I admit it. I cry at dog shows.
Part of this is me just being sappy. I so totally and deeply adore dogs, and seeing so many wonderful, cheerful, well cared-for dogs makes me happy right to the center of my being.
While I might be sentimental when it comes to dogs, I’m not completely naïve. I know that there are some dogs at these events that are of more financial than emotional concern to their owners. I know some of these dogs travel extensively with their professional handlers and may seldom see their actual “owners.” (Not that the handlers don’t love and take great care of these dogs… they do, or they wouldn’t be making a successful living as a handler) These are, thankfully, the exceptions. In general, there are caring owners present handling, or at least cheering on, their much-loved canine companions.
We don’t advocate prolific breeding of purebred dogs, but the majority of the owners at big shows like the Land O’Lakes Kennel Club Dog Show that we attended over the weekend are at least trying to do things responsibly. This means doing something with their dogs to make sure they are good, healthy representatives of their breed, including comparing them to other dogs, doing appropriate health testing, and following a carefully planned (and not too frequent) breeding program. They are careful where they place their “pet quality” dogs, and follow up often with the families who have their dogs. The people who regularly show their dogs pay close attention to diet, exercise, grooming and socialization. These dogs work with their people every single day, which is the most important thing to the dogs. Many “show” dogs are anything but spoiled, pampered, foo-foo pseudo-dogs. They often have obedience, agility, field, tracking or other work-related accomplishments.
My favorite part of these large shows, however, is the obedience competition. Back in 1995-1996, I competed in AKC Obedience with my first golden retriever, Ripley. From the time he was four months old, we trained every single day (except when he had to take a break at six months old for hip surgery) and never missed our weekly training class. Ripley and I had an incredible unspoken bond. I was a rookie handler, he was an untitled dog, and while we never took high score, we did qualify every time we competed, and earned his Companion Dog title. He would have gone on for more advanced titles… if I’d asked him to. But I knew my boy, and he was doing it because it was important to me; he didn’t really enjoy it that much, so we “retired.” You can tell, watching the more advanced Open and Utility level obedience that those dogs love what they’re doing, and the working relationship between dog and handler is amazing.
I watched a woman and her red golden retriever in Novice A, which is the rookie/rookie level that I was in with my Ripley. I sat there with tears in my eyes the whole time they were in the ring. The handler was so nervous, and I could completely relate! Before they entered the ring, he sat by her side and she was fondling his ears in exactly the same way I used to with Ripley. The dog was happy, and trying hard, but they were both too inexperienced to give a perfect performance. He lagged when he should be heeling, his “sit” was slow and crooked, and he often got distracted. Still, the joy they got from working this way together was obvious, and I was reminded of the fun I had with Ripley. Now I am thinking I need to get back into obedience with one of my dogs. Three year old Darwin? He’s a golden, and bright, and would likely take to it very well. 2 ½ year old Brody is a smart boy, too, but he’s a Great Pyrenees, and might have other things he’d rather do! 8 year old Ozark is a mixed breed, but I bet he’d still enjoy going to classes and training with me at home, even if he can’t go to competitions.
So that’s something for me to think about as spring (hopefully) approaches. My dogs are with me constantly when I’m at home, all four of them following me from room to room and setting up camp wherever I am, but actually doing something with them again would only enhance our bond.
The other part about dog shows is… shopping! I always buy way, way too much stuff that I simply can’t live without! This weekend I bought a denim jacket (with golden retrievers embroidered on it), a dog tapestry purse, a silver paw print necklace, and a tiara. Don’t ask about the tiara!