Posts Tagged ‘conformation’

Carlin’s been in only a few conformation dog shows. I showed him when he was quite a young puppy, and again several months later. He has 1 point, won when Marty showed him up in Seattle a couple of months after that. But other than these, I haven’t shown him for two reasons: his skin/coat and his attitude.

The skin/coat issues started early. Carlin had no coat on his tail or throat when we got him, and then he suffered a series of skin infections that made his coat even worse. At one point, he had no coat at all on the back of his thighs, chest, stomach, throat and tail.

Now his chest and stomach coat, as well on his tail, is starting to come in. He still has little coat on his throat, and big bare patches on the backs of this thighs. Judges at three different shows have asked me about his coat, while today’s judge opined that Carlin must be bare on his thighs because “he’s been doing a little self grooming.” (The dog who won Winner’s Dog today, as well as Best of Breed, has a beautiful coat and was well handled by a pro.)

So. Coat not great.

But his attitude was good. He showed well, was friendly to the judge, didn’t do any hopping and leaping, and basically ignored the other dogs while they were in the ring. I was so pleased.


Carlin says hi to the judge


Carlin gaiting beautifully, nice reach and drive


Carlin showing off his butt


Coming back on the up and back

We made some smart moves that helped him, I think, and chance did us a favor as well.

Our show time was 8 AM, which is usually killer for Irish Water Spaniels. There is a lot of grooming to do, fluffing up the legs, doing last minute trimming, wiping down any unsavory accidents that may have occurred, etc. But 8 AM also means that the venue won’t be at it’s most crowded, so it’s more likely you can maneuver around enough to get in and out without having to come face to face with any other dogs.

Carlin has never loved that, coming face to face with another dog while he’s leashed. That was made much worse when, while Carlin was leashed and walking on a city sidewalk, he was ambushed by a Malamute twice Carlin’s size. The Malamute charged down a driveway and attacked Carlin, wounding him and scaring him half out his mind. With that, being leashed in the presence of other dogs became unbearable, and Carlin would lunge and growl at almost any oncoming dog. We sent Carlin off the the Academy of Canine Behavior last January to see if they could help him. While there, he improved quite a lot, and our management of situations while he’s leashed has also improved.

One trick we tried this weekend was giving Carlin a stuffed toy to hold while he’s leashed. I got that idea from a neighbor whose dog (named Chowder, god help us) carried around a stuffed animal on their walks. So today (and yesterday at the dog wash), Carlin held on to his own stuffed hedgehog until he went into the ring.


Carlin with his hedgehog

Once in there, he seemed to know just what to do (thank you, Marty and Kay), and he behaved himself beautifully. He won his class, but then didn’t get the point. That’s OK. I’ll take my successes where I can get them.


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It turned out exactly as I thought it would. Some boy Irish Water Spaniel would get Best of Breed, and Tooey, being the only girl in today’s ring, would get Best of Opposite Sex.

Not that I begrudge the dog who won BOB. He’s a handsome, spirited dog whose handler shows him skillfully to his best advantage. Tooey hasn’t been in the ring in years, so she’s out of practice. And she’s in season with a touch of attendant moodiness — she didn’t hold her head up as she ran around the ring, and she didn’t much like having that judge put his hands on her. And I’m out of practice, too. I forgot that she responds happily to squeaky toys — squeaking one as we went around the ring might have helped her lift her head and show some spark. (Kind of like she did when we got home and she spotted a squirrel.)

But still…

When the judge came up to us to examine Tooey, I told him that Tooey was in season and offered him a handkerchief if he needed it to wipe his hands. He told me he wouldn’t examine her rear, as he didn’t want to trouble all the dogs he had yet to judge that day.  So he looked at her teeth, and felt half way down her back, but didn’t examine her chest, or look at her face, or feel along her hips or back legs.

OK, I get why he didn’t want to touch her crotch. But in that instant, I realized the he’d already made his choice of Best of Breed, before he gave Tooey her full chance, or even the other boy dog in the ring.

So what do I think about that?

I guess I think that an experienced judge probably gets really good at quickly identifying the dogs and bitches that fit his or her interpretation of the breed standard. It’s like me when I was a teacher giving grades. After a while, I pretty much knew after just a few paragraphs which papers were likely to get an A. But that doesn’t mean that I stopped reading there — I read their papers to the end to give every student a chance. Sometimes, the middles and ends of papers held unexpected surprises.

So I also think that even if the judge thinks he or she knows who will get Best of Breed when the dogs first walk into the ring, every dog (just like every student) deserves the judge’s full attention for those few moments that the judge, dog, and exhibitor have together. The judge should watch the dog run all the way around the ring, and not turn away to the next dog before that. The judge should give every dog a full examination, and carefully compare all the dogs when they are stacked in a row.

