If you have been living under a rock the last two days, you missed the winner of the 139th Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. The divine Miss P, a four year old Beagle, won the coveted “Best In Show” prize and will forever be in our dog-lovin’ hearts. How can you not love the cuteness?
For those who think dog shows are frivolity, the entire dog show circuit as a business is huge. People who raise, breed and show dogs do this as a serious leisure pursuit.
An article, Dog Shows: Business or Sport suggests that today’s dog shows are driven by money, and they may be. But the article is very informative over all if you are interested in reading more.
The mission of Championship dog shows like Westminster’s is to promote the breed with AKC-registered dogs. As a dog progresses through shows and wins the various competitions, they earn points toward the coveted “championship” status. A dog’s title of champion allows them to breed for a hefty price, which produces puppies for sale and show. Of course, owner status and bragging rights goes along with it!
These types of shows really just highlight and award the best specimens of the breed. The dogs simply stand there in the ring, and then are trotted around in front of judges who evaluate each dog based on the high standards of the breed.
Judges check over each dog carefully based on those standards. Once a dog is awarded “Best of Breed” it can then compete for “Best in Show” which is what the adorable Miss P won.
In the example of Miss P, she has likely spent her four years in countless shows. Word is, she is retiring from the show circuit to breed and have puppies. Whew, it’s a dog’s life!
The Championship dog shows also include the obedience portion. This is a little more entertaining because the dogs actually DO something.
Dogs of any breed compete in agility skills like healing, sitting and laying down on command. There is the dreaded “long sit” and “long down” in which the dog is commanded to lie down, head up, while the owner/handler walks away for one to five minutes. If the dog moves or changes position, they lose points for that skill and earn their owner’s disappointment.
We got our first dog when I was 5-years old. He was a white collie named Sparky. He wasn’t show material but he was eventually trained in obedience and competed in those types of shows. Thus began my mother’s obsession with all things dog show.
By the time I was 9 years old, living near Portland, Oregon, we owned eight American Kennel Club (AKC)-registered collies. My mother spent much of her day caring for and feeding them although my poor father had quite a bit of work to do after spending all day at his work.
My brother and I had the job of walking the dogs for 20 minutes each day, sometimes riding our bikes with the dogs which dutifully followed along on their leashes. I still don’t know how we did that at our young ages. We also had to brush out their winter coats, usually filling several brown grocery bags full of dog hair.
During show season which seemed like every weekend, my brother and I shared the backseat of my dad’s De Soto with two hairy, drooling, panting collies. Living in Portland, we would drive all over the Pacific Northwest attending shows. Our dogs even slept with us in the motels!
Since many of the shows were indoors, once we got there, my mom went full-tilt on getting the dogs ready and groomed for show. Sometimes she used a handler for the ring and judging. My brother and I would wander around looking at the vast array of dogs. It was pretty fascinating as I look back now.
I will never forget the day when one of our female collies, Lori, was up for Best of Breed. Lori was the Marilyn Monroe of collies and could strut her stuff. My mom and I stood there watching as the judge finally pointed to Lori.
My mom screamed! It was significant because, with that win, Lori won enough points to gain “Championship” status, elevating her for breeding and eligibility for bigger shows. Lori eventually got to go to Hawaii to compete!
Once we moved back to San Diego, we went to dog shows in Balboa Park. I took a couple of turns in the ring showing dogs as a young teen. Once I turned 14, I could stay home when they went off to their shows. By then my mom was pretty good at this and exclusively used handlers.
My last memory of our beautiful collies was at age 20, when I was close to moving away for college. In my fitness efforts I took a couple of them for 45-minute jogs. Due to my mom’s successful efforts, one of them was even featured on a calendar. My mom started getting ill in the mid-1980s and her dog show hobby all but disappeared. As the sweet collies aged and passed away, she did not replace them.
Within a few years, she had no more dogs. It was then she became a volunteer for the wild duck rescue team and started taking in injured ducks. But I will save that for another post!
After my mom moved into the nursing home in 2010, we finally had to move the shelves full of trophies and silver bowls and loving cups from her living room into storage boxes, thus wiping away any evidence of a lifetime of dog shows.
To this day, when I see the Westminster Dog show or other shows, I stop and remember the beautiful dogs, some of them winners, my mom lovingly bred and nurtured.