We Never Lose. We Either Win Or We Learn.

Axel 2014 National 2014 BOS a  Standing ringside in Belton, Texas, on the second day of the weekend, her words shocked me. I had no idea how to respond to her friendly, open face with bright, inquisitive eyes. Surely we were kindred spirits, agreeing on her assessment of the dog show experience. Why had she singled me out to offer an initiation into her club? Had one of our competitors sent her? What had I done to appear as she obviously saw me? I stared at her blankly, head swimming. I glanced at the people standing near me, searching for some back up. Somebody I could pull into the conversation to set her straight. I saw nobody. A cold clamminess enveloped me. I looked at my dog. He was watching me and I noticed he had shifted to stand between me and my tormentor. Breathe, damn it! Think, engage! All I could think about was the blinding rage that filled my head in Portland at the start of this season. This horrible season, now nearly over. Emotions I had pushed down after that first weekend to keep showing our dogs. In order to be in this building, standing outside this ring, trying to fight for what we wanted and believed should be ours.

Portland 2014 6  Seconds stretched by. I had to respond if only to regain control. She was only a human, not a gorgon turning me to stone. My words seemed hollow and far away, but I continued. A forced smile on my face, eyes neutral, trying to sound kind. “No”, I began,  “we don’t lose more than we win. If that were the case we would have quit years ago.” I was less numb. ” You have to believe in your dog and your ability to know how well he fits the standard. You have to project your faith in all that onto the judge. To win you must be honest about the dogs in the ring with you and the process, even if it seems the judge is not. And above all you have to see yourself as a winner. Always. Whether you walk out with a ribbon, or the right ribbon, or not.”  Portland 2014 26

Somehow, I was conscious again. The room seemed warmer, I saw my partner, my mom, looking at the dog and me from her seat at the ring, smiling. Not a loving motherly smile, but the strong confident smile of somebody who is probably the most competitive person I know.  I don’t know who that woman was or where she went. I wouldn’t have recognized her if she approached me again. Still struggling with why the event had occurred, I tried to focus on the show. We were not leaving this weekend like so many others, like the day before had gone. Like almost every weekend had gone for two and a half years. Clinging to our belief in ourselves and the quality of our dog, and the words of our breeders telling us our dog would be ready to win when he turned three, we had once again journeyed to the German Pinscher National. Trying to salvage something good out of this season.

Over the three years we’ve owned our German Pinscher we have been aware of how much we don’t know. In the words of our handler: I do nothing to make him stand out. Winning in dogs often comes down to what in other sports are called the intangibles.  The one with the shiniest coat or the best expression often beats out the ones with more breed type and better movement. In some breeds color is a big deal. From one year to the next judges seem to like different colors. You won two years ago with a black dog, now only reds get the pick. Height, like a pendulum, swings back and forth. All that’s missing is a clear interpretation of the written standard. With intangibles, you either feel really good about them or hopeless. In German Pinschers, where it’s difficult to define breed type, or find two or three dogs alike, wins are more often in the hands of those holding the lead than most of the working breeds. But there’s opportunity in that scenario, too. If a judge is waiting to be told which dog to pick, why not attempt to point them your way?  Axel 2014 National BOB

The first day of the National, we were summarily dismissed. Easy to pick the three handlers and fill in with dogs that bore some resemblance to theirs. Not knowing the working judges, we spent the night in the hotel full of depression and trying to think of a way to be a good sport and salvage some fun out of the weekend. Our life in dogs has not been a losing one. Doggedly, we hold onto the belief in what we have and how it’s shown. If working can get you there, we will do what it takes. But with our black and red dog none of the old formulas had worked.  A solid year of losing to a very nice dog, shown by a self-aggrandizing, fast talker, was sloughed off as our dog not being ready. Probably true. Toward the end of 2013, and the beginning of the 2014 show season, this fine dog was put away. It was time. We still lost on the rare occasion he was shown. By this time he was fat and bored,and we still could not make up any ground. Our handler gave me some ideas that helped, and I worked him in some classes. A little progress, but not enough. Now the first day in Texas had ended. So familiar, so expected.