Then, after every dog has had a full chance, then make it plain who the winner is.

Fortunately for me, I’ve had the experience of a judge who really looked. My dog didn’t win that day, either. But I knew that judge had really looked at my dog and saw his good points and faults. She paid full attention with an open mind, which is ultimately what we exhibitors are paying our hard-earned money for.

That’s what I think.

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This upcoming weekend isn’t going to turn out as I planned. Not that this will be bad. Just way, way different with a few unexpected challenges along the way.

Some back story: Several weeks ago, I realized I had a whole lot of options for this weekend. I could show my dogs in conformation at the Greater Clark County Kennel Club show. I could show them in Rally at the Sherwood Dog Training Club Rally Trials. Or I could enter them in a Barn Hunt RATI test.

Finally, I decided to enter Cooper in Rally on Saturday. He likes Rally, and Tooey doesn’t. I also decided to enter Tooey into the conformation show on Sunday. She likes it, and I wanted to get her back into practice with conformation shows so that when I take her to the IWSCA National Specialty in 2014, she’ll be prepared. Even though he’s only shown one dog once, Russ then very sweetly offered to show Cooper in conformation, and I could show Tooey in the same show.

Great! Sounded like a fun weekend. So I entered everything.

Then Tooey came into season — a whole month early. We revised our plans. After discussing all the do’s and don’ts of showing a bitch in season, Russ said he’d handle Tooey because she’d be easier. With Tooey in season, we both figured that Cooper would be a bit nuts, and I generally have somewhat better control.

But as the last couple of days progressed, it became apparent that Cooper has gone beyond “a bit” nuts. He’s a lot nuts. If he’s in his crate and Tooey is out, he keeps his eyes on her at all times, and he how-ow-ow-owls whenever she’s out of sight. When he’s out of his crate and Tooey is in hers, he’s obsessed with sniffing every surface she has touched. He eats only a little. It’s pathetic.

And it’s apparent that I probably wouldn’t have a good time showing him in conformation, and neither would Cooper. So instead Russ is going to take him hunting on Sunday, while us girls go to the show.

Going to the show means that Tooey has to have a bath. Not only does she stink, but she needs a bath to make her coat look good for the show. I had planned to take her to the local do-it-yourself dog wash as usual, but… The dog wash can be a crowded, slippery, busy place, and I lay awake all Wednesday night worrying about whether I was up to all those logistics, plus the added complications of Tooey’s being in season. No, I decided, I’m not. So she has to get her bath at home.

But I don’t have an indoor bathtub. I have a tiny indoor bathroom with a shower. I do have an outdoor portable bath, but last night it was 21 degrees F and windy. Much too cold for an outdoor bath (even for dogs who plunge into icy ponds to retrieve birds).

What to do?

Why, put the portable bath into the bathroom, with the drain hose snaking into the shower stall.

That’s me, standing in the shower and Tooey in the portable bath. I had to get all the shampoo and towels together first, then get into the shower, then Russ brought in the bathtub, and then he persuaded a skeptical Tooey to hop in, and lastly he brought me the hose, which was attached to the faucet in the adjacent kitchen.




It was a bit messy and very wet. If we do this again, we’ll spread lots of towels on the floor before the tub goes in. But she got nice and clean, and was ready to be dried off with my hair dryer while standing on the grooming table in the kitchen.

A very DIY winter bath for a hot show girl.

Lucky Cooper doesn’t need a bath to go hunting.

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Ever since Cooper got his show championship, I’ve continued to show him in one class at one show every year: the Field Dogs class at the IWSCOPS Specialty.

I have never expected him to win Best of Anything, but I did want him to be recognized. He’s one of those relatively rare Irish Water Spaniels who have beautiful conformation, have earned obedience and hunt test titles, and who actually do what they were bred to do: hunt and retrieve birds for the table.

So every summer, I’ve been growing out his hunting coat, keeping it (and him) in good trim, and then begging my friends for grooming help.

This year I lucked out. Both Jayme and Colleen got their scissors and combs out, and turned my roughed-in trim into a beautiful boy.


Cooper rested in his crate while most of the judging went on. We waited while all the boys showed until Winner’s Dog was chosen, and then the girls for Winner’s Bitch. While the veterans showed, I went to get Cooper out of his crate and Russ went and hid (read the previous post to see why). And then it was the Field Dogs turn to strut their stuff.

As usual at IWSCOPS since I’ve been showing, Cooper was the only dog entered in Field Dogs, something that always amazes me. But it means that he got a first prize ribbon and a beautiful medallion. But my second-favorite award for entering this class this year was when the judge turned to the crowd and announced, “This is the only one here who earns his keep.”

