Are You a Perfectionist?

Chasing Perfection & Catching Excellence
An attainable sign for perfectionists promoting excellence.


Are You a Perfectionist?

Along the New Jersey Turnpike sits a service area named after one of the Garden State’s native sons, Vince Lombardi. On one of the plaza’s interior walls, a quote is featured that’s attributed to the legendary football coach who led the Green Bay Packers to five NFL Championships as well as the first two Super Bowl wins in the 1960s. Featured in painted black and raised red lettering is Coach Lombardi’s message for weary travelers in need of inspiration:

The inscription undoubtedly speaks to many who pass beneath its message, from the throngs of truckers who navigate America’s Eastern megalopolis to the families heading to vacation spots from Maine to Florida. It undoubtedly resonates too with dog show exhibitors on their way to Conformation, Companion, and Performance Events in New England and the Mid-Atlantic states. Showing dogs, after all, is about attaining perfection; the perfect score, the perfect presentation, and the perfect performance. Isn’t it?


What is Perfection?

What exactly is perfection? Simply put, perfection is the state of being flawless. When something is perfect, it’s considered to have no defects, no mistakes. Perfection exists only when the highest degree of skill has been implemented—with a successful result. Perfection is the state of having everything go exactly right.

Few things in this world, however, are truly perfect. Sun showers come close, though sunsets come closer. Fluffy pancakes can be near-perfect, but fluffy puppies are even nearer. And puppy breath? Well, that may be the most perfect thing of all. Yet no matter how perfect the puppy or the pancake or the sunset, each has its limits. The most dazzling sunset is dependent on just the right combination of light, moisture, and dust particles—at just the right time of year. That sunset seems “perfect” only because so many disparate things have come together. The same is true for those incredible pancakes that result from the careful mixing of flour, baking powder, sugar, salt, milk, butter, and eggs (topped with maple syrup, whipped cream, and fresh strawberries, of course). When served in a diner after church on Sunday morning—or after partying on Saturday night— they are perfection!

Of course, puppies can come pretty close to being perfect too. Thanks to the dedication and vision of their preservation breeders, the finest purebred pups are perfectly prepared for lives of service and/or leisure. With appropriate care, nutrition, socialization, and training they can grow up to become both perfect companions and near perfect representatives of their breeds. Measured against the Breed Standards by experienced adjudicators with an eye for a dog and an understanding of just how a breed’s form is supposed to follow its intended function, show dogs (and their performance counterparts) represent the closest thing to perfection in canine form. Dog shows are where quality is assessed, and it’s in the show ring that exhibitors do their best to present their dogs to perfection.

Thanks to the dedication and vision of their preservation breeders, the finest purebred pups are perfectly prepared for lives of service and/or leisure. With appropriate care, nutrition, socialization, and training they can grow up to become both perfect companions and near perfect representatives of their breeds.


Show Ring Perfection

Perfection in the show ring, of course, has always been the exhibitor’s goal; however, the emphasis has broadened over time to include perfect performances, perfect free-stacks, and perfect outfits in addition to determining which dog comes closest to perfection in mind, body, and spirit. This all-encompassing focus on perfection challenges many exhibitors to become better versions of themselves. These competitors reliably rise to the occasion despite the pressure. For others, especially those self-described perfectionists with an inclination to avoid failure rather than achieve success, participation in the sport can sometimes lead to undue self-criticism and an unhealthy need for validation. These perfectionists can rob themselves of joy by comparing their experiences with those of their competitors.

Perfectionists who compete with a comparison mindset run the risk of feeling inadequate, even when they’ve won. By comparing oneself with other exhibitors (or today’s defeat with yesterday’s win), the likelihood of becoming negatively focused increases. Perfectionists who find validation only in positive results and favorable opinions can develop unrealistic expectations and a fear of failing. With flawlessness as the ultimate goal, these perfectionists can fall victim to believing nothing is ever good enough; not the win or the performance—or even the dog.


The Perfect Chase

With so much at stake, are perfectionists consigned to chasing perfection without ever catching it? Is chasing perfection the sentence that exhibitors are forced to serve, show after show, year after year? Well, some might suggest that the chase is the whole point of engaging in a sport. As Coach Lombardi so succinctly put it, chasing perfection (on the field, in the ring, or in the whelping box) is the whole point. The chase is all that matters. Setting goals, maintaining high standards, working hard, and keeping the faith will lead not to perfection, but rather to excellence. Perfection in this world doesn’t really exist, but excellence most certainly does.

Perhaps the idea of perfection, of being perfect, is best stated by another football coach, this one a fictional character played by actor Billy Bob Thornton. In the film Friday Night Lights, Thornton’s Coach Gary Gaines delivers a half-time speech to his players with an explanation of what it means to be perfect. His message will likely resonate with those who handle dogs as well as footballs:

“To me, being perfect is not about that scoreboard out there. It’s not about winning. It’s about you, and your relationship to yourself and your family and your friends. Being perfect is about being able to look your friends in the eye and know that you didn’t let them down, because you told them the truth. And that truth is that you did everything that you could. There wasn’t one more thing that you could have done. Can you live in that moment, as best you can, with clear eyes and love in your heart? With joy in your heart? If you can do that, gentlemen, then you’re perfect.” Substitute the word “dog” for “family” and “friend” and the transference from football players to dog show exhibitors should be easy to imagine.

Being perfect isn’t about winning. Striving for perfection, being a perfectionist, is chasing one thing while catching another. It’s about living in the moment with love and joy. Our dogs know this, of course. They’re simply waiting for us to accept our own imperfections and get on with things.

  • Dan Sayers covers the sport of dogs with a particular interest in purebred dog history and breed preservation. His articles feature notable icons of the past as well as individuals who work tirelessly to promote purebred dogs today. A self-taught artist, Dan’s work is represented in collections worldwide and his illustrations appear in the award-winning Encyclopedia of K-9 Terminology by Ed and Pat Gilbert. Since 1981, Dan has been an exhibitor of several Sporting and Hound breeds. He’s bred Irish Water Spaniels under the Quiet Storm prefix and judged Sweepstakes at the parent club’s National Specialty twice. Dan is a member of the Irish Water Spaniel Club of America and the Morris and Essex Kennel Club.

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