My friends from outside the dog show world, including my beloved sister often enjoy teasing me about my show girl Biddy - equating her with Honey Boo Boo and which point I argue back that she is NOT like Honey Boo Boo - she is a high class bird dog!!!
But the truth be told - being a dog mom to a show dog is a lot like being a pageant mom. At the dog shows you really see a few groups of people - professional handlers, who will show your dog for you for a fee, Breeder/owner handlers - long time breeders exhibiting their line, Jr. Handlers - kids involved in Junior Showmanship, and owner handlers (like me).
Junior Showmanship is a great thing for kids...probably the closest thing to Jr. Showmanship is 4 H. Kids learn how to handle and compete, and they are judged not so much on the dog, but on their handling skills. Professional handlers often started out as Juniors - so by the time they begin handling for clients have had a lot of experience. And then there are people like me. We are owners that have purchased a puppy with the intent to show and we are out there showing our own dogs right next to the professionals, which can be a little intimidating.
An AKC sanctioned conformation event (the dog show) is where breeders and owners exhibit their breeding stock for judging. Each registered AKC breed (there are 174 registered breeds currently and counting) has a written standard. The breed standard covers everything for the breed, from conformation, structure, angulation, topline, coat, bite, movement, temperament and a variety of other things pertinent to that breed. Certified Judges are evaluating the dogs to determine which ones best conform to the standard of the breed, in their opinion...so it can be quite subjective!
When you start out with a young dog your first goal is to win points and ultimately become an AKC Champion of Record. This is a HUGE accomplishment for anyone - amateur owner or professional. A lot of people stop with a Championship or a Grand Championship - but then many people continue on from there with what is called being a "Special".
Your dog is now a Champion and they are out competing every weekend for the title Best of Breed, points rankings, the possibility of a Group Placement and the holy grail...Best In Show! A Best In Show is a once in a lifetime dog. So it is not without the usual politics, favorites, upsets and drama and yes this is all for a ribbon and bragging rights. And it is after all a beauty contest for dogs...complete with all of that drama.
People always ask "what do you win?" and you are left saying "a ribbon"...if they are not a crazy dog person they really don't understand...yes, you spend a LOT of money to get there - training, grooming, supplies, entry fees, travel, meals etc. but when you win....you are so proud of your dog (and yourself!)
Biddy is my first show dog. She has taken me on the most amazing adventure and accomplished more than I ever thought she would. For me as a new owner handler - you typically have two things stacked against you when you enter the ring - you have a young, not yet perfectly trained dog, and you are far from being an expert at what you are doing....throw in a case of nerves as you line up with the professionals and as we like to say - anything can happen at the dog show!
Biddy had firmly established her self at the training club as the resident wild child being described as "exuberant", "frenetic", a "very labor intensive dog" and one that "plays rougher than necessary" (from the pet resort that didn't invite her back!!). On that first dog show - which was a big show, she was just 6 months old. Upon taking her out of her crate she immediately peed all over the floor...and let's just say the games had just begun. As we went around the ring that first day, she was jumping up, biting at my skirt, the judge was firmly telling me to get a hold of my dog...and I left in tears... a lot of work for a few minutes in the ring and nothing. I learned right away that I needed to toughen up - continue to train with my dog, and above all have fun.
She has come a long way since the early days...she has gotten away from me and jumped on other dogs to play in the ring, she has snatched food off of spectator's plates while going into the ring, you name it she has done it...After about 5 months of competing - we won our first points. I was so overwhelmed I started to cry, picked my dog up and carried her out of the ring, not realizing I wasn't done competing and had to go back in. It took her about a year and a half to earn her Championship - but our breeders felt that she was something special and really encouraged me to continue to show her or have a handler show her for me.
So for last year (2012) I hired a handler and had them show her for us. I only did ringside handling - which means she was always with me, I got her groomed and ready, and they met her at the ring and took her in. This was extremely expensive for me - but at the end of the day a good experience for all of us. It gave me the opportunity to watch her in the ring with a professional and really be able to asses her from a training perspective. She loves to show, so working with an experienced hand was really fun for her, since she didn't have to deal with my nervousness on the other end of the lead.
After her first year with the handler - she did extremely well. She had several breed wins, a Group Placement and was recognized at our American Brittany Club National Specialty with an Award of Merit - which was an incredible moment for us and her breeders. Our National Specialty is out in Ft. Smith Arkansas every year at Thanksgiving...my husband and I drove all the way out there with the dogs in the RV to watch her...and she didn't disappoint!
