Posts Tagged ‘dog shows’

This was the scene almost immediately after Carlin’s most recent circuit in the show ring today.


Chasing a ball, through puddles and mud, out in the sun — a nice reward for a job well done.

And Carlin did do a nice job in the ring. On his second time around, he gaited beautifully around the ring (the first time, he galloped). And he stood still (mostly) when the judge came over to examine him, instead of backing away like he did on Saturday. And his up-and-back was smooth and easy, with a nice stand in front of the judge to top it off.

Even so, he got third in his class of three puppy dogs, aged 9 to 12 months. Even though I hoped for better, I expected something of the sort, as Carlin is still recovering from a series of bacterial and fungal skin infections that made much of his coat fall out. At its worst, a couple of months ago, he had no coat on his belly, no coat on his neck, no coat on his tail, no coat on the back of his thighs down to the hocks, and very sparse coat on the outside of his thighs. Now he looks much better, sort of like he’s been trimmed to a field cut.

But you know, sometimes very nice things happen in the show ring, even when you don’t win. In this case, the judge stopped me as I was leaving the ring. He told me that Carlin had the best reach and drive of all three pups, with a lot of power in his back end. And then he asked, “What happened to his coat?” So I told him, and he said, “Well, when that coat comes back, you’ll have no trouble at all.”

Judges so rarely say anything one way or the other about the dogs, that when I left the ring, I was surrounded by folks who wanted to know, “What did he say?” It was so nice to be able to share with them the nice compliment the judge had given me — sharing it made it even better somehow.

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Cooper is dog with tenacious drive mixed with the perpetual motion of a compulsive retriever. But he will always sit calmly in front of my camera and pose with the sparkling demeanor of a show dog at Westminster. It is one of his many charming virtues.

So once again I asked the boy to step in front of the lights for a few shots. But before he jumped up on the table, he snagged his photo buddy, a.k.a. “Rubber Duck”. The duck has been his companion since August of 2007 when he was awarded it as a participant in a Bird Dog Match as a 6-month-old adolescent. (This specific duck is actually the second generation duck, thanks to Ms Tooey.)

Cooper and dear duck friend

Cooper and dear duck friend

Now Ms Tooey doesn’t like to left out of anything. It doesn’t matter if Cooper has to go to the vet, she wants to go first. It is her nature as HBIC (Head Bitch in Charge). And so when Cooper stepped down, Tooey jumped up to stare into lens as well. If Cooper gets this much attention, she wants more.

Ms Tooey

Ms Tooey

The reason for the photo event was quite benign. I was testing a new camera and wanted have some familiar subjects to compare to photos taken with other equipment I use. As both pups had just finished getting a bath and some grooming for the recent dog here in Portland, this shoot was the convergence of having the studio set up and two clean dogs.

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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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I’ve been searching around for ways to handle my nervousness at dog shows. I love this quote*, which I just found in the Yahoo group, Clicker Competition Obedience Training:

…Any time you start to feel nervous, take a nice deep breath and picture three images in your head. First think about the first time you ever saw your dog. Next think of something your dog does that makes you feel proud. Lastly think of something your dog does that makes you laugh. Practice it now. I bet when you finish you will end up with a great big smile on your face.

I am inspired. I’ve starting sorting through my mental list of Cooper images. Most of them are just in memory, but others are actual photographs.

The first time you ever saw your dog

I first saw Cooper at Tammy’s parents’ house. I had met Tammy only a couple of times before, but she had taken the trouble to fly out from Minnesota with my Cooper, her Mowgli, and Amy’s Maggie. When Russ and I arrived, Tammy’s mother directed us into the laundry room, where Tammy was giving a very wiggly 8-week-old Cooper a bath.

I commented something like, “He doesn’t like the water? I thought he was an Irish Water Spaniel.”

“He’s a water spaniel,” Tammy replied, drying Cooper off, “not a bath spaniel.” Something your dog does that makes you feel proud

Cooper’s hunting and retrieving skills and his intense enthusiasm for the work makes me proud every time we go out to hunt or train. He found the thing he loves in life very early, when at 9 weeks he first retrieved our morning paper.

Since then, Cooper has pursued field work with the kind of passion that makes me snort when I hear people say, “My passion is…” or “I am passionate about…” They (and I) would be very lucky if they felt 1/10th the passion Cooper exhibits when he’s hunting.

