S'Dandi Shih Tzu
All Rights Reserved
2000 - 2008
Sally and Dick Watkeys
8235 Outer Drive South
Traverse City, MI 49684
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S'Dandi Shih Tzu
Just BePaws . . .
A recent phone call from a very excited novice reminded me of the wonderful feeling of “firsts.” She had just received her first point on a puppy and was ecstatic. While she related the ring experience that day, I couldn’t help but smile. She truly was excited. It was a well-deserved win. She had been showing actively, trying hard, learning and listening at each show.

Do you remember that first win, that first champion, that first…? If you’re like me, it hasn’t been that long ago. All the work and effort in our breed can finally pay off when one takes in the best dog possible. Granted, it takes longer for the novice, who is trying to compete with the handlers, but it can be done.

Learning each step to that championship just doesn’t happen. One must put forth a concentrated effort. First is the selection of the perfect or almost perfect “show dog.” It isn’t easy to entice a reputable breeder to part with something very special. That breeder must be convinced that you are really sincere, that you will continue to show their dog in spite of the set backs at the ring. They know all too well how difficult it is for the novice. Words cannot adequately explain the frustrations and hopelessness. Words cannot describe the impact of some of the caustic remarks said about novices at ringside. Words such as “well, there comes so and so with those filler dogs again.” BUT-every once in a while, some wonderful judge will recognize that you have a nice dog, take the chance and give you the win over the other, more experience exhibitors. That is when you realize it’s all worth it, kind of like throwing a bone just when you’re ready to quit so you keep coming back for more just in case it happens again. There’s something to say about intermittent reinforcers!

If you are lucky enough to get that special dog, you must learn to groom it to compete. Not an easy job! You try all the products, do all you’re told, and the dog still doesn’t look like the dogs of the experienced exhibitors. If the coat gets better, the topknot is awful. How do they do it? The answer is-lots of practice. The more you do it, the better you get. Of course, someone needs to show you just exactly how to put up that special “do” on the head as well as those extra trimmimg tips. Someone must be willing to share their secrets-not exactly what everybody does these days. If you’re lucky enough to find that very special someone who will share the tricks of the trade with you, be eternally grateful for their help and realize just how fortunate you are. I’ve had several special someones who have shared these things along with sharing some special animals with me; the breeder who had the faith to sell that first show dog, the friends who entrusted me with the special puppy that became my first champion and taught me about grooming and the show ring, the special person who helped perfect my topknots and trimmimg and, of course, my soul sister, who is always there to lend an ear, hand or room at her home for an extra dog or two. Words could not begin to describe how indebted I will always be to these people that have touched my life in dogs.

Next step to that perfect “show dog” is training. It begins the day you get the dog. Table training while grooming is very important. It is necessary for the dog to accept being handled, brushed, combed, trimmed and stacked. It is important to teach the dog to accept other people going over it and looking in its mouth without complaint. That doesn’t happen overnight. Consistency is a must here. Daily workouts will prepare your dog for this procedure. Handling classes help tremendously. Besides training the dog, classes train the exhibitor and are an essential part of ring preparation.

I’ll never forget one of the times I took my first showgirl in the ring. We were in the puppy class with several other puppies. One puppy in particular wouldn’t walk on lead. The handler of that dog proceeded to walk it up and down right behind us. Not knowing much at the time, I didn’t realize that the untrained puppy and exhibitor could have distracted my puppy and caused her to spook. However, I had done my homework with this particular puppy, and she couldn’t be distracted from the task at hand. We were lucky to have been prepared for situations such as this and were unnerved by it. Had we not been to classes and worked as hard as we had along with lots of socialization, she would have been distracted and not shown well. A good rule of thumb is to be prepared for the unexpected. Have your dog get accustomed to loud noises, people right behind, dogs and exhibitors too close, talking in the ring-just to name a few specifics.

Then, stay in tune with your dog the whole time you’re exhibiting. When spectators ask me who was in the ring with me, I really can’t tell them very often. My focus is on my dog and the judge. I can’t allow myself to stray from that focus or neither one of us will do our best. Maybe someday, I’ll be able to concentrate on more than one thing at a time; someday, when I become more experienced in the ring. For right now, it’s only two of us, in tune with each other.

It’s amazing how bonded you’ll feel with your dog when you’ve worked together so closely. I’ve always said, my Dandi taught me everything I know about ring procedure. She seemed to be a natural, while I really had to work at it. Good thing she was a push-button-type dog willing to accept my mistakes.

Last, and extremely important, is to be a good sport. Congratulate the winners and mean it. That’s sometimes very difficult to do especially if you’ve been losing most of the time. Just remember, the more experienced exhibitors had to go through the same process at some time during their show career. They just did it earlier. Just maybe, if we continue to act in a manner of good sport, the judges and others who only seem to look at the experienced exhibitor, will begin to notice those of us newer to the ring and appreciate the wonderful dogs we bring to them. All it takes is that extra bit of effort to attract the judges and give them a reason to put us up. They can’t keep ignoring owner/handlers forever.

Before I close this article, I’d like to express how important I feel it is to give of ourselves when a novice/newcomer comes to a show especially if in your usual area. Those who exhibit in that area regularly can’t help but notice someone new. It takes so little time to extend a word of friendship, a smile, a “hello, how are you?” It takes only a little extra to encourage the novice to come again, be part of this great sport of showing dogs. Where else can a novice compete with a seasoned professional and be given a chance?
That novice just might be the difference in our breed, a person of values and ethics, a person who truly has the best interest of the breed at heart, a person we will eventually know because of the outstanding animals produced by his/her kennel. How many novices have been turned away due to the cool reception at dog shows by other exhibitors?

The novices of today just might be the future of tomorrow for our wonderful breed. They need and deserve all the friendship and help we can give. Take time from the busy show schedule to offer someone new a kind word. You might be surprised when the novice becomes a new friend.
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