I decided for 2013 I was going to take her back out myself. Sometimes the handlers really want the dog to live/travel with them so that it can go every weekend - but for me that was just too much. Too much money for one thing - and not really the lifestyle I wanted for my dog. She basically is like any normal family dog...except that about once a month or so we compete in the dog show. We train and practice at home all the time...but this is no different really than what anyone else would do with their dog.
As we wind up the 2013 season I am so proud of my dog! We have had many breed wins this year, 3 Group Placements (woo hoo!!!) and some really special awards. Our national breed club also hosts a traveling national summer event. This year's event was out in Washington State - I live in S. Florida so this could not be any farther from home. I made the decision to let her travel out with our breeders (who are like her 2nd family) and be shown in the National Summer Specialty. They limited the entry to 100 Brittanys each day - so any award or recognition across the 5 day event would be incredible. She took a Best of Opposite Sex and a Select in the pre-shows and then on the big day...Best of Opposite Sex at the American Brittany Club Summer Specialty!!!!!
One dog wins Best of Breed and the chance to go on and compete in groups. The award Best of Opposite Sex to the Best of Breed - is given to the best dog that is the opposite sex of the Breed Winner. In some breeds the males and females have a pretty equal chance of winning Best of Breed - in others (such as the Brittany) - the males are usually a little bigger, more showy etc...so Biddy often feels like she is banging up agains the glass ceiling...competing for the "girl prize" of Best of Opposite Sex. It is true - but it only makes the Breed wins that much sweeter and on a national stage BOS was a tremendous honor for us!
As much as you can be the hero one day...you can be the goat the next at the dog show. She traveled all the way out to Ft. Smith again this fall - but only made the first cut..so that is also part of the dog show. A big win one day doesn't mean anything the next. She will finish her year this year holding onto the #20 spot for All Breed and Breed Points. She will finish either the #3 or #4 Brittany bitch in the country behind her mother who is #1. It has been an incredible year. I cry with happiness at each win...it is so emotional for me - I am so proud of my dog and all that she has accomplished. So kind of silly, but that is why you do it.
She was invited to our inaugural American Brittany Club Top 20 event this year at the Nationals. My video should arrive soon...each of the Top 20 dogs got introduced individually to their own theme song...hers was the music to Fame. Again, people will say silly to spend so much for what? But it is for me really pride in my dog. (And by the way...the dog show is one of the few places that you can throw the "B" word around and not be considered foul mouthed!!! It took me a while to get used to saying it...I would always say "female" - so when someone says "nice bitch" it is a complement to your dog...not an insult to you!)
We will be on our way this weekend to the final event of the season this year the AKC Eukanuba National Championships in Orlando, FL. I'm just going up and back for her event on Saturday since it is only a few hours from my house. If I walk away with any ribbon at this event I will be THRILLED! She has competed twice before in this event, once with her breeder who came down, and once with the handler. This is my first time on the "blue carpet" with her. I am so excited...this event will be televised and shown right before the Westminster Kennel Club show in February. The dogs that you will see on TV are only those dogs that won Best of Breed. It is the Group Competition that you see on TV. So out of approximately 3000 dogs that will compete over two days...the public will see the best one of each breed on TV or about 174 dogs.
The winner of each of the seven groups will go on to compete for Best In Show...and then it will come down to 1 winner. At this event, since it is a National Championship, there is a LOT of prize money that goes to the winners. I think it is around $50,000 divided up. But this is ONLY for this event!!! At the regular dog show there is no prize money...just ribbons, breed prizes, dog prizes etc. It is going to be a fun day, my Mom is traveling up with me.
If you ever get a chance to attend, this is the mecca of all things dog! The vendors and shopping are amazing! In additional to conformation there are the Agility finals, Obedience finals and dock diving finals. You can visit all the booths and "meet the breeds". It is a LOT of fun!!! We can't wait to get there, so I can show off my beautiful girl, hang out with our Brittany friends and see some beautiful dogs and check out all the booths. It is time to start grooming!!! This is our most recent breed win photo (another opportunity to spend money!). I don't have the style and grace of the professional handlers - my dress is bunched up, my hair is a mess...but my dog...she is lookin' good and has a lot of attitude!!!
A sentimental picture ~ This was Biddy's last Best of Breed win over a huge field in Ocala. We retired he at the Westminster Kennel Club in February 2014 - she won't go back into the ring again until June of 2017 as a Veteran at the Specialty.
Since her retirement from the show world in early 2014, she has earned her Junior Hunt title, had a litter of puppies and is now almost ready to compete in agility. She likes to stay busy! She is forever my girl!