Dr. Donald Sturz, Dog Show Philosopher & WKC BIS Judge
Dr. Donald Sturz, 2022 BIS judge at Westminster Kennel Club, joins host Laura Reeves to talk purebred dogs as history and art. And goosebumps at seven contenders in a unique and powerful lineup.
“From a historical perspective,” Sturz said, “I think it’s so important that we keep our focus on the history of particular breeds, not just from the point of view of the climate or where they came from, the terrain that they worked on or jobs that would to do, but also how the breed has evolved over time and understanding the difference between the evolution of a breed versus the changing of a breed.
“I think those are two very different things and so I think having a historical perspective, I was gonna say as a judge, but also as a breeder, I think that that informs your decisions, it informs your perception of the dogs that you’re looking at when you put them in that historical context of both where they originated, but what they were meant to do and how they’ve evolved over time.
Purebred dogs are history and they are art
“When you talk about dogs as art, that really resonates with me, because that’s what it’s like to me when I go to a dog show. I look at dogs as I would look at art in a museum. I love when something moves me. You know how when you look at a beautiful piece of art, whether it’s a painting or sculpture or whatever, and you just have a visceral emotional reaction. I love when that happens for me with a dog. As a judge it doesn’t happen all the time, it doesn’t happen as frequently as one might like, but when it does happen, it’s kind of like the reinforcer.
Patience is a virtue
“People have gotten so caught up in immediate gratification and looking for the outcome rather than the process. I think it’s important for us, especially in dogs, to kind of catch ourselves. If we find ourselves in that kind of moment, I’ll say wait a minute, slowdown skippy, you know there’s a bigger picture and a much longer story and you need to keep reminding yourself of that.
“I’m big on there being gray areas. I can allow for some stylistic differences on the continuum. But there’s a point, there’s a line where you get, that’s too much, that’s too far. It’s either too moderate or too extreme. I have a little wiggle room on both sides of that, so that’s how I would process kind of that global perspective piece.
“Being able to kind of see the forest for the trees and be able to, as a breeder, see how that dog can add to your journey as you pursue your vision of the breed. I think also being able to think in a more long-term way.
“I think the mistake, unfortunately, is people are like ‘oh, I’m gonna breed to this dog from wherever and I’m gonna bring in these qualities’ and then they have a litter and it’s like ‘oh I didn’t get what I wanted.’ You’re probably not gonna get what you want. You have to keep working and building and choosing and selecting. It’s a longer term process when one tries to do something like that. Does it sometimes click? Yeah, it sometimes happens. But I think that’s unusual. You have to kind of make a commitment to a few generations out, at least, to see what you were trying to get to.
Deciding in the moment
“What was so beautiful was that his breeder owner handler just very calmly stepped out there and guided him very deftly into a natural stance. He just planted his four feet perfectly without any the crossover thing … it was just boom boom boom. And then he just stood there and he literally stared at me. I’m like ‘Oh my God this is a really proud dog. This is a dog who’s giving me a dog standing over a lot of ground, a dog of power and strength. And then I sent him around and his gait was just flawless… Powerful and covering ground and elasticity. Head and tail carriage… and it was perfection to me. In that moment, it was like ‘there it is.’”
A Summertime Garden Party
Gail Miller Bisher, Westminster Kennel Club Director of Communications, joins host Laura Reeves to fill in some of the “behind the scenes” details on the unprecedented summertime events for the iconic club.
“First of all, we are so grateful that we actually got our 2020 show in under the wire,” Miller Bisher said. “If we look back, (it seems) pretty unbelievable that we had the entry and everyone there under one roof. We were really fortunate. We understand that. Then in March, of course, everything changed. At that point our (club) president rallied the troops and said basically we have to look at all scenarios.
“We got organized. We had different committees. Even though we’re a very small organization, we still broke it out into groups that would then investigate all the different scenarios. By that we mean is it something where there is no show? What do we do if there’s no dog show? What do we do if it’s a much reduced number of entries? What do we do if there’s no spectators? So, basically this summer has been an exercise in looking all those different options because no one knew what was going to happen.
