Thursday, April 30, 2015

Goodbye April!

Jedi is ready for our next adventure!
It's Thoughtless Thursday! Thank goodness, because I don't think I have a single thought left. Seriously, this is my 32nd post in 30 days. I took the Blogging From A to Z Challenge, blogging about one topic -- in alphabetical order -- over the last four weeks. It was a lot harder than I had imagined! About an hour ago I uploaded my last post: Z -- Zero Apologies. whew. In addition to those 26 posts I had my regular, random stuff to say too. Who knew I was so chatty? [Mom, don't answer!]
April happens to be a very busy month for me as it is, what with dog shows, dog club events and spring break tripling the amount of people and dogs on my beach. And did I mention my birthday? Yep, today is my birthday! To celebrate, I'm going to step away from the keyboard and spend the next few days with family, friends and my dogs. And I need to catch up on my reading. I don't know what's been going on with all my favs! (Fortunately, many of them are participants of this hop.) I hope to come back refreshed with even more to say. See you all next week. -- K

It's Thoughtless Thursday, my favorite blog hop. Click around below and see what others are sharing today. Then get outside and enjoy the day -- preferably with your dog. It's Springtime!

Z -- Zero Apologies

I am the Queen of Guilt. I apologize for things that I have nothing to do with. I feel responsible for things I have no control over, and feel guilty when they go wrong. I don't know why I'm this way, I just am. Sorry.
A few weeks ago Jedi and I were on our way to handling class. He was bouncing around the back seat and I was feeling guilty for not practicing over the weekend. Again. I told him that I was sorry. I'm sure he would be a much better show dog if he had a better handler. If he had an owner that knew what she was doing, he could be a champion by now. Instead, we don't have one lousy point toward championship yet. If he had a better trainer, maybe he could walk on a leash nicely instead of dragging me down the street. I was on the verge of tears thinking of all the ways I had failed my dog.
Jedi says "Life is good, so quit stressing."
Then I looked in the rearview mirror and saw Jedi. He had his nose stuck out the window and his tail was wagging a mile a minute. At that moment I realized Jedi didn't care about my poor handling skills. He's a happy dog. Jedi has a great life. For all he knows "Classes" mean we go for car rides, "Training" means we spend time together and "Practice" means we go for walks. He gets yummy treats and belly rubs on a regular basis. Jedi couldn't care less about points or ribbons or titles. That moment in the car was a revelation for me.

So I'm going to stop apologizing right now.
  • I'm not going to apologize for being a bad trainer . . . but I will continue to work on getting better.
  • I'm not going to apologize for all the things I should have done when Jedi was a puppy . . . but I'm sure the next puppy will have it easier.
  • I'm not going to apologize for spending hundreds (ok, thousands) of dollars on a puppy . . . it's my money, I can spend it however I want. Some women buy shoes. Some women buy jewelry. And some buy a new set of boobs. I bought pure love disguised as a German shepherd puppy.
  • And finally, I'm not going to apologize for the mistakes that I make. Despite my best efforts, I'm not perfect. I make a lot of mistakes. But I'm trying, and I'm sharing as I go. My hope is that you make your own mistakes instead of repeating mine.
So that's it, everything I know about dog shows from A to Z. I hope you enjoyed it. And I hope you learned something. If you happen to be at a dog show in the northern Florida/southern Georgia area look in the catalog for Zente's Jedi Mind Trick. That's us! Come by and say "Hi." -- K

Whether in handling class or in the show ring, spending time with Jedi makes me happy.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Y -- You Should Know . . .

So are you excited about showing dogs yet? I don't want to burst your bubble, but before you go out and get that puppy there are a few things you should know:

It's not easy finding a breeder willing to sell a show quality puppy to a newbie. Start shopping around now. You may have to co-own your first show puppy. There are pluses and minuses to this arrangement. Make sure you know what you're getting into.

Every new puppy contract is different. Read it carefully before you sign it. Also, most things can be negotiated, so ask!
Show quality puppies are expensive. It's best to start saving now. I set up a CD with my credit union two years before I got Jedi. I had money sent to my CD every payday. I thought $2500 would be plenty for puppy, crate, vet visits, necessary equipment, puppy classes and incidentals. In hindsight, I should have saved more.

A show dog can eat up a lot of your disposable income. Everything from top quality dog food to the latest in grooming products seems to cost more than you think. Once you factor in the cost of handling classes, entry fees and travel expenses you realize that you're broke. And you do it anyway.

Showing dogs can take up a lot of your free time as well. You'll find that you're always at class, grooming, practicing or traveling. There's a dog show going on somewhere in the United States every weekend. You'll have to learn to be frugal and practice restraint. Click here for a list of tips on showing a budget.

Not everybody will be thrilled about your new puppy. I actually lost "friends" who were appalled that I would pay for a puppy "when there are so many homeless dogs out there." Others were horrified that I would not neuter Jedi. (Show dogs must be intact.) Granted, most of those friends were fanatical rescue nuts and I'm probably better off without them -- but it still hurt.

You'll have to develop a thick skin. You'll always find someone with something negative to say either inside or outside the ring. If I had a dollar for every negative -- and untrue! -- thing someone has told me about German shepherds I would be able to show Jedi for the next five years sans budget. Remember, just because someone says something doesn't mean you have to listen.

You will never know everything. In fact, the more I learn about showing, the more I discover I don't know squat. It can be disheartening. My advice: learn your breed standard inside and out. Talk to as many veteran fanciers as you can. Read, read, read. Join your parent club. Network. And above all else, have fun.

