The new show season

While some people start their season in southern CA or at the Rose Cluster in OR, or even in NY at Westminster, we ordinary folk here in the Rockies kick off the show season with a 4 day cluster (five days, if you have a working group breed) in Denver, CO.

Kunga is pretty much retired, but I bring him out on rare occasions, mostly to have fun with his friends and because he just loves to show.  We’re going to show only 1 day out of 5 this time around, but all the preparation is the same. Sadly Kunga doesn’t enjoy this part of a show: getting his bath and having his nails trimmed.

In anticipation of Denver, we started a few months ago getting back into the trimming mode. We started with just clipping on a regular basis, at first every other week and then every week.  Recently we have started dremmeling, too, to get those nails somewhere close to show length. For this, we have to visit my friend Carol Volleberg, who has a dremmel and the space to get Kunga immobilized while she uses it. He hates it. What a wuss, he cries and moans even though Carol never draws blood and is very careful to keep the dremmel moving to keep it from getting too hot. Ah well, despite his groans, his nails are beginning to resemble a show dog’s!

Do we really have to go to have our nails done, Mom?

Do we really have to go to have our nails done, Mom?

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The Great Dane lean

Every Dane I’ve ever known leaned.  It seems like something inborn into the breed. I met a woman who had rescued a Dane and asked her why the dog had been surrendered by the original owners; she said, he leans, and they didn’t like it! Well, duh.  This ought to go in every Great Dane breed information book and on the GDCA site: Danes lean on you. Hard. Spread the word.

This presents problems as you learn to show stack your dog. I suppose in terrier breeds people have dogs that bark, and I know some toy dog handlers who struggle to keep their pups from licking the judges–every breed has quirks that have to be dealt with when teaching the stack. With Danes, it’s the notorious lean.

When I first started stacking Kunga as a total newbie, I didn’t even notice he was leaning onto me until the class instructor told me to “get that dog off your leg!” But Kunga LIKED my leg and liked to be glued to it. It was a process to get him up on his own four feet and put even weight on each. This mostly involved stepping back quickly after setting his front inside leg (show side), so he couldn’t lean the outside leg on me and move that inside one. The quick step-back surprised him at first, and caused him to stagger the first time I did it as he leaned to his right, expecting me to be there. (This was highly amusing to the other people in the class.) He got over this soon enough, but to this day, if he’s tired or bored in a specials ring, he’ll start his lean, just to test me.

I’m glad to say, I’m always there to give him loving and a back stop–outside the ring.

K tries the lean (with a kiss) as we get ready to go into the ring

K tries the lean (with a kiss) as we get ready to go into the ring

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Education or Interference?

While visiting another state and staying in a private home, I came across a nearby house with two dogs. One was some sort of Pom cross, one a (mostly) pointer.  Both lived outdoors full time–not once in the 11 days we were there did they move inside despite pouring rain and searing sun.  The Pom cross lived in a slapped-together, rusty cage, roughly 3′ x 3′ x 3′, with part of the top covered.  The pointer lived at the end of a chain, where he could move into sun or shade.  There was a disgustingly filthy crate nearby he could retreat to out of the rain, and a metal bowl which (I hope) had water in it.  Both dogs barked furiously whenever pedestrians, bicyclists, or cats wandered by.

This didn’t look like much of a life, and I was upset at the conditions the dogs lived in. After a few days, I called the humane society and asked what options I had.  Turns out that the minimum requirement of providing food, water, and shelter was probably met by these owners, and the shelter folks would not investigate or get involved.

What then? What are our responsibilities toward animals not our own?  These dogs lived a horribly limited life, but they were fed and sheltered, after a fashion. Many times I wanted to knock on the door and talk to them about their dogs, despite the sign posted on the lawn: “trespassers will be shot.” But it seemed from the rough appearance of the house, with peeling paint and sagging porch, and with 3 different junked cars in various states of disintegration moldering around the yard, that these folks were barely able to keep their human lives together. I just couldn’t imagine that anything I would say would make an impression on them, much less a difference in the dogs’ lives. (And for sure I didn’t want to get shot.) So, after hanging up on the call to the humane society, I did nothing.  And I can’t forget those dogs.

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How do the dogs know when we’re getting ready to leave town? I think it’s the suitcases.Whenever we get them out and begin filling them up, the dogs investigate.  Kunga has spilled mine over in the past, trying to get the items out. Soon they begin turning in circles every time we go in or out of the door, anxious not to be left behind.

I love to travel; I hate leaving my dogs behind.  We have a fantastic pet-sitter who lives in our house, and the dogs adore him, so I know they’re in good hands.  But somehow the day is just not the same when you don’t have that wet furry nose stuck into your ear at 5 am, helping to wake you up.

I often wonder if dogs keep track of time when we’re gone. Lucy the Bloodhound greets my husband after only a few hours as though she hasn’t seen him in days, whining and smiling and licking him all over. Kunga gets up from a nap and turns in circles when he comes to find me in the house.  Can they distinguish a day from a week, or a few weeks?

