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Say Hello to Michael Dougherty

When Michael Dougherty steps onto the floor of Madison Square Garden on the night of February 12, he’ll likely have a keepsake of his late father tucked away in his breast pocket. The Escondido, Calif., resident honored with choosing this year’s Best in Show winner at the famed Westminster Kennel Club dog show grew up in the sport working alongside his parents, Jack and Marion. The family shared many dog show moments together, so it’s only fitting that they should come together again as the younger Dougherty takes on the role of a lifetime. “I may carry a tie clip or something of my dad’s inside my jacket,” says Dougherty. “But he’ll be there regardless, he and my mom both.”

Dougherty is pictured awarding the 2007 Westminster Kennel Club Hound Group to Petit Basset Griffon Vendeen Ch. Celestial CJ's Jolly Fairchild, handled by Greg Strong. Photo by Fritz.

Dougherty is pictured awarding the 2007 Westminster Kennel Club Hound Group to Petit Basset Griffon Vendeen Ch. Celestial CJ’s Jolly Fairchild, handled by Greg Strong. Photo by Fritz.

Showing Dogs Is a Family Affair

Mike Dougherty and his older brother Steve grew up in San Diego, Calif., in a house that always had a dog. “When I was growing up, we had a Boxer named Lady who had a stub of a tail,” says Dougherty. “She was a doll, and I learned to walk holding onto that tail.”

A black Miniature Poodle followed, but when epilepsy ended her short life, the boys’ mother told the family emphatically, “We need another dog.” So they researched the breeds, decided they really liked the bearded look of the Miniature Schnauzer, and got a puppy from a breeder in the San Diego area.

“The dog was pretty decent,” recalls Dougherty. “So we decided to try and show him. We found a local man to show the dog, but he didn’t really know Terriers.” After the dog had earned only a couple of points with 12 trips into the ring, the family considered a “plan B.” “We went to a local show, and my mom and dad – clever people that they were – looked around and thought, ‘It looks like a lot of work, but it doesn’t look that hard,’” Dougherty remembers. And with that declaration, life at the Dougherty household went to the dogs.

Showing dogs quickly became a family affair. “As it turned out, we ended up going back to that same breeder to get another male that did become our first champion.” According to Dougherty, “Mom did all the grooming. She studied and stole from all the pros including Ric Chashoudian, Daisy Austad, Ben Brown, Harry Sangster and Jimmy Butler.”

Dougherty and father Jack worked together for many years as part of a successful handling team. From left, father and son are shown winning the points on both sides with Miniature Schnauzers under A. O. Torkildson, and going Best of Winners and Winners Dog in Pugs at the Kennel Club of Beverly Hills in the early 1970s under Alva Rosenberg. Photos by Ludwig.

“Dad came in and was the handler,” says Dougherty who recalls the success the family had with its first show dog. “I think we finished that dog in two weekends in four shows with three 5-point majors and a 4-point major.” The dog’s breeder must have recognized something special in the novice handling team. “We took a couple of the breeder’s bitches out, and that same weekend we put majors on the bitches three of the four days,” recalls Dougherty. “We were bitten by the bug, to say the least, when my parents figured out that they could do it.”

In that era, professional handlers were required to hold a license from the American Kennel Club in order to accept payment for showing dogs. After continued success in the ring, the elder Dougherty received his limited handler’s license, and his son got an assistant handler’s license. “Dad eventually became fully licensed and, when I was old enough, I got my limited license and then an all-breed license.”

Father and son showed together for years in most of the Groups. “Dad won the Yorkie National and the Standard Schnauzer National three or four times,” says Dougherty. “My top dogs were a couple of Whippets and a Bichon Frise. I handled the very first North American champion Bichon, before they were even entered in the Miscellaneous class.”

Dougherty is quick to give credit where credit is due. “Mom was the mastermind of the operation. She kept Dad and me, the prima donnas, organized and made sure we were on the straight and narrow.”

The first annual Harry Sangster Memorial Trophy and 1967 Best Junior Handler were won by Dougherty at the Kennel Club of Beverly Hills under Dorothy Dorwood. Photo by Henry.

