"So You Want To Run With The Big Dogs?"

This article first appeared in the October 2003 AKC Gazette and is reprinted with permission. AKC logo
by Laura Valenta

Breeder/exhibitor Laura Valenta is our guest columnist

As an owner-handler, I have learned that to successfully compete with your champion you must consider three things: The Dog, You, and The Campaign.

The Dog. Not every champion should be campaigned. You must have a REALLY good dog to jump into this yourself. Remember, you are showing against Professionals. Showing dogs is their only job, and they are very good at it. So to start off, you are potentially at a disadvantage, and having anything less than a really good dog is another disadvantage. A key point here is to not have blinders on. You love your Newf and he is perfect in your eyes, but does he meet the breed standard in temperament, structure, movement, and type? Your best bet is to ask for the HONEST opinion of a few people who have successfully campaigned or judged Newfs. Don’t be hurt if they don’t think your dog is “specials” quality. Remember, you asked! Your dog must enjoy showing, do it consistently, be under control (it is very embarrassing to be bounced across the Group ring by a 150 pound male Newfoundland aiming at the bitch in season at the front of the line), and be in shape. The training will bond you and your dog. Keeping it fun is a very important part of training. And just as it is harder for you to run with an extra 5 to 10 pounds of weight, it is the same for your dog. What would it hurt for you and your healthy, mature Newfoundland to start jogging ½ to 1 mile every day? This is all it would take to help both of you get around that Group ring multiple times without collapsing.

You. You are competing against professionals. You, too, must look like a professional, but be sure to wear clothes that allow you to move freely. How do you look when you run? And even more important, how does your dog look? The way I found to best answer these questions was to have a mentor who is a top-winning owner/handler from a different breed. Again, it was a matter of not taking criticism personally, but constructively. In return, I am now able to help her show her dogs to the level she expects.

The Campaign. So you have your dog trained and conditioned and you have been mentored. You now must be able to devote considerable time to keeping your dog trained, conditioned and groomed, plus time for travel and showing. As I found out, showing just every other weekend usually isn’t enough to get you to the Number One spot. As an owner/handler, this can be a problem if you work full time (flex-time is great if your employer offers it). Finally, money is a must in this game. You don’t have to be rich (it would help!), but you do have to be able to pay for entries, gas, hotels, restaurants, advertising, and possibly kennel help. When it comes down to it, the total investment isn’t much less than hiring a competent professional handler. So, why do it yourself? For me, the personal satisfaction of having one of the top winning dogs and being recognized for doing it myself makes it all worthwhile.- L.V.