On Sunday, This Little Doggy and I drove to Bristol to take part in her very first show. We had only been in the UK for two days and so not had a lot of time to work on calmness around other dogs, so I was absolutely expecting to have a chocolate rocking horse on the end of a show lead, out of her mind with excitement.
As we pulled up in the car, I was astonished (and a bit dismayed) by how busy it was. It really shouldn’t have come as a surprise, as I had had access to the entry sheet for a few days and a simple tot up of the numbers would have told me that there were at least 677 dogs entered for competition. Woah. Luna loses her mind when she sees a single other pooch at a distance of fifty metres, let alone that sort of number right under her nose!
We went for a little stroll around the field outside for a “tactical empty”, and to try to practice some semblance of focus around other dogs, but it was interrupted by a huge Mastiff, who came bounding up to play. Luna, despite being on her lead, happily obliged. You try keeping a fully-grown and off-lead Mastiff away from your puppy so that she can learn, in the space of five minutes, to ignore other dogs. Honestly, try. No? OK, you don’t have to. I’ll tell you how it ends. It ends with the Mastiff owner coming over to extricate her dog, and offering you a stack of wet wipes. “Wet wipes?”, you say. Yes, wet wipes. For, looking down, both Luna and I were absolutely covered in Mastiff slobber. All over my trousers and jacket, which was one thing, but also completely soaking Squidge’s entire head and face. Squidge that was due in the show ring in a handful of minutes’ time. Oh, man.
Still, with that, along with two broken finger nails, we headed into the building to meet our destiny.
I still wasn’t sure at this point whether we would actually make it into the ring. Luna was so excitable, and there would be no point whatsoever in taking her in if she was behaving like a bucking bronco, especially on the end of a show lead.
Talking of show leads, that in itself was a bit of a drama. I had realised just before midnight on Thursday, when I was about 1,200km into my drive back to the UK, that I had left our lead in Spain. Gagh! It’s not the sort of thing you can just pick up at Pets at Home, and most places I looked at online didn’t have a next day delivery option.
A show lead is a thin slip lead; that is, the collar part is a loop that can tighten and loosen around the neck. This allows it to be loosened during the “stack” (when the dog is standing still) so that it doesn’t break the line of the dog’s neck. You also want to try to colour-match the lead as best as possible, so that it blends in and doesn’t distract from the outline.
I found a company that was able to send me one with next day delivery, hurrah! However, after waiting in all morning, I had to take This Little Doggy out for a walk, leaving a note on the door. Of course, in that short time, the delivery was attempted and, because it needed a signature, failed. So, there I was again, leadless and with a show to go to the next morning.
Luckily for me, several people from the club who were organising the event kindly offered to lend me a lead if I needed it, and a friend who was coming to the show with me also had one that I could borrow.
Anyhow, I digress. I entered the building and immediately grabbed the nearest official-looking person, wailing, “I’m new, and I have no idea what I’m supposed to be doing!”. The lovely lady I spoke to pointed me in the direction of the club secretary, so off we toddled, This Little Doggy’s little brain repeatedly combusting with the excitement of all these other dogs, Mum! Ah, the looks I got. Many, many rolled eyes, some a little judgmental, but mostly just pitying, as my chocolate terrorist see-sawed in every direction, having to meet this Chinese Crested, that GSP … must meet all the dogs!!!!
As I proceeded to zig-zag through the halls, Luna pulling me first one way then the other, all thoughts of trying to attempt any focus exercises were completely banished. This was not what you’d call setting your dog up for success. I was pretty certain at this point that we wouldn’t be setting foot inside any ring, but I thought I may as well do as much as possible, so, as I came across a random queue, I decided to join it. How very British of me. We do love a good queue, don’t we? The lady in front of me turned around as we joined. Well, you would too, if a little brown hairy monster ran full-pelt into you, wouldn’t you? Looking down, she said, “Ah, you must be Fiona from Facebook!”. At last, recognition! Sadly, glancing down at my whirling dervish of a puppy, I think this was rather to do with the description I had posted when enquiring about leads – “I’ll be the one with the hairy chocolate terrorist in a pink collar”.