The first annual Harry Sangster Memorial Trophy and 1967 Best Junior Handler were won by Dougherty at the Kennel Club of Beverly Hills under Dorothy Dorwood. Photo by Henry.

’I Learned from Everybody’

Dougherty remembers going to watch the junior handlers and thinking he would like to do that. “My parents were always supportive – win, lose or draw,” he says, and they encouraged their son to compete. “In those days it was very casual. You showed up at ringside, you didn’t pre-enter, and you showed whatever dog was available to you.”

The juniors ring initially seemed a good fit for the young man and his Schnauzers. “I started with the Schnauzers first, and I did OK, but the problem was that I wasn’t good at scheduling,” admits Dougherty. “You have to kind of put Schnauzers together to get them in the ring, otherwise they look like an unmade bed.”

A short-coated breed seemed a better choice for an active and talented kid with time management issues. “I was always an athlete, and I became enamored with the Whippet,” he says. “There was a breeder and folk singer in San Diego named Paul Sykes, and he became my earliest mentor in Whippets.” Dougherty got a pet Whippet from the recording artist, and later he got a dog out of Chicago that the two co-owned. “I showed the dog for about year, and I got all these reserves to majors, so I gave him to Bob Hastings who finished him in five shows.”

Mike Dougherty is the trophy presenter in an ad for Kerry Blue Terrier Ch. Melbee’s Chances Are. ‘Tommy’ was handled by Ric Chashoudian to one of many all-breed Bests at the Silver Bay Kennel Club in 1967 under Beatrice Godsol. Ad courtesy of Mike Dougherty.

Mike Dougherty is the trophy presenter in an ad for Kerry Blue Terrier Ch. Melbee’s Chances Are. ‘Tommy’ was handled by Ric Chashoudian to one of many all-breed Bests at the Silver Bay Kennel Club in 1967 under Beatrice Godsol. Ad courtesy of Mike Dougherty.

His parents supported Dougherty’s efforts to compete in juniors. “They gave me the opportunity to instill in myself the values of what it means to compete,” he reflects. “You’re not going to win every show,” he realized. “It doesn’t matter who you are.”

With a determination to learn everything he could about showing dogs, the young Dougherty started working for handlers on the show circuits. He instinctively studied his mentors and says, “If I learned anything from one person, I learned from everybody because literally I ‘stole’ something from everybody.”

Dougherty’s experience as an assistant emphasized the importance of learning simply by watching. “If every exhibitor, every new person, every junior handler pays attention to the good handlers, you can steal their tricks. They won’t give you every secret, but if you watch them, you’ll learn.

 The Bichon Frise Ch. Cali-Col's Scalawag winning Best in Show under Robert Ward at Santa Maria KC in 1973. One of the earliest exhibitors of the breed in the U.S., Dougherty handled top-winning Bichons prior to the breed’s acceptance in the Miscellaneous class, including the breed’s first North American champion in Mexico, Scalawag's litter brother, Cali-Col's Shadrack..

The Bichon Frise Ch. Cali-Col’s Scalawag winning Best in Show under Robert Ward at Santa Maria KC in 1973. One of the earliest exhibitors of the breed in the U.S., Dougherty handled top-winning Bichons prior to the breed’s acceptance in the Miscellaneous class, including the breed’s first North American champion in Mexico, Scalawag’s litter brother, Cali-Col’s Shadrack. Photo by Ludwig.

The Value of a Win

“There was a time, even as a little kid, when I wanted to win, and if I didn’t win I’d get mad at all the wrong things,” Dougherty recalls with a laugh. His parents sat him down after one particular defeat and said, ‘You don’t ever have to do this again.’” Of course, he wanted to show again, but he began to understand that he needed to have the right frame of mind and work hard in order to get better.

Dougherty says he learned so much while competing as a junior that he always enjoys judging Junior Showmanship. “I love the process of giving back,” says Dougherty. “Juniors instilled in me the desire to compete, and it gave me an understanding of the value of a win.”

The winner of the first Harry Sangster Memorial Trophy has some advice for today’s junior competitors. “First and foremost, it’s about taking really good care of the dogs and making them your best friends. At that point you’re going to make a really wonderful team.”

