Seven Secrets of Show Dog Success

Part 4: Have a Lot of Money or Know Where to Find It

By By Michael and Cathy Dugan |

That year really was “cheap”
By now we were still relative rookies at this level of showing, but we were learning from our mistakes. Now we knew it was going to take a much more detailed and comprehensive campaign that would include the professional handler, better bonuses, entries, photos, vet expenses, travel, lodging, postage and, most important, advertising. We’ll talk about each of these areas.

Advertising? For what?
In Ladybug’s first year, we spent $17,000 for 19 ads in major dog publications only to discover we were just learning about how important this component was for successful dog careers. There are national dog magazines, group publications and breed magazines. All of these are focused on different markets and you need to be in all of them to market your dog.

We also learned how important it is to find a really creative ad designer who can come up with a theme and build a brand around your dog. Dog magazines are typically distributed at shows around the country, mailed to subscribers and, most important, sent to AKC judges. At the average dog show it’s nearly impossible for dog judges to know which dogs belong to what owner or kennel, nor are they supposed to think about that.

Over the course of four years, we tracked 350 judges who judged PWDs and found to our relief that AKC judges are generally competent, fair minded and impartial. Are there any who have some bias about curly versus wavy hair or lion cut versus retriever cut? Sure, but very few.

Finding a good dog
To campaign a dog, however, requires that you create a “buzz” among judges and the fancy. In sports of all kinds, including dogs, everyone likes to root for a winner (your direct competition excluded). We discovered that the more Ladybug won, the better known she became. Judges and show participants looked for her in the ring.

Judges talk to each other (no surprise there), and when they find an outstanding example of a breed they often pass that information along. By the time Ladybug finished her career, there were few judges who had not seen her in the ring. But we had ramped up our advertising to well over $70,000 a year.

Finally, it’s important to meet and build a relationship with editors. They have incredible experience and judgment about the dog world and can be invaluable with generous advice. In almost every case, these editors have been in the dog fancy for decades, often with their own dogs, and are committed to excellence in shows and breeds.

Ladybug ended up on six covers of major magazines and these can cost as much as $6,000 for a single cover. Covers are often reserved months in advance but getting one is worth every penny.

The professional handler — your best friend
Amy Rutherford has handled our dogs for 10 years and she took her craft to a higher level with Ladybug. A great dog has to have a great handler who has created that special bond that delivers bravado performances in the ring.

When we campaigned a dog like Ladybug, where we competed became as important as the competition itself. We looked for big shows with lots of points and hopefully with veteran judges who knew the breed inside and out.

The buzz about Ladybug grew quickly as she won 80 percent of her Best of Breed appearances and got a Group placement 60 percent of the time after that. Once the Best in Show wins started coming, people expected her to win and the fancy started rooting for her.

No PWD had ever won at her pace and PWD owners were delighted to see our breed highlighted by a great dog. When people watched her compete on TV it just added to the program. It could not have happened without Amy handing her charge like a thoroughbred. With fees, bonuses and travel expenses we learned that reasonable costs will exceed $80,000 a year.

Photos and more
After we covered advertising and our handler, we found that things like photos, entry fees and vet costs were also substantial. As part of our campaign we always had a photo taken when Ladybug won and sent a copy of that photo with a Ladybug thank-you card to the judges. It was a genuine gesture on our part.

Like editors, the photographers have spent their lives and careers at dog shows. They too can become valuable resources and friends. Yes, part of the definition of a “good judge” is one who puts up one of our dogs, but we know how hard it is to become a judge and get assignments.

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Marti   Chugiak, AK

8/20/2011 11:36:47 AM

The AKC should take a long hard look at the Dog Show in Alaska; perhaps there's something to learned. If you compare the ratio of population to the number of dogs entered, Alaska vs Lower 48, you would see the sport is very much alive here.

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