Cooper limped a little at first while in the Field Dogs class, having broken a nail just 40 hours before. But then I got the hang of how to support him, and when we entered the ring again for the Best of Breed class, he floated around that ring with me, strong and beautiful, with grace and power.

As expected, he didn’t get Best of Anything. But I knew something was up when, after awarding Best of Breed, Best of Winners, and Best of Opposite, Select Dog, and Select Bitch, the judge looked back and forth between Cooper and a veteran bitch several times, and then told us all to “stay put” while leaving the ring to go talk to the Show Superintendent.

When he came back into the ring a few moments later, he pointed to both the veteran bitch and Cooper, and awarded us both a Judge’s Award of Merit.


I thought my smile would split my face. So many people in and out of the ring turned to smile at me, give us a thumbs up, or clap their hands. They’ve seen me come back many years in a row, show my boy, and leave with a 1st place ribbon for being the only dog in the Field Dogs class. So maybe they realized how much this means to me, this JAM award. Or maybe they don’t.

But I treasure this award — finally someone has really seen my hunting dog pretty boy for the wonderful dog that he is, the one who earns his keep and warms my heart.


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It’s really true. Cooper’s a champion. And this week, we got the two pictures that tell the tale.

Cooper, Best of Winners and New Champion, Rose City Classic 2011
photo by Steven Ross

proof from the AKC website

Now that it’s official that Cooper got his championship, I don’t have to maintain a show coat any more, at all, ever. Unless I want to. Which is unlikely. If you listen hard enough, I’m sure you can hear me cheering.

After the next bath, we’ll get out the clippers and the scissors and give him a nice short field clip. I’ll leave a little on the topknot and some on the ears, just so he looks like an Irish Water Spaniel.

Let’s hope the new hairdo will put Cooper in mind to succeed during this 2011 hunt test season.

Go Team Cooper!

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Cooper at 14 weeks

We asked for a pet, and we got Cooper. Like other excited puppy “parents,” we sent lots and lots of pictures to Rosemary. When Cooper was about 14 weeks old, Rosemary sent us an email saying something like, I think we sent you a show dog.

Rosemary told me that Cooper would get his championship easily, Tammy said she would help, and I had a lot of encouragement from other friends and owners of Irish Water Spaniels. So I agreed to Cooper’s being shown and going for it.

It took 3 years, 4 months, and 29 days. If I had known how long getting Cooper’s championship would take or how hard it would be, I wonder — would I have started down that path?

Cooper and Tammy (middle)

Cooper’s first conformation show was the 2007 IWSCOPS Specialty when he was just 6 months old. Tammy groomed and showed him. (His armband number was 13 — that should have told us something.) He did 2nd in his puppy class. That wasn’t so bad. And all Russ and I had to do was watch. (We also had to hide so that Cooper wouldn’t see us and be distracted).

Jayme, Cooper, and Patrice

It took 10 months of showing for him to get any points. He got his first two points, having been groomed by Tammy again and shown by a professional handler, at the Canby dog show in June, 2008.

Since then, Cooper’s record has been mixed. He came in dead last a couple of times and placed reasonably well other times. He even got Reserve Winners Dog at an IWSCOPS Specialty.

But sometimes he behaved like a twit who couldn’t stand still, or jerked his way around the ring. A couple of times he even jumped over the ring gates and out of the ring. Once he broke a borrowed show lead trying to get away. Another time he pissed on my skirt while waiting at ringside. Sometimes his coat was thin and lifeless, or the winning dog had bigger bone, a squarer muzzle, or just presented better.

Patrice and Cooper, photo by Liz Liddle

But other times, he won. His coat wasn’t always long, having been cut down for field work, but when it was curly, lush, and glossy, and he moved beautifully — then he’d be eye catching, showing off all the drive and reach needed by a dog who needs to swim powerfully to do his work as a water retriever.

On the negative side, I discovered new depths of stage fright. When I get into the show ring, I stop breathing, my mouth dries up, my heart pounds, I get tunnel vision. And while I got to be able to groom my Irish Water Spaniels reasonably well, I have never figured out how to bring out Cooper’s best features. The best I could do was to get him pretty close, and then find someone to do the finishing touches. And having to find that someone and ask for that favor was always a source of sleep-destroying stress that kept me awake many a night.