DSC_9179a  I was never bullied in school. But I could spot the kids that were at risk on the first day. Demeanor, expression, clothing, body type. It was all there. Of course the bullied kids never saw themselves for what they were. It just got worse, year after year. They must have wondered, in their beds at night, why them. Now here I was. Some stranger spotting something that pegged me as a loser. A chronic failure. Accepting on some level, my position in the German Pinscher ring, at the end of the line. Always the one with the good-natured handshake for the winners. It had to stop. And it had to stop that second day, in that ring. Unaware of my pending mental crisis, my mom approached me. She had watched the class judging, seeing with her lifetime of experience what could be done. She whispered emphatically, referring to our most powerful intangible, “Give her the Carol Basler. You can get this.”  I entered the ring amid all the dog specials. The breed and best opposite winners from the day before looked good. Momentum and the fact they were from Texas on their sides. There were a few others deserving of wins, I thought. But why not us? This was German Pinschers. The most level playing field we’d ever shown in. Do it!

I applied a little pressure to make the cut. It felt good. I stacked our dog to show off what he had many of the others   DSC_9333adidn’t. Nearly all the dogs from the day before made the cut again. But so did we. She seemed to like our style of dog. We watched the bitch specials and tried to see what she was picking. The cut dogs and bitches re-entered the ring again.  I got a thumbs up from ringside and a couple of hand gestures known only to us. The judge was one who takes her time. Looking at the dogs again and again. Moving them. Mentally sorting them.   If you show your dogs often, or spend time ringside watching judges at work, you can see when things change. When the focus is narrowed to the few who will stay in the ring as everyone else files out.  I saw the judge’s eyes swing from someone down the line then back to my vicinity.  Who was it down the line: dog or bitch. I moved my dog toward the center of the ring slightly and snuck a look. It was a bitch. The red bitch that had been Best of Opposite the day before. It was an opening. Now who was the dog? My God, it was us! Back and forth we worked the judge. Both of us slightly aggressive, very emphatic, without saying a word, that our dog was the best. The bitch’s handler working the beautiful neck and breed type, I worked the topline and square proportions. With a gesture, it was over. We were Best Of Opposite Sex.  DSCN1058

Tough and strong, we worked together, building momentum through the rest of the weekend. We made the cut the following day and took home Best of Breed on the last day of the weekend. All the same dogs were there. To say I worked the judge on that last day was an understatement.  We went on to a group three and some very lukewarm congratulations from the other members of the working group. While I have mixed feelings about our group placement, it was the two awards at the breed level that will stay with me always.  I’d like to write that we went on to repeated success in our next shows. But we didn’t. We lost to two bitches, one with a dislocating elbow and the other that was fat and scared. But our dog was thin and I wasn’t the handler I had been in Texas. We will show on in 2015. Working on our dogs and on ourselves. Never losing. Either winning or learning. It’s the best we can do.  GCH Nevars Polaris Temerity Portland 2014

One Third A Champion

  In the waning weekends of the 2012 show season we anxiously counted down the days.  Looking to salvage something from an abortive season fraught with disappointment and the lingering feelings that we no longer recognized our sport, we jumped at the chance to make one more show trip.  Enough clothing, food, bedding and hope for eight dogs outbound and eleven dogs inbound packed with prayers the dry weather would hold. While chatter on the social media sites centered around the upcoming Eukanuba show in Florida, our gypsy road show left Yoder, Colorado, on a Tuesday bound for Dallas.  We would go no further than those shows this season. Four shows in Florida held no interest for us this year. We knew the outcome already.  Instead, our destination held much more uncertainty.  The chance to be made a fool of in public in front of each other and our peers:  showing six month old puppies.  Six months and one day old.

  Only new owners, starry-eyed and giddy with the prospect of winning majors with raw recruits, show puppies this young.  Most reputable handlers discourage their clients from such folly and in fact, refuse to be seen in a sweepstakes ring at all.  Puppies and their hair-brained antics make them look bad.  Somebody might mistake them for amateurs.  Hooligan terrier puppies are probably the worst.  Fighting one minute with each other, the next with you and threatening to either bite or pee on the judge, most sane exhibitors leave them at home.  But, what fun would that be? Especially if the breeder/owner was a hander. Puppies level the playing field. Everybody is at a disadvantage.  A sort of gallows humor had descended upon both of us making this trip in the red box truck and its ironic Pawsatively Handling logo of a serene Pointer on the side. It was Pawsatively dog show suicide.  We could have hedged our bets by training our puppies.  A few handling classes or matches would have been prudent.  But, training in the ring has its own rewards, after all.