Dougherty also has a message for juniors that could apply to participants in any sporting event: “Remember, it’s about the competition, not the win.”

The Whippet Ch. Runner's Our Own Charisma earning Best in Show under J. Donald Jones at Ventura County Dog Fanciers Association in 1974. The win remains to this day the largest BIS ever won by a Whippet in the U.S. Photo by Bergman.

The Whippet Ch. Runner’s Our Own Charisma earning Best in Show under J. Donald Jones at Ventura County Dog Fanciers Association in 1974. The win remains to this day the largest BIS ever won by a Whippet in the U.S. Photo by Bergman.

“At the highest level of junior handling, the kids are talented, Dougherty exclaims. “I say to them, if you stick with it, and if you keep studying and watching the handlers in the ring, and learn under the good and talented and honorable handlers out there, then you too can really be an asset to the sport.”

Dougherty says he’s grateful for the encouragement he received from his family as a junior, and he has a few words of advice to share with parents today. “As a judge, I don’t talk to the stage parents. The child can come up and talk to me, and the parents can listen. They can’t interject, and they can’t applaud or berate their child. And if they come anywhere near berating me, we’ve got a serious problem,” he says, only half kidding.

“I will talk with the child as an adult, and I don’t care if they’re 8 or 16,” he says. “I will treat them just as I have in the ring, with the respect they deserve as competitors. However they’d better have some sort of content to their question as opposed to simply asking, ‘Why didn’t I win?’

“Talk, ask questions,” he implores handlers of all ages. “There’s an opportunity to learn every minute at a dog show, and that’s true for judges too. Just because we’re old, it doesn’t mean we’ve stopped learning. After all, the dumbest person in the room is the one who knows everything.”

Westminster has been good to Dougherty through the years. From left, Scottish Terrier Ch. Merriland King's Ransom is pictured winning Best of Breed at the Garden in 1975 under John Hillman, and Whippet Ch. Runner's He's The Continental winning in 1984 under Mrs. Doris Wear. A top-winning Charisma son, Continental was a top Whippet and a Top 10 Hound during his show career. Photos by Ashbey.

Westminster has been good to Dougherty through the years. From left, Scottish Terrier Ch. Merriland King’s Ransom is pictured winning Best of Breed at the Garden in 1975 under John Hillman, and Whippet Ch. Runner’s He’s The Continental winning in 1984 under Mrs. Doris Wear. A top-winning Charisma son, Continental was a top Whippet and a Top 10 Hound during his show career. Photos by Ashbey.

You Are Your Reputation

For many years, the Doughertys participated in the sport as a family. “My brother Steve would stay home and watch the dogs while Mom, Dad and I went to the shows.” They did a good deal of traveling in those days, although the number of shows they attended pales in comparison to today’s totals. “In our biggest year, we probably attended about 75 shows,” he says.

While handling dogs, Dougherty put himself through college and competed in track at the varsity level. “I got my bachelor’s degree in marketing with a minor in economics,” he says. “Shortly after that, I got into the business world, and continued to show dogs.”

For many years, Dougherty showed dogs while building a successful career in public relations. “My very first client was Doris Day,” says the man whose career put him in contact with such celebrated authors as Maya Angelou, Dick Cavett, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Judith Krantz, Dick Morris, Sidney Sheldon, Gore Vidal, Tom Wolfe and First Lady Nancy Reagan.

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Dougherty has also enjoyed an active professional life in public relations. He’s shown here with, from left, former client First Lady Nancy Reagan, friend and former client the late Gore Vidal and wife Michelle at the 2008 AKC/Eukanuba judges dinner in Long Beach, Calif.. Photos courtesy of Michael Dougherty.

An early client who would become influential in the young graduate’s life in and out of dogs was Jay Allen, whose Schnauzers and Bostons were shown by the Dougherty family. “He was the king of literary PR, and had this hotshot business in Beverly Hills,” Dougherty says. “He was the most influential person in my business career, without a doubt.

“He taught me so many things about life, dealing with celebrities, dealing with the media and the press, who you talk to and who you don’t, and how to talk to people,” Dougherty says. One particularly valuable lesson he learned from Allen has been carried throughout his dog career: “You are your reputation.”

