439 — Throwbacks: Competition vs Collaboration; Safety and Grace

Back to School (3)

Throwbacks: Competition vs Collaboration, Safety and Grace

Laura throws back to 2017 As the Wheels Turn columns touching on big topics to celebrate the final day of Back to School month.

You Win. I Lose.

Many of us involved with purebred dogs find purpose, excitement and enjoyment in the heat of competition. The adrenaline rush is part of the passion we bring to the game. Whether it is realized in the whelping box, in the show ring or in competitive performance venues. It becomes ingrained deep in the grooves of our brains…. Winning is good. Losing is bad.

That’s fine as far as it goes.


Sometimes the passion morphs and becomes something altogether different. The “If You Win, I Lose” mindset is the root of many evils in our fancy. It applies to everything from jealousy over another exhibitor’s win to the fiefdoms of kennel clubs. We encounter it in the *expectation* that any friendly overture has an ulterior motive.

As a whole and with exceptions in emergencies, we are not a cohesive group. Number one. First. Best. Foremost. Record-setting. These are our golden idols and, too often, we guard them viciously.

But that “dog in a manger” attitude serves only to divide and conquer our fancy.

How does it hurt you to help someone else? What harm to have two good dogs, ideas or events? What if we celebrate, support and cheer on others who are doing well or doing good?

Teach the newbie. Help the youngster. Support someone else who has a good dog, a good idea or an exciting plan. What’s the worst possible thing that could happen? That you wouldn’t be the best? The point of the exercise to challenge ourselves to continue to improve — our breed, our skills, our knowledge. The only way that will happen is if someone comes along with a better mousetrap, as they say, and we have to improve on our design.

Ours is a tiny microcosm of the real world. We would do well to remember that making it smaller with petty squabbling does nothing more than weaken our ability to resist outside forces working hard to squash us all like bugs. Anybody read the AVMA proposal about “regulating breeders”? I highly recommend Bill Shelton’s article in the June 6 “Dog News Magazine” for a bit of perspective.

Let’s make a conscious decision to see others’ success as the same as our own. Because then, the purebred dog fancy becomes a powerful force for good in the world. When you win, we ALL win takes us to an entirely different level of influence. Whether in legislative matters or in creating an appealing and exciting sport which draws participation and builds our future from within.

Winter wonderland

Traveling to winter shows can be a little dicey (heck, in some parts of the country questionable driving weather lasts until May!). Ya’ll down there in Florida, just be careful of the weather envy being directed your way.

I can remember driving to the St. Paul, Minn. shows when I lived in Nebraska. Driving on I-80 looking at *hundreds* of cars literally upside down on the side of the road before I decided it was time to pull over and stop somewhere. Or driving home from Chicago and all of the sudden the water on the antenna in the RV wasn’t dripping anymore and the road was freezing around me…

In the dog fancy, we sometimes have to make choices. Decisions that should be easy in terms of safety first are often questioned … But, I could win! But, I could starve! But, but, but….

In the Pacific Northwest we don’t normally get hammered with the type of weather other parts of the country deal with routinely. Snow, ice, and dangerous roads. Here, sadly, we are often poorly equipped to deal with it… snow plows, de-icer, sand and salt being foreign language in the land where it never (well almost) gets above 80 degrees (F) or below 30…

I personally missed out on Palm Springs a few years back due to weather. A good friend (another handler) chose to cancel out on the Puyallup shows rather than fight through sheets of ice on the roads between here and there.

As we speak, people are stranded, the freeway closed for ice storms. Flights get canceled and judges can’t get out. Inevitably, every 5 years or so, even the Garden has such a horrible blizzard people can’t get there … one reason some folks were thrilled to see Westminster Kennel Club moved to June this year.

So, I guess my point is this. When and what makes the call for you? Either professional or amateur. At what point is it not worth it?

When I announced to my social media (clients, friends, etc) that I wasn’t going to make it to that Palm Springs show, there were lots of supportive comments (at least publicly). Then I saw this note from a former boss, friend and mentor… I was quite startled at first, but it brought tears to my eyes as I read along.

