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Showing, My Way

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.

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.

6 Comments to “Showing, My Way”

  1. Lynda Beam (Canine Candids by Lynda) says:

    I think it’s a matter of time, I feel much the same way now. If I go to a show and I don’t screw up my dog, and my dog doesn’t screw up I’m a happy camper. We put on a good show and did the best we could. I’m still going home with the dog I love.

    If the judge couldn’t find us, that’s their problem And sometimes … they just found a better dog!

  2. Sharon Sakson says:

    Beautiful article, Billy, about a beautiful philosophy. It’s good to remember that we all got into showing because we love our dogs and want to spend more time with them. At shows, we get to be in a world where everyone loves dogs as much as we do. And we get to see fabulous dogs, some that we own and some that we don’t.
    Sharon Sakson
    author of
    Paws & Effect: The Healing Power of Dogs

  3. Lisa Wright says:

    I think you make some very valid points. As I am new to this sport—I always go to the local shows! Since I am new, I don’t know if the judges like me or my dog. The public doesn’t know how great my breed is, beacause it is rare (Sealyham Terriers). I do feel obligated to discuss the breed with everyone that asks. Often at shows we get “in the zone”, grooming and preparing; we still have to be accessible to those that come to see the dogs and might want one of their very own.
    Thanks for reminding us about the big picture. Thanks for giving me better reasons to go to Montgomery County!!

  4. Becky Smith says:

    This article had me acknowledging that I feel very much the same way! Having fun, seeing fellow fanciers, and what’s coming up in the breed fuels the passion. The public observing the care and love we put into spending time with our dogs is also a factor.
    French Bulldogs are my passion and having fun with them must be a part of the show experience!

    Fun article Billy…

    Becky Smith
    Urban French Bulldogs

  5. Elizabeth Denning Elizabeth (Betsy) Denning says:

    I have been showing since 1994, and intially I too went every weekend!! How I did it I have no idea, but “everyone” said I needed to finish my Borzoi bitch. Well, I finally did, and I learned a great deal about what she wasn’t and what she was, which judges liked a dog of her type, etc.
    It is now 20 years later. I have a special that I bred and raised myself and this is our last year. I only finished a few dogs in the last four years and have focused on him.
    This year, I have only shown at shows offering Ownerhandler; last year we did about 10 weekends and got group placements and ended up in the top ten or twenty. I recently went to North Dakota for shows (I live in Massachusetts! ) and had a ball. This is my last year with my Zoi as he is 6, so I wanted to go places I had never been, plus after twenty years in the northeast it was getting boring. We went to Erie PA, North Dakota, a few local shows, and may go to Eukanuba for OH. For me, it was the PROCESS of bringing him up to a specials level, to be able to be competitive whereever we went thanks to my handling coach Rose Chandless of Winslow Way, and to learn about the grooming practices as well as the conditioning techniques that got him to this level. It has been a really great journey and I would not have missed it for anything. Betsy Denning

  6. Mimi says:

    Nice article, some very good points I totally agree with:>

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