“The mandate was, ‘let’s figure it out, so we’re ready to go once we do know.’ So it’s been a very busy summer for everyone at Westminster… one of the scenarios, of course, was postponing the show, which is something that many large sporting events were doing. The Kentucky Derby and several others went that route.
“Because we are partners with Madison Square Garden, we have such a history with them, we were also having to monitor what their plans are. So there are a lot of moving parts to figure out. Westminster’s board has put a huge emphasis on safety. They are making sure that the exhibitors and the judges and, if there are spectators, are safe. And, of course, the dogs. That was really the primary driver of postponing.
Miller Bisher said the club members are thrilled with the solution they landed on. The show is moving the 2021 events to the historic Lyndhurst Estate in Tarrytown, NY.
Westchester County Kennel Club held its shows on these grounds for about 30 years, Miller Bisher noted. Which means “that the people that run the facility and the grounds are very familiar with dog shows. They are dog show friendly and they understand the basics of how it works so that makes it a little easier transition.”
“This is going to be a year like no other,” Miller Bisher said. “So a couple of the basics are that we are retaining our entry limit of 2500 dogs. It’s going to be an all champion show again. We’re not having spectators, or at least that’s what we think now. I mean hopefully by June things will be different and having spectators, we would welcome that. But for planning purposes, we kind of have to look at what’s the situation today and plan according to that.
“With that in mind, there will be no benching. People will be grooming at their vehicles and there will be a grooming tent available. I am very proud of the fact that we’re one of the last few bench shows in the country and the fact that it is such an educational aspect of the dog show for spectators to be able to find the breeds and learn about them.
“Obedience is happening. We have an entry limit of 25 dogs and it’s going to be the same as last year. The agility championship is the same as well, with 330 dogs (competing.) This is really exciting news. The finals will be airing on big Fox as we call it. Groups on the second night and best in show will also be airing live on big Fox primetime Sunday.”
Warm weather and Sleepy Hollow
Miller Bisher encourages attendees to come prepared for what could be warm weather at the outdoor venue. While the club will be tenting rings, the weather is expected to be drastically different than February in Manhattan.
She added that the historic region where the show is being held was the setting for Ichabod Crane and the “Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” providing a variety of new tourist opportunities. Additional note, lodging prices are much lower than in the City, although those in close proximity are not numerous.
For more information about oversize vehicle parking, qualifying requirements, location and more, go to the WKC website or follow these links.
Healthy, Happy Travels to Westminster Kennel Club
Dr. Marty Greer provides thorough and thoughtful advice for keeping your dog healthy and happy on the way and at the big show.
Preparing the Dog
- Enter the dog.
- Assure the entry has been accepted.
- Arrange travel.
- Have an appropriate travel bag or crate, depending on if the dog will travel in the cabin under your seat or in cargo, with or without you on the airplane.
- Do NOT try to pass the dog off as an “ESA” – Emotional Support Animal if this dog is not certified as such. There is current proposed legislation that will restrict the use of this term as it has been overused and misused by many travelers.
- A Certificate of Veterinary Inspection (CVI) is required for all animals crossing state lines. This applies whether you are driving or flying the dog to the destination. Most of the time, you will not be asked for this document. However, if you are without it, your travel plans may be interrupted. This must be issued by a veterinarian who is “Accredited” by USDA. Not all Veterinarians are accredited so be sure you have a veterinarian who can sign this paperwork.
- A current rabies certificate is also required for all dogs traveling.
- A “Letter of Acclimation” if the dog is flying in cargo. This will reflect the temperatures the dog has been acclimated to prior to travel. This is issued by your veterinarian.
- Microchip and identification collar with your current cell phone number.