The illustrative event that sticks in my mind is Cooper’s 2nd AKC Junior Hunt Test. This was a very hard test: Only 31 dogs passed of the 56 entered. The retrieves were long, the marks were launched against a dark backdrop of trees, and the many shadows, dips, shallows, and tall cover made the test difficult. (Not to mention the pink flamingo line markers.) But Cooper succeeded and brought back all 4 of his birds.

In fact, in all the hunt tests he’s ever entered, even the ones he’s failed, he has never failed to bring back his birds. And in all the hunting we’ve done, he’s brought back all his birds except for three: two of these were not found even though multiple dogs and multiple people looked for them, and the other was finally located by another dog after two long searches.

Something your dog does that makes you laugh

Cooper has a multipurpose relationship with his toys that makes me laugh every time.

One is that he uses his toys to express his understanding of value and fairness: He trades a toy for something he wants that is not his. We’ll walk into the bedroom and find, instead of two shoes, one shoe and a toy. Or, in the bathroom, we’ll find a toy instead of the washcloth.

Another funny toy thing is, we’ll say, “Want to go for a ride in the car?” Tooey will race to the front door, but not Cooper. Cooper runs first to the toy drawer so he can grab a toy to take along for the ride. I wish I had a video of this, but when I’m getting ready to go for a ride with the dogs in the car, my hands are full of leashes, keys, a coat, my purse, a couple of treats, and several plastic bags.

*Credit where credit is due

The quote was most recently posted by Libby on July 31, 2011, but she said she borrowed it from a previous post on the list. Later I heard that this probably came from Leslie McDevitt, who includes a similar classroom exercise on page 67 of her book Control Unleashed (2007):

When the dogs and handlers look ready, I ask each student to close her eyes, and while keeping her hands on her dog, remember the first time she saw her dog. I’ll give her a minute to take in that memory. Then I ask her to think of something her dog has done that makes her laugh. Lastly, I ask her to think of something her dog has done that made her proud. I love to watch my students, beaming and chuckling and petting their dogs as they’re doing this exercise.

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Almost one year ago today, at the Rose City Classic dog show, Cooper got his show championship. And that’s the last time I spent any time near a regular conformation ring. (I did show Cooper at the IWSCOPS specialty show in August.)

Today, even though the sun was out, our field training group was flooded out of its training grounds, so Russ and I decided to go to watch the Irish Water Spaniels at this year’s Rose City Classic. We left the dogs at home, hopped in the car, and drove the few miles over to the Expo Center.

About half way there, the area around my solar plexus got tight, I found it harder to breathe, and my stomach started to churn.

This went on for a few minutes until I realized, “Hey! I’m feeling nervous. Why am I nervous? I’m not showing any dogs in this show.”


I guess that I have been nervous driving to dog shows for a long time, ever since I started showing my dogs. So some part of me has made this dog show = nervousness into an automatic connection, one that I seem to have no control over.

It’s like watching Tooey start to drool when I start getting out the field training bumpers. She often gets treats when she retrieves those bumpers, and some part of her brain has made the connection bumpers = salivation.

We’ve both been classically conditioned.

I am beginning to realize that if I’m going to keep showing my dogs at dog shows, I had better deal with this. It’s understandable to be nervous when there is something to be nervous about. But when I start reacting for no reason based in reality, well, that needs some attention.

I think it’s connected to the high rate of failure at dog shows. Conformation shows are the worst at this — only one dog and one bitch can get points toward their championship — everyone else loses. I lost a lot — it took more than three years of regular showing for Cooper to get his championship.

And for Obedience, the problem has been me. Every dog who passes the trial, earns a leg toward the title. But the dog and handler have to be trained and ready to pass. I’ve been eager for Cooper to earn his CD title in Obedience (for a lot of reasons), and so I started showing him as soon as I thought he remotely had a chance — as it turns out, before he was ready. Resulting also in a high rate of failure.

So mostly my experiences with dog shows have been uncomfortable, linking a strong desire to succeed and a fear of failure, with the regular experience of failure.

So. What to do?

I am taking some steps. I haven’t shown Cooper in Obedience for quite awhile. And all that time, we’ve been taking classes, going to private lessons, attending matches, and practicing at home. Am doing my best to make sure we are prepared when we go next time.

