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Hold ‘Em or Show ‘Em?

Afghan Hound Puppy

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.

Written by

Billy Wheeler has been attending dog shows as a spectator and exhibitor for over 40 years. Billy is the man behind the popular Dog Show Poop. He is a retired management consultant who has advised multiple organizations affiliated with the AKC and the Cat Fanciers Association on business management, long range planning, customer service, and legislative matters. After 25 years of living in the big cities of New York, San Francisco, and Washington, DC, he now resides in his hometown of Memphis TN with his wife, Brenda, her Toy Poodle and his Cairn, Scottie, & IG. When he is not blogging, Billy can be found in the kitchen cooking, and listening to opera.
  • Peri July 10, 2012 at 12:10 PM

    How does a young breeder learn to look at and live through that adolescent stage with their first young hopefuls if they never see anything but “perfect” dogs at the dog show? So much of really learning a breed is learning to watch how they mature and evaluate them well at all stages. Okay, maybe not in the ring under an all-rounder.., but please don’t keep them hidden from those of us who really want to learn.

    • MM July 10, 2012 at 3:38 PM

      This is where a mentor comes in. Ideally, the breeder you get your first dogs from should be able to give you some insight into how their line matures. And you should be able to have your hands on dogs of all ages to see the changes that take place.

      • Monica July 11, 2012 at 9:20 AM

        I so agree with the mentor comment! We need to “be there” for the novices, even if their dogs come from other bloodlines.
        What is very sad to me is the proliferation of puppy champions in breeds that don’t truly blossom until they are between 3-5 years. So judges begin to believe the gawky, underdeveloped “Twiggy” style Sighthound is more correct than the fully mature, filled out, well conditioned adult. Or we find breeders pushing for a dog to mature at nine months that will be less than stellar at five years.
        When judges are faced with a fully mature dog of a breed they don’t completely understand, the tendency is to dismiss the dog as “too heavy” “too coarse” “too much spring of rib” When in fact thay are looking at a classic example.
        People are breeding these long lived dogs entirely too early, before they have any way of ensuring they’ve checked for potential health issues. Which only adds to the problems.
        I’ll take the gawky kids to shows but they spend time walking around and watching instead of showing. If there’s a match attached, they might compete but not for points.

    • ljmilder
      Linda Milder July 11, 2012 at 6:06 PM

      Nationals are a good place to see the various stages of the better breeding stock and have the ability to talk to experienced breeders.

  • Voila' July 11, 2012 at 5:45 AM

    Thank you Billy. I just brought out French Bulldog littermates last month at 6 months of age. In my opinion, a breed that wins a lot as puppies. The bitch is stealing all the glory, but the brother’s mind needs all that the show environment has to offer, eventhough – as a dog – he is far from his prime. Each and every one needs to be judged and evaluated individually, no matter what age, sex or breed. Thanks again – we are ALL having fun!

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