placement at one of their shows when he was a puppy. Dinah and I had a great time at their shows in Wrentham this past year, too.)

The next thing I did was ping Kathy, who asked, "So do you think you're going to do it?" I responded that I would, if Mother Nature made it possible.

Anyway, I'm looking forward to my very first blog post as a member of the (cough) press! If you go to the show, or if you just enjoy it vicariously through my blog post, please ping Julie and let her know. If she gets a positive response, this could be the start of a pretty nifty tradition!

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Fun With Google

really should work for Google. I don't know anyone who makes as much use of Google's ever-increasing array of online tools, or who gets so much out of them. Dale's the one who introduced me to , and now I can't stop going to that site and reading my site statistics.

For a long time, I thought that no one (except maybe Jana, who owns Dinah's litter sister Buffy) read my blog, Okay, Jana and Dale. Maybe Sue, too. Oh, and Kathy, of course. I didn't think I had much of an audience. After all, my was twice as high in the Technorati ratings, and people left comments all the time.

Then I started reading Google Analytics. It turns out that this little blog has a small but devoted international following, and it's beginning to draw more readers than my other blog. What a surprise! Although my local friends and our faithful fans/family in the Czech Republic always rank #1 and #2 in visits, people are reading this blog from Turku, Nicosia, Managua, Cebu, Melbourne, and other corners of the globe. The globe, as it turns out, has a lot of corners!

The thing I found truly amusing, though, is the list of search phrases that people use in search engines in order to reach my blog. "Muddy pantyhose" always ends up in the top 10, even though I wore pantyhose to one show once back in May of 2006. The fun never stops! A lot of the inquiries -- maybe even most of the inquiries -- must come from people who also call themselves Dog Show Newbies. I get lots of inquiries about handling classes, stacking dogs, recipes for show bait, and the general "dog showing 101," "dog shows for dummies," and "beginning dog shows" type queries. Here are a few of my favorites from the past month, though (aside from the perennial favorite "muddy pantyhose," which again finished way up there):

compliments for a dog show handler
does Joseph Gregory judge dog shows in Canada?
exquisitely bitches (please tell me this one was for dogs...!)
it is plagiarism if you steal from yourself?
when does a collie dog go into season?
biggest butt photo (somehow, I don't think this one is for dogs...)

You do wonder sometimes what folks have in mind when they're entering the less obvious search strings. Maybe I'm best off not knowing why "muddy pantyhose" is so popular.

Note To Self: Pack Dog's Brain Next Time

Farmington Valley Kennel Club, 11/3/07: 1st, RWB

It rarely pays to get too cocky when it comes to dog showing. Just because your dog rocked the house at a certain show last year doesn't mean the house will react the same way this year. As a third-generation Red Sox fan, I'm used to this philosophy. But sometimes...

We almost didn't enter this show this year, based on the teensy-weensy numbers for the previous year's entry coupled with the low probability that there would be enough bitches for a major. Last year, a year-old Dinah went BOS on her very first trip in the ring with Kathy after having only met her an hour or two beforehand. We had a great time, and the memory must have stuck with us. In a fit of madness, I entered us for this year, just so we could have another win under the bright lights. We wanted a second try with the judge, who had practically begged Dinah to settle down and gait properly in his ring back in April in Springfield. He gave her second in her class back in April, but not Reserve.

This show must be a weird experience for even the most well-traveled show dog. It takes place in the arena at the Mohegan Sun Casino. The ring area is beautiful -- bright lights, quiet blue carpeting, banks of arena seats -- and it looks like a smaller, unbenched, better-smelling version of Westminster. The grooming area is a bit odd, though, as it's set up in the cramped, strange, noisy concrete loading-dock area for the arena. Unless you're driving in to offload your equipment, the only way to access the area is by shuttle bus from the parking lot. Most of the dogs seemed to be a bit weirded out by the bus ride. Dinah the princess, whose first ride in a motor vehicle on this side of the pond took place in a limousine, probably turned her regal little black rubber nose up at the tacky public transportation and vowed never to be seen on a bus again. The nerve of her dumb human!

Whatever she was thinking at this show, she wasn't thinking about the ring. If she had been on her usual game, she could easily have beaten both of the specials and taken Best of Breed. However, she just wasn't interested -- and she lost to one of the entries from the puppy class. (We adore Moxie, who is a nice puppy and had better use for the one available point than we did... but Dinah could have done better.) Moxie ended up going BOS to Riot's BOB, so it wasn't a good day to be a special in that ring. Dinah got Reserve (Best of Losers). So did Jake, which was equally surprising. Riot is a beautiful dog, but Jake is more mature and should have beaten him. Maybe Jake's brain was in the same place where Dinah left hers.

Kathy huffed when she exited the ring, "She was SO naughty!" Dinah apparently went back to her old tricks from last spring of throwing her feet around and making her gait look strange. She tends to do that at indoor shows, except the ones in Fitchburg. (I can't explain it, but Dinah likes showing in Fitchburg.)

At least the weekend wasn't a complete waste of Kathy's time, even if the Beardie contingent didn't exactly shine. Livvy the Newfie went BOS -- and this from a dog who really doesn't like showing indoors. Kathy also got to handle Dushil, the Borzoi she showed at Westminster, and he took BOB. She got to stay around the arena for several hours before the group judging/TV broadcast. I owed Daryl a lunch at Rustica for putting us up at her house, so Dinah and I took our leave and headed back to Woodstock.

I looked all over Daryl's house to try and find Dinah's brain, but it wasn't there. I definitely left it at home. You can bet I'll have it packed first thing when we head out to Springfield for the Thanksgiving Cluster. Majors all three days -- no pressure there!

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The Road to Hell is Paved with Broken Majors

Garden State Bearded Collie Clan Regional Specialty

Ramapo Kennel Club, 10/14/07: 1st, Winners Bitch, 2 points

Actually, things aren't as bad as the title makes them seem. I just liked the phrase.

Kathy's handling a Newfie bitch who doesn't care for indoor shows. Not that I blame her -- outdoor shows are always much more fun in good weather. The problem is, unless you're lucky enough to be showing in California, you're pretty much stuck spending some percentage of your show career at indoor shows every year. Here in New England, the outdoor-show season only runs from May to September, with very few shows at all between January and April. Gather ye rosettes while ye may. Ye only get 5 months of the year in which to do so outdoors.

Because Livvy doesn't like indoor shows, Kathy was trying to show her at as many outdoor shows as she could before the end of the season. She'd picked the mid-October shows at the Ramapo Kennel Club in New Jersey as Livvy's seasonal grand finale. In order to ease the financial burden on Livvy's owners and make better use of her time, Kathy asked her regular Beardie clients (Deb, who owns Jake, and me) if we wanted to show at Ramapo. The only hitch was that Kathy's van only holds two crates, and she was taking Livvy and Jake as "sleepover clients." Dinah never camps over with Kathy -- we always meet her at the shows -- so if I wanted Dinah to be in the show, I had to drive her down there.

I think I might have said no a couple of times, but I honestly don't remember. I was hosting a fun match at my house that weekend... I wanted a weekend off from showing, especially after that dismal Specialty... and so on. No matter what I said in protest, I did eventually enter Dinah in the show, found us a hotel room, and blew down there from the fun match at the earliest possible moment. The entire time I drove southward, I kept asking myself, "Why am I doing this?"

That question melted away when I reached the fairgrounds that next morning, though. The Essex County Fairgrounds are beautiful, and huge by East Coast standards. As a member of my local kennel club, I felt jealous looking at the beautiful site that Ramapo had available.