You will lose a lot more than you will win. The judges are very knowledgeable and do the best they can, but in the end it's still a subjective opinion. You won't always agree -- but you will always go home with the best dog.

Your dog has no clue about winning or losing, but he will pick up on your stress and anxiety. Relax and try to have a good time. Seriously, it's just a dog show.

I cannot stress enough the importance of comfortable shoes. You will be on your feet all day walking, running and standing around waiting. Spend the money on a good pair of shoes!

This is not a complete list! I've been doing this off and on (honestly, more "off" than "on") for almost two years and I learn something new at every show. I promise to keep sharing as I go. I hope that you'll share what you learn as well. Maybe then we can all become decent handlers. Deal? -- K

Tomorrow's Topic: Zero Apologies

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

X -- X-Rays and Genetic Tests

First and foremost, I'd like to call bullshit on "hybrid vigor" -- the idea that mixed breed dogs are healthier because they avoid recessive genes found in purebreds. A 2013 study published by UC Davis dispels this myth. The truth is, all dogs -- much like all humans -- have dominant and recessive genes. And some of them come with some pretty nasty traits. Hip dysplasia, epilepsy, heart diseases and cancer attack mixed breed dogs with the same fury as purebred dogs. Thanks to modern medicine there are genetic tests available for some of these diseases. Responsible breeders are using these tests to keep debilitating recessive genes out of their lines.

Hip Dysplasia is a hereditary condition that causes the hip joint to form improperly. It's seen mostly in large and giant dogs, both purebred and mixed breeds. It can also be found in medium sized dogs as well. Because the joint is loose, the dog's leg bone moves around too much, causing painful wear and tear. Dysplastic dogs may appear stiff or sore in the hips when getting up, may be hesitant to stand on hind legs or climb stairs and may limp or "bunny-hop" when walking.

X-rays are used to determine whether or not a dog is dysplastic. Responsible breeders check their dogs for hip dysplasia before ever breeding them. One of the biggest organizations testing for dysplasia is the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA). Dogs 2 years old and older are x-rayed by their regular vets and the x-rays are sent away for evaluation. The OFA scores hips as excellent, good, fair, borderline dysplasia, mild dysplasia, moderate dysplasia and severe dysplasia. Only dogs with excellent, good or fair hips are bred. The OFA also tests elbows. Elbow scores are either pass or fail. OFA scores can be found online and are available to the public. All you need is a dog registered name or registration number to see the results. Look here to see the score for Jedi's mother's hips. (Spoiler alert: they're excellent!)

Another common test is for Degenerative Myelopathy (DM). This is a disease of the spinal cord and peripheral nerves. The initial symptoms of DM include loss of coordination in the hind limbs, wobbling when walking, rear feet knuckling over or dragging, and mild weakness in the hind end. As DM progresses limbs become weaker and the dog has difficulty standing, loses control of its bladder and bowels, and develops weakness in the front limbs as well. The disease is more common in several breeds -- including German shepherds and corgis -- but it's seen in all dogs, mixed breeds as well as purebreds. The typical age of onset for DM is between 8 and 14 years old, and the dog is often paralyzed in the hind end within a year.

A genetic mutation has been identified as a major risk factor for development of DM, and there is a genetic test available for this mutation. The test is simple and can be taken either from a blood sample or cheek swab. Either a dog has it (+/+) doesn't have it (-/-) or is a carrier (+/-). Determining the probability of producing a dog that may have DM is as easy as using the Punnett Squares we learned in high school biology class. Responsible breeders do not breed DM positive dogs.
Many breeders have eye tests done through the Canine Eye Registration Foundation (CERF). These tests check for a whole host of eye problems including: eyelid conformation abnormalities, persistent pupillary membranes, retinal dysplasia, choroidal dysplasia, progressive retinal atrophy and cataracts. Breeding and potentially-breeding dogs are tested yearly. A passing score is only valid for 365 days because some conditions don't present themselves until a dog is older.

This is not an exhaustive list. Different breeds are concerned with different genetic disorders. The National Club for each breed will have more information about the concerns of that particular breed. And don't be afraid to ask a breeder which genetic tests her dogs have had and why. A responsible breeder would be happy to discuss them with you! -- K

Tomorrow's Topic: You Should Know . . .

Monday, April 27, 2015

W -- Westminster

The Westminster Kennel Club dog show is probably the most iconic of all dog shows. It takes over New York City on a Monday and Tuesday in February every year. The show has grown so large that benching and individual breed competitions are held at The Piers (12th Avenue at 55th Street) during the day from 8 AM to 4 PM. You can watch everything online via live streaming. Best in Group competitions are held in the evenings at Madison Square Garden and televised worldwide, with four groups showing Monday and the remaining three on Tuesday. Tuesday evening culminates with all the group winners competing for Best in Show. Even non dog show people will watch, often rooting for their favorite dogs.

