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Mastering a ‘Difficult’ Breed

The importance of showing a breed correctly – and to its standard – has been on my mind lately.

I’ve been thinking about how correct presentation is important not only in the conformation ring, but also in the Junior Showmanship ring as well. It’s one of the factors judges take into consideration when making their final decisions.

Mastering any breed, however, takes time, patience and a lot of hard work! Every breed is special, and many are so specific in their presentation that it can be difficult to get that “feeling” for each one. This is easier said than done.

Looking back on what I’ve learned from the wonderful handlers I’ve assisted, I am grateful for the time spent working with specific breeds. I had the opportunity to learn about both of the breeds that I was interested in, but I was also taught how to present breeds that I never thought I would want to show in a million years. Of course, I ended up falling in love with each and every one.

Way back when I first started showing dogs, I showed the breed I was basically brought up with — American Cocker Spaniels. In fact, this is how a lot of us get our start. I showed in juniors for a little less than a year, then decided that I wanted to get my own breed. I chose a Pomeranian, but this didn’t work out for juniors or conformation. Mastering a little Pom proved more than a challenge for me, so she ended up being my spoiled pet instead.

Today I know that I am a “Beagle girl” at heart. Thanks to them, my love has expanded to mainly Hound and Sporting dogs, so I have plenty of breeds to try and master. Let’s just say it will be a while before I venture off into a new breed of my own.

Recently I reached out to the Facebook community to find out how difficult it is for exhibitors to master a new breed. Here are some of the things I found out…

Large Dogs

Many people have an understanding that larger dogs should be shown by adults, specifically men. So is this true or not?

The majority in my FB community agree with this. They mention how the big dogs look correct, and more appealing, with a male handler. Larger breeds like Wolfhounds and Leonbergers, and strong breeds such as English Foxhounds, can be a handful, they say. Literally, when showing these breeds, some people might wish for an extra set of hands in order to have full control.

Hair Maintenance

My FB friends think that the level of difficulty is higher with breeds that have more coat maintenance, and I would agree with them. Mastering breeds with more hair than a Beagle – that would be most breeds – presents a challenge for me. I would say in a good way though!

I never thought I would actually enjoy breeds with an abundance of coat. Little did I know I would find myself gravitating towards Afghans, Goldens and even Shi Tzu. Preparing these breeds is definitely time-consuming, especially on the day of a show. The hours of brushing, drying and preparation of these breeds make them difficult to master. However, there is something about taking a dog and making it look perfect – or close to it – that is comparable to making great art, I think.

Any breed can be a challenge to master, and not just for the show ring. All aspects of the sport, from breeding and raising healthy puppies to training for obedience and agility, require a lot of hard work before they can be “mastered.”

Every single breed that I have worked with was challenging at first. By learning from people who know and have worked with a breed for many years, my ability to present each one slowly improved with time and experience.

While at a show, someone may need a helping hand and ask you to cover their dog for them. This ends up happening a lot, since almost anyone can cover a dog here and there. But if you really want to master a breed, there’s no better way to do it than to learn from the best. Find a mentor, be patient and work hard. Things may be rough at first, but it will be worth it once you feel you’ve mastered the presentation of some of the more “difficult” breeds.

(Difficult) Dogs Freakin’ Rule!

Written by

Kayla Bertagnolli is a 23-year-old from Ogden, UT, who's been involved in the dog show world her whole life. A former junior handler who learned about breeding Beagles from her mother Leah, she assisted several professional handlers and is currently working to become a Junior Showmanship judge. Kayla is passionate about photography and writes the twice-weekly blog, DFR. She plans to continue breeding and showing, and expects to stay involved in dogs "for life!"
  • Alxe Noden May 7, 2012 at 2:07 PM

    For sure every new breed has a learning curve before you can feel confident handling it. I disagree about large dogs always doing better with men, though. In my breed, the Great Dane, many of the very best handlers are women (though of course there are outstanding male Dane handlers) and I think they look great and do spectacularly well with these gentle giants.

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