Even though the entry wasn't huge due to the show's date one week after the National, the folks who gathered there were fun, congenial, and happy to be showing in the sunshine. I saw old friends whom I'd seen every day of the previous week, and more whom I hadn't seen in ten years. The Garden State Bearded Collie Clan knows how to throw a party -- they had scads of wonderful trophies, a potluck lunch for all the exhibitors, and the most upbeat gang of folks to hang around with. I had completely forgotten to grumble.

Dinah showed for Kathy as well as she ever has in her little Bearded life. She gaited, she baited, and she behaved perfectly. The judge made it plain that he liked her, and gave her first in Open and Winners Bitch. She would have had her first major, too, if only one more bitch had shown up. She ended up not taking Best of Winners, but we know the lovely puppy boy who did get BOW. He did get a major that day, even before he beat Dinah.

What a showing it was! Karen Bowens, the wonderful handler who took Dinah into the ring at National Capital, ran up and gave me a huge hug. My friends pounded me on the back and jumped up and down. Even the big-time handlers and show folks whom I'd always been a little too shy to say much to came over and congratulated me. We ended up with some lovely swag, including a couple of big rosettes, a handmade jewelry box, and an engraved pewter plate.

Kathy had to show again shortly after the Beardies were done (I forget if she took Livvy or picked up a Borzoi to handle, or both), so we agreed to set up an appointment for a photo with our judge for later in the day, when he was done judging toy breeds and she was done with her other handling assignments.

I think we underestimated the number of Toys at that show, though. We waited at ringside while the judge went through billions of Papillons, gazillions of Pomeranians, kajillions of Chihuahuas of all coat lengths... and so on. Of course, every single one of the demanded a photo immediately afterward, too, so we couldn't get him to join us until after all of them were done.

Not that watching the goings-on wasn't fun. Kathy and I watched one Pomeranian handler who went into the ring without her armband, and who had to be chased down and properly outfitted by the ring steward. The judge patiently explained to the Pom's handler how to set the dog up, how to move... somehow, it looked familiar...

After a few minutes of this, Kathy turned to me and asked, "Could she be... a Dog Show Newbie?"

(Now that my official title belongs to someone else, what should I do about my blog? "Dog Show Old Crabby Jaded Grizzled Veteran" doesn't quite fit.)

Finally, after the gazillion kajillionth Toy had been properly photographed, we secured our judge. He seemed tired, but relieved to be guided out into the sunlight again. We took our photo -- one of the nicest ones we've taken -- and headed for home. I'm not entirely sure how we got there, but I think we floated.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

And All I Got Was This Lousy T-Shirt

BCCA National Specialty, October 4: made the cut

I've always enjoyed going to our national specialties. I get to see people I only see every year (or every few years), smooch hundreds of Beardies and watch them grow up, attend a few raucous dinners and one fabulous gourmet meal, shop for everyone on my Beardie Christmas list, and offer up my services as cheap labor for the performance events. That part's a blast.

Dinah had lots of fun at the show. She and her buddy Angus had some glorious bed-bouncing sessions and WOOF wrestling matches...

As far as the showing part goes, someday I'll learn to adjust my expectations. Since Dinah won Best Puppy in Show at the Canadian specialty last year, I've been waiting and hoping for her to do something really stellar at one of our US shows. Last year, her breeder was the judge, so we couldn't enter. We did place 4th in the Regional on the previous day, and made the cut in Sweeps.

This year, we were psyched to be showing to a "movement judge." Dinah has plenty of that, and Kathy was really looking forward to putting the princess through her paces. Although one of Trav's breeders was handling him in the ring, Kathy had four doggie clients for the show: Dinah, Jake, Isaac (in his first appearance in quite a while), and Bliss.

Jake came in fourth in Open Dogs (Rowdy Blue took first place with Debbie handling and Dinah's cousin Widget (Breaksea Boddy's Brew) came in third. The judge had seemed impressed with Jake and had placed him first, but changed her mind and shuffled him to the back while making her final placements.

Kathy and I hoped that Dinah might fare better. We felt encouraged when the judge spent quite a bit of time telling Kathy that she liked Dinah, and that she wanted to like her as much moving as she did standing. Kathy and Dinah did as they were told and moved all over that ring, even going back and forth underneath the tent while waiting their turn -- as the judge had instructed.

My friend Lisa breathed, "Ooooh, she likes her." I had forgotten to breathe.

Dinah ended up making the cut. Because the Open Bitch class was so large, the judge had divided the class in two, made her selections from the first class, and then judged the second half. After making her selections from the second half, she called in all the bitches from the first half, but apparently forgot that they were in the ring. She eventually picked the dog who had paid the least amount of attention in the ring, who had to be gaited over and over again before settling, and who wasn't any great shakes in the presentation department.

I was glad for her owner, who is a dear friend, but less than impressed at the final choices. We genuinely felt we'd been robbed, after Kathy and Dinah did all that work in the blazing heat just to be forgotten. Gill, Dinah's breeder (who took the show photos in this entry) remarked to me later that she thought Dinah had the best movement of any bitch out there. Kathy was possibly more disappointed and shocked than I was. She still is.

Gill was philosophical. "Next year you should bring her to California. Wendy (Hines) will like her." She said this just as I was considering not entering another BCCA Specialty again for a good long while. The Canadian Specialty -- well, that's another story. We have to go back to Gananoque.

There was some good new to be had at the show, anyway, even if it wasn't ours. Traveler received the third Award of Merit at the show, and Rosie received one too (Sixth?).

This is possibly the first Specialty (national or otherwise) that we've attended in which we really did come home empty-handed. At least I bought a T-shirt.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

From the Sublime to the Ridiculous

Ox Ridge Kennel Club, 9/22/07: BOW, 1 point
Northwestern CT Dog Club, 9/23/07: RWB

First, the sublime. I really, really wish that the Ox Ridge show had been a major, even though we knew going down that there weren't enough bitches entered -- so the absolute only way Dinah could have earned 3 points is if all the other class bitches had shown up, and Dinah went BOS over all of the bitch specials.

As it turned out, 2 of the other bitch entries didn't show, so Dinah wouldn't have made 3 points even for BOB. That's okay. We took BOW over Jake, who has beaten Dinah all the other times when they were both Winners. That felt nice, especially since Jake is a distant relative and a very nice dog.

The judge, Juan Carlos Ferraro, comes from Argentina. I had pinged my friend Pat, who co-owns an Argentine import, for an opinion on the man and his judging. She replied that she had met him at the World Show in Mexico and really liked him -- and to my surprise, she came all the way from Ohio to the show. Napo, the gorgeous blue Argentine boy, took BOB -- and should have. I hadn't seen him in a year, and I'd forgotten how stunning he is. Pat will be crying many salty tears when Napo goes back to Argentina with his other owner.

Anyway, the judge couldn't have been nicer. He complimented us all on our dogs, patted us all on our backs, and graciously took picture after picture. I'm not saying we would follow him to Argentina, but I'd show under him again anytime.

Next... the ridiculous.

In my brief time at dog shows, I've seen at least my fair share of "face judges," the ones who would be more honest if they would at least just examine the handlers' teeth instead of the dogs'. Whereas a "face judge" at least looks for familiar faces in the ring, a "back judge" just turns her back on the ring and lets dogs and handlers gait around it unseen.

[Editor's note: Hey, I know the rest of this post is going to read like the proverbial sour grapes, but after re-reading it, I figured it was safer to impugn my own reputation in front of my small but devoted international audience. Sorry, folks. The first draft was deliciously juicy.]

I began to have a bad feeling when I saw all the handlers clustered around our ring, laughing and pointing.