- Anti-anxiety medication if indicated. Acepromazine and Benadryl/diphenhydramine are NOT anti-anxiety medications. Alprazolam, trazodone, or gabapentin may be suitable if indicated and prescribed by your veterinarian.
Preparing the Equipment
- Make a list of the least amount of equipment and supplies you can manage with. Consider shipping these ahead to the hotel.
- Arrange to rent equipment
- Travel bag, leash and collar. A quiet toy to keep your dog busy and avoid annoying fellow travelers.
- Travel crate, absorbent material, leash, collar, ID, small bag of food enough for one meal, bowls (the kind that flatten are easiest) and a toy to keep your dog busy.
- Buy tickets for admission to Westminster.
- Make flight arrangements. Be sure you include the dog(s) on the reservation.
- Make hotel reservations. Be sure you include the dog(s) on the reservation.
Scott Sommer part 2: Money in Dog Shows and Setting Goals
Scott Sommer, one of only a handful of people to show multiple dogs to Best in Show at Westminster Kennel Club, joins host Laura Reeves in part two of this conversation for a deep dive on a tricky topic — money. How to get it, how to spend it and how much it matters.
Sommer also shares his view of the difference between a “good” dog and a “great” dog. For him, it’s all about the dog’s “heart.” He describes the iconic Bichon Frise, JR, Ch. Special Times Just Right, as having a “heart of a lion.”
“Sometimes the dog with heart will beat a dog that is *technically* better simply because it will always perform, no matter the conditions,” Sommer said.
The back story on how Sommer acquired JR for his client, Cecelia Ruggles, and worked with JR’s owners, Eleanor McDonald and Flavio Werneck, is absolutely a testament to the power of determination.
“Flavio wanted me to have the dog,” Sommer said. “I called Cel every day for a month. Finally, I told her, ‘I don’t care who shows that other dog, it will beat this other dog we have every time,’” Sommer recalls. Next thing he knew, he was meeting Eleanor at the Houston airport with JR in a Sherpa bag and “shouting with joy.”
Campaigning a show dog, at any level, requires a plan, Sommer said. Whether your goal is to achieve number one status in your breed or number one all-breeds in the country, the steps are the same.
Have a goal
Every dog is different. A dog with breed type, soundness and heart is that once in a lifetime goal for all of us. Learn to be critical of your dog and know its strengths and weaknesses. Plan accordingly.
Create and stick to a sensible plan for the dog’s career. Know your budget, know your time and know your limits.
Take a listen to our previous episode where we take a deeper dive into how to make these decisions.
Scott Sommer: Work Hard and Never Stop Trying
Scott Sommer, one of only a handful of people to show multiple dogs to Best in Show at Westminster Kennel Club, offers his best advice for success.
Both JR, the Bichon Frise and Stump, the Sussex Spaniel were surprise, dark horse winners at the Garden in their respective years. JR won under Dorothy MacDonald, defeating Mick, the incomparable Kerry Blue Terrier, handled by Bill McFadden, in a match up of Titans in the dog world. Stump was the oldest dog to win the coveted award. He came out of retirement to celebrate surviving a nearly tragic illness, winning under Sari Tietjen, the roar of the Madison Square Garden crowd ringing in Sommer’s ears.
Sommer’s family bred smooth fox terriers. In fact, his mother sold legendary dog man Bobby Fisher his first show dog. Sommer showed his first dog at five years old and was hooked.
He later apprenticed for Bob and Jane Forsyth. On his 16th birthday, Sommer moved to Houston and went to work for Michael Kemp.
His best advice? “Work hard and never stop trying. This is not something you can learn overnight. Work for it and you will get rewarded.”
“I think the initial steps are taking care of the dogs, cleaning them, feeding them, from there go forward,” Sommer said.
JR was the Number One ranked dog in country in 2001. But Sommer said he’d never shown the dog to MacDonald before that Best in Show lineup.