“Oh for goodness sake Laura. I thought I taught you better than this. Toughen up girl.

You need to let the “Dog Show Addiction” take over your judgement. Screw with your safety let alone the dogs safety the(re) is a Dog Show to get to.

“Does it really matter if the end result is you end up in a ditch freezing? Maybe you just lose a dog or two. No matter someone will tow you out and you still may make the last day it’s the best judge for that last point anyway. As long as you don’t have a head on crash with a Semi that wipes you and the dogs out which God Forbid might break a major. At least they will say you tried to make it. …”

While the comment ended with praise for my decisions and generally glowing character, the initial shock to my system was I could actually **hear** other people saying *exactly* this… And meaning it.

In what world is a dog show worth risking our lives or our dogs’ lives? (PS I’m not even touching COVID, but it does have some bearing here….) The older I get, the more risk averse, I suppose.

It all goes hand in hand with when is it too hot in the summer to show dogs outdoors, and so on.

I guess, for me, the decision is about the dogs. Will they be safe? Is there a better than the average “every time I drive somewhere an idiot could crash into me” chance of disaster? We band together to watch each other’s backs, report road hazards, caravan, cover dogs, offer safe stopping places and otherwise be of assistance. But in the end, each of us has to make these decisions for ourselves and for the dogs in our care.

Let’s continue to support one another as we all do the very best we can do, with what we have to work with. To my friends, cohorts and companions, I bow to your strength and endurance and enduring humor in the face of what sometimes seems overwhelming adversity.

Seven virtues

Let’s all try to practice the grace we’d like to receive for our own failings…

“In the Catholic catechism, the seven virtues refers to the union of two sets of virtues. The four cardinal virtues, from ancient Greek philosophy, are prudence, justice, temperance (or restraint), and courage (or fortitude).

The three theological virtues, from the letters of St. Paul of Tarsus, are faith, hope, and charity (or love). These were adopted by the Church Fathers as the Seven Virtues.” — Wikkipedia

The beautiful part of this topic is it strikes to the core of why so many of us have stayed loyal to what can be a tough sport. I know there are folks out there who have never experienced some of these aspects of the fancy. It makes me sad. I can only offer the input of long-time fanciers. And suggest that, as in anything, we get what we give.


From reader Maryke Nau, Ridgefield, WA:

“One of the seven virtues that struck me for the dog show world based on many of the conversations I have been having with breeders was Courage, from a few different perspectives:

*Merely taking your beloved pet, the hours of time and money and raising, and asking somebody to give their objective opinion is courageous, especially when the “judge” rarely has to give any reasoning, you just have to suck it up and take the opinion.

*No other sport has amateurs competing against professionals. These owner-handlers who do this as a hobby and compete against someone that makes it their entire life is nothing short of courageous.

*Many breeds face challenges with clearances and health issues, but it is the courageous breeders that are public for the sake of learning and willing to address their issues, even it means starting over. When somebody says they don’t have any health issues, it merely means they haven’t been honest and courageous enough to look.”


From reader Linda Ercoli, Southern California:

Take the Lead Foundation

This organization is perhaps the quintessential “heart” of our tribe. For every story of people helping people on a purely personal level, and they are legion,TTL multiplies the effort and takes it to a whole new level.

In the 20 years since its inception, TTL has paid out $3,879,017 to members of the fancy who were desperately in need.

From the TTL website:

“Take the Lead was founded in 1993 as a not-for-profit foundation under Section 501 (c)3 of the Internal Revenue Code dedicated to provide direct services, support and care for all qualified participants in the sport of dogs who suffer from the devastating realities of life-threatening or terminal illnesses.

The AIDS crisis opened our eyes to the many ruthless illnesses that were

challenging us to our very core. Though we came together week in and week out to compete at shows and trials, to participate in club activities, to share knowledge and common interests, we had inadequate resources in any one place to take care of those in our community who so clearly needed our help…….

