Monday, April 28, 2008

When It Was a Game (Newbie Edition)

Apple Valley Rat Terrier Club, Westfield, MA
4/26-27, 2008
3 BOBs, Group 3, 85 points and one major

If you hang around the grooming tent long enough, you're bound to hear the old-timers waxing nostalgic for the "good old days" of dog showing. The sun was always shining, the judges were always fair and knew a good dog when they saw one, and all of the dogs and their owners were of better quality then. Why, to hear it told, every dog show looked like a Merchant-Ivory production minus Helena Bonham Carter. You have to hand it to the "good old days." Whatever realm they exist in, they always look shiniest when viewed through the scrim of a few decades' worth of nostalgia.

However, if there were a place on earth where you can revisit those "good old days" of dog showing, it would be at a UKC show. Compared to the highly organized and formal nature of an AKC show, UKC shows seem so relaxed and informal -- more like B matches with points than actual competition.

If, like us, you've spent all your show time at AKC shows, the informal character of a UKC show might even be confusing at first. Day-of-show entries? People building the rings before your eyes? Everyone cracking jokes with the judges -- in the ring? No hairspray? No brushes in the ring? No trophies? What kind of a dog show is this, anyway?

Two other things I found remarkable about the UKC shows: the huge number of juniors participating, and the number of rare breeds. The shows we attended happened to be hosted by a Rat Terrier club, so there were many Ratties in attendance who barked furiously every time someone walked by their vehicles. We also saw a Leonberger, three Bergamascos, and an amazing number of northern/spitz-type breeds I had never even seen before and can't identify without a much bigger breed book than the one I have now.

I don't especially like children (aside from my niece and nephew and my best girlfriend's daughter), but I lovelovelove junior handlers. They're always kind, polite, well-spoken kids whose parents deserve credit for recognizing the value of early socialization for both puppies and children. I enjoyed the heck out of the passel of juniors at the show, particularly the bunch with the Aussies. One of the Aussie crew, who came very close to taking a couple of Best in Shows, dropped by the barn to talk shop with me. It was an absolute blast to trade notes on movement with an 11-year-old who knew twice as much about the subject as I did. She admired Dinah's movement and asked to go over her. Her dog, Austin, was perfectly trained to respond to her in the ring -- and he never once lost focus. He wasn't the best-moving Aussie out there (which she herself admitted), but the two of them made such a great team that it was no wonder they picked up so many Group Firsts. They don't do obedience or canine freestyle, but they really ought to. The two of them are amazingly well synchronized; watching them show is like watching a dance routine.

Her mother, and some of the other parents of juniors at the show, raved about how much UKC supports the development of juniors and the family nature of dog events. At every show, juniors show first. This allows everyone who wants to, to watch the juniors in the ring before regular showing begins. In addition, juniors who are showing in the regular classes have time to get through Junior Showmanship before having to skedaddle to their respective breed rings, instead of having to juggle two show schedules at a time as they do at AKC shows. The relaxed environment of UKC shows adds to the supportive nature of showing in that venue, too.

Lots of kids, no professionals... this really does sound a lot like the "good old days." Still no sign of Helena Bonham Carter, though.

Larger shows probably run a little bit differently, but the rest of this event ran in a simple, logical manner. Each group was assigned to one ring for the entire weekend, and the judges rotated to different rings. Judges judge entire groups, first in their respective breed classes, and then in the corresponding group competitions. As in Canadian shows, the breeds within each group show in alphabetical order. The classes have different names, but work much the same way they do in AKC shows: puppies through Open, dogs before bitches. Because Dinah is just two years old, she showed in Senior (Youngster). The Open classes are for adult dogs over three years of age. Each breed judging even includes the Champion and Grand Champion classes before choosing Best of Breed.

Thankfully, I wasn't the only UKC Newbie there. Quite a few other people were attending their first UKC shows also, and we tried to pool our newbie resources to figure out points and navigate the rules. I shared a grooming space with a congenial owner of an English Cocker and a Tibetan Spaniel. The show was intimate enough that we had an entire grooming barn to ourselves, so we parked our Subaru Foresters nose-to-nose and set up around our cars inside the barn. Every time one of us came back from the ring, we clustered around our pooled collection of printouts from the UKC Web site to try and figure out where we stood, and to compare newbie notes. Go Team Newbie!

