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My Favorite Things – the Early Morning Dog Show

I like the early morning hours.

Before the sun comes up, there’s a calm stillness to the air that’s filled with quiet anticipation. This is especially so on dog show days, when the alarm goes off at four a.m. and I’m on the road long before sunrise.

With the dogs and their gear loaded and a full tank of gas in the van, a certain kind of excitement takes hold as I turn on the ignition and pull out of the driveway.

Traffic is usually light as I head toward the highway that will take me away from the urban sprawl and out onto the open road. My enthusiasm for the coming day builds with every passing mile, and I search the radio to find the local country music station.

I never listened to country music until I began going to dog shows. It wasn’t long after I started traveling to National Specialties that I discovered most Americans enjoy listening to songs about dogs and trucks sung by homegrown heroes. Pretty soon I did too, and now I associate this music with early morning excursions to some of my favorite dog shows.

Sometimes I wonder why someone in Nashville hasn’t written a hit song about this?

The open road beckons. Photo by Anton Maltsev/Dreamstime.com.

When I’m traveling, I don’t use a GPS. Instead, I rely on MapQuest and good old-fashioned maps should I need them. Because I’m a visual person, I find maps to be reliable for getting me just about anywhere. And once I’ve been to a show site, I can pretty much find my way there the following year.

I’m simply not interested in traveling with a synthesized voice that tells me where to go!

Unencumbered by heavy traffic, early morning driving is a pleasure. This is especially true of those long trips to show clusters several states away. The beauty of America seems to go on forever, and around every curve in the road, a new surprise awaits.

I recall heading to a show in southern Virginia and seeing the Blue Ridge Mountains for the first time. In the light of a new day, the hills did, indeed, appear blue, even through the mist that hung all around them.

I don’t remember if my dog won or lost that day, but I certainly remember the sunrise.

Years ago, I drove north toward New York’s Fingers Lakes. The Wine Country Circuit, I was told, was not to be missed for its large breed entries and beautiful local scenery. I left home late at night, driving through the darkness until I caught a glimpse of Seneca Lake, just as the light of day began to show itself.

In the waking hours, the water appeared dark and forbidding, but the many local vineyards along its banks seemed to reassure with their arbors lined up neatly in rows. The promise of a new day never seemed so well-organized.

I do remember this particular weekend. I arrived at the show grounds long before most exhibitors and had plenty of time to exercise the dogs. Sampson State Park has many paths that crisscross their way through fields of wildflowers and shaded woodlands. These provided the perfect excuse to rise early each day and spend some quiet time before judging – and socializing – began.

Arriving early to a show is not only useful for exercising both the dogs and the mind, it’s also a good way to find the perfect place to set up – assuming the handlers who arrived in their RVs the night before haven’t taken all the choice spots.

As everyone unloads their crates and ex-pens, vendors serve up fresh cups of coffee with breakfast sandwiches and pastries. The dogs are exercised and put on grooming tables in preparation for their ring times.

Almost imperceptibly, the quiet of the morning disappears, replaced by the camaraderie and the competitive energy of the modern American dog show. The peaceful calm of the morning’s drive is now a memory. It’s time to focus on the job at hand.

For many exhibitors showing dogs is a hobby. For others, it’s a lifestyle. Breeders enter their dogs to have their stock evaluated by experts whereas owners may enter their dogs as something to do together. Whatever the reason for entering, dog shows bring people together to celebrate how we all feel about the dogs that share our lives. We enjoy being with people who understand our devotion, and we can appreciate and support the progress others are making with their own dogs.

At the end of a hurried day, only one dog will be selected Best in Show. But in the early morning hours, every exhibitor has the chance to enjoy the calm, knowing that his or her dog is ultimately the “best.”

Written by

Dan Sayers started “in dogs” through a chance encounter with a Springer Spaniel in 1980. A student of dogs ever since, he’s shown Spaniels and Hounds in the conformation ring and breeds Irish Water Spaniels under the Quiet Storm prefix. A dog lover with a passion for the creative arts, Dan has worked as a freelance writer, photographer and illustrator for many years. His feature articles and columns have appeared in Dogs in Review, Dog World and the AKC Gazette, and his design work has appeared in dozens of publications in North America and abroad. An interest in all things “dog” brought Dan to Best In Show Daily, where he gets to work with the most dynamic group of fanciers every day. He lives in Merchantville, New Jersey, with his partner, Rudy Raya, Irish Water Spaniel, Kurre, and the memory of Oscar, a once-in-a-lifetime Sussex Spaniel.
  • Colleen Osman June 5, 2012 at 1:59 PM

    Love this article !!! Thank you….

    • Dan Sayers
      Dan Sayers June 5, 2012 at 2:51 PM

      You’re welcome, Colleen. Here’s to early mornings and the open road!


  • Lois Rondeau June 5, 2012 at 6:50 PM

    Dan – your story reminded me
    of something I live by~ its not the destination
    as much as it is the journey.
    Enjoy the trip!


    • Dan Sayers
      Dan Sayers June 6, 2012 at 10:55 AM

      Thanks for writing, Lois. I try to remind myself of those words every (dog show) day!


  • Sonya Henderson,Raynics Bassets June 7, 2012 at 6:49 AM

    Loved your article,reading it this morning brought back my beginnings in the wonder of our dog world . My start was on an island in the Pacific ocean and tho I had always had dogs as pets,never could fathom the dog show world of pure breds and all that came with it .It will always bring me great inner satisfaction whether winning in the ring,breeding the next champion

    or making that decsion from the line up of dogs in front of me. Its the world I absolutely get up for each and every and day! Thanks Lois!

  • Sonya Henderson,Raynics Bassets June 8, 2012 at 9:02 AM

    Dan,Read your article this morning after seeing my friend of many years out the door to shows in WA. I will take care of the doggy family at home this time and we will both go back to WA for specialties at the end of the month. I can see the day start just as you describe and am rejuvenated by how my dogs have enriched my life since acquiring my first one many years ago. It has led me to many life long friends as well as friends I see at shows from time to time. It is GREAT!!

    • Dan Sayers
      Dan Sayers June 8, 2012 at 1:23 PM

      Happy Trails, Sonya!
      Thanks for writing to Best In Show Daily. We love hearing from you.

  • madcap
    Betty Wathne, Madcap Irish water spaniels and Pyrenean shepherds June 12, 2012 at 5:28 PM

    Thank you, Dan, for conveying one of my favorite things about going to shows…the quiet beauty and cool air of the early morning giving way to the heat of competition and excitement.


    • Dan Sayers
      Dan Sayers June 14, 2012 at 1:01 PM

      I’m with you, Betty. There’s nothing quite like the increasing momentum of a dog show day. Thanks for writing! Dan

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