  This was my first trip in the box truck.  I liked the feel of riding in it immediately.  Sitting at the level of long haul truckers and FedEx drivers   initiated into a club known mostly from songs.  Sitting in my seat, fighting the arm rest for the seatbelt after every stop, I hoped the truckers thought I was capable of piloting this behemouth of a vehicle.  All the while being grateful I never actually had to work a shift behind the wheel. The red beast carried us across the plains of Colorado and Texas without incident. We stopped twice for a break for us and the dogs and three times to gas up. This was no quick event.  We set the Chihuahua pen up first. Buckie and Raisin handed out and placed inside their portable exercise yard.  The three puppies followed.  Each of us walking one at a time.  Hoping the third one would wait until one of us could get back for her.  The other dogs followed in an order based loosely on age and experience traveling in the truck and who would be faster than who.  We were on the road when we returned the last dog, usually Danny, to its crate.

  The Dallas Market Center is a big, clean, well-lit building.  We had 200 sq feet of grooming space and we barely fit.  The amazing thing about dog shows is that most people show as a hobby.  Hobbies should be calming, relaxing and generally easier than what most of us get paid to do during the week.  There was nothing easy about this weekend.  Three quarters of the first day we devoted to grooming the five Kerries we’d brought. Standing all day on the hard floor, the unloading, bathing, walking and more standing were taking their toll.  I could have entered a wet T-shirt contest by the time every dog was bathed.  My hair lacked any semblance of style and my pantyhose were wet to the knee. There was little time for personal rehab.  We had a deadline:  the North Dallas Terrier Club show and Sweepstakes, starting at 4:30.

  By the time the show started I was barely able to walk. We were all tired.  Too much work, too little food.  And finally the showing.  I was mainly responsible for one small bitch for this first show. Ultimately my mom’s pick from nine puppies, she looked almost benign sitting on her table.  All the dogs were ready and a pride and excitement replaced fatigue in the setup.  I was proud to be part of this machine.  At shows, you estimate when you will be in the ring.  The better an estimator you are, the less standing ringside you have to do.  Standing is a double-edged sword.  If you are young, are approaching middle age or even squarely middle-aged you can grab a ringside chair and sit, waiting for your turn.  But if you are on the back side of the best years of your life, ringside chairs are not your friend.  They look so pleasant.  Inviting almost.  They beckon you to linger on their curved DSCN0231a  metal seats and convince yourself you really aren’t that tired and you will be able to spring up and show your dog easily.  Well, as the rational part of your brain knows, you may never be able to get up. Your legs will cramp and the blood will pool in your calves and feet making it torture when you have to move again.  A crippling stiffness will invade your back and lower body.  I continue to learn this lesson every show season.  I have also learned that several Extra Strength Tylenol, taken about an hour before ring time, mitigates this somewhat.  But on this day it wasn’t enough. Looking wistfully at the chairs, I  remained standing.

  The steward called our breed to the ring. Shifting on my feet, I had managed to recirculate some of the pooling blood from my legs to the rest of my body and believed I might be able to hang in for a lap or two around the ring. I was too tired to care if our puppy made a fool of me.  If she raced around the ring on her hind legs or refused to stand for the judge.  One trip to training class does not a show dog make.  Sure, I was excited to show the little bitch. And there had been a little trash-talking in the box truck on the way out and in the set up about which of the three littermates would do the best.  Just good natured competition between friends and littermates. This first show weekend they would have to do it on their own. Training and real winning would come later.

We entered the ring and the puppy stood quietly where I stacked her. Standing was one thing moving was another.  In the dog show world, confidence is sometimes everything and that was the one thing our puppy had. She became the bitch we all fear.  Typee, cute and full of herself.  Many times we have stood behind such a phenom, graciously accepting our red, second place ribbon.  We have watched from ringside at our National while this same type of  puppy takes home the hardware. We have never owned that puppy and after such a long day I didn’t care who owned one. The judge asked us to go around. Our puppy took off like she was radio controlled, me racing after her. Reaching the end of the lead she never broke stride. I DSCN0080a  caught her midway down the far side of the ring, her front legs reaching, rear driving. My rear movement was not as smooth but I had no choice except to hold on and keep going. Maybe she had snuck out to training class by herself. Maybe she wanted to see me sweat as we returned to the ring for Winners Bitch comepetition, Best Of Breed competition and the Stud Dog class. The wait for the final competition of the day, Puppy Sweepstakes, seemed intentionally cruel. With no points at stake, why were we here.  Our puppies seemed ready to go another round even if we were dreaming of dinner so we stayed.  I’m sure more than just the puppy was laughing as I gasped my way through the Sweepstakes group. When we finished that first, interminable day, she had two points and a Puppy Sweepstakes  Group 2.

