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.