Here are some interesting facts you may not know about the Westminster Kennel Club:
  • The Westminster Kennel Club dog show is the second oldest continuous sporting event in the United States. (The Kentucky Derby is the older by two years.)
  • The first Westminster Kennel Club dog show was held on May 8, 1877.
  • The Westminster Kennel Club dog show predates the inventions of the light bulb and the automobile. And the Westminster Kennel Club was holding dog shows before the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge and the Washington Monument.
  • The show is benched, which means the dogs must be on public display throughout the entire competition.
  • Dogs are invited to compete based on strict entry requirements, including how many other dogs they've defeated in breed competitions.
  • Non invited dogs can also compete if they have won a certain number of major dog show Awards.
  • Terriers have won the most Best in Show titles at Westminster, with 46 wins as of 2015.
  • 47 different breeds have won Best in Show awards.
  • Only one German Shepherd has won Best in Show at Westminster. That was Covy Tucker Hill's Manhattan, who won in 1987.
  • The next show is February 15 and 16, 2016. Mark your calendars now!
The 2014 Best In Show Trophy was awarded to "GCH Afterall Painting The Sky" (AKA Sky) a Wire Fox Terrier.
I have never been to the Westminster Kennel Club dog show. It's definitely on my bucket list. I dream about going every year. I even found a tour company that offers a Westminster package which includes hotel stay, a private reception, day and evening tickets, an official program and shuttle service. They'll even book a Broadway show for you in case you get tired of looking at dogs. As if! Now if only I could find an extra $1800 . . . and airfare . . . sigh. -- K

Tomorrow's Topic: X-Rays and Genetic Tests

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Jedi's Booty

Last weekend K-9 Obedience Club of Jacksonville held obedience and rally trials. Since Jedi and I are focused on conformation, we don't compete in obedience or rally. (Seriously, we're confused enough as it is!) But K-9 is my club so I went out to cheer on the members who do compete. While there, I bought a bunch of raffle tickets. Regular readers know I'm a sucker for raffles. (I told Hubby I was supporting the club.) There were some really awesome prizes so I bought a whole lot of tickets and crossed my fingers. It worked! We walked away with a basket full of dog toys and treats, a club logoed lunch bag and thermos combo, and a big blue jumble labeled "assorted agility equipment."

Look at that happy face!
It rained all week so we couldn't check out the agility equipment right away. We eventually opened it up in the hallway to see what was what. Boy did we make out! One of the items is a 17-foot tunnel. Jedi is thrilled and runs in and out of it with glee. I love that goofy grin on his face as he comes out of the tunnel. The second item was a 4-foot tunnel with a 12-foot chute on the end. I thought Jedi might be hesitant running through the chute since he can't see out the back end. I was wrong. He comes out full speed with that same goofy grin. The third item is a PVC stand for a tire jump, sans the tire. Hubby thinks we can make a tire out of corrugated tubing instead. I guess that's a project for next weekend!
For someone who doesn't do agility, I sure have ended up with enough stuff to set up a silly agility course in my backyard. Seriously, if you add this to my dollar store cavaletti, homemade travel plank and barrel planter pedestal we're just about set. Now all we need are some weave poles. Any ideas? -- K

Saturday, April 25, 2015

V -- Vaccinations, Diseases and Parasites

I understand that over-vaccination is a real concern in the dog community, and I don't want to start any heated debates today. However, please realize that show dogs are in contact with hundreds -- if not thousands -- of strange dogs every year. Dogs come from across the state, around the country and sometimes even internationally to compete, bringing with them the possibility of all kinds of cooties. Show dog owners must be aware of what's out there, and weigh the risks of vaccines against the risk of the disease. Here are a few you should look out for:

Rabies: The good news is that we've pretty much eradicated rabies in dogs in the United States. You have a better chance of winning the Powerball than you do of getting rabies from a domesticated dog. The bad news is that if you are the lucky one, it can be fatal. Because of that, there are mandatory rabies vaccination laws nationwide. Every dog show that I've been to says that all dogs must have current rabies vaccinations. Have a copy of your dog's rabies certificate in your tack box! Should your dog bite someone (hey it could happen, see my story here) you'll want to be able to prove that your vaccination is current. Otherwise, you could face impoundment and mandatory quarantine from animal control and/or the health department.

Make sure to tell your vet you show your dog. It
may change the vaccines he recommends.
Bordetella: Canine Bordetella, also known as kennel cough, appears as a dry honking cough that is sometimes followed by retching. Its usually not fatal, but it can lead to pneumonia. Bordetella is contagious, and often passed around when you have a large number of dogs contained in one small area -- like a dog show. Bordetella vaccines can either be intranasal or injected. Talk to your vet about which is best for your dog as well as how often you should be vaccinating. Please note: most boarding kennels require proof of Bordetella vaccination to use their facilities.

Coronavirus: Coronavirus affects the intestines, causing diarrhea and vomiting. In rare cases it may also invade the spleen, liver, brain and lungs. Coronavirus is seen primarily in puppies, and is shed in the feces of infected dogs for months. Fortunately, most puppies recover from coronavirus after a few days. However, young puppies may die if their bodies are weakened by something else. There is no specific treatment to kill canine coronavirus. Usually the symptoms are treated with fluids an anti-vomiting medication, while waiting for the dog's immune system eventually conquers the virus. There is a vaccination against coronavirus given to puppies. Adult dogs don't normally get yearly boosters.

Distemper: Canine distemper is a virus that affects a dog's respiratory, gastrointestinal and central nervous systems. It also affects the membranes in the eyes. Symptoms of distemper include sneezing, coughing, fever, lethargy, vomiting, diarrhea, thick mucus coming from the eyes and nose and/or loss of appetite. This virus is passed through direct contact with urine, blood or saliva of an infected animal. The virus can also be passed through sneezing, coughing and sharing of food and water bowls. Young dogs and unvaccinated dogs are most vulnerable to the virus. Foxes and raccoons also carry and pass on the canine strain of distemper. While there is a vaccination against distemper, there is no cure once a dog contracts it. Distemper weakens a dog's immune system and leaves it open to secondary infections from things like pneumonia. If it dog lives through distemper, there is a possibility of seizures, brain damage and nerve damage. Sometimes complications don't arrive until years later.