Once the excitement of queuing had reached its natural conclusion and I had my registration pack firmly grasped in my free hand, I headed to the secretary’s table to meet Brenda, who had told me about a “buddy system” the club had organised, to pair up any newbies like me with a mentor for the morning, to hold our hands and give us some small idea of what the hell we were supposed to be doing!
I was first re-introduced to the lovely Casey, who was the lady I talked to as I took my first tentative steps through the door and into the gladiatorial arena, and then Leigh-Ann, another charming lady who was there with her gorgeous Weimaraners. Between them, they talked me through what would happen when I entered the ring, advised me to hang back to give me the chance to watch what everyone else was doing, and gave Luna a couple of test inspections. I learned that I needed to have some way of attaching my number to my outfit (Leigh-Ann kindly lent me a clip), and that the professionals came loaded with refreshment hampers to see them through the day. I’m still wondering if the coffee in those flasks was Irish.
My friend, Kate, turned up with the show lead for me to borrow and, before I knew it, it was time to enter the ring. By this point, This Little Doggy had calmed down somewhat and I thought it was worth a go for the experience.
I hung back to the end, so that I could watch what everyone else was doing, took a deep breath, prepared myself for ultimate humiliation at the paws of a mahogany hoodlum, and walked in. The next few minutes were a bit of a blur. We had to walk two sides of the ring and line up on the third. The handlers then took it in turns to be judged. This is when I was supposed to be paying attention to what they were doing, but I was more preoccupied with keeping Luna’s attention. Not that she was playing up at all; the second she entered the ring, it was like a switch was flicked. She was suddenly all business, focussing really well on me, offering little stacks, ignoring the other puppies, who were remarkably close, and, most importantly, loving every second. Still, I spent more time reassuring her that she was doing well and less time watching the other entries.
About half way through the proceedings, and still with eyes only for the Squidge, there was an almighty crash and, turning around, I saw that one of the other handlers had fallen to the floor! I discovered later that she had tripped over her puppy, and landed hard on her face. Poor lady! A few spectators and stewards rushed to her aid, but she stayed down for a little while, before being taken out for a sit-down. Someone else came in to handle her pup. I was worried the disruption would disturb Luna, but I shouldn’t have been concerned. Not with This Little Doggy. She’s pretty unflappable, and just kept on wagging her tail and looking at me happily. The puppy next to us came over for a bit of a play in the commotion, but Squidge easily resumed her focus when asked.
Before I knew it, the pair ahead of us were going, and I thought I really should concentrate on what we were being asked to do! Leigh-Ann was on the other side of the fence, telling me to move forwards to the start position as soon as the other puppy started their final trot back to the line, so, with a few butterflies trying to get loose from my tummy, I set off. The first part is stacking your dog (that is, having them stand square, looking at you) whilst the judge has a look, then runs their hands over her to feel her underlying build, and checks her teeth for a proper scissor bite. We’ve not had much practice of this with strangers, but she did really well.
Then, we had to gait around a triangle shape; two sides of the square and the diagonal, followed by up and down the diagonal once more. This allows the judge to see the dog moving from the side, the font and the rear, looking for proper movement patterns. During this, I went into autopilot and didn’t concentrate as much as I should have. But I was absolutely bursting with pride for my little girl, who was trotting beside me, really relaxed and focussing entirely on me. Leigh-Ann told me later that I could do with moving a bit faster. I can see in this photo that Luna isn’t trotting as she should (although it’s not uncommon on the sharper corners, I could get her to keep a proper gait on the 90-degree corner) and she’s focussed too much on me, rather than were she’s going, which isn’t great for her gait. Still, proper form aside, I secretly love how she was looking up at me, so full of herself and happy. I think my smile says it all.
Finally, all the handler had to stack their dogs in a line while the judge took her final look and chose her winners.
Well, we didn’t place on the day, so we left the ring while the awards were given and, for the first time, I was able to get a better look at the other puppies. All of them were far heavier than Luna, which isn’t a surprise, and there were no other chocolates. I certainly don’t think we disgraced ourselves on our first attempt and, with the tips that I picked up, I’m looking forward to our next go soon!