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 |

Of the 3,000-plus AKC judges, only a few hundred get any regular work. As Cathy began her training to become an AKC judge three years ago, I often attended the seminars and training with her. I discovered that the requirements and hurdles demanded by the AKC to become a judge were a lot worse than law school; that was easy!

While individual photos and entry fees don’t sound like much, they add up when you consider that Ladybug competed in 400 dog shows over three years. You do the math.

Finding partners, the critical component
By the end of our first year it became obvious to us that if we were going to take Ladybug’s competition to a high level we were going to have to have partners. At first, we talked to fellow breeders to join us in “Team Ladybug” to promote her show career and sell some puppy futures for her future litters.

Paul and Judy Archambeau of Bela Vista Kennel in Santa Rosa, Calif., and Matthew Davis and Bill Waters of Asta PWDs in Reno, Nev., became our first partners and helped a lot both financially and as cheerleaders for Ladybug. Even with their help and our own resources we knew we needed more. We didn’t take vacations anymore because we didn’t have the time or the discretionary money. We turned to Amy Rutherford to help us recruit a major partner.

In the dog business, it’s the role of the professional handler to find a major backer. After all, it’s to their benefit to fund a serious campaign and they know people in the business better than anyone. Amy’s first love had always been terriers and she had great success with that Group, so that was a great place to start.

Because of her prominence and reputation with terriers, Amy was able to introduce us to Victor Malzoni and the game changed. Victor is a very successful real estate developer in Sao Paulo, Brazil, who has been a dog enthusiast his whole life. Primarily a terrier breeder and backer, Victor has successfully campaigned numerous terriers for years.

During the time he helped with Ladybug, he also campaigned several top-winning terriers with his fellow breeder, Jerson Valle. Victor became a close friend and advisor. We found that Victor is a true dog lover and one of the classiest persons we have ever met.

If everyone in the dog world was like Victor they’d have to remake Best In Show. His vast experience was critical to Ladybug’s success. One of the reasons he was delighted to work with us was the absence of PWDs in Brazil, a Portuguese-speaking country.

Do you have a plan?
Even with all of the pieces in place that we’ve mentioned none of it would have worked without a comprehensive business strategy. First with Team Ladybug and then with Victor Malzoni, we started each year with very specific goals about shows, objectives and measuring increasing success.

We put together an advertising campaign based on when various magazines were published so that Ladybug was in the fancy’s eye constantly. We tracked shows nine months in the future to see where the largest entry and best judges were going to be so we could plan our travel schedule. We’ll talk more about this in an upcoming article on “Understanding the Game.”

Is it worth it?
In the last two years of her competition the combined costs approached $200,000 each year. Was it worth it? Looking back we have made terrific connections and friendships with some of the best people in the world of dogs. Ladybug’s success has elevated awareness and acceptance of Portuguese Water Dogs to a level never enjoyed before.

It’s not unusual anymore for a PWD to earn a Group win as it was for many decades. While we still compete with our dogs, we know we won’t do the campaign again, even if we found a dog as great as Ladybug, which is highly unlikely. But, what a ride it was!

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Lynda Beam   Grayslake, Illinois

5/12/2014 3:35:41 PM

Some of the smallest shows have the best entry, was at a teensy tiny show near the border of Illinois/Iowa one year and the BIS line up .... well let's say Westminster quality. Even the BIS judge Frank Sabella mentioned

I went to another "small" show up in Wisconsin trying for that elusive BIS on my shiba (there was literally a 10 year drought where no shiba won a BIS) only to find Jimmy Moses and George Ward among the high profile attendees.

So size isn't everything, especially at dog shows :) and especially in Alaska.

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Janet   Sumner, Washington

5/12/2014 8:40:42 AM

I didn't read that comment about an Alaskan judge should EVER make that mistake. You need to be nuetral!! Ooopsy.

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Peggy   Chugiak, AK

8/22/2011 12:52:45 PM

I also was unhappy to see these comments that a Best In Show won in Alaska is not a "real". I am the owner of an Alaskan Best In Show dog. This was accomplished with his co owner and former Junior handler handling him. He defeated dogs that were ranked in the top nation that had traveled to Alaska for a chance at a NOT REAL Best In Show. A number of Alaska dogs travel to shows elsewhere and do very well. Many place well at those shows as well as at nationals. Yes I fully understand the article was meant to highlight the cost and investment to get a dog to the top and keep it there. It should also have highlight, not demeaned the value of dogs that achieve accomplishmets being owner or breeder owner handled without all the money. I am very proud of what my dogs have accomplished.

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Els   Eagle River, AK

8/20/2011 10:02:11 AM

This article shows what AKC conformation shows have turned into and it is sad to see what the 'top' dogs are subjected to. The owners and backer's of those top dogs need to realize that without the dedicated owner handlers working hard to put on those AKC shows there would not be any. I am very proud of my dog who has 5 ALASKAN Best In Shows and more then 60 group placements, all without advertising and lots of money. He won (always breeder/owner handled) because he is a GOOD dog, the judges found him and rewarded it, even with outside handlers and dogs. They were not bought!!

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