When it came time for Open Bitch, there were two entries. Dinah was one of them. The other one was a scrawny little dog missing half her coat, and who moved as though she were dog-paddling through a puddle of something unpleasant. She did have a "name" handler, however, as her only attribute.

My friend Deb nudged me in the ribs. "This'll be an easy choice."

Oh, indeed it was. The judge picked... the scrawny naked one with the big-name handler. Dinah got Reserve. Deb and I were both so shocked we just laughed. There wasn't much else we could do. I couldn't even nudge Deb back when the scrawny bitch got BOW over Jake.

I suppose I'm glad (in a way) that this judge didn't pick Dinah. I sure wouldn't have wanted the assembled crowd to be laughing at my dog and me!

Monday, September 10, 2007

Dog Showing for Dummies!

I've always been a major fan of the series of books. No matter what subject you lack expertise in -- whether it's knitting, Java programming, personal finance, how to buy wine, or any other subject... if there's a "Dummies" book available, then you're sure to get some great help and advice, delivered in plain English -- and perhaps best of all, the "Dummies" authors make the fine distinction between "need to know" and "nice to know."

When I first got started in dog showing, I lamented the fact that there really was no such book as Dog Showing for Dummies. There still isn't, if you check the book list at -- but I have discovered the one book that genuinely qualifies as the best "Dummies"-style book for conformation showing: Raising a Champion by A. Meredith John and Carole L. Richards. The Holy Grail has been found!

This is the book I wish I owned when Dinah and I were first starting out. I've become somewhat of a connoisseur of books on dog showing over the past year or so, and each one has its particular strengths and weaknesses. However, Raising a Champion does the one thing none of the other books does: It anticipates practically every question the first-timer will ask, and provides each answer in plain English, with photos or illustrations, as well as a wealth of helpful hints. It's all here, from how to stack a dog (and recognize mistakes, as well as how to fix them), how to enter a dog show, how to read a judging program, ring courtesy, how to calculate points, and so on. It's all here!

If you're lucky enough to have an independent bookstore nearby, please buy it there. However, if you don't, here's the link to it on Amazon.

The Next Best Thing

The book that did help me get started was Show Me! by D. Caroline Coile, Ph.D. Like Raising a Champion, it covers subjects ranging from how to pick a puppy for show to how to fix ring-related behavior problems... to maintaining a grip on reality between the time you send in the entry form and the time you arrive at the show. The two things that rendered this concise and colorful book indispensable for me were the two bulleted lists on what to pack for the dog and for yourself. For the first few months, I didn't dare leave for a show without having the book open on the kitchen table, displaying those two bulleted lists. This book deserved the highest number of stars for its wonderful attitude -- practical, yet positive.

Here's the link to the book on Amazon.

Other Additions to the Bookshelf

I did own Richard Beauchamp's Simple Guide to Dog Showing for a while. (Here's the Amazon link.) Even as a rank novice, though, I found this one too simple to be of any real use. The book spends more time than the others explaining about the various breeds and groups and such -- useful to someone new to dogs, but not to someone who already has spent some time with various breeds, or who already has chosen a show dog. This is not to say that an absolute beginner might not find a lot to like in the book -- the graphic design and "handwritten" comments and captions give the book a delightfully informal feel -- but it's one you won't need to keep around for very long. I read my copy once and then donated it to the kennel club raffle table, hoping some other newbie would win it and enjoy it, and then pass it on.

Peter Green and Mario Migliorini's New Secrets of Successful Dog Showing is a terrific book (here's the link). It isn't as informative in the tutorial sense for the absolute newbie, but it does explain a lot of things you will encounter with a little exposure to shows (such as the various regions and their point schedules). The high points of this book are: whole chapters on stacking and baiting, with lots of photographs and examples, a comprehensive checklist of what to bring to a show, a great bait recipe (Liver Cake), and lots of interesting anecdotes about dogs these long-time show luminaries have handled or bred over the years.

I did find one boo-boo in the book: it states that puppies bred outside the US and Canada must enter the Open class for starters, and that is simply not true. You may show in Open, but you're not compelled to do so. The classes closed to foreign-born dogs are American-Bred (duh), Novice, and Bred By Exhibitor (unless, of course, you bred your foreign-born dog and are showing it yourself in the USA).

George Alston's The Winning Edge: Show Ring Secrets is not your first dog show book. (Here's the link.) However, it's the one you might end up keeping around for the longest time, or for good. It's the next best thing to attending one of Mr. Alston's notorious handling seminars, plus it won't make you cry. This book's prime focus, by its own admission, centers on the psychology of dog showing, and how best to fine-tune your own mental game. It's not the friendliest or most attractive tome out there -- the photos and the graphic design all make it look a bit dated, and it lacks the many helpful photographic examples of the Green book -- but it grows on you. It's definitely a book that you appreciate more with time. Buy it, but don't buy it first.

Ones I Haven't Read (But Would Like To)

While I was cruising Amazon looking for the links to these books, I noticed The Absolute Beginner's Guide to Showing Your Dog by Cheryl S. Smith. I don't have this book, so I can't review it adequately -- but she does cover subjects the other books don't (or don't go into in depth), such as "The Temperament You Need for the Ring," "Travel Time and Money," "Anatomy Class," and "Grooming for Success."

Likewise, I didn't find Lynn Hall's Dog Showing for Beginners until I was... well, no longer a beginner. I like the way she explains the hard realities of showing -- that you will be disappointed from time to time, that it is an expensive and sometimes political hobby, that "purebred" and "show quality" are not one and the same concept, and so on... but this kindly, practical tome is probably a good second book for the newbie. It doesn't explain about how to train your puppy or subjects like those, but it still comes across in the same voice a friend might use when describing the whole show game to you. It pulls no punches, however -- so be prepared to hear some unvarnished honesty. I enjoyed the excerpts I read on Amazon very much.

Pat Hastings' Tricks of the Trade focuses primarily on the dog: how to select one, how to raise one, how to evaluate one, and the role of structure in the show ring. I can't wait to hear what she says on these subjects, since The Puppy Puzzle should be required reading for anyone considering buying a puppy or breeding a litter. (Here's the link.) This book's other unique feature -- and one which I greatly appreciate -- is its emphasis on selecting the right equipment for the show. There's even a specific, detailed section on grooming tables! This book doesn't delve into the minutiae of showing from the exhibitor's point of view, the forms, the vocabulary, or other concepts bound to be foreign to the rank newbie. On the other hand, this is another book, like the Alston book, that grows more valuable on your bookshelf with time.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

This One Goes to Eleven

Wachusett Kennel Club, 8/18/07: Winners Bitch, 1 point
Greater Lowell Kennel Club, 8/19: Winners Bitch, 1 point

Once your dog reaches the exalted state of being "pointed out," It's not uncommon to enter a number of shows in the hopes of finding majors there, only to get the judging program back with class entries of onesies or twosies. That's the stage that Dinah and I have reached at this point. No matter which decision you make about these types of shows, it's bound to be wrong. Basically, you have two options:

1. Eat the entries and stay home.
Advantages: It's cheaper than spending big bucks on gas and hotels -- plus you get weekends off!
Disadvantages: You still have to eat the $25+ for each entry. If there was only one other class entry, then your staying home might have cost someone else a point.

2. Go to the show and show anyway.
Advantages: What the heck, you've paid for it already. In addition, a win is a win -- and you might save the one or two points for your competition if you don't end up winning.
Disadvantages: If you win, you won't have helped the other entries anyway.

I s'pose if I had to state my policy about when to show and when to eat entries, it comes down to this: I'll eat the entry for any show involving a hotel stay. If the show is more than a couple of hours' drive from home, I'll wait until the judging program comes out before making a final decision. I'm more likely to bail on an 8:30 AM ring time than I would for one of, say, 1 PM.