Another of Dougherty’s mentors in PR and publishing was Jeremy Tarcher, the man who helped to establish new age publishing in America. “He was so smart and so warm and focused on the values that were right,” he says of the man who introduced him to several iconic personalities of the era, including Swiss scientist Albert Hofmann, and psychologist and drug advocate Timothy Leary.

On the subject of mentors, Dougherty saves a special place for his father. “My dad was a man of honor,” he says with pride. Although he may not have enjoyed the same education as the other men who influenced his life and career, Dougherty nonetheless acknowledges his father’s importance as a role model. “There were none greater.”

Dougherty awards Best in Show at the 2007 Montgomery County Kennel Club to Airedale Terrier Ch. Evermay's High Performance, handled by Jenny (Wornall) Rangel. Photo by Ashbey.

Dougherty awards Best in Show at the 2007 Montgomery County Kennel Club to Airedale Terrier Ch. Evermay’s High Performance, handled by Jenny (Wornall) Rangel. Photo by Ashbey.

These Are the Best of Times

Dougherty says he does “very little” PR work these days. Together with his wife Michelle, an artist working in a variety of media from oils and bronze to water color and bonsai, he owns and operates the Windsong Resort…for Pets in Escondido. “That takes up an awful lot of our time, plus Michelle’s work career takes up a lot of energy as well.”

The couple occasionally manages to travel together to support the other’s passion. “Last June, I was judging for two days outside New York,” he recalls. “Afterwards we took the train up to Rochester, N.Y., to go to the Bonsai National where Michelle was competing.”

In April of this year, they will again be traveling together, this time a bit farther afield. Judging assignments and a bonsai convention will be taking the two to China, Japan and Korea. Dougherty describes these trips together as “the best of times.”

Despite having been born and raised in San Diego, and having traveled the world judging dogs, Dougherty has serious ties to New York City. “My parents went to kindergarten together in the Bronx,” he says. He’s also a lifelong Yankees fan.

He says he’s often asked how he’s feeling now that the hour of his Westminster Best in Show assignment draws near. “I’ve been excited ever since I received the letter that was to be held confidential for 20 months,” he laughs. “But I’ll be in my comfort zone. I’ve done enough national television appearances, so that’s not going to rattle me.”

The man who will determine the dog sport’s next living legend before millions of dog lovers around the world says he’s not worried about the decision he’s about to make. “I’m counting on seven really good judges to send me seven really good dogs.”

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.
Comments
  • Steve Dougherty February 1, 2013 at 3:17 PM

    I want to compliment Mr. Sayers on a well-researched and well-written article about my brother. And, of course, I’m naturally biased – but Mike is just as great as reflected in this piece. I look forward to watching the Best In Show judging by Mike at the Garden later this month!

  • Kathleen H Sauve' February 1, 2013 at 4:50 PM

    Excellent!

  • Kathleen Kopack February 3, 2013 at 3:49 PM

    Wonderful article! Being fairly new to the dog show world, I really appreciated getting to know more about Michael Dougherty. Thank you for the wealth of experience and knowledge and perspective you bring to this sport.

  • Lillian Cox February 3, 2013 at 4:29 PM

    I really enjoyed this article about Michael Dougherty, a real gentleman who is a friend to all dogs. All the best to you, Mike. We’ll be following the competition closely. Lara & Lillian

  • Iva Kimmelman
    Iva Kimmelman February 4, 2013 at 11:18 AM

    Michael Dougherty is one of my mentors. I learned more from him, mostly by his actions, when he exhibited a little Runner’s whippet for me in 1971 than months of listening to others who knew little. He is a whippet whisperer. No one exhibited a whippet better. I don’t know anyone does to this day.
    I owe so much of my success to his philosophy of “lead by example”.
    He was a brillant handler of many breeds, but his love and admiration for whippets caught my attention. His main contribution was teaching me about the sensitive nature of whippets. To treat them well and that they matter more than a win or a ribbon. He did not finish my little “Prisa” because he convinced me she didn’t like it much and her happiness was more important than a title. I listened.
    I am so proud of him and all he has done for our sport.
    I will watch with a teary eye as he judges BIS at Westiminster this year!

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