The Denver cluster

Last week/weekend marked the 2012 Denver cluster of shows, the start of the dog showing season for those of here in the Rocky Mountains.  As usual, it was a gigantic show, and for once the weather wasn’t too awful.

Kunga did very well, though he didn’t win anything.  I was especially proud of him on the last day, when he stacked beautifully, moved well, and NAILED the free stack on his down-and-back.  I heard someone ringside say “wow” as Kunga came to a stop, head up, ears forward, standing over his ground like the prince that he is.  Ribbons that day didn’t mean anything to me–I still went home with the best dog! (Though I think all my friends think the same.)

Here is a quick view of some of my friends from one of the days of the competition:

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The Denver cluster

The beginning of the show season for most of us here in Colorado and the Rocky Mountain west (for those not going to Westminster, at least) is the Rocky Mountain cluster: five days of shows that generally draw dogs from two dozen states.  It’s February in Colorado, so as with most years: it’s going to be cold and there’s snow in the forecast.

This cluster is special to me because it’s where I showed Kunga for the very first time, and it’s where, last year, he finished his championship.

Kunga hasn’t shown since the Nationals in early November last year (and most of his buddies haven’t shown since the Pueblo CO show the following weekend), so I expect he’ll be a bit rusty.  I’ve heard that the local handling classes have been packed with people polishing up skills and getting new pups ready for their debuts.  Kunga had his nails done yesterday and he’ll have his bath on Wednesday; I have lots of friends who spent the weekend grooming and buffing dogs in preparation.

I just hope I can remember, in the midst of the fantastic competition and the emphasis on ribbons and points, that Kunga will only have fun if I have fun.  Looking forward to seeing lots of friends there!

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Always learning

Although I’ve been honored to talk with some pretty accomplished expert handlers (both amateur and professional), I’ve never met anyone in the show world who claims to know EVERYTHING.  We can all learn more about our dogs, handling, and judging. Some things you learn from mentors, some things through experience, and some things you can even learn from books.

There are a couple of books and a DVD that I’ve found invaluable as I keep studying. The first, I recommend to everyone: Robert Cole’s “An Eye for a Dog.”  This guy is unequaled in teaching and illustrating structure and movement and in explaining both.  I was pretty intimidated when I first picked this up, but became fascinated by all the little tests the author sets for the reader with his line drawings.  Which of those 5 dogs has the most serious faults for its breed?  Which has the best topline, the best head, the best gait?  This is a book I return to again and again.

Chris Walkowicz is a show judge who has written about her training and experiences in “Dog Show Judging–the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.”  There aren’t many judges who talk much about their training and tell stories about the show ring, so I found this an interesting look into the judges’ world.  She soft-pedals some controversies and leaves a lot out, but this is still a pretty interesting book.

Finally is Rachel Page Elliot’s DVD, “Dogsteps–What to Look for in a Dog.”  This is from a grand old lady of the breeding/showing world, and it’s worth it just to hear her talk about her career and her dogs.  But what’s even better is that she really gives a sense of how to look at gaiting dogs, and how to assess structural issues that will effect gait.  The film is old, but the lessons are timeless.

(Thank you to Nicholas DeSciose for the loan of his glasses and the terrific picture of my scholarly boy Kunga, above.)

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Please, mom…

Kunga sags in the summer heat.  As a giant breed dog, he’s not too fond of high temperatures.  He’s much happier when the autumn weather sets in, and he gets much more lively on his walks.

But winter ice and snow are a different matter.  If it’s snowing or sleeting or blowing, this couch potato wants to be inside and in the warmest room of the house!  In fact, he would really prefer getting into the warm bed with us.  Sadly this isn’t allowed, which doesn’t keep him from asking…

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Which Bitch?

As a newbie to the show world and to the breeding dance, I’ve been trying to figure out when and whether to breed Kunga to various bitches whose owners have contacted me for breeding information. Kunga, of course, would breed with a Chihuahua if she’d have him and he could work out the logistics.  But since I’m in charge of who he gets to “meet,” I’ve been researching and asking advice about potential partners.

In the course of all this, I’ve discovered there seem to be two distinct schools of thought when breeding a male.  One group of people believes that as long as the potential dam has been health tested, is of the right color under the GDCA Color Code of Ethics, and not being bred just for money, that it’s good to breed to her.  After all, breeding is supposed to be about improving the breed, and even if she has her faults, perhaps breeding to a decent sire will lead to improved offspring.