Like APDT rally trials, UKC shows are set up so that you can in theory (with enough competition) earn a CH in a weekend by showing in two shows a day, each day. In AKC, you're used to putting all your work and energy behind your one show per day. You go out there, do your very best, and then you either go on to groups or you're done for the day. However, at a UKC event, you have to do your best and go on to groups in two shows per day. The thing we found hardest about the experience was remaining fresh and alert for that second show each day. Seamus and I learned to overcome that in APDT rally trials. With practice, Dinah and I will figure out how to shine in two UKC shows in a day.

Unlike AKC shows, though, you can be the only representative of your breed and still be able to get credit for showing. It means that you have to earn the minimum of a Group Three to get credit for competition, but at least you're not wholly dependent on the number of other representatives of your breed to show up. There were three times as many Bergamascos as Beardies at this particular show -- funny thing to contemplate. Dinah did the "flirtation dance" for the male Bergamasco, but she performed the same dance for one of the white Standard Poodles and the red Border Collie. (Those boys must have been pretty special, especially the Poodle. Dinah prefers to flirt with Beardies, and apparently Bergamascos count.)

In spite of my usual stage fright and a wind that turned Dinah into a mop in the ring, we acquitted ourselves fairly well for the weekend. She picked up three BOBs and a Group Three. The Group Three constituted a major for Dinah because she beat the dog who picked up the Group Four -- and that counts as competition. I particularly liked that the judge referred to her as "my Beardie" when she placed her in the group ring. We almost picked up a second Group Three at the show, but one of the other judges sneaked both Corgis ahead of us at the last minute. We had been placed in front of a magnificent Beauceron whom I adored. In that competition, Irene and one of the Bergamasco girls took the Group One, not a minute after she whispered to me, "Ah, we won't do anything in here."

To become a UKC Champion, you need 100 points and three majors. To the best of the collective reckoning of all of us UKC Newbies, Dinah has 85 points and one major. Grand Champions require five majors, but I forget if additional points are also required.

Dinah and I were so fried after Show Number Three that neither of us could focus well enough to face going back for a fourth time. After the third show, she popped back into her crate in the car and plopped down, sighing, for an immediate nap. I didn't have the heart to make her go back out there again when she was so tired, and I was getting rather close to walking on my knees and talking gibberish myself. I went back to the club table, pulled our fourth entry, and brought us home instead.

So... we didn't finish our UKC Championship in one weekend as Maryann did, but no problem. This just means that we have to go back and enjoy ourselves at another UKC show (or shows) this year. Aw, shucks.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Oh Say, Can UKC?

Just before last year's Mohegan Sun shows, my friend Debbie (the one who owns Moxie) asked me if I were attending the lunch with the gang after the show. I hadn't heard a word about it, which is how I replied to her. Turns out that the owner of one of the specials, who has always been rather unnecessarily snippy with me, set up a luncheon for "owner-handlers only." Although all the attendees are friends of mine, I wasn't invited because Kathy shows Dinah for me. The organizer even went so far to explain that I hadn't been invited on purpose, for just that reason. She's had a hair across you-know-where ever since Dinah, as a 10-month-old puppy, beat her adult in the ring with me on the lead.

Sometimes the bitches at dog shows aren't the female canines.

Anyway, I haven't given up on the idea of learning to owner-handle entirely. Although all of the big guns and the prestige are in the AKC world, the United Kennel Club (UKC) is nearly as old and has just as long a tradition of conformation and performance events. Since UKC conformation is coming to Maine sometime and there are more such events in new England, I've taken the bait and registered Dinah with UKC. We've signed up for a show in Massachusetts next week, and are going there for the fun of it.

We're both rusty. Whatever happens with clumsy, bumbling me on the other end of the leash, it'll be good practice for Dinah.

