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What It’s Really Like for Newcomers

There has been some interesting material in Dog World recently about what attracts people to dog showing and perhaps more significantly what puts people off not just going to dog shows but getting involved in dog showing altogether.

This week Lee Connor, who is one of our newer columnists but in this context one of our younger contributors and someone relatively new to the show scene, adds his dimension to the discussion by looking at how he and his partner have been treated as they have tried to make their way and the reaction from others to their early success.

Here is what Lee has to say:

What’s that old adage, ‘You wait an age for a bus and then two come along at once’? Well, it wasn’t a bus that I had been waiting for but an article – an article that would start a meaningful conversation on what is really affecting the popularity and growth of our wonderful hobby – and then two cracking, hard-hitting ones come along in as many weeks.

So, congratulations to Sheila Atter for her article on ‘Bullying’ (June 27th) and to Andrew Brace for his article on ‘The root cause of exhibitors’ dissatisfaction’ putting down in black and white what has so desperately needed to be said.

As many of you know I’m a complete novice to the show dog world (and being relatively young – one of those the KC is apparently desperate to attract and retain). However, despite never before owning a show dog, I have been regularly attending dog shows since the age of 14, my ‘baptism of fire’ coming at the Great Joint Dachshund Show then held at Picketts Lock.

So, now the good and the great have put their heads above the parapet I thought I would share my experiences of my first year of showing to illustrate exactly what it’s like to be a ‘newbie’.

Finding a puppy

We decided last year that we would like to show a dog. It was to be something different for us to do at weekends – just a bit of fun – so I began the search for a puppy. Initially I approached a kennel that I have held in high esteem. I sent off an email saying that I had long been an admirer of their dogs and outlying my plans to show. I also asked if they had any suitable show quality puppies (now or in the future) and said that I would be very grateful for any advice or help they could give.

I received a very curt response of no more than five words that they had no puppies. Now, this was a perfect time to offer words of advice or assistance but none were forthcoming.

Marc and Alfie!

Little did I know that I had experienced the first barrier for any newcomer to the show dog world. A number of exhibitors seem very reluctant to sell to another exhibitor and especially a novice. Fortuitously, this reply pushed me in the direction of Fran Mitchell and ultimately to Alfie.

Fran and her daughter Emily gave us nothing but positivity and good advice and, knowing our desire to show, they suggested joining a local ringcraft class and it was there that we met Gina Salisbury. She gave so many tips and invaluable advice and really boosted Marc’s confidence (remember, his one and only previous dog was a much loved Labrador-cross) so much so that when Alfie was a mere six months old he entered him for Southern Counties! I wasn’t sure Alfie (or Marc) was ready for such a big show but as Marc paid the entry fee, I went with it.

‘Listen, it’s no big issue if you come unplaced – it’s all a learning curve,’ I said before he walked into the ring. But he didn’t lose; he had a spectacular win. We were both clearly shell-shocked but Gina was there willing us on. She took us around introducing us to everyone and strangely enough also introduced me to the person whom I’d emailed and received such a rude response from months before. I was willing to put that particular indiscretion down to computers as emails do not always read as they were intended or maybe they simply weren’t proficient in modern technology.

However when introduced they just grunted and didn’t even raise their eyes; hilariously they were just as brusque in real life! Marc later spoke enthusiastically on DogWorld TV about “how welcoming and encouraging people had been”. As he spoke someone whispered in my ear, “That will soon change the more he wins…” and sadly they were quite right.

Marc went on to win RBPIS at Southern Counties and the cheers that went up as Ron Menaker pointed in his direction were deafening. A crowd had stayed behind to watch the result and the majority were thrilled by his big win.

However a few most definitely weren’t amused. It’s quite amazing how just a couple of nasty people can affect the mood of a room. I have watched as this little group – who at the time were totally unaware who I was in relation to Alfie – giggle, point and whisper as Marc would enter the ring. I often thought how I would feel as a complete newcomer; would I continue doing this, and paying for the privilege, week in and week out? Thankfully our friends in the breed (who have seen this type of behaviour happen before) rallied around and continued to support us.