By the time we loaded the box truck for the trip home three days later, our puppy had a major and a total of five points.  She was one-third a champion and I knew we had a show dog.

Learning to Drive

In 1971, when I learned to drive, my dream was to drive coast to coast, radio blaring. But in our family, kids didn’t drive on dog show trips in the family station wagon loaded with people and dogs. My parents drove coast to coast, with us sweltering in the back seat with no air conditioning, while our country built the interstate highway systems we travel today. As a kid there were no McDonald’s and gas stations at every exit. The speed limit was 55 mph, and delays for construction were commonplace. I had no idea how much driving across the country I would ultimately do. Last weekend we loaded Eva and Peyton into the van, along with all our assorted dog show gear, and headed out for Ft. Worth. This year we are reduced to following our dog around the country, sitting ringside and watching him show, hoping for wins. We are also waiting for our bitch, Eva, to come into season so we can breed her and try for more puppies. Maybe there will be one for us this time. We have looked at several males for her, but so far none of them seems just right.

The drive to Texas is thirteen hours, give or take. From our house there is no direct route. It is actually only fifteen minutes further to St. Louis and the fall specialty, than it is to Ft. Worth and the spring specialty. St. Louis is 100 miles further, but the route is so much more direct. An interstate highway pointing straight east for a little over 850 miles. The road cruises along at 75 mph through green fields and small farms. Hiding in the woods, off dirt roads, are puppy mills that feed the families of failed farmers. They are out of sight from the travellers on the interstate, but countless puppies from those farms race by in cars every day. Their owners unknowing about the humble beginnings of their beloved pets. The drive to Ft. Worth is different. Especially at this time of year. We raced along the Southern interstate then branched off onto a diagonal state highway through the North Eastern corner of New Mexico. The diagonal continued into Ft. Worth. Mile after mile of sage brush and dry, dusty fields. Some of the land may be used for ranching, but there were few cattle seen. There were few rest stops and a myriad of little towns where the seventy mile per hour speed limit dropped down to sixty, then fifty and finally thirty. There was a desolation to most of these towns. More people passing through than living there. Newer red metal roofs sheltering falling down porches and failing side walls. A grain silo or two and a gas station were the most prominent businesses along the route. Certainly some towns showed signs of a thriving economy. While Alexander would spin in his grave, Dumas, pronounced Doo Mus, was larger and the homes looked livable. The downtown area had chain motels, restaurants and other businesses. People walked the streets with a purpose and some newer homes were visible as we drove out of town. The constant in these tiny burgs was the ever-present, blowing wind. Dirt swirled in the dust devils and scraped the already dried out vegetation. It would be much later in Spring that the greening of East Texas would arrive. By the time others make the trek to Houston in July, this part of the state will be much less desolate looking.

Travelling the nearly back roads of this part of Texas could be romanticized. But travelling these roads on the way to something better, there is little appreciation for the eccentricities hailing you from the sidewalks and shoulders zipping by. Necessary stops forced us into a world we wished would pass quicker. A rest stop still operating since 1934 was well cared for. Maybe because it was the only restful spot along a very long road. There was a flower bed with blooming pansies and yucca. A farm themed mural inside the toilet room built with WPA funds looked new. Inside was the oldest automatic hand dryer I had ever seen. A soap dispenser from the same era surely held the gritty,Boraxo powdered hand soap we all used to hate. We moved on chuckling to ourselves about how many long ago dog show people had used the little stop on the way to other cities down the road.

The miles wore on. A long day broken by a stop over for one night in Amarillo. The name means yellow in Spanish, and according to local lore was derived from the yellow flowers that bloom in the spring. Our motel was next to the truck scales. And all night long the sound of air brakes and engines lulled us to sleep like a rushing river. There are over 100,00 people who call this small city in the Panhandle home. It seems much smaller and its two biggest attractions are the Cadillac Ranch and the Big Texan Steak Ranch. The latter features an homage to gluttony; a 72 ounce steak dinner that if eaten, in full view of all the diners, is free. We ate chicken sandwiches at the Big Texan and never made it to the Cadillac Ranch. After five hours the next morning we arrived in Ft. Worth at the show site.