“How she decided between JR & Mick I’ll never know,” Sommer said. “I fully expected the Kerry to win. When she said ‘Bichon,’ I just ran…
“JR was a great show dog. He just never let down. It could be hot, cold, wet, it didn’t matter. He was so dependable. When you show a dog at that level that is so important,” Sommer added.
Both JR and Stump lived out their lives with Sommer. They were inseparable best friends and died a week apart.
Sommer’s best recommendations for the Garden include making sure large breed dogs have boots so the salt on the streets doesn’t hurt their feet.
“Go in with all the confidence in the world, hope and pray, and do the best job you can,” Sommer said. “If (the judge) points at you, RUN!
The secret to Success with Owner-Handler Matt Palmer
The 2019 Secret to Success award goes to owner-handler Matt Palmer winning Best of Breed at Westminster Kennel Club with his first show dog. Host Laura Reeves gets up close and personal with everyone’s newest hero.
A Missouri State Public Defender, Palmer discovered Golden Retrievers at the Kennel Club of Philadelphia dog show he visited on a whim. He took AKC’s advice on how to find a reputable breeder, winding up with “great mentors, breeders who took a chance on selling a nice puppy to someone they didn’t know.”
“It’s remarkable the number of people who have “scaffolded me” in this sport,” Palmer said. “People have been amazing. Everyone I’ve come across has helped me in one way or another.”
Palmer said his secret to success came when he was working his dog at a handling class. An instructor noticed the dog tensing up when he was hand-stacked. After working through the problem, Palmer said he realized he “was worried about my jacket riding up and basically mooning everyone.” He bought a pair of suspenders on Amazon and his confidence skyrocketed. The team’s success took off from that point.
“I now own 10 pairs of suspenders and have a couple pair of extras in my tack box,” Palmer said.
“I wanted the purple and gold”
Palmer said his high school sports experiences left him “competitive to a fault,” and gave him the drive to achieve more. While he competed in the National Owner Handled Series his first year or so, glad to have extra time in the ring to practice, “I wanted purple and gold, not the maroon ribbon,” he opined.
Missouri to Manhattan
Deciding to attend Westminster Kennel Club was sort of a lark for Palmer. “I thought it would be cool to go see it. I had absolutely no expectation of significant success,” he said.
As his case load was starting to build up at work, Palmer had planned not to go. After visiting with professional handler friends at the dog show, he finally decided to go ahead and make the trip with them.
Professionals, not adversaries
“I think there is a divide between owner-handler and professional handler when there doesn’t need to be one,” Palmer noted. “I tell people I’m happy to help, hold dogs, etc if they could give me a few minutes of feedback.
“Any chance to learn from professionals is invaluable. I try to absorb things that are second nature, reflexive to them.
“My (professional handler) friend came early to meet me at the Piers so he could be ringside for the breed. He could have been in bed, but instead he grabs a bucket and a towel and stands ringside and cheers me on.”
The most terrifying moment of the Garden experience, Palmer said, is his dog wouldn’t potty. “He grew up in Kansas and Missouri, he’d never seen all that concrete. He wouldn’t poop! I was mortified he was going to touch that green carpet and decide it was a perfect place to poop,” Palmer said wryly.
“Dog shows have been a great social outlet,” Palmer said. “We’ll keep going. It’s so cool, everywhere you go, you see somebody you met somewhere else…
“Sometimes we win, most the time we don’t. But when we do, it’s pretty fun.”
For more inspiring stories of owner-handlers check out some of these past episodes:
David Fitzpatrick on Pekingese, the Palace Dogs of Peking
David Fitzpatrick, 2012 Westminster Kennel Club BIS winner with the Pekingese, Malachy, was obsessed with dogs as a child. Although his parents wouldn’t let him own a dog, he found ways to be involved with them by walking and housesitting dogs in the neighborhood.
His passion took off around 1970 when he wrote a letter to a local handler to see if she needed help. Before he knew it, he was being picked up after school, earning $5/day helping her with Pekingese and other toy breeds.
