A countdown of some lessons learned: characteristics that contribute to a dog’s success in showing.
And #3 is: copes well with chaos.
Shows can seem like madhouses to the uninitiated. The first time I walked into a venue I was overwhelmed by the noise, the movement, the number of dogs and people, and the incomprehensible announcements over the loudspeaker. Everyone seems in a hurry to get to the ring, to unload their trailer, to buy a new show collar.
If I was daunted, I can only imagine what this might be like for a dog, who would also be assaulted by the myriad of smells they’re subjected to on the grounds! Kunga is a confident and curious dog but even he was a little taken aback by everything. Add to that the changes in feeding times, exercise patterns, and travel, and the dog has a lot to deal with.
I saw my poor (non-showing) Bloodhound Lucy go through a little of this experience last weekend at a “Bark in the Park” event. Even with only a tenth of the noise and activity of a show, my sensitive girl was freaked out. Normally friendly and happy, she barked at every person and dog that went past her crate (which set Kunga off, not a happy combination). It reminded me how stressful show dog lives can be. The ones who can get used to the chaos and thrive in it are the ones who will show the best.
Here are Kunga and Lucy after a long day at that park event: wiped out!
With apologies to Stephen Covey, I’m enumerating the 7 habits that my friends and mentors have taught me are typical of a successful show dog.
The second: he sleeps! Anywhere and everywhere possible.
The first time I left Kunga alone in a crate in a grooming area, he went nuts, crying and pawing at the door and worried about when I’d get back. I still hadn’t learned to put a big blanket across the crate, both for warmth and a little sense of security. It’s such mayhem in the grooming areas: barking dogs, screaming dryers, clanging crates, running people. It’s a difficult place to settle down and rest. But Kunga quickly caught on to the fact that I’m certainly coming back to get him, and now he just flops down and goes to sleep amidst the chaos. The first time my friend Carol saw that, she approved mightily: it’s hard to get rest and a dog that can sleep at the show is one that has an advantage.
The other thing that took some time was getting Kunga to sleep in strange motel rooms. Our first road trips were up-all-night marathons, with him pacing around and barking at the sounds of the people in nearby rooms and dogs in the hallways. Once he decided that we were not likely to be under attack, he calmed down, and now sleeps well no matter where we are–as long as I’m there, too.
(With apologies to Stephen Covey)
I’ve found there are 7 qualities of a resilient, successful show dog. Having them doesn’t guarantee success, but they all contribute to winning.
Even a dog that eats well at home can get picky on the road. Early in his show career I took Kunga to Topeka, KS for a 5 day show. It was mid-August and about a zillion degrees with humidity up near swamp level. From the first exposure to the sights and smells of that large show, Kunga stopped eating. For 5 days I tried everything, but he only had a half a hamburger one day and a dish of vanilla ice cream another day.
People offered numerous remedies, aimed at disguising the scent of all those luscious canine ladies: Vaseline on his nose, vanilla extract, lavender oil. But I couldn’t bring myself to end what was probably Kunga’s favorite aspect of showing, smelling the whole shebang.
Since that grueling experience Kunga has reverted to type and now eats whatever I feed him, show or no show, home or on the road. It means he doesn’t lose energy or condition, and both of us are better for it.
I was at a dog show this past weekend and took Kunga into the breed ring with 4 other specials, winner’s dog, and winner’s bitch. As usual, Kunga was the only dog in the line with natural ears, indeed the only Dane in the show still sporting the ears he was born with.
As I often do, I stacked Kunga up in the line and, just as the judge stepped back to review the entire class, I lifted Kunga’s ears above his head. This gives the judge the chance to view Kunga’s head looking something like all the other dogs in the line, with ears up. My understanding is that this is how dogs are shown in Australia, where Kunga’s sire lives.
(Here’s a link to a ring photo taken in Australia, sorry I don’t know the dog: http://www.charlottereevesevents.com.au/order.php?event=11&photo=44)
The judge came up to me and angrily told me to “let those ears down!” Of course I complied immediately. He hissed at me that this was insulting to him, suggesting I didn’t believe he could properly judge the head without this help. I apologized but mentioned that I’ve been ASKED to do this by a number of judges, and thanked for it in other classes when I did it unasked. One judge even picked up the ears himself and tried to position my hands to hold them the way he wanted them. I’ve had a judge lean forward and lift the ears from the front in a kind of parody of a crop.
I think we in the US are still muddling along when it comes to properly judging natural-eared Danes. We have no precedents and no general exhibition rules that everyone abides by. I’ve seen some people leave the ears down; I’ve seen others do as I do and pick them up for some of the exam or in the lineup.
If I haven’t shown to a judge, I don’t usually have any idea how they’d like to view my dog (though I always allow them a front and side view with Kunga’s ears down: I’m proud of his excellent ear set). Maybe it’s time to reach some consensus on handling rules. I’d be in favor of having the judge request an “ears up” specifically if they want that. I’m sorry to have offended the judge this weekend, but I don’t think he considered the quandry that handlers like me are in: ears up or down? We can never tell what would be preferred. As usual, Kunga doesn’t care as long as he gets the bait and a big hug after the class.
When Kunga was a little guy, I taught him to “sit” on command. Then I got involved in the show world and discovered that there is one school of thought that show dogs should NOT learn “sit.”
The theory behind this is sound, and I’ve seen it in action: the young dog in the ring doesn’t really understand what’s going on or what his handler is asking of him, so he performs the only trick he remembers really well: sit. Oops. Failure to stand on examination can get your dog tossed out of the ring, or “excused.” I can see where this is a problem.
