Years and years ago, my then husband and I became interested in showing dogs ... specifically, Norwegian elkhounds. The choice happened almost randomly, there being two Elkhounds at the local …
Years and years ago, my then husband and I became interested in showing dogs ... specifically, Norwegian elkhounds. The choice happened almost randomly, there being two Elkhounds at the local shelter when we bought our first house on a small acreage in upper Montgomery County Maryland. There we built a couple of dog houses and a bit of kennel fencing next to a small, white-fenced pasture and a gem of a little two-stall stable.
Dogs and horses. Who could ask for more?
About the time anyone asks that question, you know the answer: a lot.
After some deliberation and a fair amount of research entailing work with local breeders and the haunting of nearby shows, we invested in a young female by one of the top elkhound champions in the country and in a puppy who was part of a litter just imported from Norway.
Those of you who know what an elkhound looks like will recall that they have tight curly tails. Well, the Norwegian import quickly grew up; as sweet and lovely as a picture, but ... Her tail didn’t curl tightly. It but canted loosely off to the side. The same was not true of the rest of the litter, so we gambled on the genetic odds and bred her.
We lost, and one of our first efforts to breed our own show dogs landed face-down in the dirt with 10 beautiful, pet quality puppies. On the other hand, the young female from domestic breeding quickly finished her championship, agreed grudgingly to obedience work and added a Companion Dog degree to her CV. She also produced first one, then another litter of puppies destined for competition.
By this time Bob and I were spending almost every weekend at shows, were doing our own handling of our own young animals, and having a lot of fun in the process.
Again, who could ask for more?
The answer this time was judging. It looked to me like judges had most of the fun in the arena. They, definitely, had all the power, while their decisions strongly influenced the future of the breeds.
With those thoughts in mind, I attended a number of seminars, memorized some of the hound breed standards, and did some practice judging. All the time, I was wondering: How do judges who have to handle the Group and the Best of Show classes compare one breed to another and decide which specimen is the best.
The official answer, of course, is that the entry that best typifies his/her breed’s standards will be the winner.
To that I say, “bull s--- .” By the time those animals make it through the show system and end in a group or show line-up, they’re almost invariably all interchangeably superb specimens of their breeds.
Finally, one evening after dinner with a group of judges, one of them addressed my question seriously. “I have no trouble at all picking my winners,” she said. And, with a perfectly straight face she added, “I pick the one that looks just like me.”
We all laughed. “Seriously,” she added. “Consciously, like me, or subconsciously like almost everyone, we pick dogs that look the most like us.”
She had her tongue firmly lodged in her cheek that evening, but she had a point, and I couldn’t help but look around at dog shows, matching dogs and owners. Sometimes, it was true. The bulldog owner could be jowly, short, pudgy. The greyhound owner was built like a long-distance runner. The lady terrier owner exuded energy and a certain “don’t mess with me” attitude. The ... .
But look for yourself. Check yourself against your dogs. How many traits do you share?
When I did my inventory, I decided I needed to change dog breeds. Elkhounds are compact, alert, focused, and single-minded. Somehow, while I loved my elkhounds, I just couldn’t see me in them.
Now? Now, long after my interest in dog showing waned, I have two long-legged, lean, standard poodles who get their hair trimmed short every six weeks while I’m at the beauty parlor doing the same for mine.