But I am puzzled as to what to do with that extra layer of nervousness that appears to affect me without reason. What to do with that nervous feeling that arrives just because I am driving to a dog show. It’s got to be a mental game of some kind, but what, I don’t know.

Perhaps you do.

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At least in this one regard, Cooper is a lot like me, or I am a lot like him. We both get worried, feel insecure, and need help and reassurance when we don’t understand what we’re supposed to be doing.

Fortunately, Cooper has me. When he is insecure and worried doing his Long Sit and Long Down in the Obedience ring, as he was during both trials this weekend, he can get up and walk over to me. It’s not what I want him to do, but when he does, I will hold his collar and let him stand next to me, where he is safe.

And I have Cooper. While he’s not particularly good at having an intellectual discussion about what he’s worried about, he is a good dog who loves me. He’ll keep going into the Obedience ring because I want him to. So it’s my job and my privilege to help him understand what I want him to do.

But I need help, too. I am a Novice A person with a Novice A dog. This is my first performance dog and my first experience with Obedience training, with only a few months experience. I’m clumsy, I make a lot of mistakes, I don’t know a lot of things that other handlers just seem to get without effort. I’m not naturally talented at dog training. I don’t see where and how I’m going wrong, just that it’s not working.

So, this weekend, after Cooper didn’t qualify at either trial, I knew something had to change. It’s just that I can’t figure out what. Am I doing everything okay, and I just need to be more patient? Am I doing something wrong? Is there something else that I should be doing that would be better?

Or maybe I should just quit.

I thought about that a lot on Sunday after our failure in the Obedience ring. I sort of mechanically put Cooper up in his crate with his toy and a bucket of water, and then walked toward the building where the conformation dog show was being held.

On my way, I ran into Tammy. Seeing her, I started to cry. She’d already heard that Cooper didn’t qualify again, so she didn’t ask me what was wrong. She just put her arms around me and said, “I am so proud of you.”

No advice. No scolding about how I shouldn’t have put Cooper into the ring if he wasn’t ready. No trying to convince me that I shouldn’t feel sad. Just, “I am so proud of you.”

And then she told me some stories about her dogs: the dog that took 20 trials before qualifying the first time, the dog that never could get a CDX title, the various creative ways her dogs have expressed their opinions about competition Obedience.

And she also said that she’s sure that Cooper and I can do it.

So probably, we can.

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I should know this by now. At dog shows, do not argue with the judge. Don’t even appear to argue with the judge. If they say you won or qualified, keep your mouth shut. Just let them give you the win.

The first time I did this was just after the judge awarded Cooper’s first major win in conformation. As the judge was walking over to get the ribbons, I asked, “How did that happen?” My ringmates and some bystanders quickly shushed me.

My second faux pas occurred this weekend. Cooper and I (somehow) qualified in a Novice A Obedience run at the Clackamas KC B-OB match on Saturday. I don’t know how we possibly have qualified, and when the judge said, “You have a qualifying score,” I made the mistake of saying, “Really? We qualified?”

The judge turned to me as she was walking to the table to get the ribbons, “Well, so far…”

Hmm. I could have lost it right there. Note to self: keep your mouth shut in the ring, except to say, “Thank you, judge.”

But really, I don’t see how we could possibly have qualified. I was talking to Cooper the whole time to keep his attention on me and off the lovely, horse-scented, dirt barn floor. And I had to call him back to me when, on an off-leash About Turn, he decided to go straight on, right out of the ring. (He came back.)

But, heck, if the judge wants to give me a pass, I’ll take it. Not that it counts for any points. But it was good practice for next weekend’s real Obedience trial, which is also on a lovely, horse-scented, dirt barn floor.

And I was pleased to see that Cooper maintained his Long Sit and Long Down. No getting up and leaving in the middle. And he moved only one foot during the Stand for Exam. So that was good.

photo by Ron Worley

Since Cooper is not a huge fan of Obedience, I try to always do something fun (fun by Cooper’s definition) right afterward. So this Saturday, he had a small vanilla ice cream and then we went to a state park just 7 minutes away from the match site.

The park’s boat ramp was completely deserted, so Cooper joyfully jumped in and swam out to retrieve his beloved camo Wubba, over and over and over again.

Cooper and camo Wubba on the boat ramp

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