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Remember When Shows Were Fun?

I’m at San Francisco International Airport awaiting my plane home. These days you spend a lot of time in airports waiting when you travel. That gives you a lot of time to let your mind wander, a habit I encourage. When my mind wanders, I tend to think about dog shows. I’ve just spent four days at a dog show and had a lot of fun. I can’t say that about every show I attend, but I do remember a time when almost all dog shows were fun.

I went to my first dog show in 1968, but I didn’t get into the game seriously until 1973. I lived in Brooklyn NY and went to shows from Boston to Washington DC. Many of the shows were quite large, 3,000 dogs or more. Some of the most successful handlers in AKC history were in the area. I remember showing against Bob and Jane Forsyth almost every weekend. There were many very serious campaigners at every show. Nonetheless I always had fun. I was an annoying kid, who knew far less than I thought I did, but virtually everyone I met was tolerant, kind and even helpful.

I never shopped judges. I still don’t. I went to local shows where my friends would be. We got 25 reserve awards on our bitch before she got her first point, but we still had fun. The other exhibitors, even some of those legendary handlers, would give us tips on grooming and handling. It was a community in which we felt at home. Do I remember some dirty tricks, like a big man stomping up behind our Maltese? He never did figure out that we lived next to the subway tracks and our dog didn’t spook at noise. Do I remember snarky comments from jealous exhibitors? Oh, yeah.

Show sites were not as comfortable as they are now. RV hookups were rare and gourmet food trucks were unheard of. We did frequently have potlucks and picnics. Most of our show sites were within a couple of hours of our home. I didn’t have a lot of disposable income in those days (I still don’t), but we still managed to do over 50 shows that first year. Gas was cheaper, but entry fees were pretty high, even then.

I was here in California for the Lake County Kennel Club and the Contra Costa County Kennel Club’s Woofstock cluster. This cluster was a lot of fun and pretty much devoid of the negative aspects of our sport. The more I thought about why this cluster is so much fun and so successful, the more I realized it came down to attitude. The show committee and the two clubs’ members focused on being friendly and cheerful, and it was contagious. Everyone I met was having a good time. So I ask again, remember when shows were fun? The answer is, they still can be. Just tell yourself you are going to enjoy yourself, your dogs and your friends, regardless of what happens in the show ring. You will be smiling on the ride home. 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.
  • nancyd
    Nancy A. Doucette June 13, 2013 at 10:16 AM

    Dear Mr. Wheeler,

    I so loved your article and does it ever bring back memories…staying all day at every show, watching all groups and BIS, competing against handlers like Bobbie Barlow, Bob Stebbins, George Alston, Roy Holloway, Bill Trainor and the list goes on…and yes, they were kind and helpful to owner/handlers and always gentlemen. I never had a bad experience with professionals in those days.

    Thank you for taking me back to the “good ole days”…I still love shows but sometimes they don’t seem as much fun as then.

    And I enjoyed reading that you also listen to opera as you cook. Are you like me in that The Ring is the best or are you more a Mozart fan?

    Here’s to happy showing!

  • Debbie Theodore June 13, 2013 at 10:46 AM

    LOVE this article! I just started showing a year ago at the age of 59! Woofstock was one of my first shows in 2012 and left me with good feelings about showing! I have traveled up to 800 miles to show now, each time learning something and tring to have fun….it has worked every time, except once. Last week I went to Woofstock again, only this time I was the only entry for my breed. We set up outside next to an easy up with Irish setters and an owner that has been in the breed many years, her dogs also do agility and one is a therapy dog. She appreciated my dog and offered many thoughts and stories. She helped pass the time between class and group. The weather was a bit windy, but thankfully my dog likes showing outside. The music and the attitude of the 60’s definately was in the air, it made for a LOT of fun and memories. Spending all that time with my dog, solo can never be taken away from me, and the kind comments of many hold that to be ever so true too! We WANTED to be there!

  • Dot Romano June 13, 2013 at 11:58 AM

    Billy, our family started showing dogs on Long Island in 1970, showing from Maine to Virginia and we continue today, with our 2nd generation Rachel and 3rd generation, Ania, handling most of the dogs. I get called in the ring on occasion when we are in a bind. I still to this day have fun at dogs shows and try to encourage all newcomers. Most of the fun is had by others who are laughing at me…like last weekend when I inadvertently tried to enter the ring with my purse on my shoulder : ) I always tell people “the dogs don’t care if they get a ribbon, they just want the bait”. Enjoy each and every show and smile at the winners as well as the losers. Keep ’em wagging.

  • Chelsea Metteer June 14, 2013 at 10:24 AM

    I can’t help but agree. Even in life, it is all about your attitude and perspective. The only times I haven’t had fun at dog show is when exhibitors or handlers are too serious, or when I am engulfed by so much backlash and gossip. It’s JUST a dog show, folks!

  • sharon spence June 14, 2013 at 6:18 PM

    Was at Woofstock with my grandson and we had a great time with friends. Love Woofstock and the clubs do to keep it fun. You have to love the announcer for the costume contests. She just cracks me up with the comments she has although we almost missed the contest because we were waiting on a friend getting a picture and we never heard it announced in the bldg. But I was glad to see she let those hari kresnia go in the ring that was a great idea. I go to dog shows for the fun of showing mostly I do like to win but there are times I just know I will not be winning and know exactly who will. It is a friend and a political thing but I just wait for their dog to finish and then I move mine up the ladder to get finish. A old family rumour was that there is a judge for every dog if you just keep showing and it does seem to be true

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