And with their support we were able to laugh as new tactics were employed to put us off. While Alfie was being shown we’d have someone thunder up close behind loudly jangling keys. Then we noticed someone ringside pulling out a bag of smelly crisps and start to loudly eat them. None of these things stopped ‘bomb-proof’ Alfie showing his socks off however so ‘they’ thought they’d adopt a new tactic – trying to knock the handler’s confidence.

“Oh, that dog’s far too skinny…” bellowed one fellow exhibitor loudly to another. “Don’t you think he’s too skinny?” they shouted in earshot of the judge just as he was about to walk into the ring. Again and again, the same thing would happen; this exhibitor would eye our dog, tut and shake their head. However, again and again, Marc would resolutely stick to his guns, walk into the ring and win.

Fair play

Suddenly I (the most uncompetitive of all people) began to root for my dog. When beaten, it was often by a beautiful dog (and at the moment competition is fierce with many beautiful dogs in the breed and when that happened, defeat was always easy to accept) but on occasion I have to admit to being completely baffled by a judge’s decision. Yes, I may be a newcomer to the show world but one thing I do know inside out is my breed’s Standard and I have to admit, seeing apple-headed, weedy, slab-sided, tummy-tapping or toyish dogs top a class has been particularly galling. New exhibitors are not stupid; they soon get told about the manipulation that goes on and the exchanges of ‘favours’. This isn’t new. Katherine Raine wrote a fantastic little piece for the Dachshund Handbook back in 1980 entitled ‘A hotch-potch of thoughts’ about judges and judging and warned, “Do not return a top honour with a similar one as a matter of course. We have lost a lot of our British identity but our sense and need for ‘fair play’ still burns strong.”

And it has always struck me that those who are fully confident in their dogs (and their wins) are always the most friendly and encouraging. At SKC, our little fella once again won spectacularly beating a fantastically talented breeder who I have looked up to for many years. She was so gracious in defeat, giving a beaming smile and a heartfelt ‘well done’. This is exactly how the dog world should be and if there were more like her around I’m convinced our pastime would be far more popular and certainly more enjoyable.

Eventually Alfie was awarded that magical third CC, accompanied by hearty cheers and claps from our supportive friends, to become our first champion and we were deluged with congratulatory messages, emails and cards from people in our breed and many others but rather tellingly not from the giggling whisperers. It appears the rule of the playground is very much in evidence, ‘if you are friends with them then you can’t be friends with me’. All rather sad and I had hoped that this was something confined to my breed but unfortunately that doesn’t appear to be the case. I recently spoke with a young lady who shows a toy breed and was ostracised because she spoke out about their movement and a young man whose aspirations to become a judge are not being encouraged. I’ve witnessed tears from younger and newer exhibitors bullied and intimidated by those who should know better.

Once again these problems aren’t a sad reflection of modern times. Books from the 1920s and 30s warn of “entering into the veritable hotbed of gossip that abounds at the ringside”. Competitive instinct and pride of possession rank high in the human character and with these sadly come jealousy. The problems now being discussed aren’t solely confined to the dog show scene.

If anything, Alfie’s wins have proven that it is possible to win as a ‘non-face’ and that the system – solely reliant on the integrity of a good judge – can work. I’m not convinced that a KC working party can achieve anything as the problems are so difficult to quantify. Things need to speed up in the dog world; change is so tortuously slow. Allow the judges of the future into the ring to learn and study the ‘old hands’ – something that already happens on the Continent. It’s ridiculous that it appears to take longer to become a judge than it does to train to be a doctor or a vet! Encourage those who wish to become judges, even if they are under 30, promote them and break up the backslapping little cliques who share out the prizes among themselves.