Leptospirosis: This is a disease caused by bacteria-like organisms called Spirochetes. They are passed through urine and infected standing water. They can also enter the body through a wound or by eating infected materials. Leptospirosis is common found in warm, wet climates. Symptoms of leptospirosis include high fever, depression and joint pain. It can also cause liver and kidney damage.

Vomiting is never a good sign. (Neither is drinking out
of the toilet. Talk about germs!)
Parvovirus: This virus attacks the gastrointestinal tract and immune systems of puppies and dogs. It is highly contagious and spread through direct contact with the feces of infected dogs. The virus is easily carried on hands, dishes, shoes and any other objects. Parvovirus is extremely hearty and can survive for months on inanimate objects and more than a year in infected soil. The normal incubation period for parvovirus is 7 to 14 days. A scary thing about Parvo is that the virus can be shed several days before the dog appears sick so owners of infected dogs can unknowingly spread the virus. Signs of Parvo include lethargy, vomiting and bloody diarrhea. There is no cure for Parvo. Infected dogs are treated with fluids and electrolytes and they may or may not survive. (A shelter vet told me dogs have a 50-50 chance.) Vaccinations help control the spread of disease. Sick dogs, young dogs, old dogs and those with weak immune systems are most susceptible to contracting the virus. Bully breeds and black and tan German breeds (Rottweilers, Doberman Pinschers, German shepherds) seem to be more vulnerable as well.

Parasites: Dog show people also need to concern themselves with internal parasites (worms) and external parasites (fleas and ticks). These can be picked up anywhere. There are several preventatives on the market, both topical and oral. I use a topical for Roxy and an oral for Jedi (picky Roxy won't eat anything, but the topical gives Jedi chemical smelling breath). I also check for fleas and ticks during regular grooming and inspect their feces for worms. I know, gross.

This is not a complete list! Talk to your veterinarian about the risks of diseases and parasites as well as the vaccinations and/or treatments involved. Do your research and make informed decisions. You are your dogs' advocate. It's up to you to keep them safe. -- K
Tomorrow's Topic: Westminster

Friday, April 24, 2015

U -- Undesirables (Faults and DQs)

As I mentioned before, the Breed Standard is a written description of what the ideal dog should be. All the standards list what is considered a fault in that breed as well as what would be a disqualification. For example, under color the German shepherd standard states:
The German Shepherd Dog varies in color, and most colors are permissible. Strong rich colors are preferred. Pale, washed-out colors and blues or livers are serious faults. A white dog must be disqualified.
Knowing this, I wouldn't purchase a pale, blue, liver or white German shepherd puppy if I wanted to compete in AKC conformation.

Faults are divided into minor and major faults. Minor faults are things that can be easily corrected in the next generation through careful breeding. An example of this might be a dog's coat texture. Major faults would include structural problems (undershot jaw) and temperament (overly timid or aggressive).

AKC rules aside . . .
Certain things are automatic disqualifications (DQs):
  • A dog that bites a judge
  • A dog that attacks anybody in the ring
  • A dog that has been sterilized
  • A dog that does not have both testicles
  • A dog who's appearance has been changed by artificial means

Some DQs are breed specific. For example a dog may:
  • Be too tall/short
  • Be too heavy/light
  • Be the wrong color
  • Have missing teeth
  • Have a misaligned bite
  • Have cropped ears/ears that don't stand up naturally
  • Have a docked/undocked/poorly docked tail
  • Have a nose that isn't predominantly black
It's imperative that you read your Breed Standard. You should know your dog's strengths and weaknesses before entering the ring. According to the AKC: "A judge can't excuse a dog for a non-disqualifying fault." That's mean you can still show your dog, though there's a chance you won't win. And if your wonderful puppy grows up to be outside breed standards (it happens) consider entering him in other dog sports. You can try conformation again with your next puppy. See you at the show! -- K

Tomorrow's Topic: Vaccinations, Diseases and Parasites

Thursday, April 23, 2015

T -- Teeth to Tail

Somewhere in between running around the ring and stacking, the judge will actually put hands on your dog. Minor faults (a bad topline or narrow chest, for example) can be disguised by grooming. A good judge, however, will discover those during a physical exam.

Before the exam a judge always greets the dogs. Each dog is allowed to sniff the judge and the judge usually gives a quick pat on the head to show that she is friendly. The judge starts the exam at the dog's head. She'll look at the eye shape and color, ear set, neckline, etc. and compare your dog to the breed standard. Depending on the size of your dog this is either done on the ground or on a table.

Showing Jedi's bite
Chances are the judge is also going to look at your dog's teeth. Each breed standard has different requirements for this. Some standards -- like the German shepherd's -- specify the number of teeth as well as their alignment (called the bite). This requires the handler to hold the dog's head and lift its lips, then open the mouth wide so the judge can see inside. Warning: Most dogs don't like this. If you're going to show your dog, it's a good idea to start practicing "showing the bite" early.

The judge then works her way down the body towards the tail. She touches the chest, feels the ribs and runs her fingers through the coat. To be honest, I'm not exactly sure what she's looking for at this point! Some judges are really focused and don't say much. Others are chatty, making small talk to both handler and the dog.

