Show Girl


I'm hoping to post a picture tomorrow of Alfie training for the show ring. She is going to be in the Green Mountain Dog Show in Tunbridge, Vt. on Saturday. It's been awhile since her last show and to be honest, we haven't been very diligent in practicing and she wasn't exactly an old pro the last time around, but the show is close to home and it's a chance for me to do do something with my dog. That's what I keep telling myself and don't I sound nice and relaxed? I'm not.

Let's table the discussion on why I'm so attached to my pug for now and ask an even more pressing one -- why would I ever want to show her? Have you ever been to a dog show? These people take their jobs seriously. Most are professional handlers meaning they do this for a living. They practice for hours and show week after week, traveling around the country in air-conditioned mobile homes. They carry their dogs to the ring and keep them wrapped in cool towels until it is time to show. They do all this to walk around a ring for a brief few minutes for the chance of getting a ribbon and some points toward a championship, but boy, do you have to walk in a right way.

Conformation shows are all about how a dog stacks up against a physical standard or ideal for their breed, but a lot of attention is paid to how they "show," which often falls squarely in the lap of the handler. In this case namely me. Only, it's not all my fault, I want to shout. You see, taking your not-very-well trained dog to the ring is somewhat equivalent to taking your misbehaving child to the middle of a busy mall with everyone staring as it throws a temper tantrum. You're embarrassed, for sure, it is your child after all, but kids will be kids and dogs will be dogs and sometimes no matter what you do, they are going to act up. It just so happens they often choose to do so in very public places.

Alfie, for example, knows the routine when we're at home. She practically stacks herself (the formal stance assumed by a show dog), prances around our makeshift ring and lets me run my hands over her on the stacking table. Get to the real ring and she practically spins on her lead, clamps her mouth shut when the judge approaches and looks like she has no idea what is expected of her.
So why did I sign up to do this again, I wonder? When I first got Alfie I was excited to discover she had an amazing pedigree on her sire's side, tracing back to Tugboat Willy, a well-known name among show pugs. After years of helping my friend Joan show her pugs, I thought it would be fun to have a try at showing my own. The thing I forgot was that queasy feeling in my stomach every time I helped Joan out.
Nerves, I could conquer, I told myself and set about training Alfie to be a show dog. But while other people do this full-time I am doing it part-time. I took a few handling classes and instead of traveling in my spiffy mobile home, I usually arrive in Joan's cramped van, five or six of her pugs traveling alongside me. Instead of arriving the day before to relax and check out the show grounds, we usually arrive 20 minutes before the show (if we're lucky), tired from an all-nighter spent in the van. We maybe do four or five shows a summer. If we were to get really serious, we'd do it every weekend all season long, maybe more often than that.

But in my own way, I am really serious. I know we'll never beat the professionals and at this rate probably not even earn a championship. We may win a ribbon or two, but that's not really the point. For us the point is in the doing, in the trying, in learning to work together. I have no idea if Alfie enjoys walking around a ring, but she seems to enjoy being with me, getting her treats for a job well done. And, I who have never felt quite at home in my body enjoy the sense of pride I feel when we make it out of that ring, job completed, knowing we at least took a shot. For a moment, we are part of something larger than ourselves, we are part of a pack; each taking part in the show.