Of course, if you're showing your own dog, you can afford to be a tiny bit more spontaneous when it comes to the question of "Should I stay or should I go?". Since Kathy handles Dinah at the shows, I need to do her the courtesy of making a decision as early on as possible.

Anyway... we've had to eat some more entries this season already. I'd entered the Springfield shows at the end of August in the hopes that if there would be majors anywhere during the summer, they'd be there. When the judging program came back, the breakdown showed only one class bitch: Dinah. Even if she went Best of Breed over all of the specials, she still wouldn't defeat enough dogs to gain three points. Pass the salt -- time to eat some entries. It won't be the last time we do this, either.

This weekend, I decided to show instead of eating the entry. Dinah does need to stay in practice, so not showing for several months just isn't an option. We have a National Specialty coming up, and we do have to perform at our best.

Dinah took Winners Bitch both days for one point each day. She now has 11 points, but still needs two majors. Heck, if we were showing in Canada she would have been finished on Saturday!

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Eating the Entries

Dinah at the . Details on .

Now that Dinah is "pointed out," as they say, we've started to approach show entries with a much different mindset. We can afford to be choosier about the shows we enter -- now we go only for the ones that might have enough entries to constitute a major in bitches. This is a good news/bad news situation; the good news is that we don't need to enter every show in the region any more, and can thus save a little time and money. The bad news, however, is that majors are so hard to come by that we have to enter any show that looks as though it might attract enough entries, and then hold our collective breath until the judging programs come out. Only then will we know whether enough bitches have entered to make it worthwhile -- and then we can hold our breaths again in the hopes that the major will hold and everyone will show up.

(FYI, the AKC releases its point schedules every year in mid-May. It now takes 6 bitches to make a 3-point major in Beardies. Last year it took 7.)

Now that Cocoa and Bliss have both finished and Mia is on "vacation" while she grows some coat, it might take us some time to find a show with a major entry -- and then, of course, we have to win it to get the points. (Pointless rant about having to show against famous handlers and exquisitely overgroomed dogs deleted.) We shall persevere.

In the meantime... in spite of all the happy talk from my Massachusetts compadres that they were all going to have a huge entry at the Pioneer Valley show, the judging program showed only one class dog, one class bitch, one special dog, and three special bitches. Dinah was, of course, the only class bitch. I hate to miss out on a good party, but even if Dinah went Best of Breed over all of the specials, she still wouldn't earn enough breed points for a major - so I decided to eat the entry and not go. This saves me the costs of gas, food, and a hotel room out in Greenfield, as well as Kathy's handling fees and expenses. (Bless her, Kathy's policies cover such events as broken majors or would-be majors.) We do have to eat the cost of the entry, since that's non-refundable. It's just part of the cost of the Great Major Hunt.

Our next shows are the Fitchburg shows in mid-August, right after I get back from the BCCC National Specialty. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that enough bitches enter Fitchburg to make it worth our while.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Weddings and Lottery Tickets

Farmington Valley KC, 7/7/07
Naugatuck Valley KC, 7/8/07
3rd place, both days

Apparently churches and casinos were the places to be this past weekend. Since Saturday's date was 7/7/07, people rushed out to get lucky on what looked like a lucky day. Greg had a wedding and a memorial service to play this past weekend -- for the same family.

Anyway, the date didn't turn out to be that lucky for us. We ended up placing third both days. BAH. Seems everybody else got to finish a championship or get a major except us. Not that we aren't tickled to pieces for Cocoa, who absolutely deserved to finish -- but the pool of available competitors has now been reduced, and it will be even harder to field majors.

Not that we had very high hopes for Saturday's judge, who has a well-known fondness for picking his favorite two handlers -- but Sunday's judge was said to favor small, cute, showy bitches -- exactly like Dinah. Instead, she picked all large brown dogs. I'm glad that another dog Kathy's handling got his first major by going BOW yesterday, anyway.

Kathy and I are now on the lookout for shows that might have majors. In a way, it's nice that we can now afford to be choosy about which shows to enter. This means we can save some time and money by not entering shows that generally have low entries in Beardie bitches (and thus probably won't field enough of them for a 3-point major).

On the other hand, it now means that we have to enter shows with our fingers crossed for two reasons. First, we have to hope that the show brings in enough bitches for a major, and then we have to hope that all of them will show up on the day of the show.

Farewell to the Stanley Pup

At last year's Bearded Collie Club of Canada's National Specialty, Dinah was awarded the Jande Trophy (which we immediately christened "The Stanley Pup") for having won Best Puppy in Show. We were allowed to keep the trophy for a year, and had to get Dinah's name and the date engraved on it before sending it back to the club in time for this year's show.

Well, the Stanley Pup is now making its way to British Columbia. We had to take a few pictures of it before packing it and taking it to UPS.

Now that Dinah is no longer eligible to compete in the Puppy class, she can't win that trophy again -- but she is now part of its history. She won't be competing in this year's show, but she'll definitely be there in 2008. Maybe we'll get to bring another piece of history home then.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Now We Are Nine

North Shore Kennel Club, 5/16/07: BOS, 2 points
Middlesex County Kennel Club, 5/17/07: BOS, 2 points

We are nine and we are proud! This weekend, The Lovely One has arguably shown the best she's ever shown. She looked beautiful, she behaved perfectly, and she moved nicely. She even smiled at Sunday's judge.

Kathy joked that maybe Dinah overheard us talking about giving her a little vacation from showing until she matured. I'm hoping that all the additional handling classes, plus a little help from Mother Nature and Father Time, might have helped make the difference as well. However it's happened, Dinah has started showing beautifully, and the judges no longer ignore her.

Our new ringside strategy has made a great difference, too. I no longer hide from her, but stand as close to the steward's table as I can without being in anyone's way. Now that Dinah can see me there, she no longer has to spend time looking around for me. She acts relaxed and happy in the ring.

She still has a "cotton head" and plenty of puppy fluff, but the adult coat along her back and sides is coming in nice and harsh and correct. She doesn't have more undercoat than she needs, either, which means that it requires less work and less stripping to show her gorgeous topline and correct length.

On Saturday, we had five bitches entered (one shy of the six we need for a major these days). Three of the bitches were in the Open class. Dinah behaved beautifully and was rock-solid out there, and the judge picked her. Two points! Even when we've taken Best of Breed, we've never managed to get more than one point at a given time. She gave Chaos the Reserve from the Bred-By class. Trav was the only male and the only special, and Dinah went Best Opposite to him. Brian, the wonderful junior handler who helps Kathy out occasionally, took Dinah in so Kathy could show Trav. The two of them enjoy flying around the ring together, and they looked great.

Most of the rest of the day passed by in a blur. I had a chance to wave at a bunch of people and talk to a few, but the early (8:30 AM) ring time, the lack of caffeine, and the sheer surprise and pleasure all shifted my perception of things into a slow-motion crowd scene. Dinah and I carpooled with Connie and Dory. We dropped them off at the Park 'n' Ride, came home, and napped.

Sunday's ring time was still early, but not the inhumane hour of Saturday's showing. Dinah and I arrived at the show to find Kathy, Val, and Pat deep in conversation. They were certain that the Sunday judge would pick Mia from the Open class because she's being shown by a high-powered handler.

There are judges who are love-'em-or-hate-'em types -- and probably every judge out there has fans and detractors. My Collie buddies just love this judge and were psyched to be showing under him. It all depends on one's experience, of course, and I had none.