One thing that baffles non dog show people is checking the genitalia. Dogs in conformation must be intact. That means a judge must touch a dog's testicles to verify that both are present. Show dog owners desensitize their dogs to this exam early and most dogs don't even flinch. Unlike other dog sports, female dogs are allowed to be shown in season. Because of this, a handler should warn a judge beforehand so she can avoid getting a handful of yuck. (It happens!)

All in all, the exam takes about a minute. It usually ends with a "thank you" to the handler and a pat on the rump for the dog. And then it's time for more running! -- K

Tomorrow's Topic: Undesirables (Faults and DQ's) 

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

S -- Stacking

A big part of ring performance is stacking. This refers to the way a dog stands for presentation in the ring. A sloppy stack can really hurt a dog's chances of winning. (Ask Jedi about this.)

I learned the hard way that stacking training should begin early as it's a muscle memory thing. Ideally, once a dog learns the correct way to stack he'll automatically move into position on his own.
There are two types of stacking. The first is hand stacking. This is where the handler physically moves the dog into the correct position.
The second type of stacking is called free stacking. This is the one that you want! When free stacking, the dog puts himself into the proper position with no touching from the handler. Jedi is getting better at this, but nowhere nearly as nice as I would like.

For every breed but one, the stack looks like this:

GCH Kurpas' Holy Smoke ("Clint")
The front feet are directly under the body, facing forward. The rear feet are also facing forward and the legs are vertical from the hock down.

The oddball stack belongs to my breed of choice, the German shepherd. Our stack looks like this:

Mar Haven's Deal Me In V Solitaire
Like everyone else's stack, the front feet are directly under the body facing forward. The rear legs, however, are different. The right rear leg is set directly under the body, perpendicular to the ground. The left rear leg is elongated, creating that unmistakable German Shepherd profile. Changing the position of the rear leg increases or decreases the slope of the back end.

Once stacked a dog should stay in that position for several minutes so the judge can get a good look. Constant fussing and fidgeting from the handler is distracting and can cause the judge to move on to the next dog.

Another component of stacking is "expression." A dog should look alert and lively. A dog that comes across as bored or uncomfortable will also be overlooked by the judge. Handlers often use bait (small bits of food) to get a dog's attention while in the ring. Other methods used to get expression include tiny noisemakers (i.e. clickers or squeakers) hidden in a handler's hand, baby talk and making silly noises.

Next time you go to a show, watch the handler. How does she get the dog to stack? What does she do to keep the dog's attention? Does it work? And if so, let me know what it is she's doing! Jedi and I can use some help here. -- K

Tomorrow's Topic: Teeth to Tail

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

R -- Running Around the Ring

If I had known that there was so much running involved in dog showing, I might have changed my mind about entering the ring. Or maybe I would have chosen a dog with a shorter stride. (Seriously, there's a lot of running!)
The competition usually starts with all dogs in the same class going around the ring (which is really a square) in unison. This way the judge gets a quick look as to how each dog moves in relation to the others in the same class. Does one dog stand out as great mover? Does anyone look awkward or ungainly? Your job as handler is to move your dog at the right pace to get the ideal trot -- the bigger the dog, the faster you'll have to move. You also need to make sure that you're not running your dog up into the dog in front of you. This is bad ring etiquette.
The judge will also have all the dogs run individually. There are several patterns used to show the dog's movement from all angles. Each judge has a personal preference. You may be told:
  • Down and Back: The judge will point to a corner and you run the dog -- at the best pace for your dog -- straight to the corner and back. The judge is looking at how your dog moves coming and going. Are the feet straight? Is your dog bowlegged? Pigeon-toed? Does it move smoothly?
  • Triangle: The judge will usually point to the corner in front of her. Run to that corner and make a sharp left turn. When you get to the next corner turn and run towards the judge. With this pattern the judge will see your dog from the rear, a side gait and then the front movement as you approach.
  • An L: This is a skill junior handlers have to demonstrate. Most people hate this one and most judges don't ask for it -- but learn it anyway! This pattern starts like a triangle, but when you get to the second corner you have to switch hands and move the dog to your right side before coming back the way you came. The plus to this pattern is that the judge sees the dog from both sides. The drawback is that switching your dog from side-to-side is difficult to do smoothly and you risk the chance of appearing ungainly.

After the judge has examined all dogs, she'll usually have everybody run around the together again. She may switch dogs around (some dogs move better at the head of the line) and have you run again -- and again -- before making a final decision. Should you win your class, you’ll return to the ring and do it all over again to compete for winners dog. Stamina is a plus here. If you get tired and start lagging behind it'll make your dog look bad.

A few tips for running the ring:
  • Ring running is different from regular running. You want to take long, gliding strides and try to limit the upper body movement. Try to avoid bouncing.
  • Going from a stand to a run can make the dog look awkward. Start with three long, quick steps before breaking into a run.
  • Stopping can be equally difficult. Start slowing down early, so that you can gracefully stop 3-4 feet in front of the judge. If you can get a free stack that would be awesome.
  • U-turning at the corners on the Down and Back can be tricky. Learn to slow down so you don't squish your dog if turning clockwise. OR you can swing in and turn counter-clockwise, keeping your dog on the outside of the turn. Either way, you want it to appear smooth and effortless.
  • Running around the ring requires a bunch of left turns. Teach your dog turn smoothly so you don't run into him.
  • Make sure that as you approach, the dog is centered in front of the judge -- not you!
  • Ideally, you have found the prefect speed for your dog. If you haven't, top handler Peter Frost says that too fast is better than too slow. He states:
    If asked by a judge to show your dog on the move and you move too slowly to achieve your dog’s optimum gait, then it is very likely the judge will not ask you to move again but faster, instead interpreting that your dog lacks attitude. On the other hand, if you move your dog too fast and the judge likes your dog, then it is quite likely that you’ll be asked to move again – this time a little slower – precisely because your dog has shown exuberance. (Full article here.) 
  • Learn where your breed is suppose to be positioned when gaiting. It's not the same for everybody.
Small dogs go around the ring parallel to the handler's leg like this:
2015 Westminster winner, Miss P
Whereas German shepherds are expected to pull out like this:

