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Do you really want to show in conformation?

Discussion in 'Getting Started in Conformation' started by Mom2Melli, Jan 15, 2014.

  1. Mom2Melli

    Mom2Melli Forums Enthusiast

    Oct 2, 2013
    Central California
    Due to a recent thread about someone wanting to get into showing, I thought I would share my own experience and perspective. I hope the breeders and show folk will add more about their own experiences because I think it is important people can see what sacrifices are made for the glory of that show ring. I do not mean to put down the show ring at all, I had the gamet of experiences there from breathless thrill to tears of defeat and a whole lot of in between. The show ring has its purposes and its tradition and really is the pinnacle for animal husbandry. I just think for those considering getting started in this, a real-life story may just be helpful. For those who want to dedicate your lives to the breed, my hat is off to you and I hope you skip right to the experiences I had at the end and skip the early parts just by knowing about them. This is MY tale.

    I did this in the world of cats, Persians/Himalayans specifically, but it is precisely the same as if they were dogs/shelties except we had eight to ten different rings per show and you can also show alters which is great. I am sure many will agree that somewhere in their past it started a bit like this no matter the breed or species.

    In my 20’s, as a college graduation present, my first husband gave me a pet. Lovely little mixed breed. We joined a local club and helped put on a show. They had a “fun” category for “pets” and we entered her. It went well. I got pretty ribbons and that is all it took.

    Soon after, my husband suggested we get a pedigreed animal and show. YES! We hunted and found a lovely little girl, old old lines in her pedigree going back to Jesus himself, priced quite reasonable for a show animal too! We were proud. A breeder in the club taught us to groom for show respectably. We showed in the juvenile classes. We learned a lot. We did okay but not great. We placed a few times, we lost entirely a lot more times. We didn’t do a thing in adult classes. We realized then that while she had a killer pedigree, she was really more breeder quality and not show quality but we didn’t have the eye to see all the flaws at the time. During our time around the hall we met some really nice breeders and some who really looked down at us for not being quite up to par. It so happened there was a really nice little show male about 6 months old for sale. The breeder was nice, respected our breeding lines enough to be willing to allow her lines to mixed with them, respected our grooming techniques enough to think we would show off her lines well and not embarrass her by doing it wrong, AND my husband reminded her of her son, so she let us buy the male for A LOT. I mean, we raided our savings. It was the going rate for show 20+ years ago and looking back now it wasn’t really that bad a price, but to us then it was A LOT. But, she also gave/loaned us two females with an offspring-back deal and the stipulation we finish the male and one of the females in the ring. WOW! A show quality male, a show quality female, a breeder quality female, plus our own breeder female and my pet at home. We were set!

    We showed every couple weeks. We went to hotels, we made friends, we made enemies too, and it was SO stressful. We both groomed our hearts out with those longhairs. It used to make me sick, was it good enough, is there one hair sticking up that ruined the look, would the animal be “on” or just not look at the judge? Then, we found politics. Who was friends with what judge, what male judge thought my husband was cute and would place us, what judge thought he looked like her ex and wouldn’t place us so I had to handle the showing for her ring. We navigated the system, but it was taking its toll on us financially and emotionally. Win or lose it seemed I was always in tears or sick in the hotel room just over the stress. I learned to groom on the fly a few times bathing my animals in hotel sinks after a fur-messing accident from either end. We purchased lots of special show gear, including our own cage system that would prevent people from poisoning the animals or “spilling” kool-aid on them “accidently” which happened an alarming amount in the halls. The little female did okay but it was not easy to finish her. I got SO close and she blew her coat and I had to pull her for the season. The male was in direct competition with two others, and we hit all the shows together. We alternated winning depending on the judge for each ring. Man, the first time we got overall best we were shaking. More often, though, we got points and inched towards finishing, slowly winning respectably but not overall best. But that did happen too, Best of the Best. It was a lot of weekends, and hotels, and meals out, and travel. Every show weekend then was almost $500. Now, 20+ years later, it’s a lotmore. BUT! To breed and have desired offspring, you have to show. Show titles were the means to value. Period. You showed because you wanted yourself and your animals to be sought after by others.

