Tanya Harding vs Nancy Kerrigan

Who remembers anything about either of these mediocre skaters other than Tanya hiring thugs to end her rival’s career and Nancy sobbing “why me, why me”?   Few can recall their skating styles or win records and who knows where they are today.  Is this the behavior that defines competition?  Is competition inherantly bad? 

I think competition is what drives performance Montgomery 2008and innovation.  With Tanya and Nancy their personal animosity cost both of them titles and a place in the record books.  In dog showing, making it personal costs us friends, respect and ultimately wins.  Handlers beat us all the time, not because they have the better dogs, though sometimes that’s true, but because they are relatively dispationate about the winning.  They make their livings showing dogs for people, and since winning pays better than losing, they certainly care and certainly try hard to win.  But there are few handlers who outwardly seem upset if they lose.  They hand the dog off to an assistant and go on to their next charge.  This is what a professional is.  Somebody who knows the game and accepts the ups and downs, taking it all in stride.

Then there stands the rest of us.  And behind us, years and years of passion and committment to our one breed.  We’ve have so much of ourselves wrapped up in our dogs and what they represent to us, that how can it be anything other than intensely personal.  Winning and losing to many of us amateurs is a measure of our self-worth.  When the judge picks us over our competition we are elated and feel affirmed in our approach to our chosen breed.  When we aren’t chosen, we instantly suspect monkey-business or “politics” as the reason for the loss.  Sometimes in the car on our way back home, losses to friends or handlers, are magnified into self doubt and feelings of inadequacy.  Think I’m kidding?  Then you haven’t been to many shows or ever shown a dog.

One of the hardest things to learn about showing dogs is how to be a good winner and a good loser.  How to have that dispationate look and carriage of a professional handler as you leave the ring without that major you needed, knowing there won’t be one for the rest of the season.  How to congratulate the person the judge pointed to and mean it.  How to really believe that every dog can win sometimes.  These are lessons that take some people a lifetime to learn.  Personalizing wins and losses only lead to anger and resentment, preventing the person from looking for ways to innovate and perform better.  We cease to be like those professionals who beat us and become the ugly exhibitor.

Competition should drive us to become better groomers, handlers and breeders. Sometimes it actually works that way.   A longtime Kerry Blue friend and breeder in California, who we recently got a young dog from, related to us the story of how they became successful in our breed.  These people built a very influential line of dogs that is widely respected today after over 40 years of breeding.  She told us that they began to show Kerries they entered their dogs nearly every weekend and seldom got a win.  Her husband, a handler himself,  became so frustrated with this that one day he shouted at the judge, “You never pick me, never!  What’s wrong with you.”  The judge shouted back, “When you bring me a decent dog, I will!”Professional Handler

Though very tough to hear, our friend and her husband took an honest look at their stock and took a different direction.  In time, they became winners more often and prooduced some of the breed’s most influential dogs.  Their epiphany came when they took themselves out of the situation and made changes.  Competition drove them to train their dogs better and change direction in their breeding program:  performance and innovation. 

In our state right now there are two winning bitches:  we own one and a friend of ours has the other.  The two girls are completely different in type and style.  Both of these dogs showed up at a small show in New Mexico recently and each got a breed win and a group placement.  Our bitch was handled by her professional handler and our friends handled their bitch.  The two judges each liked a different type of dog so there were wins for both of us.  This is what competition is about.  People going head to head in an honest way and both getting a payoff. 

Remembering to use competition as a motivator for positive behavior at shows is easier said than done.  Winning is more fun than losing in anybody’s book.  As the saying goes, “Every dog has his day”.   But behaving like a professional regardless of the outcome in the ring, will ultimately take you in a winning direction more often than not.

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