Surely change can only come from us, the paying exhibitor, speaking up and speaking out when we see obvious wrongdoing. It’s certainly happening more and more of late and we need more mentors for our newer, not just the younger, exhibitors. I’m optimistic for the future because I know that for every mealy-mouthed gossiper or bully there is a Fran Mitchell, a Jeff Horswell, a Gina Salisbury and a Jeff Crawford (who has kindly gifted us so many much-treasured breed handbooks). Experts who put their breed and the future of pedigree dogs first, who have been genuinely delighted to see a newcomer succeed. These people have given so freely of their time and experience to support us through all the trials and tribulations of the past year. If only every newcomer could be so fortunate.

– See more at: http://www.dogworld.co.uk/product.php/117645/#sthash.adtvJMWI.dpuf

Written by

Lee Connor is a writer based in Dorset. He is also a Columnist for Dogworld-UK. Lee Also Writes and Illustrates Children's books, most of which focus on Environmental Issues. See more at www.connor-creations.com
  • Iva Kimmelman
    Iva Kimmelman July 10, 2014 at 11:57 AM

    Great article. I remember 48 years ago when I met my first whippet and went to my first dog show. I was hooked immediately.

    What you don’t have to contend with in the UK are professional handlers.
    I hope it stays that way, because once money enters ANYTHING to do with people, things head South fast.
    Iva Kimmelman
    Merci Isle whippets

  • Karen July 10, 2014 at 5:10 PM

    Can I reprint your article in our next BCA Div VI newsletter? I would give you credit of course.

    • kayla
      kayla July 10, 2014 at 6:52 PM

      Hi Karen, thank you for writing and for being part of Best In Show Daily. Yes, you can reprint the article, please retain our & Dog World’s copyrights and authorship. All the best, Kayla

  • Karissa L. Ketelhut July 10, 2014 at 11:21 PM

    I can relate to this very much. I am still “new” in terms that I am 21. I have been show and training dogs though since I was 12. I show Shelties and more recently Shibas. I have yet to finish a dog, it is so hard competing with professional handler and all the dirty tricks they use not to mention people playing “favorites”. When I started showing Shibas people said horrible things about my dogs, funny thing was my 7 month old puppy won winner bitch four days in a row, best of opposite sex and best of breed puppy including a puppy group 4th her first time out. then at our nationals (my and her very first time at nationals) won reserve winners bitch 2 days in a row, I had so many people try to “down” that win, but I knew it was nothing to scoff at. Nationals are highly competitive I was honored. and then people started offering me money for my dog. So sad of them, because I will NEVER give her up. it’s hard to be new and many handlers are rude and try their best to mess you up or keep the judge from looking at or seeing your dog. but it hasn’t stopped my girl from winning and she is almost finished now. I expect her to be my first champion.

    • Lynda Beam July 11, 2014 at 11:45 AM

      We all started once upon a time, scared to death to be out there with our dog. I bought my first show dog as a pet, but worked very hard with her and she was a very good show dog, but not such a great malamute. Several years later, with some maturity and having learned to groom properly (thank goodness for Bev Abbott and her grooming supply truck!) I did manage to finish her championship in a time when malamute majors took 13 bitches! Quite a bit less now…

      The point is, that you need to stick to it, and if you learn and work hard, good things will come.

  • Pamlyn Millsap July 11, 2014 at 7:02 AM

    We also experienced some of this, but like you kept plugging along. We have no thought of getting championships on our dogs and don’t plan on ‘breeding’ for sale. I am considering having one litter for myself and a few well chosen friends. So winning isn’t even a huge deal for me. But like you- I wanted to have a sport to have fun with. There are times it has been ANYTHING but fun and I wondered what the heck I was doing. And like you I after 2 years met some nice people!