    Then, we split up. I kept my pet. He kept our first female and the male. The two co-owned went back to the breeder since we didn’t complete the contract on them since they were still too young to be bred. Yes, all this for breeding and only our first female ever produced – however, out of 10 little ones 3 went into showing and breeding programs with some top breeders. My husband continued to show the male for awhile and finished him as per contract because every titled animal was an asset to his breeder. Then he met a girl and fell in love. I got a call one day that SHE wanted the male gone before their wedding and that I could “buy” him off them for his “half” of our original purchase together. I did because I wanted the boy to go to a good home where he was loved and not to some stranger who might make him live in a cage. He was so deconditioned it was pathetic. From physique to fur it was ALL blown. Six months I worked and waited. During this time he got a bad bad urinary infection. I got him better, had him on the right food, he recovered. He was ready!

    I was in the hall again, this time with an alter (remember, you can do that with cats). Fortunately, the alter category is a little easier than the regular because by now the standard was passing us up. I was part of a breed in development and advancement and change. He was being left behind by newer models! However, I showed him. He did great! I racked up the ribbons quickly. However, he did NOT like judges “down there” after this urinary thing. He was acting up anytime they felt “down there”. The rest of the time he was happy. Reach below, lookout! The last show was a nightmare. He got DQ’ed under one judge for reacting, we squeaked by in the other rings, I did extra things to help handling, I told the stewards to ask the judges not to lift him from the underside on their arm to ease the burden on the sensitive spot, I prayed a lot, we were SO close, just a few points more. He got the last point needed at the end of day 1 of 2 of a show. I pulled him the second day and told friends he’s DONE, forever. They said they would hate to lose me in the hall. BUT, if I wanted to show, I would have to buy a new animal at a high price. I loved showing, but I loved this guy, we had a long history, he was the last of my former life. Someone wanted to buy him as a pet and offered me quite a bit of money. I said YES but then quickly recanted in like five minutes. They understood. He lived his whole life with me til he died at age 15. My fuzzball. GC, PR, RW, Prancenpaws Simply Ostentatious himself. He died a few months after my first pet girl, Aurora.

    I showed again. I campaigned a gorgeous black for a breeder friend who got him from a top top top breeder in a trade but didn’t have time to put the work into him as she had too many irons of her own in the fire. He showed easily and titled in just a few shows. He won best after best after best. I loved it. After four years of working my way up the ladder and my fifth show animal, I had THE ONE. The easy shower, the unbeatable, the perfect. Judges raved at how this particular well-known line is so rarely seen in my part of the country. They didn’t want to take their hands off him. They talked about him amongst themselves at the lunch table. However, he hated showing but endured it because he was the nicest little soul. We got our title, I cried, I went through one more ring as a point cushion just in case of a math error someplace, and I pulled him forever. I got to keep him since he was an alter (only one descended testicle) and I had put out a couple thousand on those shows (all inclusive) and my friend flat out did not have time to groom him as she was a shorthair breed breeder but needed to finish a longhair so she could start the judging program. GP Marhei Black Gold (Mr. Darcy) lived a couple years longer than my other two and died at nearly 16.

    When Darcy was done, I was done. I was engaged to a guy with hobbies and life got in the way. I still have the ribbons. It is all bittersweet in my memory. Showing is a way to make your lines worth something, it is a way to get respected yourself for what you have and how you present, it is a way to make friends and spend lots of money and time, it is a way to be part of a heritage of honor and glory, sometimes it is a way to get revenge on and/or heal from someone who let you down, but in any case it is a way to drive yourself crazy too.

    Fortunately, in the dog world, there are options one can train for, ways to make your own destiny with hard work and not be dependent on judges and tiny tiny aspects of condition or physique that vary from weekend to weekend or can change with age. It’s a way to truly have fun with the bond between you and your animal. Such things as Obedience, Rally, Agility, Scent, Flyball, freestyle “dance”, herding, therapy, walking for charity, performing tricks for crowds, and much more are competitions and activities where you achieve with skill. Your pride at your accomplishment is HUGE and you have things to do with the vast vast majority of animals who are not top show (or ones who are no longer top show for whatever reason).

    I hope my story someday helps someone who is considering showing to really see what it is like from the ground floor, to think about things you don’t see behind the scenes, to consider all the options available rather than just the one kind of show ring, and to not judge your animals as lesser for not being that show star when there is so much fun that can be had as a team, which is what dogs should be, our friends and our teammates.

