conformation showing

Radio Silence

Wow! I just realized that I haven’t posted anything in this blog for 3 years. I did get busy with other things and haven’t shown since RoRo finished her CH in early 2014, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t still go to shows or have opinions.

This excerpt comes from a rant I shared with a very patient friend in Texas who was musing about the decline in dog show entries, and who was wondering whether our aging demographic was a factor. I include it here, since it seems I had something to say after all.

We are part of a graying sport —- no doubt about that. Some people are retiring from breeding, but the pool of volunteers available to help put on shows is also shrinking — and along with it, it seems that AKC is demanding that clubs do more and more to attract new people without offering much support for the shrinking populations of those same clubs. (They really just care about revenue streams, but they cloak their caring in all sorts of “novice-friendly” ways.) Small local shows are going the way of the dinosaur; clubs are now forced to cluster together in order to have enough people to keep things going, and at venues that aren’t local to most of the club members.

On the other end, we have lost many new members to Xbox; dog showing is just not as interesting to younger people nowadays, especially if they don’t have a chance to get exposed to the sport through 4H or junior showmanship. It takes a commitment from parents and from kids to find (or be) mentors, keep dogs in condition, and show lots of weekends in different places — as opposed to spending them at soccer, T-ball, dance lessons, etc.

Fewer people even want to go there these days. If they do, they want to do the fun sports, like agility, where your own performance determines whether you “win” —- you can get legs and finish titles without a placement, and the judging is more objective.

Not only that, but when a single entry costs upwards of $30, people are more selective with where that $30 goes than they did when entries were $10 or less. Everything costs more, so clubs would be hard pressed to cut entry fees in order to attract people —- and you don’t see AKC turning down its cut to help stimulate the local economy.

So many of the articles critiquing dog shows and the shrinking of the sport just fall short of understanding what’s really going on. “We have to be nicer to new people!”, the headlines proclaim. “Dog show people are so snobby/mean/insular.” The truth is that there aren’t that many new people coming into the sport to be nice to (or not) — see $30 and Xbox above. Do show people have attitude problems? Some do, but there are a-holes everywhere you look, not just at dog shows. Also, with fewer people to work at shows, the folks who would normally spend time with potential new members are so flat-out busy running the show and complying with AKC’s burden of mandates that few have leisure time to talk to those mythical newbies.

“Dog shows aren’t inclusive/fun enough! You don’t offer OB/rally/agility/whatever!” is another common complaint — again, not generally coming from people who are busy volunteering. The pools of volunteers for those events are likewise shrinking, and especially among members who not only do conformation, but also do OB/rally/whatever and who are willing to give up days of showing to help run those events. The more events AKC mandates, the more people are needed to keep things running at shows, and the “extras” (such as obedience) start falling by the wayside. (Do NOT get me started about the National Owner-Handler Series and the logistics of finding enough warm bodies to run it at small shows.)

I’m happy to report that our little local cluster show in May had a slight uptick in entries this year. We offer a 4-6 Puppy special event plus the usual Best BBE/Best Veteran-type attractions, and the Golden Retrievers hold a match on one day after Best In Show. We do attract new people, and some are even brave enough to inquire after club membership — but most of them fade away when they realize that putting on an event involves WORK. People are already busy, and many just can’t/won’t commit the time and energy to helping out instead of just having fun. This spreads the work among the existing volunteers, who eventually have to drop out due to age or burnout. It’s a vicious cycle.

Return of the Newbie

It’s said — mothers of small children will have to help me with this part — that after you give birth, you gradually forget about the pain you went through. Otherwise, every mother would have only one child. I’ve felt that way about finishing Dinah sometimes — but even through the fifteen gazillion broken majors, the terrible coffee, rain, snow, dark of night, and pre-dawn alarm clock settings, we’ve had ourselves some fun. Haven’t we?

This spring, I found myself with some time at home after completing a contract assignment at the end of February. It seemed like the perfect time to stay home and raise a puppy, soooooo… before I had really grasped what was happening, it was St. Paddy’s Day, and Val and I were squinting through a snowstorm as we drove past Erie, PA with no other company but the “Les Mis” soundtrack.


Meet Rowan (Burlesque Doing It Her Way)! She comes from our friend Laura, and was born at Laura’s mom’s house. I’ve been a fan of Rowan’s dad Bean since I saw his first show photos, and I’ve admired Rowan’s mom Leeza’s parents for ages. (Beanie also goes back to Dylan — Am/Can CH Breaksea Gone West — so he’s distantly related to Dinah and Badger.)

Rowan is currently 5 months old, and she’ll be making her ring debut in the 4-6 Month (Beginner) Puppy ring at our local cluster shows, the Southern Maine Coastal Classic. She becomes an honest-to-goodness class bitch at BCCME’s Regional Specialty on June 1, when she’ll be exactly 6 months and 4 days of age.

We’re currently practicing our ringcraft on Thursday nights with Penny Cary, the trainer and handler who helped finish Dinah’s CKC championship. We’re in good company over there; a number of my kennel-club compadres and their class dogs have joined in the fun.