The length of the trip was forgotten as we dragged our gear into the relative comfort of the Swine Barn. A large structure with a hundred swine pens and bathing facilities in the back. Like homing pigeons, we set up in nearly the same pens as we had in 2004. Honour was with us then and we added her trophy to the ones from this same show, in this same place, from 1987. Two dogs we brought here in years past won the Specialty. A sister and a brother. This year we came to see a puppy from our lease litter and Danny. We knew our chances of winning were slim, but we were more interested in showing him to our peers. Sometimes the judges’ opinions are not the only ones, nor even the most important ones, we seek at a show. This show is like a reunion of sorts. The weather was hot and humid. Exactly as it was in 2004. I brought home the trophy for “Most Sweating Person” an honor I also received in Illinois at the Grey’s Lake Kerry Blue specialty a few years ago. The heat broke the last day of our Texas stay, and we were treated to a brief, spectacularly loud, hail storm. Peyton and Eva sleeping in their crates were oblivious to the whole thing.

The long roads of the show season will take our dog to many fairgrounds. He is learning all the time and still recognizes us when we appear. But he has already changed. No longer the insecure puppy or adolescent he used to be, he stands proudly with his handler. Sparring when asked and representing our name, and those of his breeders, well. There is over one hundred years of Kerry experience standing behind this young dog and his handler. It is a long show season in the early stages. Honest wins can still be had, but as Spring fades to Summer, achievement at the higher levels will be divided between the top ranked dogs and their handlers. Big money controls our sport. People, both in and out of the ring, seeking notoriety with little knowledge or real appreciation of the dogs shown in their names. Judges, owners and handlers in a hurry. Rushing through the dog world as fast as they travel the interstates. On this trip we enjoyed the length of the journey. Time spent talking about showing and the dogs we’d seen on the weekend. Discussions on breeding, where we’d been and where we hope to go helped us while away the hours. There is a clarity in a road trip like this. As I drove the diagonal road toward home, time to think in the silence.

Has Anybody Seen Our Spring?

Colorado doesn’t have the winter weather of Minnesota, Wisconsin or most of the upper Midwest, but we get our share.  More than our share, really. At least this year.  This is the storm those of us who live here and show dogs refer to as the Wichita storm.  Most years, in our recorded dog show history, there is a huge storm either a few days before the shows or a few days after.  We have had to pay $140.00 for a room in a Super 8 along I-70 in Kansas and had to stop dead on the interstate while they plow open the ramps so we could all get off.  A van full of dogs, and not nearly enough people to attend to them in the storm, makes for much cursing and dark thoughts of why we find ourselves in this situation year after year.  But, here in Colorado, when the sun comes out, the snow melts as do our memories of the cold and inconvenience.  And that’s why those of us who live here tolerate these storms and keep driving on to shows outside our state. 

We have local shows here in early April. They are the Terry-All Kennel Club shows.  It has become an excellent place where nice, and not so nice,  local dogs can come and show without the competition of better dogs and bigger name handlers. The shows are close to Denver so getting there is no difficulty and every now and then you can surprise yourself with a high point value win in the group. With the AKC concerned about retention of exhibitors the fancy needs shows like this. With the Wichita shows sharing this weekend, and offering three days of indoor accommodations, it’s always a tough decision whether to make the eight-hour drive to Valley Center, Kansas, fighting the miserable Midwestern spring weather, or stay home and fight the icy, driving wind that whips the Adams County fairgrounds where Terry-All is held .  In Wichita we groom inside in reserved spaces with clean floors and plenty of light. At our hometown event, we groom outside by our cars or huddle in cold, dark stalls trying to achieve trimming perfection by braille. Since we have an untested dog the quality of the judges is somewhat farther down on our priority list.  We are not hopeful of winning, but still we are not there to lose, no matter what the competition.  We are pleased that Danny continues to improve and is ever inching forward toward the show dog he will become.  I am enjoying the show season so far.  The lack of pressure is refreshing and as we await the opportunity to breed our bitch, Eva, we are actually excited and not regretting that this act will take us off the road for several months.

