It has been an interesting month for me, as I am back in the conformation ring after a prolonged absence. Prior to the cluster in Fitchburg, and the shows this past weekend in Springfield, I have been out only two weekends since the 2010 National almost two years ago!
We decided to call our grooming setup in Springfield “The Situation.”
In 2004 I bought my first Cardigan, Golem. He was/is a nice boy. He took first in his class his first three shows, then took (consecutively) 3 points, 3 points, 1 point, 3 points, 3 points, 3 points, and a BOS his first day as a special. In three weekends (one two day show, which was a supported entry, and two four day clusters) and the span of about three months he was a champion. This was in Spring of 2005.
I don’t recommend this course for anyone, because you are set up for disappointment when it isn’t always so easy. And it wasn’t.
I had a long dry spell after that, which ended with my first litter, from which I got Dexter and Ella. I had them out from late 2009 to early 2010, but couldn’t find majors. They were nice enough to win most of the available single points, but I didn’t finish them in that magic moment while they were still nice puppies, but before they fell apart as adults – which is what a lot of Cardis seem to do.
I think you can finish most dogs if you enter enough shows, but I don’t have the time/desire/money to show a mediocre dog 60 times to finish him. Dexter ended up so straight front and rear that he was going to be unsound, so I placed him. Ella is sound overall, but has an ugly front. She did fortunately pan out in the health department.
Because it was important to me to breed from the line I loved, I decided to breed Ella to a dog with an incredibly sound front, to see if I could fix her offspring. This is after one of our most prominent, well-respected breeders told me I would never fix that front. But, you know, I am, like, stubborn and stuff.
So I bred this:
And I got one of these:
(Granted, I will have to breed to studs with strong fronts behind them so I don’t go backwards again, but I’ll take it.)
This is Valentine at 8 months:
There are things I would tweak, but considering her mother I am OVER THE MOON about my funny Valentine. She has the brains and the personality that are so important to me:
She has a flexible pedigree and – not to put too fine a point on it – she’s black. BLACK. If you have worked with blue Cardigans you know what I mean here. That I found a black dog as good for Ella as Rush is a minor miracle, and I think the color-breeding restrictions can’t die off soon enough.
This is Ollie at 8 months:
Where Val is a Cardigan of greater strengths and stronger faults than her brother, Ollie is a dog who has nothing I hate, but many things I wish were just a little better. Also, he is not one who is “together” the way Val is right now. Valentine is very much Rush’s daughter, and like her father will probably never have an ugly phase. I can see promise in Ollie as an adult, but he will have to grow up before I know for sure. This may be the last you see of him for a while, because you can see that the rear is about to pop up, and the legs to sprout, and the tube-ness to come forth, and the adolescent-boy-puppy-uglies to rage. I’ll throw a sack over him and peek under it periodically to see if there is a swan underneath.
I don’t think these puppies are perfect. I’m not sure I think they’re even good – but I am really critical of my dogs. What they are is a lot better than their mother, and that is a step forward.
I have decided to try not to keep puppies unless I think I will keep them forever, because I am tired of placing dogs, and because it is nice to have just one or two. I tried to give my pick puppy, Ollie, to Kathy. She agreed to keep him intact for me, and let me show him, which was perfect. When she met the puppies she liked Val. I thought Valentine probably wouldn’t be as nice as Ollie, but a bitch in the hand is worth two in the bush, and I really liked Kathy, and wanted to make her happy by giving her the puppy she wanted, because I would want someone to do the same for me. Val had two homes lined up, and both had dropped out. Trading Val for Ollie meant that Ollie was now the homeless one, and my show pick, and I needed to find a conformation home for him. So I sought one out, and was happy enough about it, but circumstances changed and I got him back, and somehow managed to talk Kathy and Jim in to taking him, too, because Valentine was too smart, and a terrorist, and needed someone to keep her busy. Ollie did the trick. They play all day and Val has moved from evil to almost good, because she is no longer bored. I am so glad my two “pick” puppies ended up in that home, because they are the best people on Earth and I am really lucky to have them.