“It could have been pretty much any breed,” Fitzpatrick said. “I fell into the lap of the Pekingese and loved them from the start. It was fate really.”
“Speak to anyone who is remotely involved with the Pekingese breed and the mention of David Fitzpatrick’s name will result in a degree of awe and reverence, for this American gentleman is acknowledged as being as fine a handler and presenter of a Pekingese as has ever been seen,” says noted British author Andrew Brace.
What is it about Pekingese?
The dogs of royalty in China, the first Pekingese specialty show was held in the US around 1908, Fitzpatrick said. “The breed attracted the pillars of society. They were the status symbol dog of the day and were the most popular toy breed into the ‘60s.”
“It is a detail oriented breed,” Fitzpatrick noted, “with their pear shaped body, rectangular head, features spread out and not crowded, heavy bone, crooked legs, level back and high tail set.”
Pekingese should have an intelligent expression, one that is almost arrogant and disdainful.
“Their true temperament is snooty,” Fitzpatrick said. “They were developed as palace dogs in China. They were royalty and had their own servants. They are generally waiting for you to do for them. It’s not a breed that really wants to please their humans.”
Pekes as pets
Fitzpatrick said the breed is great to live with. “They blend into the household,” he noted. “They get their loves and then go entertain themselves. They’re not constantly clawing at you like some dogs. They’re more independent.”
Pekingese have a great deal of personality, Fitzpatrick added. While they are at a show they are performing, showing their regal and aristocratic nature. At home, they’re like any other dogs, they chase squirrels and his dogs even dug out a nest of baby bunnies.
Breed specific presentation
“It’s up to us to show our dogs in a proper manner, not succumb to this crazy show biz of dogs chasing bait around the ring… an aristocratic breed really should not be begging for food, should they?”
Westminster KC Treasure Trove: The VOICE of MSG and Yukon Vet
“May we have the hound group please” may be the most thrilling line in dogdom. Westminster Kennel Club announcer Michael LaFave has been the announcer voice at Madison Square Garden for 18 years. Host Laura Reeves caught up with LaFave and Yukon Vet Dr. Michelle Oakley in New York City earlier this month.
LaFave was a Basset Hound fancier and president of Eastern Dog Club in Boston when the revered Roger Caras fell ill before the 2001 Westminster dog show. That last minute “fill in” assignment launched nearly two decades associated with his deep, powerful voice describing each dog being judged on the green carpet.
Intense moments and gorgeous dogs mark his tenure speaking to the thousands of fans filling the seats at the famed Manhattan venue. His favorite winner? Uno, the Beagle. His most memorable moment? The presentation to the Search and Rescue dogs who worked 9/11, just months after the tragedy.
Yukon Vet Debuts at Westminster
Unlike LaFave, Oakley was brand new to Westminster Kennel Club. The TV star of the Nat Geo Wild reality series Yukon Vet was star struck herself as she met our famous canines. Fan girl moment? Biggie the pug. Oakley has a pug herself who she zips up in her snowmobile suit to take on two hour rides to her cabin.
She compared the agility competitors to sled dogs in their enthusiasm to work and reported “puppy breath wafting” from the floor of the show while watching the groups.
Her practical tips for living in sub-zero weather with dogs is to make sure they have boots, coats and possibly even an outdoor heat lamp for a place to potty when the weather is extreme.
Take a listen to her stories of weather change extremes in the Yukon, which disrupt and even kill hibernating animals.
Westminster was a “happy hunting ground” for podcast topics this year and we’re happy to share our discoveries with you.
Carlos Puig: All About Dachshunds and Getting in a Dog’s Head
Anyone who watched the joy with which the Longhaired Dachshund, Burns, showed at Westminster Kennel Club last week, or loves Dachshunds in general, will appreciate this talk with handler Carlos Puig.
A Dachshund fancier, breeder and handler for 45 years, Puig brings out the pure spirit in each of his charges. How and why this “jazz pianist” of dog handlers does this is an amazing story. His encyclopedic knowledge of the Dachshund breed is equally impressive.
