Sunday, April 11, 2010

That is why it is a CHAMPIONSHIP title

I have owned dogs for more than 14 years now.  I have competed with them for almost as long, taking my 1st puppy, MacDuff, into the conformation ring when he was six months old.

The AKC has a few different types of championship titles.  These titles form the "alphabet soup" you find at the beginning of an AKC dog's registered name.  They have the conformation champion (CH), obedience trial champion (OTCH), master agility champion (MACH), champion tracker (CT), etc.

The first three championships I am most familiar with and have placed two out of those three (CH and MACH) on my dogs.

Regardless of the title or the event it is earned in, the championship title represents the pinnacle of that activity.

The championship title is not supposed to be something that you can simply just earn.  You have to work for it and, in some cases, you may not achieve it.

I, for one, cannot envision earning an OTCH.  It appears to far out of my reach.  I consider attaining this title to be something incredibly awesome.  However, obedience folks that I know who can realistically compete towards this title consider the MACHs I put on my dogs to be something incredible.

The breed championship (in the conformation ring) is really what brings me to this blog post today.  I have shown my 10-month old girl, Ghilley, in her 4th conformation show.  We have yet to earn any points towards her championship but she is improving.  Conformation, unlike obedience and agility, is more of a subjective endeavor.  You are competing against other dogs (or bitches) in your breed and have a judge decide who best represents the breed standard on that day.  It could be that you have an off day, perhaps your grooming needs help, or your pace is off.  Then you have the realistic possibility of going into the ring against professional handlers showing dogs where a judge may pick them for a variety of reasons (e.g., they handle the dog better because it is their career, they are a familiar face to the judge, etc.).

When I showed MacDuff in conformation many years ago, he was so different from every other dog in the ring.  He had a very harsh coat and no furnishings on his face.  If you look at 19th century pictures of Border Terriers, he fit right in.  He was also tall, about 14.5-15.0 inches tall.

Most conformation judges did not know what to do with MacDuff.  It probably did not help that I was new to the show ring (and dog ownership).  I tried valiently to get his championship but finally called it quits after about a year of showing (not constantly though).  We were just not going to get that title without me potentially shipping him off to travel with a professional handler and he was my pet and baby first.

The end of that story is that Duff decided a CH before his name needed an MA to precede it.  He went onto to earn MACH4 before I shifted him to preferred agility for his back.

Robbie taught me the most about the conformation ring.  We took conformation class to actually learn the ins and outs of handling a dog in the breed ring.  It really is much more than just walking around the ring with your dog.  It is learning ring etiquette, it is learning what pace shows your dog to his/her best look, etc.

Robbie was a shy boy in the conformation ring.  If a judge manhandled him, he would slink the next time on the table.  I learned a lot about grooming him, choosing to "roll" his coat by taking out bits at a time so that he was always "in coat" to show.  I was also campaigning MacDuff in obedience and agility so I was never sure when conformation would come in.

I learned the different grooming tips and other things from fellow Border Terrier enthusiasts.  That would come in handy, later, when I would enter the ring again in seven years with Ghilley.

Robbie earned his breed championship at age three, our biggest obstacle was finding (and actually building) that last major.

I have to say that MacDuff's first MACH and Robbie's CHampionship stand out a lot in my mind.  Robbie's 1st MACH does too as I ran my lap with him in purple spandex.  The "little man" is very special.

I now find myself back in the conformation ring with Ghilley.  I must say it was a bit of a wicked reminder as to how subjective it can be.  I also notice the grooming is a little different.  Instead of back-brushing their legs (which I never liked) during Robbie's stint, they groom them very tight.  Some of the coats I saw were appallingly tight.

It was a wicked culture shock for me and I did gripe about it to some of the Border Terrier owners I know.  Others assured me it is okay but I was not so sure.

A couple other BT owners felt like I did, we did not really like the look.  But I had already decided that if I was going to play in this arena and try to get Ghilley's championship, I would have to tidy her up to fit what was winning.

After a couple more shows I began to notice that the "specials" who were competing for best-of-breed and already had their championship actually did have nice jackets.  Their coats were tight, but if you felt them, you could feel the layers (outer and under coat).  Their coats were similar to what I showed Robbie like without the leg furnishings.

Ghilley has a nice look to her coat but I still need to remove some more and wait for it to fill in perfectly.  We will get there.  We need more work on handling with her being a little brat on the table and my needing a good side-stack from her without bait in her face.

But the real gist of my post is that one of those BT owners who shared her disdain, a month ago, about the jackets has not arrived at either the conclusion I did with MacDuff or with Robbie & Ghilley.

You need recognize the fact that a championship is a big deal that is not simply handed out.  It may seem that way with some folks and, yes, some dogs can finish on a big weekend with large entries.  But, by and large, it is still a difficult title to earn as you must defeat other dogs and bitches and the winner takes the spoils.  You do not get points for 2nd place (or reserve).

Given that, this owner needs to come to terms that if they really want to finish their dog, they groom them they way the BTs are being shown, they keep them light and fit and they recognize that they do have a larger specimen for the breed, albeit nice-looking.  They need to come to terms with that or bow your head and conclude that perhaps it is more than you want to give to try to get it.

I came to that latter conclusion rather painfully with Duff years ago.  But he was always a champion to me in every other aspect.


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