Because Kathy wanted Val I retained her by accident, and she has grown up decently. Because of circumstances orchestrated by whatever is out there pulling the strings of the Universe, I have Ollie now, too.
But they are pets. They haven’t been trained to show, because I didn’t ask their family to do so. Their family came to me to buy a pet, so I sold them pets.
My kennel is named for the anime Fullmetal Alchemist (see the explanation here). In that show they refer to the alchemic principle of “equivalent exchange.” What this means, essentially, is that the scales must balance. You can only alter objects into something with the same mass, and relatively the same material. If you become a doctor, it is only because you paid with enough effort to get there. To have puppies who were happy and loved and wouldn’t be bum-rushed out the door when they weren’t “good enough,” I paid by having puppies who weren’t show trained, and chose to deal with that as best I could. And I will make that same choice a million times if I can find people like Kathy and Jim, who are willing to take them and share them with me, because I think it is better for the happiness of the dogs.
“‘Stand?’ What the hell does that mean?”
“‘Sit?’ Is that what you were trying to say, you ignorant man-ape?”
“Granny… do you have ANY idea what you’re doing? Clearly you do not, as I was doing it RIGHT all along.”
“Oh my dog, this is so humiliating…”
“I simply CANNOT tolerate this any longer. I’m out of here.”
And, yes, it IS hard to take a show dog out and show him when he hasn’t been prepared. Put on top of that the fact that I am in a borderline panic when I’m in the ring, showing puppies who I am very close to, who are very attuned to me. They love to see granny; they love their granny! “Uh oh, when we see Granny we go to the dog show, and Granny is scared at the dog show. Guess we better do something to protect our Granny!” Since GoGo finished fast, and since I haven’t shown much since then, I haven’t gotten a lot of ring time. I am still a nervous wreck out there.
And so this happens:
Dog Show #1: They act like what they are, which is puppies who have not been trained. That is fine, and all is well.
Dog Show #2: A patient, kind, competent judge. I feel secure, I show well, the puppies show well – like they know what they are doing. How did that happen? Who knows, but I won’t complain. Four point majors for both! I can’t believe it! It’s a miracle! Six years later, and I have FINALLY put majors on dogs I own!
Ollie in Winner’s Dog. Check out my elated dance at the end.
Valentine in Winner’s Bitch. And NO, we don’t talk about the tail… O_o
Dog Show #3: Ollie acts like a puppy who is tired after two days of showing, but is basically good. The judge has a very forceful, intimidating manner and criticizes my handling as I leave the class – not unkindly, but I am insecure so it knocks me down a little and I start to get nervous. Ollie is RWD to a 5-point-major.
Val goes in and is doing well. I put her on the table. At this juncture I have started to love having her on the table, because she sets up so easily and so beautifully and is such a pretty picture. The judge spends a long time messing with her head and her mouth. Val gives her a kiss, as she does most people, and then pulls away looking worried. As the judge starts to (thoroughly) go over Val, Val gives a little rumble.
At this point I feel like I have stepped into that evil Star Trek parallel universe, because this is NOT a dog who growls at anyone. This is a dog who loves every person and dog, who is afraid of nothing, who has babies yank on her face and tail and smiles about it. Things go rapidly downhill. The judge, an elderly woman, begins to speak angrily to me, threatening to excuse me, and starts handling Val more roughly, so Val growls again. The woman gets angrier, and tells us to get out, and stomps off to record the excusal in the book. I cannot believe this has happened. Neither can the half-dozen people I know, who come over to ask what has happened. Six jaws hit the floor at the same time, because that is not something Valentine would do.
Dog Show #4: I am now thoroughly wound up about the incident, afraid it will happen again. Ollie feels it, and is awful, won’t even walk around the ring. He puts on the brakes every few steps and melts on the table. And Valentine does in fact growl again, and while the judge tells me that I need to make sure she stops doing that (and that Valentine is the first Cardigan who has ever growled at her – what an honor!), she says she understands that she’s a puppy, and tired after four days, and that it is obvious she isn’t a nasty dog. All the puppies were bad and the judge tells all three of us in 6-9 that it was very unwise to enter babies for four days, and that we need to not do that again. We all nod and agree.