Cooper and Colleen

Cooper and Rebecca

On the plus side, I had a LOT of help. Tammy and Jayme both helped me with advice and training. Tammy, Colleen, Jayme, and Rebecca were often willing to groom Cooper to his best advantage. Tammy always made at least some time for Cooper while she was getting her two IWS ready for the ring. A couple of times, Jayme had Cooper live with her for several weeks so that she could train him, groom him, and then show him for me. Colleen made herself available more times than I can remember. And then when I decided to show him myself, I got a lot of free (and welcome) advice from people who had been doing it a lot longer than I have.

Fortune comes into this, too. Cooper was born within 3 days of the current #1 Irish Water Spaniel in America. Since we live in the same region as that dog, we showed against him many times. Cooper never won those competitions. It’s a hard thing to do, to go into a dog show knowing you’re probably going to lose. But as I’ve discovered, dog shows and dog show judges are not predictable — sometimes you lose when you’re certain yours is the better dog, and sometimes you win when you think you have no chance.

Chance did come into it again, and changed everything. With such historically mixed results, I had just about decided to quit. But then Colleen asked if I’d send Cooper down to California to create a major.

I knew that Mowgli, Cooper’s littermate, was going and needed a major. Tammy had been such a help to me that I wanted to return the favor. But if Cooper was going to California, I wasn’t going to send him down — I thought I’d go for a fun road trip with my friends, take Cooper and Tooey, and show them myself. Cooper’s coat was in a very short field clip, but a “point fodder” dog doesn’t need to look good. He just has to be there. So we went, and Mowgli did indeed take the major the first two days.

Cooper, after his first major win, photo by Holloway

And then it happened. Cooper took the 3rd day’s major. I was so shocked my mouth fell open. Literally. I was completely unprepared for this development. Because, damn. With one major and 11 points, we had to keep going. All he needed was one more major and 4 more points.

Saturday, when Cooper won Winners Dog and Best of Winners, winning the 2nd major he needed to get his championship, I started to cry. The judge even asked me if was OK. I could hardly wait to call Russ and Rosemary and hug Tammy. The honor his win gives to Cooper’s dam (Rosemary’s Nova) and his sire (Tammy’s Balloo) pleases me very much. Cooper has always been my Pretty Boy, a dog with great reach and drive, and I am so happy that he had the title that recognizes that: Champion.

At the same time, I feel like a heavy burden has been lifted off my shoulders. Standing at ringside on Sunday, watching the other Irish Water Spaniels compete, I told Colleen, “I’m never going to do this again.”

She laughed. “Famous last words,” she said.

So, if I had known in the beginning that it would take this long, but that it would feel this good at the end, would I have started down that path? I still don’t know.

And will I do this again? I’d like to think not.

But I have discovered that what I think I will do and what I actually do are often not the same thing. So, who knows? (And as my friend Alan used to say, “Who is not telling.”)

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We did it!

Cooper, 1st in AOH class, Winners Dog, and Best of Winners, plus two Rally Novice qualifying scores, Rose City Classic, 2011

Yesterday, Cooper took 1st in the Amateur-Owner-Handler class (not hard, since he was the only one in that class). That turned out to provide a kind of a good omen. After we ran around the ring for the last time in that class, the judge pointed her finger at Cooper and said, “You are #1.” I thought (but didn’t say aloud), “Please, just keep that comment in mind …”

Then he went back into the ring to compete against the other dog, where he took Winners Dog. (Perhaps the judge read my mind.) After all the bitches were judged and the Winners Bitch chosen, we went back into the ring and took Best of Winners, winning over the Winner’s Bitch. And because he did that, he gets at least the number of points that the Winner’s Bitch got.

And (this is the best part), this was a major for bitches. Meaning that there were a significant number of bitches competing, enough to earn the winner 3 points.

To get a championship, a dog has to have a total of 15 points including 2 majors. Cooper got his first major down in California last October, and Saturday’s win gave him his 2nd major and his 15 point total.

All this means that Cooper is finished. He got his championship, and we never have to go into the conformation ring again.

Always a retriever

We also competed in Rally Novice B. That was fun. I like Rally — if you qualify with a passing score enough times, you get the title. You don’t have to compete against other dogs to win. We got a score of 94 (out of 100) on Saturday, which is really amazingly well, given that Cooper has practiced in a realistic practice ring only a couple of times. Mostly we’ve been practicing in the kitchen and living room.

Sunday in the Rally ring, he was goofy. Russ had come to watch, and Cooper knew that Russ was there. So Cooper kept losing his concentration on the task, looking for Russ as we moved around the Rally course. (And this is exactly why I asked Russ not to come on Saturday — I was afraid Cooper would lose his concentration in the conformation ring.)

We earned a score of 86 on Sunday, but he passed. So now we just need one more qualifying score for Cooper to earn his Rally Novice (RN) title.

Here’s a video of our second Rally run:

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