The people of the second school of thought say that your dog’s reputation is paramount, and it’s important to breed only to bitches that are already generally excellent in conformation and temperament. (This assumes the health testing, color, and not-solely-for-profit tests above are also met.)  That way, the pups will almost certainly be of good quality, which is needed to improve the breed, and will reflect well on your sire.

There seem to be advantages and drawbacks to both ways of thinking.  Most people I’ve spoken to have come down HARD on one side or the other.  An interesting debate, and not one that seems resolvable except as a personal decision.

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Kunga’s daddy

Kunga owes his life to Federal Express.  Since his sire lives in Australia and his dam is in Florida, USA, the delivery service for frozen semen is pretty much the only way he exists!

Kunga’s daddy is Aus. Ch. Thunderfire Law N’ Order, “Cary,” and he almost wasn’t a show dog.  He was sold by his breeder to a home that didn’t work out, and the breeder took him back.  After looking him over, Gayle decided that this boy was going to be pretty nice, and started to show him.  His puppy attitude was a bit too much in the ring the first couple of times out, but once he got the idea, he did brilliantly: a Group 1 and Runner up Best in Show from the puppy classes!  He quickly swept up his championship after that. (You can see a nice stacked picture of Cary at http://www.thunderfire.com.au/current-champions.asp.)

Cary is 8 years old now, but he still loves to show.  Sometimes Gayle takes him out just for fun; the last time she did that, a few months ago at a specialty show, he won  “best head.”  What a guy.  What a tough act for my boy to follow!

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Dog language

Why is it that we assume that if our animals could communicate with us, it would be in badly spelled, ungrammatical baby talk?  There are dozens of posts on Facebook of dogs and cats with funny fake “dialog,” and I have yet to see one that isn’t a twisted form of English.  Don’t get me wrong, I smile with most of these little photo funnies.  I just wonder what it is that makes us infantilize our dogs?  Why do we assume they’re just a stupider or less educated (though clearly more comic) version of ourselves?

Maybe we’re just all trying to understand our dogs better. I think, based on what I’ve read and experienced, that dogs are complex social beings with emotional lives that are different from our own and elemental drives that we don’t always relate to well.  By imagining their thoughts we explain them to ourselves in terms we understand–even if those terms are our own rather than the dogs’.

But I’m going to believe that if ever a dog could speak to me, it would be in complete, correct, declarative sentences!

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Christmas 2011

Happy Boxing Day!

We hope that everyone enjoyed their holiday weekend and got plenty to eat, plenty of play, and plenty of love.

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Kennel plaque

At our annual Great Dane Club December meeting we hand out awards to those whose dogs have titled during the year.  Kunga finished his championship this year, so we were the proud recipients of a new plaque:

There’s what we in the club officially dub a “hangy thingy” at the bottom, which has the name of the dog and titles earned.  Hard to read this one but it says “AKC & IABCA Ch Della’s Pro Bono:

You’ll notice the hardware at the bottom.  That’s for adding new “hangy thingys” for new titles or new dogs (!).

We decided on “Kalapa” as our kennel name because it connects us to our Tibetan Buddhist practice.  The Tibetans talk of a place called “Shambhala,” a place of spiritual retreat and protection, where it’s said that teachings are stored and treasured.  Kalapa is its capital, envisioned as a beautiful city with sandalwood pleasure groves and open parks.  Somehow it sounds like a perfect place for our beloved dogs.

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Talking to the dogs

Just spent more than 3 weeks alone with the dogs while the Wise Man was out of town.  I worry about becoming one of those crazy people who chatter away to their animals all the time, but I swear my dogs get it when I talk to them.

I’m not referring to commands, I certainly hope the dogs understand those.  I mean random times when I express pain or frustration or surprise, say something, and have the dogs look at me in apparent comprehension.  Kunga will sometimes “talk back” with a sort of yawn/howl, especially if he’s worried about me.  Lucy will always jump when I express surprise.  Obviously they’re responding to the emotion and energy in my voice rather than the words (though they do know a lot of words like “dinner” and “out”), but it sure seems like they’re good company when they’re “listening.”

Oh, and they express themselves pretty clearly, too–can’t you tell what Kunga is saying to the Wise Man here?

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