I decide not to take Val out for the next set of shows, and send Kathy and Jim with homework to get her exposed to people handling her on the table, and go home and cry into my pillow.
Dog Show #5: Three weeks later, I am still worked up about the growling. I have been told that it may have been her feeding off of my anxiety, so now I am extra anxious about being anxious, so I am, like, super-massively freaked out.
(Perhaps I should mention that I can be a tad neurotic, high-strung, and obsessive. I bet you haven’t figured THAT out yet, have you???)
And Ollie growls, and I get the same talking to about working with him. I am sooooo frustrated. It would be one thing if the puppies had bad temperaments, but they don’t, and they are GROWLING at judges, and I don’t know why! The ulcers are starting to get frayed at the edges now, and the nails are pretty much out of anything I can gnaw on.
Dog Show #6: I have mixed feelings about professional handlers. Everyone has to make a living, but I don’t like the unfairness of how they win based on who they are, and the entitled attitudes they haul around, and the way some of them treat owner-handlers and breeder-handlers. As Dawn said, “I’m not sure where they think those client dogs are coming from…” I also hate to see dogs out for months and years on campaign, because what kind of life is that for a pet? And while the handlers set up on either side of us were just as abrupt and entitled as any I have met, they were also very nice to me. Maybe they were just trying to plant seeds for a potential future client, but the male handler on one side of our grooming area took an interest in Ollie for some reason, and talked happy talk to him on the table the whole weekend (while he groomed his own string of specials), and Ollie loved the attention and wagged and wagged and danced and tried to jump from his table to the handler’s table.
Ollie at the gallows. (Sponsored by Victoria’s Secret.)
And the handler on the other side of us listened to my woes and gave me a lot of instruction, like how to show the bite myself first to keep the puppy from being freaked out about a stranger being in his face, and how to hold the head from the top of the muzzle so the dog can’t see, and so stays calm. She told me to bait the puppy like crazy once the judge moved on from the bite, to keep him distracted – which is just common sense, but that is not always my strong suit and I can be slow to figure things out on my own. “And have a drink,” she said. The puppies were probably growling because they were feeding off me, and if a drink would calm me down, then so be it. She said that her husband was a competitive archer, and a glass of wine before competition made all the difference. She and the male handler also left their grooming and came over together and handled Ollie on the table, which was very kind of them.
“Oh, well, I guess it ain’t really that bad.”
So I had a beer while I was grooming (how nice that they sold it on site!), did all the things we discussed, and made a point of taking my time, breathing, and focusing on the dog instead of thinking about how much I suck as a handler. And it worked. He showed beautifully, wasn’t a bit nervous, and didn’t GROWL! We didn’t win, but we still won.
I left the ring and immediately learned from Kathy and Jim that, oh, by the way, Valentine had gotten a letter from the AKC saying that if she was excused again she would be asked not to show again. We won’t talk about what THAT is doing to me, but I am trying to take it in stride. I think that was a bit harsh for a 6-9 puppy who growled, but as a judge I suppose I would take being growled at “menacingly” by an unfamiliar dog seriously, too.
The puppies don’t show again until the beginning of April, and then hopefully will go to the National. Having learned what there is to work on, we (Kathy, Jim, and myself) will be working on it. I will also take steps to prevent these problems in the future.
I am happy to be getting back to exhibiting, and hope it won’t get derailed again. That happiness is tainted by my fear of it, but I’m hoping that a little success and a little more practice will make it something that I do truly enjoy, rather than the necessary evil that goes along with being a breeder. I have wanted to breed animals since I was little, and purebred dogs are such a beautiful outlet for that. I love learning, and getting better at recognizing good dogs, though I have a long way to go with that particular, fine-tuned skill.
Dawn got Magnum’s Championship certificate in the mail today. I would really like to get one of those again. It has been such a long time.