    EJHUNTL Forums Enthusiast

    Aug 11, 2013
    Ontario, Grand Bend
    Loved reading your story - thank you for sharing.
  3. Mom2Melli

    Mom2Melli Forums Enthusiast

    Oct 2, 2013
    Central California
    Thank you. I am sorry it is lengthy. I type really, really fast (medical transcriptionist for living).
  4. Tagg

    Tagg Forums Enthusiast

    Jan 4, 2012
    Brantford, On
    Great story of your experience in the cat world. Enjoyed it.
    I started out with Belgians. I met my husband on a 2 year course at college specifically designed for those that wish to get involved in breeding and showing. He had westies. The course covered everything from anatomical structure, muscular system, kinesiology, parasitology, grading, measuring and genetics. It was the best thing we ever did. The current dogs were adequate but we discovered that we wanted to look around for our interpretation of the standard now that we understood it much better so we neutered the westie and spayed the Belgian. After 2 years of searching out both breeds, going to specialties, getting hands on many dogs, seeing many litters and watching them develop, we found the breeders we felt could give us a good start. Getting another Belgian wasn't too difficult but the westie breeder we wanted a bitch from didn't like to sell to show/breeding homes. We waited through 3 years of 2 - 3 litters a year that this breeder had before she deemed that we could buy one of her precious pups. I remember her asking to describe what we had to have in a pup vs what faults we could live with. Hard question but we obviously passed! We lucked out that the bitch she had that we loved was about to be bred to the dog that we would have chosen if it had been our decision. We never looked back! Our first litter was an all champion litter with multiple group placements and one was best westie puppy in Canada that year. We adopted the same policy regarding selling show prospects as our breeder and were just as difficult to provide stud services. We had had enough years in that we saw things that made me cringe - dogs with handlers going to 100 days of showing a year spending most of their time in crates, dogs living in kennels once there career was over and we did not want that for our dogs. I sold one dog to a home that wanted to do obedience and saw that dog win title after title in most aspects of performance only to be handed off to another handler at the age of 12 so that this person could show the new dog. Poor old girl that normally would never break a long stay got up and wandered around lost. I sobbed ring side and gave the caretaker hell when she was done. Dog show sickness happens in every aspect of the game. Needless to say, I became less interested in selling to someone that had an eye to greatness in obedience too. We were the breeder, owner, handlers of our dogs. We had a very nice run of lovely wins, disappointing losses and surprises but you learn, after about 5 years, to have a sense of humour about the whole thing. We now live with 2 geriatric dogs and one sheltie of whatever age he is. We are using what we learned, and you have to keep learning to have success, in helping rescue. We loved our time in dogs and would do it again.
  5. seashel

    seashel Forums Enthusiast

    Jul 29, 2010
    Kent, UK
    Wow, that is an incredible and very readable story, whatever the reader's perspective.

    I bred and showed (and judged) rabbits before the shelties came onto the scene. I have also shown all three of my dogs in breed with a reasonable amount of success so have experience of the show world from a variety of perspectives.

    It was fascinating to read about your time showing cats, not just because this is something I know very little about but also because of the similarities and differences between showing animals in the UK and US.

    A great deal of what you wrote, I can relate to. Certainly it is very addictive and quickly becomes a way of life. There is always another show that you **have** to go to and a big drain on finances just in entry fees and fuel costs. Those outside the show world are always amazed that there is no prize money involved (or very little) and what drives us is getting a piece of card and a rosette if you're lucky! I think you are luckier in the US because at ou Championship shows there are no rosettes generally awarded, even winning the high honour of the CC sometimes means getting your purse out for a commemorative rosette. It often strikes me as odd that fun dog shows are able to give fantasic rosettes down to 6th place but the CH shows (where the entry is often 200% more) you get bland square of card!!

    Nevertheless, the thrill of seeing you dog placed in a big class, perhaps beating big winning dogs, the perpetual hope that today might be the day for the win you are waiting for, getting points towards awards, yes I've been there! I think those of us that show do have something of a gambling personality to keep going and going for the jackpot week after week.

    It can be a huge amount of fun and as Mom2Melli says, you meet loads of new people, make new friendships that often last a lifetime. I know a lot of people aren't comfortable about showing saying it's boring and demeaning for the animals but I think the majority actually benefit from the attention. They are kept in tip top condition and experience a much greater variety in their lives which means they are better able to cope with stressful experiences such as house moves and vet visits.

