Seven Secrets of Show Dog Success
Part 5: Understand the Game
Michael and Cathy Dugan
By the time you have decided to compete at a high level at the big dog shows, you’ve already abandoned logic and reason and have succumbed to the allure of competition. All of us started at some point on a fairly basic level. We loved our dogs, had fun with them, played with them, perhaps watched a dog show on television and sensed there was a whole other world out there that had to do with dogs.
One of the many great positive elements of purebred dogs and dog shows is that everyone can find their own level of involvement and enjoyment. There are thousands of owners of purebred dogs who never compete with their dogs and are very comfortable and happy to live with their wonderful creatures.
We never call our dogs “dogs”; we refer to them as fur-people and talk to them in sentences because we believe that PWDs are that smart. We work as hard to communicate that belief to our pet owners as we do our show homes because we want our owners to have a fabulous experience, no matter the level at which they have decided to play.
For many owners, showing their own dogs and competing to attain a championship is more than enough. The dog world is a big tent with an activity suited to every desire and need. Whether it’s conformation, agility, water trials, obedience, tracking, field trials, carting; you name it, it’s all there for the new enthusiast.
Even when you have made the personal commitment necessary to succeed at a high level in dog shows, you know it’s not going to last forever. After a wild ride with Ladybug for three years the existential question loomed: “Now what?” Because we’ve had the chance to be involved in dog breeding and shows for 25 years, we now have the opportunity to continue to be involved in other ways.
While we continue to breed dogs and compete, the AKC provides many opportunities for judging, ring stewarding, involvement with breed and all-breed clubs, writing, mentoring owners and others in the business and building a positive legacy from the success we have enjoyed. An important part of the commitment to participate in dog shows is an understanding that the sport cannot survive unless we recruit, retain and mentor new owners.
Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the greatest show on earth!
The world of dog shows is a community much like the circus. Every week a collection of performers from the AKC, dogs, dog clubs, breeders, pet and show owners, judges, professional handlers, show superintendents, the media, and dog food and product producers perform. It is part of a $50 billion industry, but ultimately it is the circus.
Every weekend, the performers break down the tents, put the animals into trucks and travel to the next show. Like the circus, this traveling show becomes tight-knit and protective of the world it produces week after week. For new owners this carnival atmosphere can seem unfriendly and hard to penetrate. One of the problems of our sport is that new owners are not always welcomed as much as they should be, even though they are the lifeblood of our sport and its very future.
When you attend a major dog show it really does have the atmosphere of a three-ring circus. At any time, dogs are in the conformation ring, running through agility courses, doing obedience, tracking or whatever, while handlers and assistants are feverishly running back and forth to the rings. The ringmaster (the superintendent) tries to keep everything happening simultaneously.
While there are many avenues of competition available, we opted for conformation. If we were going to invest the kind of time and money necessary to win and promote our breed, the conformation ring made the most sense for us. Television networks, pet food manufacturers and pet products/services providers spend millions of dollars promoting and airing events like Westminster, focusing on conformation. When Ladybug won Groups on national television it advanced the breed as well as our own kennel.
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