  • Cee Tee July 12, 2014 at 12:09 AM

    What a wonderful article! I have seen this time and again, and not only in the dog showing world. I used to (emphasis on “used to”) show English budgies and saw the same thing happening… it put me off so much I sold all my birds. I’ve seen it in other clubs too. I guess there just has to be a bully (or two or three) in every crowd. I suggest: Just ignore them, keep your chin up, and BE that good example you would want to see from everyone else. Kindness goes a long way…

  • Sharyn Hutchens July 13, 2014 at 4:54 PM

    Congratulations, Marc, Lee, and Alfie! Not only for your success but for sticking it out and standing up to the intimidators by refusing to let them bully you out of the show world. It makes me wonder how many other enthusiastic, talented young (and not so young) people we have run out of the hobby, and I’m sad knowing there must be ten who quit for every one who sticks. I suppose we cannot make rules against being rude, but we CAN make it unacceptable socially. Incidentally, my daughter came up with a novel defense against rudeness in high school, where bullying is an art form. She began confronting the bullies by simply saying something along the lines of, ‘You know, that remark was very hurtful. I know you are not a mean person and didn’t intend to be rude. Perhaps I am just too sensitive, but you might want to reconsider before saying that to anyone else. I would hate to see you get the reputation for being cruel to people.” Generally the bully was so flabbergasted at being confronted so politely, she (and it was always a she) was speechless.

    Sharyn Hutchens, Timbreblue Whippets, Virginia USA

    • Robin July 14, 2014 at 9:07 AM

      Your daughter has learned at a young age to ‘kill them with kindness’ – bravo!

  • Bob Pierce
    Bob Pierce July 15, 2014 at 3:01 PM

    I appreciate the concept of the article and the authors approach to a difficult problem.

    The first show I entered was in 1967, Shreveport Kennel Club, my dog was in the Novice class. I was fortunate to have had a breeder/exhibitor help me prepare and that blue ribbon my dog received and that show experience has stayed in my memory since. The breeder , a Capt. McDonald was supportive and took the time to walk me around the rings and explain things. I remember the hustle and bustle around the crate areas, watching Judges make their selections, the smells, the electricity in the air ; I loved it, I loved every bit of it and wanted more. I stayed and watched BIS, by then the crowd had diminished as it always does, but I was there and loved it.

    No sport has a fully open door in my opinion, there is a price of admission, dues if you will. I paid mine because to me it was worth it. Yes there is rejection at times, there is expensive travel, angst, rumors, etc. There is also great Joy, there are those moments when you and your dog are totally one, moments when nothing exists but the two of you, no words can describe those moments.

    I will close these remarks by suggesting to those who are so opposed to professional handlers have little knowledge of the profession. These people work hard, have huge responsibilities, and are required to have skills well beyond those shown at the crates or in the ring. Yes they win often, they also often have the better dogs or dogs that are better prepared and conditioned. The sport needs professionals who after years in the handling business become some of our Best Judges. Look at history, and remember where the greats came from.

    Thanks again for a great article


  • Elizabeth Denning
    Elizabeth (Betsy) Denning July 16, 2014 at 11:01 AM

    I have “only” been showing 20 + years in Borzoi; before that it was horses, hunters to be exact. I have found the dog show world to be no worse than the horse world, the art world, the dance world, the non-profit world or ANY world. There will always be nay-sayers, but the point is to keep soldiering on. The day will come, and it ALWAYS does, when what goes around comes around, and how sweet that is!

    Having said that, I always did reasonably well—finished several Zoi of my own as well as some friends’ dogs, BUT once I improved my handling skills, I became a group contender! NEVER EVER underestimate the importance of handling skills–it is a competition, after all! If anyone wants to email me privately, I will share the name of my coach, who changed the way I handle EVERYTHING! Best to all, and don’t let the turkeys get you down! Remember, when they start coming after you, it means you are doing something RIGHT!!! Elizabeth (Betsy) Denning

  • Kathy G. January 3, 2015 at 12:41 PM

    You are a good sport and have a great positive attitude. Still, poor sportsmanship and politics continue. We can’t change the world (or anyone for that matter); however, we can TRY to influence “good will” by setting an example of what dog showing should be; what it was intended to be; how good sportsmanship effects all involved; how kindness and respect of others brings joy and success of life. Stay positive and show dogs for all the right reasons. If your dog performed fantastically and enjoyed being in the ring, THAT’S GREAT! Really…. what else matters? Who else matters? Have fun; continue on with your success and bring that contagious positive attitude with you wherever you go. Wishing all of you the very best in the show ring!

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