“(Dachshunds) are almost like an accordion,” Puig said. “They are very flexible because they had to be able to get in the badger den, maneuver underground and then back out.”
Dual Champion Does it All
In fact Burns, GCHP DC WALMAR-SOLO’S OMG SL JE, is believed to be the first dual champion of any breed to win a group at Westminster Kennel Club. Puig is proud that Burns has been successful in both field trials and earth dog events, proving that great show dogs can still do the work for which they were bred.
While Standard and Miniature Dachshunds have the same breed standard, Puig notes there are distinct differences between the varieties of coats and sizes. Smooths are the guard dogs, Longs are the snugglers and Wires will make you laugh, he said. And while Standards were bred for hunting badger, Minis are more about speed and were bred specifically for hunting rabbits and flushing deer.
“Back in the day (as the breed was developed in the 1800s) the best wires were standard longhairs bred to Dandie Dinmonts,” Puig said. “Which is why you still see lighter color hair on the heads of some Wire Dachshunds.”
Dog Handler as “Jazz Pianist”
Puig began his journey as a shy 11-year-old, house sitting for a neighbor who owned and showed Great Danes and later Dachshunds. He helped socialize puppies and groomed dogs for the owners while they were at shows because his parents were very protective and wouldn’t let him travel out of state.
“I learned to communicate with dogs before I learned to communicate with people,” Puig said. “I am grateful to the dogs…. they literally saved my life. I feed off the dog’s personality. You gotta get in their heads. I hate the robot dogs. There are never two dogs that are exactly alike. If you can’t pick up on that, you’ll get nowhere. I’m fortunate I started with Dachshunds, because I had to convince them they were doing what they wanted to do, not what I was making them do.”
Will Alexander on Grooming, Handling and Heroes
Canadian dog handling legend, Will Alexander, shares his memories, his handling tips and grooming tools that have brought him significant success in the last 25 years.
“My heroes were people like George Alston,” Alexander said. “He basically taught me to trim Irish Setters over the phone.”
“I always wanted to be a handler, but before embarking on a handling career I worked for Garry MacDonald in Canada, and for Bobby Stebbins in the States,” Alexander said.
Carving the picture
Grooming is not a recipe, Alexander noted. Every dog is different. Famous for his meticulous grooming of setters particularly, Alexander describes a process to “build a shell around the dog” when trimming the back coat. He works with a stripping knife, his fingers, a grooming stone and, the most important piece, a bristle brush to bring up the oils in the coat.
Attention to detail
“I hate it when I hear “Oh, they won because they are so and so… well, they didn’t just grow up and they were so and so… they had to work hard to become so and so,” Alexander said. “It’s hard work. For every 15 minutes of fame there are 23 hrs 45 minutes working on your dog. It’s not age, it’s mileage.”
Tips of the trade
- Think in slow motion. In real time you’re doing exactly the right speed.
“When Miss P won the group at the Garden, George Alston called and yelled at me that I had gone too fast on the down and back. It was terrifying!”
- Attention to detail.
“I like to sit and watch the ring, pretend I’m in there already, making my mistakes in my head so I don’t make them in the ring.”
- “Old fashioned” isn’t bad
“I have a mind’s eye picture of the dogs. So much of type is in how they move, how they carry themselves,” Alexander said. “We need to be preserving the breeds not ‘improving’ them.”
Dream Best in Show Lineup
- English Springer Spaniel Ch. Salilyn’s Condor
- Borzoi Ch. Kishniga’s Desert Song
- Doberman Pinscher Ch. Brunswig’s Cryptonite
- Wire Fox Terrer ch galsul excellence
- Pekingese Ch. Wendessa Crown Prince
- Standard Poodle Ch. Rimskittle Ruffian
- German Shepherd Dog Ch Altana’s Mystique
BIS to Robert the Springer
For more information, videos, the book and more, visit http://www.doghandlingtips.com/