From the May 2019 issue of ShowSight, The Dog Show Magazine. Click to subcsribe.
Showing Dogs Has its own rewards
It seems that you can’t go into a store today without the cashier asking, “Are you a rewards member?” Apparently, the days of the simple cash transaction are going the way of the five and dime store. In the new economy, penny candy sells for 25 cents. However, the purchase enrolls buyers in the “Sweet Tooth Syndicate” where points are earned that can be redeemed at participating dental practices. (Not really, but the idea seems plausible enough.) Today, most types of commerce encourage loyalty programs that offer discounts on purchases or allot points toward future purchases. These rewards schemes are used by millions of shoppers and generate annual revenue in the billions of dollars for the retail, travel and hospitality industries. Most dog people earn rewards every time they make a hotel reservation, book a flight or buy dog food—online and in stores. So why haven’t all-breed clubs, superintendents and the American Kennel Club embraced this business model in an effort to encourage participation among breeders, exhibitors and the pet-buying public? (More on this question later.) In the meantime, this question has got me thinking just how rewarding it is to show dogs.
It’s Show Time!
The greatest reward for showing dogs, of course, is spending time with dogs. For people who genuinely enjoy a daily dose of canine company, no place is as sure to please as a dog show. At my first conformation event, I was overwhelmed by the sight of so many dogs representing virtually every recognized breed. I’d purchased a spectator’s ticket and proceeded to an escalator that descended onto a lower level where two dozens rings and five sections of benching accommodated 2,668 dogs of 132 breeds and varieties. Never in my young life had I seen such a sight. I was in awe of the spectacle that laid out before me. By the time my feet hit the floor of the exhibition hall, I was hooked. I’d spent the whole day searching for breeds that I’d only seen in books. I’ll always remember the sight of dozens of Borzoi on the benches and well over a hundred Doberman Pinschers in the ring. Since that first show, I’ve enjoyed spending time with dogs at countless all-breed and specialty events. Perhaps the greatest display of dogs is enjoyed at Westminster and Palm Springs where the lighting—both theatrical and heaven-sent—allows visitors to appreciate the beautiful diversity of the
I was not a “morning person” when I first began showing dogs. It took a lot of effort to get me and my dog into the ring by 8:30 AM at a show two hours from home. But through the years, I’ve learned to appreciate the quiet of the morning and the pleasure of driving on the open road. Everything seems possible before the sun rises. In the early morning hours, it’s possible to think more deeply. (Or at least this was possible in the days before cell phones kept us connected 24/7.) During a morning drive, nagging problems can be solved and future goals can be set. Before the day breaks, a Best in Show win is still a possibility. And when the day is done, there’s always the music on the radio to comfort the defeated. “Country road, take me home…” And if not for dog shows, a few of us might have never experienced the beauty of America at any time of day. (By one report, one in every ten U.S. citizens has never left his or her home state!) However, dog show exhibitors are different. We’re willing to leave home at 2 AM for a chance to earn a major three states away.
I’m from Philly and I live in New Jersey (two places where the citizenry is not known for being cordial.) In my neck of the woods, sentences begin, “Let me tell you something…”) So, it’s always nice to be at a dog show where people still practice good manners even when they don’t mean it. At home, the typical greeting from a stranger is, “Yo, sup?” But at most conformation events, people prefer, “Excuse me.” Of course, this is usually spoken because someone is carrying a drop-coated breed and needs to get their charge to Ring 5 toot sweet. In the ring, exhibitors generally respond to the judge’s direction with, “yes sir” and “thank you, ma’am.” It’s always refreshing to be part of a conversation that doesn’t sound threatening, even if it’s not. It’s also nice when a person’s attire is in sync with a dignified demeanor. Dog shows are one of the few remaining places, including Sunday services, where neckties and skirts are still worn without apologies. After all, it just wouldn’t be right to appear in a win photo wearing cargo shorts and an AC/DC t-shirt. Dog shows may seem archaic to some folks these days, but qdressing-up and being polite should never go out of style.
Food, Glorious Food
Another thing that’s always in style is a good meal. It doesn’t have to be fancy, it just has to taste good. Take, for instance, the slow-roasted pig in a pit. If not for dog shows, I probably never would have experienced the joy of eating pork that’s been cooked underground for 12 hours. Words fail to adequately describe the savory flavor of sowbelly subterranea cooked with hickory chips, onions, garlic, apples and jalapeños. Yum! And if it wasn’t for dog shows, I’d never have tried another American delicacy: the corn dog. My first experience with this deep-fried favorite took place at a county fairground in Texas (or was it Minnesota?), where I was encouraged to try the sausage-on-a-stick dipped in cornmeal concoction for the first time. Admittedly, I was underwhelmed. I’d rather have scrapple or a pork roll sandwich. (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you’re not from Philadelphia and you’ve never spent a weekend at the Jersey Shore.) Of course, I’ve had several corn dogs since my first experience and I must admit that all varieties are not created equal. Thanks to dog shows, I know enough to stay away from pre-made frozen corn dogs.
My Kind of People
One thing that I can’t get enough of is dog people. I know, I know. Say what you will about the sorry state of the sport today and the general dissolution of sportsmanship from sea to shining sea. I still enjoy getting together with people who breed, train, groom and show dogs. Sure, it’s easy to find people nowadays who say they “love dogs,” but they’re not necessarily the same kind of people. You know what I mean. Today, every third person you meet has a “rescue” dog with a story that begins in a decrepit puppy mill and ends with the comment, “He actually saved me!” But the people I enjoy most are those who’ve pledged to protect an entire breed (or breeds) by doing everything in their power to preserve and promote, even proselytize, on behalf of their dogs. All the better if they care about breed history and allow their dogs to hunt, herd and otherwise perform the work that is their dogs’ birthright. Better still are the breeders and exhibitors who possess a sense of humor as well as a competitive spirit. These are the kinds of people who make showing dogs fun. They are the best reward for spending the day at a dog show.
Now, back to those rewards programs. Exactly why haven’t all-breed clubs, superintendents and the AKC offered breeders, exhibitors and the general public better incentives for participating in the sport? Why not offer a program where points are earned toward free parking or a complimentary meal, even a discount on show entries? If consumers are willing to buy things they don’t want or need simply because the shipping is “free,” don’t you think puppy buyers would be more than happy to earn rewards just by registering their puppy or going to a dog show? Maybe it’s time for all of us to ask, “Are you a rewards member?”