The decision about which of these shows to enter is based on the enjoyability factor.  The almost intolerable conditions, both in and out of the ring building, and the feeling you just can’t shake that somebody handpicked the judges for themselves, combine to make Terry-All less attractive. It takes longer to get to the Wichita shows, but the conditions are much better, and it will be a chance to face a whole different group of dogs.  We will also be able to see Peyton at work.  He has been gone since our February shows and is starting to make his way as a show dog.  Word came today from the Ft. Worth shows that he had won a Best of Breed in competition.  This is the third time he has had a win in competition, as a special, since he finished in 2008.  We are hopeful he can do some winning and encouraged he seems to be enjoying his time on the road.  Peyton has a lot to overcome to be the kind of Bedlington who will catch the judge’s eye.  We will give him the time as long as he is making progress.  He will tell us when he wants to come home.

Our neighborhood fox family has returned.  Not the original family, but the same female with a new litter.  We have yet to see the kits with her this year, but we will.  The birds are starting to build nests and they pick up the straw in our yard and carry it off. Even in the snows we have had they are busy.  One of the houses behind us has holes in its siding made by flickers nesting.  The homeowners don’t seem to notice and the birds return every year.  The males attract mates by hammering their hard beaks on our metal vent stacks.  The noise they make sounds like a distant air compressor running.

Soon, new life will be all around us.  And still we wait for Eva to come into season.  For over two years, five seasons by the time we gave up, we tried to breed Honour.  Now we are nervous and not entirely confident we can have a litter in our house. Even if we are successful, will there be a puppy in the litter for us?  Our lease litter, of last year, produced pretty puppies that are happy in their homes with loving, kind families, but there was not one for us.  It may be true that I will not be able to recognize a puppy of the type and quality we are seeking.  My mom will make the pick.  Her eye has guided our line for over forty years.  It was she, and Danny’s breeder, who could see the gawky puppy chewing our shoe laces would grow to be a dog of style and presence.  I was not so sure. 

Spring is also the time, in our area,  for starting young dogs in the ring.  We are watching two friends do just that.  They are both showing young males, just days apart in age, at the Texas Kerry Blue Terrier Club specialty weekend in Ft. Worth. Each youngster has a major and they are easily the ones to beat on this weekend. One dog is American bred and the other from our breed’s country of origin. They are different in type, but each has his strong points and their owner/handlers are serious about their craft.  This is the essence of our sport.  Two people battling every weekend in honest, fair, competition, bringing out the best in each other and their young boys. Last year we were at these same shows, having fun starting our young boy on his way.  We had planned on returning this year to see old friends and dogs from last year, but work intervened.  Our plans are loose this show season as we are hopeful we will be breeding any time.  Summer is such a grand time for puppies. And late summer is so good for going to new homes.

Watching  the storm building outside, I am reminded how much puppies are like Spring.  Stormy one day and sunny the next. Cloudy days giving way to azure blue skies and lazy afternoons that fill the dog days.  By Fall, the leaves on the trees will be sun-baked and in full color.  The Spring puppies will be house trained and sitting on command. They will know how to walk on their leashes and charm their owners out of treats.  All too soon, Winter will come and then another Spring. This year’s puppies will be next year’s champions and once again, we will be anticipating another drive through a Spring storm.

New Champions

Our Eva has been in Dallas all weekend on the first leg of her farewell tour. With her has been a Havenese, just starting out, and two more Kerries. Also in this entry was a son of a dog we own. This young dog has been working on his championship, with his owner/hander. They have been learning about showing together and this weekend were rewarded with wins, two of the four days. The young woman went home with great satisfaction and her new champion. The breeder, who lives on the other side of the mountains from us, was happy and we were happy. Another champion for her bitch and for our dog, Tucker.

Our handler had two of the other class dogs. The class bitch was a Tucker daughter, Murphy, and the class dog, Toby, a close relation to our young male. These two dogs also needed two wins a piece to finish their championships. It was a nice surprise that these two finished, also. Three champions in one weekend! Everybody was thrilled.

Something else that made these wins all the better was the diversity in the entry and the age of the winning dogs. The entry consisted of enough exhibits to make up majors in both dogs and bitches. There is a local Kerry Blue Terrier club and the members had a nice showing to support this fledgling, all terrier, show. The class dogs entered reflected the Kerries from the area, as well as some from the outside with handlers. We had been interested to hear about the puppies from an English import breeding and received positive comments from our handler about them. The Winner’s Bitch the first day comes from local breeders who have some of the most interesting breeding theories I’ve heard. We sat with them at our National dinner and I am still intrigued with some of the ideas they had. Breeding an Irish import to a dog they bought from a breeder in Kansas, they produced two very nice dogs that have been successful in the ring in limited showing. There was also a puppy entered, that won the Sweepstakes, that came to it’s new owner from the breeders in Iowa we showed against several times this year.