This judge might not have been a big fan of Trav's, but he loved Dinah and little Moxie, and made a point of saying so. Dinah smiled at him in the ring. He picked her for Winners Bitch (one point) and gave Moxie the Reserve. The high-powered handler didn't seem too thrilled to be in the ring. He phoned in his gaiting patterns with Mia and disappeared... but not before looking Dinah over carefully. Kathy reported that he seemed impressed.

Since Kathy is specialing Trav, her friend Karen handled Dinah in BOB. For one long, long moment, everyone thought that he might pick Dinah for BOB over Trav... but he did put her up for BOS over the bitch special. Karen reported to Kathy that he said some very complimentary things about Dinah to her. No wonder Dinah smiled at him!

Anyway, it appears that we fall into this judge's love-'em camp. Since he's more or less local and shows in this region frequently, we should have the pleasure of showing under him again sometime. Of course, life hands you no guarantees, and the next day might not be Dinah's day... but then again, Dinah's growing up and getting the hang of this dog-show game. It's quite likely that more show days will be "her day" in the future. She has never shown as well as she has this weekend, and Kathy emailed me after returning home to have me kiss Dinah on the nose and to tell her how proud her Auntie Kathy was of her. I was proud to deliver.

For a dog to become an AKC champion, s/he needs to earn 15 points, including two majors (3-, 4-, or 5-pointers). Often, those majors are the hardest part of showing, especially in regions (such as ours) where it's difficult to assemble enough dogs or bitches to make a major. Now that Dinah has 9 points, she could finish with two 3-point majors, or two majors of any size. Since majors are so hard to come by that we're lucky to have three points' worth, it's likely that both of Dinah's majors will be three-pointers unless we win in another region with larger entries.

(After some of our performances this spring, I'm still amazed that I can be having conversations about finishing.)

I reported our point level to Dinah's breeder, who responded, "You're taking her to the National, right? You don't want to finish her too soon, because it's better for her to be a class dog at the National than in BOB." Since the likelihood of our getting Winners' Bitch at the National is minuscule (but certainly a lot more than zero), I replied that I'd be happy to have her finished anytime, since majors are so hard to come by. Imagine my sense of deja vu when Kathy said the same thing about the National this afternoon!

It would certainly make my life complete if Dinah were to finish her championship in a blaze of glory by taking a 5-point major at the National -- and certainly, it happens to one dog and one bitch every year -- but our chances are the same as those of all the other class bitches, and there are a lot of other class bitches. Still, what a fantasy...

Thursday, June 07, 2007

To See and to Be Seen

Ladies' Dog Club and Framingham District Kennel Club, 2nd in Open, Reserve Winners' Bitch both days

The Ladies' Dog Club has been a Boston tradition since the Victorian era. I've always had a major soft spot for their shows, ever since my very first Bearded Collie (Merlin) got his first ribbon at Ladies'. The Minuteman folks used to have a big Beardie get-together at that show, too.

The show has changed venues since those days. It (and the Framingham show) now take place at the Crackerbarrel Fairgrounds in Wrentham (which was the Wrentham State School back when I lived in town). Dinah and I were able to crash at my dad's house, visit with the family, see a friend of mine from high school, and still have a ten-minute commute to the show site. Sweeeeet.

Dinah made a very nice showing at Ladies', even though we came in second both days to our Beardie-friend Rosie. Rosie went BOS one day and BOB the other to finish her championship. Her owner was so happy she cried; it had been a long time coming. Dinah looked lovely and behaved nicely, even though Auntie Karen handled her one day and Uncle Brian did the other day -- and Kathy was occupied with handling Rosie. Now that Rosie's finished, Dinah moves up to the top of Kathy's handling food chain -- as far as class dogs are concerned. I'm sure there will be days when Dinah and Traveler get to face each other in BOB, but we'll work that scenario out when we come to it.

Dinah also earned her Canine Good Citizen title at the POC match this weekend, so she is now Breaksea November Storm, HIC, CGC.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Redemption in the Mud

Vacationland Dog Club shows, May 19 and 20
Best of Breed both days, 2 points

It takes a village to show a puppy. I've been lucky that my friends have been so patient and helpful as I stumble my way through the jungle of dog showing. We certainly couldn't have done so well this weekend if we hadn't had a lot of help.

Kathy and Dinah continue to work better together every time they're in the ring. I'm not entirely sure what the magic factor was this time, but with the combination of practice, patience, and Dinah's being able to see me at ringside, she behaved very nicely for Kathy and gaited as well in the mud as anyone could expect. Things can only get better from here.

Connie could easily have decided not to show Dory at all. Dory has more single points than she needs and only needs her majors to finish. A lot of people would have pulled their dogs if the entry was so small, but Connie was kind enough to stay. Dory needs the practice, since she's been away from showing for a few years -- and you could see that she was beginning to remember the drill. It seems a little cheesy to say "Thanks for bringing your dog so we could beat her," but if it weren't for people willing to do sportsmanlike things like this, then even more shows would go begging for entries.

Val did a magnificent job grooming both girls. Kathy got Dinah all pretty for the breed judging, and Val put on the finishing touches (including the waterless shampoo on muddy feet) before Dinah and Kathy went into the Group ring. Val said she was happy to have someone to groom because Trav wasn't entered. I'm glad we were able to help with that! Oh, and Val made the little pink tiara for The Princess.

Plus I can't forget Greg. The Man graciously consented to going for food, parking the car, schlepping equipment, schlepping the dog, taking photos... and all this just for a couple of hamburgers and a creme horn from the concession stands. Dog shows really aren't his thing, but he enjoys any change of scenery.

The Vacationland shows take place every year at a campground about half an hour's drive from here. The facilities really are nice and ideal for dog shows, but someone at the dog club really needs to get in touch with Mother Nature before next year's show. Seems that every year, there's either an active monsoon going on during the weekend, or one has just passed through, leaving the Okefenokee Swamp behind. It's the only show I ever attend where the grooming tent is considered "waterfront property."

To be fair, conditions really weren't as bad at the show as they were . I heard scattered reports of people falling and shoes sucked off their owners' feet, but last year was really worse in that department. This is one show where everybody shows in rubber boots and jeans, even the judges. You can bet I'm not planning to show up there again wearing pantyhose!

All the same, you saw more dogs being carried to the ring than heading there on their own four feet. The owner of the Borzoi Kathy was handling kept asking Kathy and me if we would carry her Borzoi to the ring. Surprisingly enough, there were no takers. Dinah put a dewclaw through one of her boots, so I had to lug her back and forth between the ring and her crate.

Anyway, Dinah behaved beautifully and showed as well as can be expected given the ground conditions. Nobody could do much gaiting, since most of the rings had puddles, muddy spots, and sawdust strewn in a vain attempt to soak up some of the moisture. (I almost would not have been surprised to have seen the Creature from the Black Lagoon emerging from one of those rings.) Greg and I stayed at ringside, and Dinah seemed happy enough to behave for Auntie Kathy once she was done locating us. She was such a good girl, and moved so well, that the judge picked her both days. Dory is beautiful, brown, and much more mature -- so winning wasn't exactly a slam-dunk.

Since this is the very first time Dinah has had back-to-back BOBs, of course I had to have pictures taken both days. Saturday's picture was taken in the ring after breed judging, and looks as though it will come out nicely. Dinah was still mostly clean at that point. Sunday's photo, while taken on the nice platform with all the flowers an such, still won't be able to disguise the fact that she (and Kathy, and the judge) all have desperately muddy feet. Maybe I'll have to Photoshop that one before posting it.

Most dog show people started out in horses. Sunday's judge complimented her on Dinah's movement in the ring. Kathy got a laugh when she replied, "Yes, she's a good mudder." It's true -- Dinah actually appeared to enjoy showing in the mud, even if it meant being carried from ring to crate and back.