unknown dog at Westminster, handled by Jimmy Moses

Running a dog around the ring isn't as easy as it looks on TV (much to my dismay) but when done right it's beautiful. Running a dog properly around the ring takes practice -- LOTS of practice. And maybe a bit of coordination. And if you think this is hard, wait until you see tomorrow's topic. *sigh* -- K

Tomorrow's Topic: Stacking

Monday, April 20, 2015

Q -- Questions To Ask BEFORE Buying a Puppy

Bringing home a puppy is a big commitment. That puppy will be a part of your life for the next decade -- or more, if you're lucky. And if you're planning to show the puppy, it's going to cost you a lot of time and money. There are questions you need to ask yourself and the breeder beforehand, because once you see that puppy all objectivity is thrown out the window. (Seriously, they're all so darn cute!) Be honest with yourself. Trust your gut and walk away if the breeder gives you answers that make you feel uncomfortable. It's better to be a little disappointed now than to beat yourself up with all the "woulda, coulda, shouldas" down the road.

Ask Yourself:
  • Do you have time for a puppy? They're a lot of work. Even if you think you're prepared.
  • When and where will you train? Be specific and find locations now. It's so easy to "put this off until tomorrow" only to discover six months have gone by.
  • Do you have a Plan B? Some dogs don't like the show ring, you may decide it's not for you, your dog may not meet breed standards or there may be a medical condition that prevents you from showing. I have a friend whose show puppy had a cryptorchid (undescended) testicle requiring the dog to be neutered and therefore unable to show. It happens.
9-week old Jedi. Wasn't he cute?!

Ask The Breeder:
  • Does she specialize in more than one breed? How many litters does she produce a year? More isn't better in this case! Multiple breeds (more than one or two) and a large number of litters could indicate a puppy mill.
  • Are the parents registered with the AKC? Are the puppies registered? Remember, if you're showing the dog in conformation, it must have a full AKC registration.
  • Ask to see the pedigrees of both parents. If the breeder doesn't have them, ask for the dogs' registered names (verify spelling) and look the pedigrees up online.
  • Ask why she chose to pair up these two dogs. The answer should be more than "I thought they would make cute puppies." Responsible breeders breed for form, function and temperament, and her answers should indicate that.
  • Ask what health and genetic tests were performed on the parents. Ask to see the results.
  • Ask about her early stimulation, socialization and training protocol. Puppies learn a lot in the first few months of life. A responsible breeder exposes puppies to a wide range of sights, sounds, textures and experiences before they go into their new homes.
  • Ask to see the contract that accompanies the puppies. Read it over carefully. Are there any spay/neuter requirements? Breeding restrictions? Health guarantees? What is the return policy? How much support will the breeder provide after the sale of the puppy?
  • Ask to meet the dam and see where the puppies are being raised. If the breeder will only meet you in a McDonald's parking lot, run away.

Questions From The Breeder:
  • A responsible breeder is very conscientious about where her puppies end up. A lot of time and effort goes into each litter; she wants to make sure that every puppy gets the best life possible. Expect her to ask a lot of questions of you as well. (In fact, consider it a red flag if she doesn't.) Expect questions about:
    • Your experience with dogs in general and this breed in particular.
    • Why you want this dog and what plans do you have for it.
    • Your lifestyle. Are you active? Do you travel frequently? Do you have an unpredictable schedule? How long will the puppy left alone during the day?
    • Your home life. How many people live there? Any small children? Any other animals? Anybody have allergies? Where will the dog sleep?
    • Your home. Do you own or rent? Do you have a fenced in yard? Do you have an insurance company or HOA that restricts this breed?
    • Contingency plans. Have you thought about what you would do with the dog if you move? Your job changes? You have a new baby? The dog becomes seriously ill?
    I waited 35 years for this puppy
    Bringing a puppy into your life is a big decision. It's important that you and the breeder work together in the beginning to ensure a good fit. Be honest. And if the breeder says that she feels her puppy isn't the right one for you, don't be disheartened. Ask her why. She may have a valid point. Or she may be close-minded and unreasonable. In that case, you wouldn't want one of her puppies anyway.