    But I also experienced the negative side. The rivalries and petty jealousies that can arise and the politics. Because judging breed is wholly subjective and the judge is always right, there will inevitably be suspicions over desicions and backbiting. No one can contest a dropped bar in agility but beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I have seen some very peculiar judging desicions which do appear to bear out that it is the face at the end of the lead rather than dog that is being judged! Over time you come to learn which judges prefer which type of animal and also which judges will give all exhibitors a fair appraisal (and which place only top exhibitors). As in any walk of life there are those who will do anything they can to help and those who do anything they can to hinder.

    'Sabotage' is very very rare in the UK. There have been isolated incidents over the years of course (not in shelties I'm happy to say) and I thought it was very sad that the cat people would ever resort to poisoning a rival's animal.

    I think with breed showing you have to take the rough with the smooth. There will be aspects that grind down even the most positive person. Getting up well before dawn cracks on your day off work, travelling hundreds of miles cramped into the back seat of a car and standing for hours in a draughty hall to come home empty handed - and paying a day's wage for the privellage gets pretty depressing sometimes. But the days when the sun is shining, the grass is newly cut and your dog heads the class and gets his last point, these are made in heaven!
    My dogs were never made into Champions but both the older ones have some super wins. For me, the delight was in having someone else like my dogs as much as I did, especially with Revel who was the first dog I showed. I was (and remain) tremendously proud of his achievements and the memories of some of his show days rank right up there. The day I got Best in Show for the first time with one of my show rabbits was a real thrill too.

    I've also competed in obedience and I would say the 'bad eggs' are similar in this sport. In a way, possibly with more detrimental effect as I have seen people putting tremendous pressure on their dogs to succeed resulting in some fairly brutal training techniques. There is also a different aspect because while in breed you can have a good old moan (in the car!) about the blind judge not seeing your beautiful dog, in the working discplines it is all too easy to place the blame on the dog for underperforming and this tarnishes the relationship. I know because I've done it.

    I've found that whatever competition you participate in there will be parts that are hard to take. The training/grooming etc can be hard work but generally enjoyable but success on show day is ultimatly what you make it. I've had days when the dogs have done well but people's attitudes have spoilt it and equally abysmal days which have been a great deal more plesant because we've all had a good laugh together and I've caught up with old friends. There have been times when the dogs haven't put a foot wrong but come out with nothing and others when plenty has gone wrong and yet we've still won, but that's just how it goes. As a final thought I've come to the conclusion that whatever you do with your animals and whatever they win the ONLY real measure of success is that you and they are having a good time. When that is no longer the case, then it's time to call it a day.
  6. Mom2Melli

    Mom2Melli Forums Enthusiast

    Oct 2, 2013
    Central California
    Gosh -- with extension into . . . do you really want to show in obedience, rally, agility . . . etc.?

    It is truly sad dogs are blamed for the lack of success. People are so quick to blame anyone or anything but themselves.

    I do have to sum-up for future thread readers that while a fraction of animals fit into the conformation ring, it's not the ONLY ring and shouldn't be viewed as such. As stated by those involved with other specialties, there are ups and downs in each of those worlds too to be aware of.

    For those who DO want that win (conformation or otherwise), there are no shortcuts. Do your homework and realize to do it, you have to do it all the way and do it very very well, but do it remembering that these are not expendable but rather are our animals, pets, companions. Always remember that if one activity doesn't pan out, there are other options, keep an open mind.
  7. Bradt9881

    Bradt9881 Forums Enthusiast

    Jan 15, 2014
    Fayetteville, NC
    I do want to try, but I will admit to being a novice. I have been growing my puppy show prospect for the past 2 months, and will attempt his first official trip into the ring. He is a nice little biblue, grandson of Bode, son of Belmark own the Podium, and I am hopeful he will do well under professional handling.
  8. Mom2Melli

    Mom2Melli Forums Enthusiast

    Oct 2, 2013
    Central California
    My best wishes! Would love pix when the day arrives! Doing it well from the get-go without taking the shortcuts which lead to heartache can be absolutely rewarding. My first best of the best I was filming and I was thankful the old bulky camera kept people from seeing me cry! The camera did shake though!

    I hope conformation and any other activity you try with your little one brings you great joy. With patience, perspective, and knowledge and it can be a great hobby (life obsession).
  9. Lightplum

    Lightplum Forums Sage

    Jan 4, 2009
    Rhode Island
    Theres a golden rule in showing. You ALWAYS ruin your first show dog. Its inevitable. Noone means to but its a learning curve. You learn at the expense of that poor little dog. The things I learned with Molly and the lessons she taught me were priceless. If nothing else the best lesson I learned dont take it personal or too serious.