While some of these dogs were somewhat related, there was a nice mix of lines, both foreign and American represented. Also, with the exception of the three puppies entered, the dogs competing in the classes were either over two, or very close to two years old. The class male our handler finished was six. Why should anybody care about the diversity or age of the entries? I’ll tell you.

In the US, under AKC rules, a dog needs fifteen points to become an AKC champion. This includes two majors. Majors are groups of points, three, four or five points, awarded at one time for one win. The number of points is determined by how many dogs of each sex are present. The number varies from region to region and is evaluated, and sometimes changed, annually by the AKC. The majors also have to be awarded by two different judges. A dog has to be awarded Winner’s Dog or Winners Bitch, and sometimes Best of Winners, to get the major if one is available. A dog can finish with more than two majors, but not less. At these shows in Dallas, the male our handler showed had eighteen points coming into the shows, but no majors. This can happen for a variety of reasons. Sometimes it’s lack of quality on the part of a dog. He/she could beat one or two others, but when faced with four or more always fell short. Sometimes it’s lack of access to majors. If a dog is shown by the owner, who has limited funds to travel the country looking for beatable dogs, majors may not be available close enough. Sometimes, somebody shows up with a better dog. No matter what the scenario, majors are hard to find, and hard to win. I think they should be. It should require some effort and work to finish a dog. The dog should face real competition, not just a parade of littermates and kennel mates. This new owner/handler with her dog on this weekend, can take real pride not just in the fact that she did it by herself, with mentoring from her breeder, but that her wins came over time and outside her area.

Many people will brag to you about finishing their dog at a very young age. Certainly, it sounds impressive. But what does it really show about the quality of the dog. If showing is supposed to be about the evaluation of breeding stock, how can anybody deem a dog so young, under two, as a specimen worthy of breeding. The AKC won’t register a litter produced from a sire or dam under seven months. OFA won’t certify hip xrays until two years old, although you can PennHip your dogs at a year, because the dog is not structurally mature until two.

In the ring, judges have to judge the dogs shown to them on any given day. If all he sees is an entry of puppies, what can he do. He has to apply the standard, designed to evaluate the mature exhibit, to the puppies before him. The Gordon Setter standard states, “topline moderately sloping.” People familiar with the breed will tell you the topline remaines high in the rear until the dog is often well over a year. The ribs are to be “well sprung”, but does a puppy or even an adolescent dog, show this? As the judge studies his entry of enough puppies and juveniles to make majors in one or both sexes, he has to pick somebody. He picks the one that looks the most mature and has the best ring manners. Is this the right dog? Today it has to be. The puppy receives a major and the owners and breeder are elated. What a great pup they must have to get his first or maybe his second major at 8 months old! In a stacked entry, one full of littermates or one lacking in enough diversity, a win such as this is often contrived by the breeder to finish more champions for their own vanity. These cheap champions go home are are never seen again. When you go to look for a stud dog, or a breeder to sell you a puppy, you have no idea how this “wunderkind’ turned out. He may have lived up to his potential or the puppy who was mature early may now be over size or coarse for the standard.

In some other countries, like Sweden, a dog cannot be a champion until they earn one CC after they are two years of age. This would be an excellent policy for the AKC to adopt. Dogs would still need only fifteen points to finish, and only two majors from two different judges, but one would have to be won after the dog turned two. This would encourage exhibitors to keep showing for that time, or at least bring these early to major dogs back out when they were more mature, to get that last major.

The judges in the Texas shows last weekend saw dogs from puppies to very mature adult specimens. The dogs who garnered the majors were the more mature ones in the entry, those at least two or close to it, and thus better able to be judged by the current standard. They were of an age where mature color was expected, toplines had solidified, musculature should have been evident and coat texture would hold a good groom. When the judges made their decisions, they were based on their interpretation of the standard and personal preference, not just which puppy could be examined the easiest.

The owners of these dogs had put in the time to learn something about correct breed presentation, both in grooming and handling. They had been through many shows with wins and loses. I would like to think they all read the breed standard and took time to really consider it. Spectators were treated to a living timeline of our breed as it progresses from puppy, through adolesence to maturity with each class. How much better for the breed that the new champions reflected more than just wins in a stacked entry, or luck and a big handler on the lead at a cluster weekend.