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.