Our doggie pal, Bolo, got some bad news about his liver. He's holding his own, but could use some good thoughts. You can visit him here.
Today's book review is Show Dog by Josh Dean.
I loved this book. The writing is excellent and it was impossible not to get caught up in both the human and doggie drama of the show world.
I want to say up front that the author mentioned that MOST of the dogs and handlers you will encounter at a show are owner / handlers who only go to a handful of shows a year locally and stop once their dog earns his or her championship.
But Jack, the main character in the book, was destined for the highly competitive world of big dog shows. The book has lots of behind the scenes information. Some of it is good. Some of it is bad. Any competitive endeavor will have its share of nut jobs with more money than sense whose only goal is winning. Yes, even agility, obedience, canine freestyle, you name it. But as with those sports, most of the participants are in it for fun and because they love doing stuff with the canine pals.
I am fortunate to live in an area where on any given weekend there is usually one show or another within driving distance. I've purchased four dogs from breeders and become a much better judge of dogs (and breeders) over the years. I avoid big business breeders who arrive with crate after crate of dogs. The dogs from Dexter's kennel really stood out for me. They all seemed so happy! They clearly loved being in the ring (and the fact that her dogs also compete in retrieving helped convince me that they were good, well rounded animals). Little Dexter was available as pet quality due to an overbite. I have never regretted my decision to get him. He's a wonderful, well tempered chap.
Mango is actually show quality, but with two other show quality males in his litter, his breeder agreed to sell him as a pet. When one of Mango's brothers died suddenly from an aggressive infection I decided to try showing Mango.
We both loved handling class. I liked the thrill of the pretend show where all our dogs were put through their paces and everybody received a round of applause during the final run around the ring. Mango loved handling school because, well, there were hot bitches there. Oh baby!
I showed Mango exactly once. He placed second out of two, his only competition being his brother Floyd (who later went on to compete at Westminster and sire several litters). Mango's breeder offered to have her handler show Mango, but I insisted I wanted to do it myself. Oh man! As you can see in this video (where Floyd has a professional handler) I was a total spaz and Mango did not show well (but you will notice that I was so convinced of his magnificence that I thought I had won and had to be shooed back by the judge).
Mango was ten months old. Watch it here if you cannot view the embedded version.
Sorry about the bad video. It was made with a disposable camera.
The next time I brought Mango to a show he refused to go into the building (let alone the ring). His breeder offered to be on hand for a third try to help out, but I was done. Why? Same reason I never pursued obedience with Angus (although he did very well in his one and only competition). I hate waiting around. Agility, obedience, freestyle, breed, whatever, dog shows are all about waiting and waiting and waiting. Ugh. Just not my thing.
But back to the book. In between the details of Jack's show career, the author discusses the history of dog shows, how judges judge, what handlers do, some breed histories, and some rather graphic discussions of how breeding works (even an interview with the lady running the frozen semen van who collects samples discreetly behind a curtain). There is also a short history of the evolution of dogs from wild creatures into distinct breeds.
While I'm no fan of perpetuating breeds so deformed that they cannot mate or give birth naturally and I abhor docking, cropping, and other alterations in the name of conformation, I am a fan of dog shows and responsible breeding. The good breeders that I have met are not in it for money, but for the love of the animal. They get every possible genetic test done on their breeding animals in an effort to eliminate devastating conditions. They only place their dogs in good homes, are always ready to take back a dog (no questions asked) and stay in touch with owners.
Two big thumbs up.
P.S. Some notes about the various breeders I have dealt with. Angus was our first dog and a purebred Airedale. The only comment about his breeder is that we lucked out. We didn't know anything at all about breeders but he was a fine dog.
With Raja we learned a lot. Primarily that showing at Westminster is no guarantee that you are dealing with a good breeder. Raja was not sound of mind or body and her breeder was very dismissive of Raja's various maladies. In retrospect, my antenna should have gone up when the majority of her dogs had both sires and dams from her kennel (I was later to hear through ringside gossip that this was because many mastiff breeders did not want their dogs involved with her bloodlines).
Mango was a surprise purchase as we had already been interviewing Rottweiler breeders. But we met his breeder at a show, along with her wonderful dogs. She took us back to her RV to meet Floyd and when we heard there was one just like him available, well.... Even still we visited and vetted the owner of the breeding bitch but seeing little Mango stuck in a water bucket really sealed the deal.
I was even more cautious when it came time to get Dexter. I not only asked for references from the breeder (who uses our vet for her breeding and delivery) but I asked around at dog school. Turns out his breeder is quite well known and several dog people who have seen Dex have commented "Oh, that is one of Peggy's dogs! I can tell by his head! You are so lucky to have him." I am indeed. Here is a link to her web site (Mango's breeder seems to have let her web site go dormant, but you can see it here. I still see her kennel name pop up a lot in the dog show world, but haven't run into her in person at a show in several years).
We have had a handful of unsuccessful adoptions over the years. The most tragic was a little six year old Airedale gal who started out a bit bossy but over a period of months became increasingly aggressive towards both my husband and Mango to the point where my husband could not even shift position without her going after him and Mango was afraid to be in the same room with her. For us, the resident dog always comes first.
Our only successful adoption was our little basset / spaniel mix, Pi. Angus adored her from day one and they were the best of friends. She was one of a kind for sure and I miss her every day.