We are about to leave for 11 days, and the suitcases are half filled. Somehow we have to steel our hearts for leaving the dogs and focus on the work ahead.


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Season’s Greetings

From our pack to yours: may you have a wonderful holiday and a peaceful and prosperous 2013!


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Screwing up

I’ve always loved this Charles Barsotti cartoon; I have it framed on my wall.  It’s something to remember today, as we think about the many ways that humans have made a mess of ourselves.

dog cartoon

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I am continually amazed by my dogs’ willingness to do what I ask of them in situations where they can’t possibly understand the reasons for the behavior or its consequences.  When I leash up Kunga and hop him up into the van, he could be going for a walk or we could be about to drive for hours to a dog show.  He doesn’t care: he jumps into the car willingly.

Susan Orlean wrote about the willingness of ordinary pet dogs to become war dogs during WWII.  In her book about Rin Tin Tin (an excellent read, by the way), she tells the story about people who volunteered to send their pets to the Army, which trained them as battlefield couriers, bomb detectors, etc.  Many of these pets lost their lives working for people.  I don’t know if they could possibly understand that risk, but it seems they mostly did it willingly.

There was an entire “This American Life” radio broadcast about animals that are willing to sacrifice themselves for humans.  You can download it here:

Astonishing that dogs seem to love us enough to give everything for us.

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How do we know when enough’s enough?

I often hear or read complaints about certain characteristics of dog breeds, and I’ve made a few myself.  Show people are a pretty opinionated lot, and we all seem to have something to say about “the direction of the breed”–the temperaments are getting bad, the shoulders are getting too straight, the faces too flat. There are toy dog people who think their breed is getting too big or too small, Tibetan Mastiff people who don’t like certain coat colors, Bloodhound people who think the breed’s getting way too heavy, etc.

My question is, how do we as fanciers of a given breed, know when we’ve gone too far in breeding certain characteristics?  There have been numerous publicized critiques (a documentary in England, a NY Times Magazine article here: of English Bulldogs, whose faces have become so brachycephalic that many suffer from breathing problems and have to have palate surgery. The French Bull Dog Club of America notes that most Frenchies have to be born by C-section due to the typical size of the puppy head and the narrowness of the bitch’s hips (

Now I like bulldogs, but surely something’s wrong when we’re breeding dogs that can’t breathe and can’t give birth normally?  When does a whole breed go off the rails? And how does it change?

Parent clubs bear responsibility for maintaining a standard that results in healthy dogs.  The problem comes, I assume, when those who are taking responsibility can’t agree among themselves whether something is wrong. Individual breeders are going to continue to make decisions based on what wins in the show ring; the more that fashion leans in one direction, the more that lean tends to perpetuate itself. There’s also an inherent hesitation on the part of a club to dictate to everyone what to breed.  It’s a free country, right?

Yet the standards exist and are promulgated and taught to judges. It seems like a concerted effort by a club to change those standards to clarify a disapproval of certain trends would be effective in the long run, if not immediately. Within my own breed of Great Danes, there has been a move to change the standard to permit longer legs–a move which has been vigorously opposed by many. (See Paddy Magnusen’s article:

I would love to see a committee on the standard for each breed which would meet perhaps every 3-5 years and give a thorough review to what’s being shown and bred, and whether the current crop of dogs in general is adhering to the breed standard. It could also consider whether the standard should be clarified to halt troubling trends. Would this lead to constant upheaval?  I don’t think so.  But it would certainly provide a forum for those concerned with certain fashions to express their views and have them debated more widely. Maybe this exists for certain breeds? I’d love to hear from parent club representatives to let me know.

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Showing Kunga: a little about the book

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After the show

Kunga’s breeder once told me that the ride home after a show is sure easier if you’ve won something. And it’s true that the right color ribbon really affects human feelings about how things have gone.

As I drove home from this weekend’s show, I tried to look at the “success” of the show from Kunga’s point of view.  He doesn’t like the preliminaries: bath, nail trimming, whisker cutting.  The morning of a show he usually gets only part of his breakfast–so that he might be more interested in bait and we don’t have to run around in early classes on a fullish stomach–and he’s not happy about that either.

But the rest of the affair is great fun for him.  He turns in circles and talks vociferously until I get him into the van, and he likes to spend some of the ride looking at passing scenery.  He leaps to his feet when we reach the show grounds, staring down the other dogs walking toward the rings as we make our way to a parking spot.  The smells and sights of the show get him high: other dogs, the bait package from the vendor, his human buddies.  He gets to run around a lot and meet a new person, and that new person always gives him an all-over petting.  If he’s lucky, he gets to say hello to some of his old friends and pee on a lot of trees outside the venue. The ride home for him is always relaxing, and once he gets home he gets a big greeting from his Bloodhound sister, who sniffs him all over to deduce his adventures.  Not once has he asked me what color ribbon he won.  What’s not to like?

Lucy asks Kunga about his day at the show

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