Dinah is now officially 33% of the way toward her championship. The majors will be the hardest part, but every point is another step.

Monday, May 14, 2007

A Good Weekend for a Butt-Kicking

St. Hubert KC, 2nd in Open
Windham KC, 2nd in Open

Too bad it was our butts getting the kicking (again). There's never any shame in losing to Cocoa -- she's an outstanding girl, and I love razzing her owners and getting razzed in return. We call each other The Competition (in suitably hushed tones), and we mean it as the highest of compliments.

Cocoa's owners have put a very high-powered handler on her, and she got her first major at the Trenton shows last weekend. (That particular handler could show a cat in a dog-show ring and the judges would still pick him -- but I've never heard him say a bad word to or about anyone, and he always has kind words for anyone who manages to beat him in the ring.)

Ah, but if you have to pick a day to get beaten, pick a day like Saturday. The weather was perfectly sunny and not too hot. The fairground site was small but well situated, and the entire place gave off the air of being cheerful and laid-back. There were only a few vendors, but they and the local greyhound rescuers were congenial and chatty. Everyone seemed to be in a good humor, from the handler relaxing with a beer in an easy chair next to his leviathan-class RV to the ladies selling dog toys and chewies. A nice Corgi person handed me his card and announced that his club was holding a herding trial over Labor Day weekend, and to email him for directions.

Kathy and I decided to try an experiment. Conventional wisdom says that a dog being handled in the ring by a handler (or anyone not the owner) will not behave or focus if the owner is standing where the dog can see/hear/smell Mommy or Daddy -- so usually, the owners are advised to stay as far away from the ring as possible. I've done my share of hiding these past few months.

I wondered whether Dinah might not fare better knowing where I am so she wouldn't have to continually look for me, and so she'd cooperate with Auntie Kathy in the ring. Since I've been on a mission to find and correct things that might be hurting Dinah's chances in the ring, I asked Kathy whether she thought Dinah might be more relaxed with me around. We decided to find out.

Kathy walked Dinah to the ring, while I followed. The judge was running quite a bit behind, so we took up a spot near the unused ring on the opposite side of the tent. I took Dinah's leash and sat on the grass with her, while Kathy picked up her armband, watched the judge, and chatted with the other handlers. Dinah just relaxed, and didn't appear at all anxious.

When it came time to get into the ring, Kathy advised me to position myself near the stewards' table so Dinah would face forward while looking for me. At least she wouldn't be pointing her butt into the ring trying to peer behind her to see where I went.

Fo whatever reason, it worked! Dinah never even bothered seeking me out. She maintained her focus in the ring, moved beautifully, did everything Auntie Kathy told her to, and didn't fling her feet to the four compass directions while gaiting. Even though we lost (again), Kathy reported that Dinah was much more relaxed in the ring and behaved nicely. So much for conventional wisdom.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Dumped (Again), But Never Completely Empty-Handed

York County Kennel Club, 5/5 and 5/6: 1st in Open
Bearded Collie Club of Maine Supported Entry

"Winning isn't everything, but losing isn't anything." -- Vince Lombardi

I often tell my herding compadres, "At a trial, you never come away empty-handed. Either you get a leg or a lesson, but you always get something." Perhaps one can stretch that axiom to fit conformation showing, though it might take quite a lot of stretching.

Since Kathy couldn't come up to show this weekend, Tracy agreed to fill in and show Dinah both days. I suppose I could have done it myself, but I was already torn in a thousand different directions at the show as obedience chair and as one of the hostesses for the BCCME Supported Entry that I didn't really need to have that task as well. Tracy was happy to take her.

When we're in handling class, Tracy doesn't always see Dinah as she would in a show-ring situation. In class, Dinah knows we're not working the whole time, and she takes every opportunity to relax in between actions. She'll sniff the ground, sit, seek out the shade, and in general do an otherwise admirable job of conserving her energy until it's needed. The skills that make her an intelligent working dog just don't wash in the conformation ring, though.

Anyway, it was good to have Tracy take her around the ring. She was able to see first-hand how Dinah reacts at shows, and to keep her focused. Tracy worked on keeping her calm and getting her to hold still. It did work -- she looked lovely out there and gaited nicely for Auntie Tracy. She took first place in Open both days. She was the only Open entry, but she did earn it.

Yet again, though, the judges decided to look everywhere else but at Dinah when it came time for Winners Bitch. On Saturday, Chaos got the points. On Sunday, Richard and Debbie's little Moxie did. I can't begrudge them their success, but I sure wish we could have some every once in a while.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

6 Bucks and a Squeaky Toy

National Capital Bearded Collie Club Regional Specialty: 3rd in Sweeps, made the cut in regular 12-18 class

This posting was first printed in the newsletter of the as "Val and Karen's Bogus Journey."

Val and Karen's Bogus Journey

It started out innocently enough, and even sounded like a pretty good idea at the time. I'd decided to enter Dinah in the NCBCC Regional Specialty, and I couldn't bear to keep all of the fun and adventure to myself. I sent Val an email saying something like, “Wanna go?”... and the adventure was on. I made the arrangements for the hotel room and rented a minivan so we could tote Dinah, Traveler, and all of our show junk to the show and back in relative comfort. We were all set to travel in style... or so we thought.

The morning we were about to leave, my cell phone rang. It was Boobyprize – er, I mean Enterprise – Rent-a-Car, calling to tell me that they didn't have a vehicle for me in spite of my having requested one two months in advance.

“That's okay,” I said. “I'll take an SUV.”

“We don't have any of those, either.”

“Well, what do you have?”

“We don't have anything. We're really sorry.” (Somehow I was reminded of the Cheese Shop sketch from Monty Python.)

I reported the results of this enlightening dialogue to her and said that I'd be running a little late, as I had to formulate Plan B using only my little Subaru and a car-top carrier.

Locating the car-top carrier was simple enough. It lived in our tool shed behind the house, where it had resided since Greg last used it in 2004 to move things out of his old place. In the intervening years, it has acquired its share of cobwebs, bits of dried grass, and suchlike. I hosed the thing off and attempted to unlock the two tiny locks that held the thing closed. The locks were rusted shut. I began to have a very bad feeling about the way things were going, but I persevered. Greg reappeared with a hacksaw, and proceeded to saw off the locks. I decided to use tie-wraps for security, since I had a large bag of them and no other method available for securing the top of the carrier in mid-flight.

I called Val, told her I'd be a little but later, and started to pack.

Finally – about three and a half hours later than I'd planned to leave, I pulled into Val's front yard. The car-top carrier had plenty of space for our luggage and tools, but there was just one teeny little problem: we were both just a little bit too short to reach it. She produced a step stool, and we commenced to pack the car-top carrier. I secured it with tie-wraps and hoped for the best.

Traveler had been looking forward to riding in comfort in the rental van, since he usually travels to shows in Pat's Econoline. He was somewhat less than impressed with the accommodations afforded by the back seat of a Subaru. Val installed his blanket and showed him that his girlfriend Dinah Moe was riding in a crate in the back. He reluctantly took his place. Maybe he knew something we humans didn't know.

Bogus Journey, Chapter 2

In spite of the less-than-spacious quarters in the Subaru, our trip south went smoothly, if not quickly enough to satisfy us. Trav eventually settled down in the cramped back seat, drooling a little. Dinah dropped off to sleep in her crate.

Val and I were just so happy to finally be on the road that we chattered happily all the way from Maine through New Jersey, stopping only for biology breaks and to refuel the car (and the driver). We wondered aloud why Tony Soprano, Bruce Springsteen, and Jon Bon Jovi didn't have rest stops named after them on the New Jersey Turnpike. I learned from Val that there are actual “Sopranos” tours you can take around northern New Jersey – apparently her brother took one and had a great time. Dinner consisted of a couple of greaseburgers we picked up at a rest stop on the Turnpike, but we didn't care. All we cared about was getting there.