    Above all, be patient. The "right" puppy may not be available right away. Chances are you'll interview a few breeders before finding one you're comfortable with (and is comfortable with you -- it's a two-way street). It can be frustrating. But when you finally get that puppy, you'll realize that he was worth the wait. -- K

    Tomorrow's Topic: Running Around the Ring

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Beach Day and Cupcakes

One of the favorite meetings of the German Shepherd Dog Club members is our annual Beach Day. We pack up our dogs and a potluck dish, then spend the day at the beach. We always draw a crowd and have waaay too much to eat. This year one club member brought her camera and took really nice "family" photos for everybody. This is my favorite:

Roxy, Me and Jedi at Hanna Park, 2015
As I mentioned, the food is always good. This year I thought I would be ambitious and try to make German Shepherd cupcakes. I saw a picture of some on Pinterest and thought they were really cute. I looked and looked but couldn't find directions. This was discouraging because I am NOT a crafty person. Fortunately, my mother is. Mom was able to dissect the picture and walk me through it from California. This is what we came up with:
Unlike the original poster, I'm sharing what I did in case anyone else wants to try. In fact, if you make German shepherd cupcakes and they turn out better than mine, please let me know what you do differently! Here's what I did:
  1. Make cupcakes. (I used Duncan Hines cake mix and followed the directions. I got 24 cupcakes from each box.) Allow cupcakes to cool completely.
  2. Add a little bit of Wilton brown icing color (I got it at Walmart) to a can of white frosting to get a tan color. Mix thoroughly. Frost each cupcake.
  3. Cut a dozen regular marshmallows in half. Stick a marshmallow half -- tacky side down -- onto each cupcake near one edge. This will be the muzzle.
  4. Frost the marshmallow with chocolate frosting.
  5. Stick a black jelly bean sideways on the muzzle to form the nose. I used two round, black candies for the eyes.
  6. Disassemble chocolate fudge sandwich cookies and gently scrape out the fudge filling. Cut each cookie into thirds, throwing out the middle. Stick the other two pieces into the cupcake at an angle so they look like ears. (The best way to cut the cookies was to use a serrated knife, gently sawing back and forth, otherwise the cookies crumble.)
Things I'll do differently next time:
  • Use stiffer frosting. I bought a cream cheese frosting to tint, and the chocolate frosting came in a can, much like Reddi-Whip. Both were very soft, making it difficult to frost.
  • Stick with yellow cake cupcakes. I made both chocolate and yellow, and the chocolate showed through the frosting.
I'm happy to report that the cupcakes were well-received, and everybody had a good time. Below are a few pictures of the fun.

Now you want to come to Beach Day too, don't you? It's OK, guests are always welcome! -- K

Saturday, April 18, 2015

P -- Pedigrees and Registrations

I'm an animal control officer. When I'm in uniform people come up and tell me random things. Last week I had a woman tell me about her Cairn terrier. Apparently, her daughter was Dorothy in a local production of The Wizard of Oz and someone gave the theater the dog to play Toto in exchange for season tickets. When the show was over they kept the dog. Then the woman said "He's a beautiful dog. I could have shown him if I wanted to." I looked at her and smiled, while the voice in my head was cross-examining such an odd statement: "Really? Does he meet breed standards? Does he have a pedigree? Does he have a full registration? -- Do you even know what I'm talking about?" I'm sure she didn't. Most people assume that any purebred dog can just run around the ring. If you're following the A to Z of Dog Shows this month then you know it's more complicated than that!

A "purebred" is a dog whose ancestors were all the same breed. A pedigree is used to show a dog's ancestry. A pedigree is simply a chart showing a dog's family tree. The AKC issues purebred dogs registration numbers to keep track of which dog is which. Each dog's full name and registration number is listed on the pedigree. Below is Jedi's AKC pedigree showing three generations.

Zente's Jedi Mind Trick
(US) CH Mar Haven's Last Cowboy Song
2007 GV CH (US) Welove Du Chien's Army of One
SEL CH (US) Welove Du Chien's Rollins
Welove Du Chien's Bethel
Mar Haven's Southern Nights
AOE SEL CH (US/CAN) Elvaston's Southern Byrne
Jericho's Avant Garde D'Arte
Golden Breeds Zente Zasha
CH (US) Golden Breeds Color Copy

AOE 1997 GV CH (US) Mar Haven's Color Guard
Golden Breed's What A Tripp
Golden Breeds Christmas Angel
Tollhaus Gold'R'Ush
Golden Breed's Balinese

Reading a pedigree is fairly easy. Males are always listed on top. Reading Jedi's pedigree, you can deduce that Mar Haven's Last Cowboy Song is Jedi's father, Golden Breeds Color Copy is his mother's father (maternal grandfather), and Elvaston's Southern Byrne is his father's mother's mother (father's maternal grandmother). Other things to note:
  • AKC registration numbers are written in black under the dog's registered name.
  • Championships are written in red.
  • AOE stands for Award of Excellence. This is the most prestigious conformation award given by the parent club
  • Certified pedigrees show OFA and CERF (hip/elbow and eye tests) scores.
PLEASE NOTE: a pedigree does not guarantee that the dog is of good quality. A pedigree only shows that a registered dog is the descendant of other registered purebred dogs. Puppy mill dogs are sold in pet stores and online "with papers" all the time. Some of them actually have AKC papers. Unfortunately, there are unscrupulous people in the dog world -- just like everywhere else. It's your responsibility to research names and breeders to ensure that your puppy is from a strong and healthy line.

Something most people don't know is that a pedigree isn't the only thing a dog needs to show in conformation; a dog must also have the proper registration. The AKC has different levels of registration: Full, limited and PAL (purebred alternative listing). To show in conformation, a dog must have a full registration. This means that the has dog full breeding rights and that any puppies produced when he/she is mated to another AKC fully registered dog of the same breed are eligible for AKC registration. Responsible breeders only give full registration to dogs they feel are worthy of being part of a breeding program.