The substitute “stand” command is supposed to get your show dog to stand still. This should be sufficient in most situations to keep your dog from getting in trouble outside the ring if you just need him to freeze. I use it consistently with Kunga and he’s almost forgotten “sit” as a result. (My non-show Bloodhound has “sit” burned into her brain and does well with it generally.)
But I must admit, I miss “sit,” for a bunch of reasons. There are times in small spaces when it would be handy to have Kunga take up less space and be a bit more under control than seems possible with “stand.” Then there are all those times that I take him out in public–to the bank, the photo lab, the pet store–when it’s tedious to explain to well-intentioned people with treats that “sit” isn’t really in my dog’s vocabulary.
If I ever decide to try performance events like rally or obedience with Kunga, he’ll have to re-learn “sit.” But for now, he just stands, wagging his tail like mad.
When I first got interested in showing Kunga, I had never even been to a dog show! I knew nothing about conformation, about the ring, or about handling. I was incredibly fortunate to find the Great Dane Club of Greater Denver and its amazing members, and to meet with some knowledgeable people in other places, all of whom have taught me everything I know. (Which is surprisingly little, even now. It’s daunting to realize how much there is to learn.)
From the beginning, I had Kunga’s breeder, Cindy, who was the first and least surprising advocate for showing Kunga. Then Kathryn Kudron assessed my blue boy at the awkward age of 5 1/2 months, saw a little something promising in him, and has encouraged me and helped me ever since. Carol and Don Volleburg taught me about handling, and other GDCGD members have thrown useful hints my way as I’ve stumbled around as a newbie. Linda Cain taught me how to deal with an excitable adolescent dog; Mari-Lynn Davisson gave me an understanding of positive ring attitude.
No one enters a show ring by themselves: behind them are the mentors and supporters and friends and family that made it possible to be there. It’s humbling to remember and important to pass along this kind of generosity of spirit in our sport.
(Here’s my friend Kathryn with her veteran champion, Fox)
Some people don’t realize our show dogs are our beloved pets first and foremost!
Here’s my boy in his “Super Dog” pose, hoping for dinner soon.
Some show dogs live with their handlers for months (or even years) on end, but even those dogs get love and attention and fun.
Almost everyone in the show world that I know is in it because they love their dogs. Go to a grooming area and just ask about their breed: you’ll probably learn more than you could possibly want to know, just because people love to talk about their dogs!
Kunga is a daddy again: 14 pups born by C-section. The breeder thought two pups looked weak and small, and in fact they didn’t last the first night despite heroic supplemental feedings and care. But we expected to lose a few from such a giant litter; the others were healthy and we were excited to see all those little blue faces.
Sadly, the bitch is a first-time mother and she has been nervous about the whole experience. She took a long time to nurse and wasn’t very careful about moving around in the whelping box. Despite constant monitoring, the result has been that she crushed six pups with her large body weight by accidentally lying down on them. Heartbreaking for us all, but especially for the breeder. The work and expense of the A.I., the pre-natal care, and the surgery–and one inexperienced mother can undermine it. Breeding is an expensive enterprise, with uncertain results. We forget how sad it can be, too.
The dam has settled down now and seems to be able to keep track of her remaining pups much better. Fingers crossed that these 6 grow up to be healthy, handsome dogs!
Our dogs live through their noses, which is old news. What’s interesting is how important the smell of my dogs is to me. Like humans, each of them has their own distinctive scent, and I revel in it as I put my face into their fur and hug them.
Their smells also tell me a lot about how they’re doing: a sick dog smells sick, somehow, and an anxious dog puts out a bitter kind of smell. If the dogs start vomiting or have diarrhea, I won’t worry too much if they smell normal; if the dog smells bad or off, I call the vet.
Strange that despite the fact that each dog smells different, there’s a universal smell of wet dog that’s the same no matter which canine is wet!
It’s also interesting that I can’t call a dog’s smell to mind, in the way that I can recall how a picture looks or the way a soft blanket feels. Is my imagination scent-impaired? I wish I could bottle the smell of each of my dogs. Because when they’re gone, I can’t ever smell them again.
There seem to be a lot of voices out there that repeat without evidence that the Blue Danes have lots of fur coat issues. I’m not so sure that these assertions are true, though they are widely believed.
Most people don’t know–even many show judges don’t know–that the coats of blues are often harsher in texture than those of other colors of Danes. I feed the exact same diet that a friend feeds his fawn Dane (which is roughly the same age as Kunga), but his dog’s coat is much smoother and softer.
In addition, I think the blue and black puppy sheds are particularly awful compared to those of other Danes, since the old fur turns brown and unsightly before it falls. There can be odd black-looking dots or patches that are simply the new hair shining through, but which look like the dog has a pox. This isn’t a coat problem, it’s just the price we pay for those gorgeous steel-blue adult coats.
The only scientific evidence I’ve been able to find about blue Dane coat problems is that some of them suffer from “color mutant alopecia,” which sounds dreadful, doesn’t it? Blue dogs carry a gene that dilutes the color black to their blue color, making them a “color mutant.” In some breeds the dilution is associated with this skin/coat problem. Alopecia means hair loss, and the condition results in bald spots, dry skin, infected hair follicles, and brittle hair. The problem is huge in blue Dobermans, but well-bred blue Danes do not generally have it. It seems to be genetic, though there are many factors at the color gene site on the DNA that can cause it. Here’s another argument for buying your Dane only from a responsible breeder that does health checks and understands pedigrees.
It’s unfortunate that people think blue Danes are unhealthy in this way. There’s even a strand of discussion on Yahoo’s “answers” that asserts that almost all blue Danes suffer from alopecia! I’d invite that responder to come visit any reputable blue Dane breeder to see those spectacular, glossy coats and reconsider that answer.