I asked my friend Maryann about UKC. She showed her youngest boy in that venue last year and got his CH in a weekend. She's an experienced and successful breeder-owner-handler in AKC, and UKC lacks the "edge" for her that AKC competition provides. It's a great place for dufuses like me to do some handling, though, since UKC requires every dog to be owner-handled. UKC also has some other requirements I like: no overgrooming, chalk, or hairspray, and you can't use bait in the ring. (Dinah might not be thrilled about that last part, though.)

And Awayyyy We Go!

It happens like this every year: months of nothing, nothing, nothing when it comes to dog showing, and then all of a sudden -- BAM! Everything starts to happen at once. It's not that there's nothing to say during our "off season," but there's less to report because we're not showing.

Now that it's April, entries are open for the May shows. This coming Wednesday, I can even enter one for June 1. We won't be entering nearly as many shows now that all Dinah needs are her majors, but the ones we will enter should be good ones (if the majors don't break).

Speaking of broken majors, we received some good news/bad news about the York County shows coming up. YCKC is my local kennel club, and I'm on the show committee this year. I'm going to be freaky busy, and wasn't even going to enter Dinah until my friend Kathy offered to show her for me. (Different Kathy. "Our" Kathy, Dinah's handler, will be equally freaky busy at the Newfie National that week, so she can't show Dinah. Kathy-the-handler has so many dogs to show that she has one full-time and one part-time helper to help bathe and groom Newfies for the ring. Yowza!)

Here's the good news: We actually have enough bitches for a major on that Saturday! Hallelujah! I don't know how we managed to pull it off, but we did. Must have been the mention of the post-show lobster party that got people going.

The bad news is, I know that the major is going to break, and my hopes along with it. The owner of one of the bitches entered has a litter of baby pups at home. They'll be a week old tomorrow. Even though she entered one of the girls, she won't want to come to the show. All of the people she would trust to litter-sit will be at the show, and she won't want to bring home any possible bugs from the show to the puppies.

I would do the same thing if I were in her position -- stay home and feel bad about it -- but we were so close there! The first major in Beardies in Maine in possibly forever, and it's broken. BAH!

My friend Kathy will still show Dinah for me. Gracious soul that she is, she actually decided not to enter her bitch special (who went BOS last year to the magnificent Christopher) so she could show Dinah. Dinah needs the practice after taking an extended winter off. Our grrrlfriend Moxie only needs majors as well, but Debbie's bringing her anyway. We can commiserate about the broken major over a beer at The Weathervane after the show.

Entries in shows have decreased markedly, at least in this region if not all over the country. Much of that has to do with gas prices and the increase in cost of everything related to showing. Every year, the AKC releases the new point schedules for breed/region in mid-May. I wonder whether the number of Beardies to make a major will decrease this year to match the lower entries. For us, the YCKC show is the last show of the year where the old entry numbers still apply. We would have had a major last year if the show had only taken place after the middle of May.

Another Belated Shout-Out Steph and Bowie. Bowie is Steph's Brittany puppy, and he appears to be growing up nicely. Go ahead and enter him in Vacationland, Steph. Even the most die-hard competitors in the breed are almost always gentle, gracious, and helpful with exhibitors in the puppy class. You could even persuade some friendly soul to go over him and tell you about his good points and bad points, and the best ways to accentuate the positive in the show ring.

It was at Vacationland 2006 where Judie went over Dinah at our second-ever show and did the same for me. We see each other at shows occasionally still, and I'll always owe her a debt of gratitude for telling me some truths about my dog and the realities of showing her. (She said some very, very nice things about Dinah, and warned me more about what competition with her would be like. It came true in some unexpected ways.)

Sister Act

Congratulations to the beauteous Buffy Burfitt (CZ and SK CH Breaksea November Mist, bunch of European performance titles after her name) for receiving her Czech Championship title, second CACIB (challenge certificate) and National Winner designation at the most recent show she attended. No one on earth works as hard with training and showing as Buffy's mom Jana, and both of them deserve a tremendous amount of credit. Well done, Buffy and Jana! You've done the family proud.