In 1995, we established a permanent restricted fund and determined that up to one half of each year’s net income would be placed in it. Already we have seen this seed investment become a substantial asset. It is our goal that one day the interest earned on this endowment will provide more than enough income to cover the expenses of everyone in our sport who qualifies for assistance.”

Learn more at http://takethelead.org/


A reader emailed me early on in the publication of this column with commentary on the topic of professional handlers being too chummy with judges. One of the statements in this missive completely floored me. “We don’t know any judges.”

My first thought was, why not? They aren’t aliens! Volunteer for your all-breed club. Ring steward. Help with hospitality. Join a committee within your national or local breed club. Get involved in something larger than just yourself. When you have that background, inevitably you will wind up being judged by someone you know personally. Use common sense and be polite but reserved in your public interactions. Everyone has lines they won’t cross. My rule is, I will not show dogs to my close friends or former clients. It invites bad juju. On the other hand, I know lots of members of this tribe — from casual acquaintances, to breeders with whom I regularly interact on club business or have known for years, to former colleagues and competitors who have “aged out” of handling and are now judging. I have to respect that these folks will judge the dog on the day or I would be left with a very limited pool of people to whom I could show dogs.

Hope (and Faith)

Perhaps there is nothing more hopeful in the world than a new puppy. Years are spent planning a breeding. In the best of all worlds, you are creating dogs specifically designed to make the next breeding. Without fail, there is a flutter in your chest, a glimmer in your eye, a catch in your breath when they start opening their eyes and forming their own little personalities. Every step of the way, from the second the sack is broken at birth, through evaluation and placement, weeding out, testing, watching and waiting for the ONE, there is hope. I know a few denizens of the sport who bought the ONE, some even by accident. But as a breeder (long before I was a handler), the hope, faith and joy involved in a litter of new puppies is unparalleled. Hope, often as not crashed on the rocks of some fault, small or large. Faith that the next “twist” will do the trick. Joy when all those plans and blueprints (ie pedigrees); all the blood, sweat and tears of pain and happiness; all the anguish and anticipation, finally gel and you get, almost, the ONE. Then, you try, again, to perfect it.

Justice (and Temperance)

Never let it be said there is no justice in this sport. I see it every weekend. The underdog wins far more often than the popular myth would have you believe. They just don’t talk about it as much. I love to watch talented breeder-owner-handlers. People who have studied and perfected the art of their breed. People who have bred, trained, conditioned and groomed their dogs to the nth degree. They routinely beat me. I find those people and learn from them!

These are competitors who practice temperance. They do not follow fads and trends. They doggedly (bad pun) breed to the standard, whether it fits with the current fashion or not. These people avoid excess in their breeding programs, in their advertising and in their behavior.

It matters not whether the breed is Basenji or Pug or Clumber Spaniel or Akita. Patience is part of this virtue. Breeders, owners and handlers who are building on a solid foundation for the future they envision, even if it is different than the one I would choose, will always be my heroes.



When you become a patron of Pure Dog Talk you’ll tap into an exclusive community of experts to help you and your dog be blue-ribbon best at whatever you do with your purebred dog! Your support helps keep the MP3's rolling at Pure Dog Talk!

As a supporter, you’ll immediately gain access to the weekly Pure Pep Talk SMS, Pure Pep Talk private Facebook group, and priority emails. Patrons can choose to level up to the After Dark Zoom and a Patrons Digital Badge for their website— even a private counseling session with Laura on any topic.





1 Comment

  1. Robyn Michaels on 11/16/2020 at 12:19 PM

    I was stewarding at an all-breed show this past year, and it was clear that a number of people had entered their pets and had no idea what they were doing. It was amazing to me that they managed to fill out the entry blanks. I was so pleased that the judges all took time with these owners, helping them even set up their dogs, being patient about gaiting. 1, to me, didn’t even look purebred. I mentioned it to the judge, and she said, “I agree, but this is their first ‘show dog. Let’s hope they want to learn more and become real fanciers.” We al started somewhere. Some of us were luckier than others. but there is room for all of us.

Leave a Comment