I’ve been writing a lot about the fresh faces I have recently seen on the show scene. It’s always exciting to see a new crop of hopefuls appear in the show ring. I know from experience how hard it is to bring out that new show prospect. I started showing my first real show dog, a Maltese, when she was barely 6 months old. She was a very sound bitch and mature for her age, but she had the coat of a 6-month-old. We took 25 reserves before we got our first point. My second Maltese I held until he was 15 months old and had coat dragging on the ground. He got a Group Three at his first show.
So when is the best time to debut your latest show prospect? Well, it depends on a lot of things. Some breeds go through awkward stages. Pulik & Afghans come to mind. All the coated breeds, Maltese, Yorkies, Shih Tzu, Lhasas, etc., do better if held back until they have mature coats. However, Chihuahuas and Min Pins can and do win at an early age. Just this past weekend, we had a very young Standard Poodle and Pug win BISs. At the other end of the spectrum, any of the giant breeds are unlikely to be competitive before 3 years old.
Over the past few years, I have watched some dogs go straight from the puppy classes into serious BIS contention. However, this is rare. Just because it has been done, doesn’t mean it can be easily duplicated. It’s amazing the number of people who think because a breeder with decades of experience placed a young dog with a handler with decades of experience and did well that anyone can do the same. For every one that succeeded, there are hundreds that failed.
Do you remember what your Momma told you about the importance of first impressions? Have you ever had a judge ask, “Is this that long, reedy puppy I saw in Tulsa?” It’s not pleasant. Here’s what I believe. You need to socialize your young show dogs. So take them to matches and/or shows when they are at that cute stage, but when they hit that gawky, adolescent period, hide them from everyone who knows anything about show dogs. Take them to daycare centers, shopping malls, local parks and any other public place where you are certain that no one you know will see them. This will save you from killing your very best friend when he says, “You should have seen him when he was 9 months old. He was hideous.” Virtually every breeder of note that I know can tell you about a record-setting dog they bred that they almost petted out when it went through an ugly period.
Now, the above advice is only for those who think that winning is what the sport is all about. For some of us, there is nothing more entertaining than showing the novice dog that finds everything about the show grounds to be fun. Others genuinely want the judge to tell them if their latest hopeful has no hope of going further in the show ring. Still others are just out for a pleasant weekend with their friends who are as crazy about the dogs as they are. So here’s what I would say, bring out your next show dog whenever you think you will have fun doing it. It’s really all that matters. And that’s today’s Back Story.