    The dog doesnt do what you want at that time or the way you expect its going to happen. No matter what you train for and practice they will at some point in time flake. Like stand?? Whats that?? Gait around the ring with all 4 feet on the ground..lady your are CRAAAZZZYYY...Check my bite...heck no im just going to sit right here on the table...Ohhhhh you want to go over my head well im gonna just lick your face and investigate your eyeballs. OMG that lady in the middle of the ring is wearing some scary boots im just gonna make a wide berth and maybe bark at you while I go by. The best advice is brush it off dont make a big deal about it and get down on the dog for its lapse in judgement. I expected Molly to be this perfect little push button dog that would do what I thought...boy was I ever wrong. I pushed her too hard and she ended up hating showing..some of it was her personality as well but alot was me. I now have Lily (who I swear to god is the reincarnate of Molly from looks to personality) and while she like Molly isnt sure of some situations I let her do it on HER own time and pace.

    I went to handling class last night and there was several new to showing people. While I was happy to see new people joining the sport I also stood there watched them and cringe working with their dogs. Its something that no matter who tells you its going to happen you dont see it until its too late. I must have heard NO 5000 times in that class..meanwhile im there going ohhhh you stood!?! and looked at me and baited for almost 1 whole minute!?! OHHHHHH good girl! good job! Heres some chicken!
  10. Justicemom

    Justicemom Forums Celebrity

    Oct 2, 2009
    I admit when I got Justice I was naïve to what a show dog was and what it took to show one. All I wanted was an obedience dog. His breeder told me he was show quality and sold him to me as such. She talked me into showing him. I did manage to get a Canadian Championship on him with some work and a UKC Grand Ch. but the more I got into AKC I could see that though he was a nice dog with some really nice points, his faults really made him just avg. and it was going to be difficult to finish in AKC. I had no real mentor to guide me so I was actually really lucky I did as well as I did. but it was very discouraging and soured me on the whole experience. I showed Ember in UKC but I was getting wise to what it took and as cute as Ember was, she was not going to make it as a show dog and spayed her. As you can see by my sig line she did ok in other venues.:smile2:

    About that time Rachel and I started talking on drives to training class about how she wanted to get into showing and breeding. SO when I got Diva I asked her if she wanted to co own her and show her for me if she turned out because I was over it. So Diva turned out to have a great body, nice muzzle and under jaw but large eyes which were a bit round and a wide back skull. Head faults that as we were told would make her hard to finish but not impossible. But what Diva did was open the door. She was nice enough to get Rachel noticed by the other sheltie people and handlers. We got tips on grooming, handling, got our faces out there ,learned about the judges and the politics. We also joined the local sheltie club and became friends with the other sheltie breeders in the area. That was enough for Rachel to be able to get Grizz, Jamie and be trusted with co owning some other nice girls on which she could start her breeding.

    I still have to admit of all the dog activities that the breed ring, I could take it or leave but I am now interested in it again. Rachel really enjoys it and she is now 5 yrs in finally starting to have success now having finished 2 Champions(Grizz and Jamie) and had 2 of her co bred puppies finish this year. I have really enjoyed helping her out and learning. But I have also seen the frustration and disappointment that goes with it too. I mean I don't even want to know the money she spent to get Grizz finished chasing that last major. I know what I paid for Jamie and he finished fairly quickly with no handlers.

    In addition, She has grown out quite a few puppies and for one reason or another most of them have not turned out. Irene's Spruce for example didn't know how to quit growing and went oversized at 14 months. So now he lives in Canada with 10 points and a major. Divas' son Porter went over size after he was runner up best in sweeps at our sheltie specialty(don't feel bad for him he tours around the country in a RV, Frisbee playing fool), Diva's daughter Freeze had her bite go off(she now lives in an MACH agility home). We are now holding our breathe on Rev, a Grizz son, who is 6 months so far bite is good but he is in the grey zone on height. She wishes she could keep them all but she would not have time so she makes sure they go to great homes. Tough Business if you want to have dog to show and not become a hoarder.

    So for me, yes now I want to show in conformation and someday I hope to have a dog that I can show in the future. Rachel will be my mentor. But I will pick a dog that can do it all because if for some reason it does not turn out for show then it will still be my buddy and there is so many things we can do. :smile2:

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