Come by the show on May 19 and look for Rowan in the 4-6 Puppy ring! Auntie Val will show Rowan while I’m off playing at being Chief Steward.

About the New Newbie

We were waaaaay overdue for a move from Blogger and a site redesign. A thousand thanks go to cartoonist Michele Trifiro of Kabuki Cartoons for allowing us to use one of her hilarious works as our new site header.

If you’re on Facebook, you can visit Kabuki Cartoons’ Facebook page to see more of Michele’s works. Tell her Dog Show Newbie sent ya.

If you find that a particular cartoon really describes your dog-show experience, you can always visit Michele’s Zazzle store and order a copy of your very own, printed on apparel, drinkware or other goodies.

Every Dog is a Journey


Couldn’t have said it any better myself. Every dog is a journey. Every ribbon is a story — even the ones the new puppy chewed up.

I hope this junior got an A+++ on this essay.

Newbie Q&A: Entering the Classes

Q: Which class is the best one to enter?

A: It depends. Remember that Winners Dog (or Winners Bitch, if you have a girlie) is the place where you want to be. That’s where the points are awarded. To get there, you have to get first place in your class.

When you enter a show, your objective is to find the class that gets your dog to Winners.

That might sound simple, but there are lots of factors to consider. First, you have to make sure you’re entering a class for which your dog is actually eligible. Next, you have to consider classes where other dogs are also contending for the coveted first place. In addition, you need to think about which class might be the one from which the judge will pick Winners Dog/Bitch.

If your dog is younger, there’s a lot to be said for entering in the age-appropriate classes (for example, 6-9 Month Puppy). Your dog would be competing against other dogs his own age, instead of against more mature dogs who have already gone through their awkward puppy growth stages. Most judges will cut some slack for the younger puppies who might have less ring experience, too — and above all, you want your dog’s ring experiences to be positive ones.

All class dogs may enter the Open class — which is both good and bad news. You’ll probably have to defeat more dogs in the Open class to finish first, but many judges like to pick Winners from the Open class. Remember, getting to Winners is key, but what you really want is to be picked as Winners Dog (or Winners Bitch). The Open class might have the most competition, but it’s also the class you might want to enter if you want to get Winners Dog/Bitch.

On the other hand, many other judges like to pick Winners from the Bred By Exhibitor class, but if you’re not one of your dog’s breeders, you can’t enter that class.

You might try some of the less popular classes, such as American Bred (assuming your dog was born in the USA). Even if you’re the only person in that class, a first place there is still your ticket to competing for Winners.

How about Amateur Owner-Handler? If you’re not a professional, you may enter this class with any eligible dog, from puppy to adult. Some people feel that the AOH class is a good place for non-professionals to compete against other non-professionals, and that it’s good experience. If no one else enters that class, you finish first and — guess what? — you get to compete in Winners. Other folks feel that simply entering this class is equivalent to hanging a huge sign around your neck that says I DON’T KNOW WHAT I’M DOING. Remember that the comfort of being in AOH is short-lived; after your 2 minutes are up, you’ll have to face experienced owner-handlers and professionals in Winners anyway.

Entering a dog show is a big guessing game. You will not know for certain who else has entered the show until entries close and the numbers are added up. In addition, you won’t know who the competition is — or how many points will be awarded to the Winners Dog/Bitch — unless everyone counted in the entry breakdown shows up on the day of the show.

What can you do? Just take all the information available, think about it, and do your best. That’s all you can do, and you can’t be faulted for trying.

More Newbie Q&A: Amateur Owner Handler

When AKC announced that it was phasing out the Novice class in favor of the Amateur Owner-Handler class, reactions from the more expert handlers ranged from yawns to snickers. People have, however, been entering the class, and we’ve all failed to see the AOH through the eyes of the very folks the class was created to serve: the Dog Show Newbies.

Here’s a question based on not one, not two, but several examples observed over the past few shows.

Q. I entered my dog in the 6-9 Month Puppy class because that’s how old he is. I also entered the Amateur Owner-Handler class because I am one. I got 2nd place in 6-9 Puppy, but then I wasn’t allowed back in the ring to compete the second time for AOH. Why?

A. When you enter the same dog in two classes at the same show on the same day, it’s called double entry. Although it’s perfectly legal and everyone is more than happy to take your money, it’s probably not the best strategy. Here’s why…

In order to compete in Winners, your dog must win his class (that is, get first place). If you don’t win, you are not eligible to compete any further. (Even if you got Reserve, you will not be eligible to compete any further because the Winners Dog [or Bitch] defeated you.) Once you are not eligible to compete any further, you cannot compete in another class in the same show because you’ve already been defeated. (The system does not allow for do-overs.)

If you win your first class, you may compete in your additional class, but since you’ve already won, you run the risk of being defeated in the additional class. If you are defeated, you can’t compete further even though you won the first time around. Save your money and keep things simple — just pick one class.

Memory Lane

Talkin’ ’bout