The Art of Losing

Some of life's most important lessons are hidden in the losses, and how an exhibitor looks at a loss really makes a difference.

By Amber Leonard | Posted: Feb 18, 2014 12:00 p.m. PST

Sussex Spaniels in Breed Competition
Only one of these Sussex Spaniels can move on to the Group, and there can only be one Best in Show at each show. The majority of exhibitors go home without winning anything, and how an exhibitor handles loss is very important. Photo by Dan Bennett.

The art of losing goes unnoticed in my life. I have been showing dogs for more than seven years, and in those seven years I have both exceeded my own expectations and experienced devastating loss. My national rankings in Junior Showmanship concluded as the No. 1 Dachshund Junior Handler for five consecutive years and the No. 2 Hound Handler for three consecutive years. I won Best of Variety with my Longhaired Dachshund at the prestigious Dachshund Club of America National Specialty show in 2011 — making history as the youngest person to have handled a dog to such an award. The moment the judge pointed to declare us Best of Variety was an unforgettable moment that I'll cherish forever. My hard work has paid off over the years because I've won scholarships, have been featured in magazines and been mentored by some of the most highly respected people in the sport of showing dogs. Though these accomplishments are great, they're overshadowed by my ability to cope with loss and defeat in the ring.

By nature we want to win, but showing dogs is as much about losing as it is winning. I have learned a lot about being a graceful loser in the ring, which has translated to my everyday life. Having good sportsmanship along with a positive outlook on life is so crucial, and in my opinion, a neglected and lost practice in our society. I have witnessed many people getting caught up in chasing a win. Losing is viewed with extreme negativity, and feelings of jealousy, hatred and revenge take over. As a result, competitors often lose sight of what is truly important. I see exhibitors resisting loss, as opposed to embracing it, and they channel their emotions into an unhealthy reaction toward themselves, their dogs, other exhibitors, judges and more. Chasing that Best in Show ribbon, feeding off the praise of others and feeling the high of winning is great, but it fizzles quickly. Enjoying time spent with my dog doing what I love is long-lasting and more valuable to me than any award.

I have learned that some of the most important life lessons are hidden in the losses. Losing is an essential part of being a genuine winner every day in life and in the ring. Coming home from a show without a single ribbon has given me the opportunity to unearth ways I can improve; it's an extra challenge and incentive to work even harder toward my goals.

For me, it isn't always about winning first place, but maintaining a positive outlook on life no matter the outcome. Simple unsolicited compliments from bystanders outside the ring or swallowing my pride and congratulating the dog show winner regardless of my opinion are among countless examples of my "wins," besides the ones that are officially recorded by AKC. At times, nothing feels more humiliating and discouraging than walking out of a Junior Showmanship class of five without a ribbon. Naturally we tend to blow up a situation and weigh it with more significance than it really has at face value, even though virtually everyone has endured the dreaded last place before. I've realized if I can say I presented the best possible version of myself and my dog, then that is the ultimate win, a type of win that doesn't require a ribbon to prove.

Viewing competition with optimism has been the primary key to my own successes, although this has been a difficult pill to swallow at times. How an individual copes with walking out of the ring empty-handed truly attests to one's strength. My personal goal each time I enter the ring is to outperform myself as opposed to defeating others. Being "Best in Show" is momentary, but supporting each other through life's little moments add up over time. Living with integrity means that I have done the best I could regardless of winning or losing. Life is too short to entertain toxic thoughts and to bring others down in attempts of counteracting my "loss," especially when there are much larger losses we will eventually suffer in our lives.

There aren't wins without losses; individuals who possess the ability to take positives from a loss deserve some recognition too. Even when you have technically lost, you must never abandon the confidence that you can still emerge with winning colors.


From the February 2014 issue of Dogs in Review magazine. Purchase the February 2014 digital back issue with the DIR app or subscribe to receive 12 months of Dogs in Review magazine (print and digital versions).


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Dennis   Los Angeles, California

12/6/2014 5:25:25 AM

I always find losing as a great opportunity to go back to my camp of like minded people and complain about the politics of judges, or the way the judge never even looked at another dog other than the one that was sickle hocked, yet won the breed, handled by the woman in the green dress with plunging neckline and big boobs. I also find it is a great time to make disparaging remarks about handlers in the other camps that are making disparaging remarks about people in my camp. Losing is a great opportunity to get all that unkind stuff off your chest so that for a moment, you are cleansed of all ugliness so you can prepare for 'open' with a clear mind. ;)

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Lynn   Milan, Michigan

9/3/2014 9:36:21 AM

I love it when I win in the ring, obviously...but I do lose frequently as well. On days that I go home empty handed, I am disappointed, but I view that day as a fun outing for me and my dogs and any friends that I either have with me or meet at the show. It is an opportunity to showcase my breed to the visitors at the show and maybe make some new friends along the way. Winning on top of that is always nice, but it isn't everything!

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Linda   Middleboro, Massachusetts

6/12/2014 5:58:27 AM

Losing is just the other side of winning. There will always be both in this world. The battery of your car has a positive and negative...or it wouldn't start. Being brought up with the understanding of the Beginning. Children eventually grow up and bring with them the understanding of " Good Sportsmanship ". I Judge HRC Hunt Test all over New England and Canada. We Judge our dogs by a Standard...but there is still a win\loss. Talking with the handlers about the importance of becoming a team with their dog, and having fun, is the most important thing. The Dogs don't care about that ribbon...they care about getting the duck\pheasant, and pleasing their owner. They Love us and that is all that matters to them. To bad the world couldn't step back and see how simple life could be...if we just accepted things as easily as our dogs. Winning a ribbon is always nice...getting a title is great...but the road you walk to get there is what is important.

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Rose   International

6/9/2014 6:09:45 PM

Brilliant and thoughtful, really puts wins/losses into perspective.

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