I like to think I represent the everyman in the dog show world. Part of that persona depends on me stepping into the show ring now and then. During the past 40 years, I have tried many different approaches to showing.
In the early years when I had fewer responsibilities and more energy, I would show every other weekend. I had the advantage of living in New York and could get to shows easily. In 1976 we moved to the San Francisco Bay area where we had our first child. A combination of increased family pressures, a new job’s demands, and the increased distances in California forced me into a somewhat reduced schedule. Anxious to keep my hand in, I bought a dog and placed him with a handler on the East Coast. It certainly was the easiest way to show and the quickest way to finish a title. It may have even been less expensive than showing myself, but it wasn’t as satisfying.
These days, I have more time and more money, but less energy than before. Still I find it important to show up with a lead in my hand at a few shows a year. Now, I do have a different attitude than most exhibitors. I truly do not care if I win. Don’t get me wrong. I like to win, but I no longer have any of my ego invested in the outcome of a breed ring. I have two goals. I want to have fun, and I want my dog to have fun. If either of us is not having fun, mark us absent. To me, showing is a personal challenge. I want to do the best job I can presenting my dog, and I want the public to know I am having fun doing it.
Now this is one of my favorite themes. We tend to think that shows are all about us and our dogs. I like to think shows are all about showing the public who we are and why we do what we do. Shows are our public face, our only opportunity to explain to the general population why we are committed to sharing our lives with purebred dogs, If you want to see a breed that is successful at this, look at the much-maligned Bulldog. It’s not a breed that is classically pretty. It is not a dog that is exactly easy to live with. They slobber, they snore, and they fart. (They don’t often tell you that.) And they are the sweetest clowns on the planet. You will smile every day you live with a Bulldog.
But what I really want to talk about today is how you can have a show dog, participate in this sport, and still have a balanced life. It is possible. By now you know I am a numbers nerd. I have a spreadsheet for everything, including my show schedule. I like to do 10 weekends a year, around 30 shows. Six of these shows will be local shows I can commute to and still sleep in my own bed. These are important for a couple of reasons. One, it’s cheap. Just because I have more money than I did when I was younger doesn’t mean my wife is going to let me spend it on my hobbies. Two, you should always, always, always support your local shows. Forget that the judge hates your dogs. Forget that you can’t stand that person in your breed who will be there. It’s your local show, and you need to let the local folk know you have a purebred dog and they should want one too.
Most of the remaining shows will be within a leisurely drive from my home, requiring only a couple of nights in a sub-par hotel in a town that has no reasonable dining options. However, by going a few more miles, I will get to see people I really like and really admire. And this is the important part. Because we have a lot of time to kill, we will talk about dogs and we will learn something. At my age, I find myself determined to live a much longer time because I still have so much to learn.
Then I do hold back a few extra dollars to get on a plane and go to a show that is important. First, whatever breed you show, go to your National Specialty. Yes, you may not like the judge. Yes, there are sure to be some people you really dislike, but you need to go for two reasons. One, you will never be an expert on your breed if you don’t talk to lots of people in your breed. Two, you will never be taken seriously in your breed if you don’t show up and show everybody what you are about.
Go to one of the marquee shows every year. Everyone should go to the Westminster Kennel Club show at least once a decade. I realize that most of us can’t go every year, but you need to experience the Garden to understand the sport we are in. Personally, I feel deprived if I don’t get to the AKC/Eukanuba National Championship. Now that it is back in Orlando, it is much more accessible to the majority of dog fanciers and is one of the most rewarding experiences in the sport.
There are several other big weekends spread out over the calendar in lots of different venues. The ones I would recommend are the January giants, Palm Springs & Portland, the just-completed Kentuckiana Cluster in Louisville, KY, and the Oklahoma City Summer Classic at the end of June. And if you are a Terrier enthusiast, the Montgomery County Kennel Club’s all Terrier Superbowl is not to be missed.
My show schedule allows me to spend all the major holidays and anniversaries with my family and still not miss anything that’s going on in the dog world. That’s the way I do it, and that’s today’s Back Story.