Finally, after at least 400 years of driving, we arrived at the Red Roof Inn near the fairgrounds. When we entered the lobby to check in, we became privy to the conversation between the previous customer in line and the guys at the front desk. “You're full? But I had a reservation!” I crossed my fingers inside my pockets, hoping that when we reached the counter, we wouldn't have to sing the same song. After that long drive, I was ready to set up camp in the lobby and sleep there, if necessary. I didn't have the intestinal fortitude to try and find another hotel at that hour.

Our turn came, and we stepped up to the counter. For one brief, frightening instant, the reservations clerk was unable to locate my name in the computer. That lobby floor started to look mighty tempting. Finally, he found our room for us and handed over the keys. Heaving sighs of mixed relief and exhaustion, we headed out to the car to unpack. We cut loose the tie-wraps on the car-top carrier, unloaded our luggage and other necessities, and then tie-wrapped the thing closed again.

Trav was so tired of riding in the back seat that anything – even a camping trip to the Red Roof Inn's lobby – would have sounded like fun to him. In spite of his drool-soaked beard and shirt front, Dinah was glad to see him and insisted on playing with him the moment she was released from her crate in the back. Neither of them would eat, so we walked them and then crashed for the night.

Dinah woke me before sunrise (for which I was appropriately grateful). Figuring that no sane human being would be outside at 4:30 in the freakin' morning, I slipped on some shoes, took my room key, and headed outside with Dinah toward the nearest grassy area.

The little princess sniffed around for at least half a lifetime before finding a spot she thought worthy of her attention. Although I'd been hoping to remain invisible, Tom Dixon spotted me on his early-morning walk. He was already dressed and groomed for the day. My hair straggled in my eyes, I hadn't showered since the previous morning, and my morning outfit consisted of a nightshirt and a pair of Crocs. Bless him, Tom didn't react in fear or horror at my appearance, but petted Dinah and exchanged pleasantries for a few minutes.

Once back inside the room, I'd hoped to avoid waking Val, but Trav was up and ready to go. While she sleep-walked him outside, I tried to persuade Dinah to go back to sleep with me. She preferred to play with Trav. I crated her, hoping that she'd settle down, but that proved fruitless as well. We ended up starting our day long before the alarm went off. We cut the tie-wraps on the car-top carrier, stowed our gear, added more tie-wraps, and headed down the street to the fairgrounds.

We followed the line of cars into the fairgrounds and looked around for the Whatsis Building, where our Specialty was supposed to take place. Seeing nothing that looked like a Whatsis Building, we asked the gentleman in the golf cart who appeared to be presiding over the parking. He responded with a storm of unhelpful gobbledegook that left us more confused than we had been before we asked. We finally decided to follow the other cars that were heading out the other side of the fairgrounds and turning. Maybe that road would lead us to the Whatsis Building.

Eventually, we did find the building in question, unloaded pups and gear, and proceeded to set up. Karen Bowens had agreed to show Dinah that day, so I set off in search of her. After finding her setup, i delivered Dinah into her care and parked the car.

Bogus Journey, Part 3

Here's where we actually started to relax and have some fun. Val and I saw loads of Beardie people we knew, including Traveler's Gramma Lesley, Barbara Marshall and her sister Abi, Lucy Campbell-Gracie (who had bought the Mainiacs director's chair at the previous year's rescue auction and had it along with her), and too many more to list.

Barbara and Abi had had a Bogus Journey of their own, trying to find the Whatsis Building, getting set up, and so on. Unfortunately, they didn't make it in time to show the girls -- but they were on their way to a protest in Alexandria, and Barbara did me the enormous favor of helping me adopt a spinning wheel from Gregory Wollon. I had offered to take the spinning wheel back in the days when I thought I would have rental van to bring it home in (remember the rental van?) -- but we had absolutely nowhere to carry, tie or drag the wheel with the Subaru and all of the other stuff. Fortunately, Barbara did have room, and graciously agreed to stop by one of the highway rest stops near Havre de Grace to pick the wheel up from Gregory. (That wheel rode in style, safely buckled into the back seat like a toddler, all the way to the Acton shows back in Maine.)

NCBCC had a wonderful hospitality table set up with coffee, donuts, and pastries for breakfast, plus six-foot subs and other great stuff for lunch. Thanks, NCBCC! Beardie people mostly appear to be caffeine addicts like myself, so the caffeinated coffee disappeared in no time.

Finally, it was time for Sweeps. Dinah was entered, as it would be her last time in the 12-18 month class before she went on to Open. Sharon Ipser gave her 3rd place, which also earned us a check for 6 bucks and a squeaky toy. The 6 bucks barely covered a third of the cost of the show entry, but it did represent the very first time Dinah won a cash prize at a dog show. (You wouldn't believe the number of times people have asked, "So have you ever won any money from all these shows?" Now, I can respond in the affirmative, and I saved the MB-F check stub to prove it.) Dinah was very happy with the squeaky toy.

The regular classes came next. I had hoped that Justine Waldron would recognize the one little Breaksea in the crowd because she loved Dinah's sire Danny, but there were bazillions of dogs in the ring. In the 12-18 class where Dinah was, there were at least 4,876 other entries, and Dinah and Karen Bowens did what they could to get through the ordeal. Dinah showed very nicely until she grew bored. Karen did her best to keep Dinah's attention, but by the time the final go-round came along, Dinah was already thinking about something else. At least she made the cut.

Something like a dozen years later, it was Traveler's turn. Trav had spent at least half a lifetime waiting for Best of Breed, but he'd had plenty to do before then. Gramma Lesley and Val had spent lots of time grooming him with great care, and he looked as stunningly handsome as ever. He had to wait around for ages on his grooming table for anything to happen. Finally, Lesley took him into the ring.

The Best of Breed ring was even more crammed than the 12-18 ring had been, and Trav fared about as well as Dinah had -- except that he didn't even get a check for 6 bucks. He did get a squeaky toy, anyway.

By this time, at least a geological age had passed, and we still had to drive home. Not that we were going home empty-handed, by any means. If they gave out world championships for bargain hunting, Trav's Gramma Lesley would be the undisputed A Number One. She had found a whole warehouse's worth of really fantastic items for National Specialty trophies, and we got to bring them all home! We shuffled the bags in the car-top carrier, crammed most of the trophies in, and barricaded Trav in the back seat with the rest. Trav was understandably thrilled.

The highlight of our trip home (aside from the fun we had loading the car) was stopping along the New Jersey Turnpike for (relatively) inexpensive gas and a dozen Krispy Kremes for Pat. I'm surprised we had room in that car for the box of donuts, but somehow, they made it home with us and didn't get crushed or drooled on along the way.

We ended up meeting Pat at the Biddeford Park 'n' Ride. Val had had the presence of mind to ask him to bring along the stepstool, and the loading and unloading process went a heckuva lot more smoothly. I swear I heard Traveler heave a sigh of relief when he jumped back into his van and settled in.

After all of the expense, aggravation, and just plain stupid stuff that happened on this trip, it was almost hard to believe it was over by then. At least we got a good "war story" out of it.

Friday, April 13, 2007

How Do You Get to Carnegie Hall?

Same way you get to Westminster: practice, practice, practice.

We pretty much have to look on this past weekend's shows in Springfield as the dog-show version of a "shakedown cruise." The Lovely One, distracted and keyed up after a few months away from the dog-show grind, never did settle in at either of the shows. She took 2nd in her class both days. Sunday's judge practically begged her to move correctly so he could pick her, but that just never happened. Ah, well. Kathy hadn't had a very successful day with her other doggie clients that morning, and we'd been hoping that the afternoon would prove more successful. No such luck this time.