Sometimes a puppy doesn't meet the breed standard. It could be something minor (coat color) or something major (an undershot jaw). A responsible breeder will sell this puppy as "pet quality" with a limited registration. Breeders often put a mandatory spay/neuter clause in the contract of all pet quality puppies. On the off chance that a dog with limited registration is bred, the AKC will not register any of the offspring. However, a breeder may change a limited registration to a full registration at a later date if she feels the dog is worthy of being bred after all.

The third registration option, PAL (purebred alternative listing), is for dogs without papers who are obviously purebred. I did this for Logan. According to the AKC website:
There are various reasons why a purebred dog might not be eligible for registration. The dog may be the product of an unregistered litter, or have unregistered parents. The dog's papers may have been withheld by its breeder or lost by its owner. Sometimes, it is the dog itself that was "lost." There are many dogs enrolled in the PAL program after they have been surrendered or abandoned, then adopted by new owners from animal shelters or purebred rescue groups.
Dogs with limited registrations or PALs can participate in a wide variety of AKC sports like obedience, rally, agility, herding, lure coursing and tracking.

How do you know which registration a dog has? Look at the official registration! Limited registration forms are white with an orange boarder, whereas full registrations are white with a purple border. PAL registrations have a red border and clearly state "Purebred Alternative Listing."

Before I started showing I was like the woman above and thought "with papers" was enough. I was wrong. Fortunately, I had knowledgeable Dog Club members to explain it to me. I hope you understand now too. See you tomorrow. -- K

Tomorrow's Topic: Questions To Ask BEFORE Buying a Puppy

Friday, April 17, 2015

O -- Other Dog Sports

Around the dog show circuit you'll hear the adage "A well-balanced dog has titles at both ends." This goes along with another precept: "Form follows function." OK, so what does that mean? It implies that a good dog is more than just a beauty (conformation champion); the dog is also smart, agile and/or able to perform the tasks it was originally bred to do. This means that overzealous conscientious fanciers compete in performance sports as well.

In the AKC, only champion titles appear before a dog's name. These are referred to as prefix titles. For conformation that would be CH (Champion) or GCH (for Grand Champion). Prefix titles represent a lot of hard work and dedication. All other titles are listed after a dog's name. These are called suffix titles. Many of these titles are stepping stones towards a championship title. (Unlike other dog sports, conformation does not have suffix titles. You're either a champion, or you're not.)

If you want to put a performance title on your dog, there are many to choose from. Here are four of the most popular:

  • Beginner Novice (BN) -- Beginner title awarded to dog who qualifies two times in beginner novice obedience trial competition. The dog is on leash for all exercises except the recall.
  • Companion Dog (CD) -- Here the must be able to heel (both with and without a leash), come when called, standing for a simple physical examination, and stay in both a sit and a down position with a group of dogs.
  • Companion Dog Excellent (CDX) -- Here more exercises are done off leash and retrieving and jumping challenges are added. All exercises are done off leash.
  • Utility Dog (UD) -- These exercises include scent discrimination, directed retrieves, jumping and silent signal exercises. Exercises become more complicated and a series of points are required for dogs to earn Utility Dog Excellent (UDX) and Obedience Trial Championship (OTCH) titles.

  • Rally Novice (RN) -- Here the dog/handler team perform on-leash exercises that demonstrate the dog's understanding of basic commands such as sit, stay, down, come and heel position
  • Rally Advanced (RA) -- Here a set of exercises are performed off-leash and at least one jump is included.
  • Rally Excellent (RE) -- This is a more difficult off-leash course that includes at least one jump and demonstrates more precise skill and coordination between the dog and handler. As above, a number of points are required to earn the Rally Advanced Excellent (RAE) title.

  • Novice Agility (NA) -- This is the beginning level. Dogs must qualify (complete the run without exceeding specified time or number of faults) three times to earn this title.
  • Open Agility (OA) -- This is a harder, intermediate level AKC agility test. Dogs must qualify three times to earn this title.
  • Agility Excellent (AX) -- This is an advanced level AKC agility test. Dogs must qualify three times to earn this title. Dog can then go on to earn a Master Agility Excellent (MX) title.
  • Novice Agility Jumpers (NAJ) -- The novice level AKC agility test involving jumps, tunnels and weave poles. Dogs must qualify three times to earn this title.
  • Open Agility Jumpers (OAJ) -- This is a harder, intermediate level AKC agility test. Dogs must qualify three times to earn this title.
  • Agility Excellent Jumpers (AXJ) -- This is an advanced level AKC agility test. Dogs must qualify three times to earn this title. Dog can then go on to earn a Master Agility Excellent Jumpers (MXJ) title.
  • Master Agility Champion (MACH) -- This is a huge accomplishment. To receive MACH must achieve a number of championship points and double qualifying scores.

  • Herding Tested (HT) -- The judge is looking for the dogs ability to move and control livestock.
  • Pre-Trial Tested (PT) -- The dog must move livestock (usually sheep or ducks) through several gates in a small arena, and is able to make the livestock change direction.
  • Herding Started (HS) -- Beginning level.
  • Herding Intermediate (HI) -- Intermediate level.
  • Herding Excellent (HE) -- Advanced level.
  • Herding Champion (HC) -- After an advanced title has been completed, a dog may earn a championship by obtaining points through placing at the advance level.
Jedi and I tried herding. It was awesome!
As I mentioned, there are all kinds of dog sport titles out there, AKC and otherwise. For a list of fun things you can do with you dog -- along with links to more information and national associations -- check out my post Want To Try Something New? from last January. -- K

Tomorrow's Topic: Pedigrees and Registrations