Dog-show game is a big-money enterprise where novices are helped to a point


November 28, 1992|By Gina Spadafori | Gina Spadafori,McClatchy News Service

Q: I would like to ask a couple of questions about my dog, a boxer. First, I would like to know if his teeth will always be small, because he is almost a 2-year-old and they still look as they did when he was a year old. Second, I would like to know how to enter American Kennel Club shows. My boxer is AKC-certified and I'd like to know more.

A: I was raised in a "boxer family," so I know how happy you must be with your dog. Boxers are smart and protective, truly wonderful dogs if you don't mind a little snoring and an occasional spot of drool. Without looking at your dog, I can't tell you if his teeth are too small, but at age 2 they surely aren't going to get any larger. I'd recommend asking your vet if there's a problem the next time you take your dog in.

As for dog shows, it's important to note that the AKC doesn't "certify" dogs; it just registers them. Any dog with an AKC registration certificate is eligible to enter club-sanctioned shows. don't know if it's true in your case, but many times people are sold on the idea that the pup they're buying is "show quality," when that distinction is almost impossible to make at the age when most puppies go to their new homes.

At a dog show, dogs aren't judged against each other as much as they are against the "breed standard," a blueprint for an imaginary "perfect" dog of each breed (the standards are spelled out in the AKC's "Complete Dog Book"). The best pet in the world could be barred by the standard from winning if his color or markings aren't right, or if he's too short or too tall. Even if a dog hasn't an outright disqualifying fault, the competition for "points" toward championships is keen even for dogs that are pretty close to the standard.

But there's more to worry about than having a competitive dog. The dog-show game is a big-money enterprise where the top-winning competitors are professional handlers funded by people named Firestone, Rockefeller and Cosby, as in Bill. Top handlers understand the intricacies of a rather confusing sport, and they know how to play up their dogs' best points while playing down the weaknesses. "Campaigning" a dog from show to show can cost hundreds, even thousands, of dollars, with little offsetting return on the "investment."

That's not to say novices can't do well. A few years ago, a pleasant couple from San Jose, Calif., took their second show dog all the way to a best-in-show award at Westminster, the nation's most prestigious dog show. Along the way, they picked up financial backing and a professional handler. Their dog is now considered one of the best Dobermans of all time.

Go to a couple of shows and get a feel for the sport. If you're still interested in showing, the first thing to do is get a critical appraisal of your dog's chances in the ring. Find a reputable, knowledgeable breeder in your area and ask her opinion and advice.

Good breeders know that new fanciers are important to the sport and are willing to help a novice (although one breeder friend laughingly told me recently that the graciousness ends abruptly when the novice starts winning). If your dog isn't "show quality" and you still want to compete, you'll need help in selecting an additional dog that can win.

Of course, there are other competitions besides the "beauty pageant" dog show. There's obedience, for example, where dogs are judged on their ability to perform such tasks as walking on a lead, sitting, staying and coming when called. You may want to pick up the AKC booklet outlining these canine competitions. "Dog Events and You" should be available at the information table of any club-sanctioned event or can be requested directly from the AKC.

No matter what you do, I highly recommend getting involved in a local breed club. It's an excellent source of information and a great place to socialize with people who are as convinced as you are that no breed could be better than the one you have. To find one near you, write or call the American Kennel Club (51 Madison Ave., New York, N.Y. 10010; [212] 696-8200) and ask for the address of the national breed club, which will in turn be able to provide you with local contacts.

Ms. Spadafori is a newspaper reporter and an animal obedience trainer in Sacramento, Calif. Questions about pets may be sent to her c/o Saturday, The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore 21278.

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