In Dinah's defense, it had been a long time since her last show in Fitchburg in January (especially when measured in puppy time), and surely she wasn't expected to remember all that stuff and do it perfectly the first time out?!

There's nothing else for it except to go back to class and continue our education. I signed Dinah up for three handling classes this week: the drop-in group class at , the 2007 edition of our regular group handling class with Tracy at , and an additional private session with Tracy.

I won't say that the week has been much like show-handling Boot Camp, but Dinah and I remembered a lot of old moves by the time our private lesson concluded. Hopefully she'll retain enough of it to behave for Karen Bowens when Karen takes her into the ring at the next week.

News flash: Just received the judging program for the NCBCC Regional a few moments ago. Would you believe that there are 49 class bitches entered in the regular competition?! Ho-ly Pup!

Monday, March 12, 2007

Once More Unto the Breach, My Friends...

Dinah's ready for the new season, if you mean Mud Season...

You'd never know it to look at the outdoors, but the world is now slowly emerging from its long wintertime sleep into spring. The birds are returning, the sap is rising in the maple trees... and it's time to start getting emails from my handling instructor announcing the new season of classes.

We haven't really started the show season yet, and already Dinah's (and my) weekends are beginning to fill up with shows and the occasional fun-type activity -- not to mention the odd rally trial here and there with Seamus.

April commences with the Springfield shows on Easter weekend. We're entering only the Saturday and Sunday shows, even though Kathy will be handling her other client dogs there on Good Friday. (It's not a holiday for me, and I'm in the throes of project deadlines. I need that day.)

When Kathy and I emailed back and forth to set things up for Easter weekend, she taught me a term I hadn't heard before. She asked me, "Is Dinah still in 12-18? When does she age out?" "Aging out" is a good enough description for what happens to Dinah when she reaches the age of 18 months and has to go compete in Open with all of the other adult bitches.

This is both good news and bad news. Showing in Open means that an immature 18-month-old has to share the ring with a well-seasoned adult. It's still possible to beat the adults and earn the points, but it's a lot more difficult for a youngster. Because Dinah is neither American Bred nor Bred By Exhibitor, she can't enter those classes instead. On the other hand, most judges tend to pick their Winners Dog and Bitch from the Open classes -- so if your dog does make the cut in Open, the chances of making it to Winners are generally much better.

On the 20th, Dinah makes her debut at the regional specialty. I've always liked that show, but this year we have a very good reason for entering: the judge in the regular classes is from the Old Country, and she gave Dinah's dad Danny a first at the Bournemouth shows last year. I'm hoping very hard that she likes Danny's daughter as much as she did Danny himself.

Kathy will be handling her Borzoi client at that breed's specialty that weekend, so Karen Bowens, a Beardie breeder/handler who came highly recommended to me, is doing the honors for Dinah at the Regional. I'm considering having her take Dinah in at the National (in the same area of the world) in October. Kathy shows a number of clients of other breeds, and she doesn't usually stray too far from the southern New England/upstate New York area.

That's just April. I think we have a show or a trial every weekend in May, and none of them are shows I want to miss. The very thought of it makes me want to sleep through June already!

Saturday, February 24, 2007

That Time Again (Already)

Dinah on the stairs. Look at how light she's become!

The coming of spring usually heralds the return of the swallows to Capistrano and of the Red Sox to Fenway... but this year, it also brings a new dog show season (our second one ever). I was relieved to be spending the wintertime on hiatus from dog shows -- it means I've been able to spend my time working with Seamus in agility and rally. The vernal equinox isn 't even here yet, though, and I find myself paging through my Infodog emails every day, scanning for the local shows. Old habits die hard, and apparently new ones take a bit of doing to dislodge, too.

Anyway, with April only a few weeks away, it's time to start planning for the first shows of the season. I've already started making arrangements to show Dinah at the National Capital Bearded Collie Club Regional Specialty in April. Kathy is handling a Borzoi at a Borzoi Specialty that weekend, so I've asked Karen Bowens (a Beardie breeder/handler from Pennsylvania) to do us the honor for that show.

I've always enjoyed the NCBCC Regional, even though I've never shown a dog there before. It's always been a great time to catch up with a whole bunch of friends, including some whom I'm lucky to see once a year. A lot of those folks didn't make it to either of the National Specialties last year, so now's my chance to introduce the Lovely One to them. The judge is from the UK and gave Dinah's sire Danny a first at the Bournemouth shows last year... so I'm hoping she has a pleasant feeling of deja vu at the Regional and does well by Dinah.

Unless Kathy and I arrange to show her earlier in April, the Regional might be both the first and final chance to show Dinah in the 12-18-month class this year. Dinah will be 2 weeks shy of 18 months at that time, which means that she'll have to move up to Open by the time our own local show rolls around on May 5-6. My girl is a very nice specimen, but I'm not sure how much the judges will smile on her when she's out there competing with all of the adult bitches. Keep your fingers crossed for us.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Ice Follies

The Lovely One herself (photo by Nick Diana, )

Greater Lowell Kennel Club Show, 1/13/07
1st Place, 12-18-Month Bitches

Since Dinah did so well at the previous Fitchburg show, I let myself be talked into entering this show. We'd had reasonably mild weather thus far, right? What could go wrong?

Actually, Saturday's weather wasn't half bad. It was warm-ish for mid-January (40s) and had stopped raining, so the trip down was actually quite bearable (for all that we had to get up at 5 AM for a 9 AM ring time). Since there were approximately a gazillion Corgis (Pembroke) and Collies (Rough) ahead of us in our ring, we had plenty of time to get settled, help Kathy set up, and socialize before our presence was actually required.

I'm happy to report that Dinah finally beat Cocoa in the ring, but I can't say much else for the judge's judgment. He placed exclusively from the Open classes, so we didn't progress very far. Ah well, there's always the next day...

Only there wasn't a next day. It had iced over during the night, though I'd had no idea how treacherous the going was until I drove down Route 4 myself. It took me over an hour of 5 mph driving before I called Kathy to tell her that we just couldn't bend space and time to make our ring time, at the rate at which we were going. Some friends collected my stuff and brought it back for me.

That's it for shows until the end of April, at the earliest. No more winter shows!

Looking Back Already?

Even though it's technically way past New Year's Eve now, folks continue to look back on the past year. Everywhere you turn, there's another Year in Review -- top news stories, top sleazy celebrity gossip stories... you get the idea. Usually, I just shrug them off -- I'm just not the scrapbooking type -- and then my friend Val (Traveler's mom) started looking back on the fairly amazing year she and husband Pat have had showing Trav. He's done really well for himself -- finished within a year of their starting showing him, got his HIC, and has 8 Best of Breeds to his credit.

It got me to thinking that we haven't done so badly ourselves. For what it's worth, here's a stab at Dinah's Year 2006 in Review:

  • 3 breed points
  • Best Puppy in Show, BCCC National Specialty
  • Puppy Group 2, Mid-Coast KC
  • 1 Best of Breed
  • 5 Best Opposites
  • 4 Best of Winners
  • HIC title

I'd say we did okay for ourselves. We do have work to do when the season starts up again in the spring, though. Looking ahead, I'd like to see us achieve a few things in 2007:

  • Finish Dinah's US champtionship
  • Show her in Canada and make some progress toward her Canadian championship
  • Enter some herding trials and get her HT and maybe her PT

Those plans look simpler on the screen than they probably will be in real life, but it gives us something to aim toward, right?