Picking Favorites

Is Selection the Key to Happiness in Dogs?
Choosing the right dog for competition.


Picking Favorites – Is Selection the Key to Happiness in Dogs?

Exhibitors today are able to choose from an ever-expanding menu of events. There are so many opportunities for showing in the breed ring, and even more prospects for having fun in companion and performance events, that picking a favorite activity can be hard to do. Deciding how to spend a weekend (and a paycheck) these days can be as overwhelming as having dinner at the Cheesecake Factory. The possibilities are staggering. But, with so many options available, is it even possible to be happy with all the choice?

Choosing can be easy sometimes. Determining what’s for breakfast, for example, is usually dependent on what’s in the fridge. Deciding what to wear often depends on the weather or the occasion. And getting another dog is as easy as falling in love, right? Some decisions, like having eggs over easy, are just that—easy. Others, such as deciding whether a Norwich Terrier or a Neapolitan Mastiff is the right dog for the newly retired, require considerably more thought. In dogs, picking favorites can make all the difference in terms of personal satisfaction in the sport.



The Right Breed

Exhibitors are often asked, “What’s your breed?” The answer given comes easily to most, but the stories about how a breed was chosen are as varied as purebred dog breeds themselves. For some, the breed of choice was inherited from parents and grandparents, or it came attached to a personal relationship of one kind or another. Other people selected their breed through careful study and comprehensive research, visiting countless websites and dog events before making that all-important decision.

Still others picked their breed out of emotion, through a feeling of “connection” that can’t be easily explained. A few exhibitors will even admit that their breed actually chose them, not the other way around. The process of choosing a breed is always a personal one; however, the choice of breed matters considerably when it comes to potential outcomes in any competitive arena. A Papillon can become a great Agility dog. A Pekingese? Not so much.


The Best Dog

Once a breed has been chosen, getting the right dog is the next all-important decision to be made. Within any given breed, variations of type, temperament, and talent certainly exist. Even within a single litter of pups, individuals will demonstrate a proclivity or behavior that signals greater possibilities for a career running around a show ring or climbing an A-frame. At this early stage in a dog’s life, an experienced breeder can be an exhibitor’s greatest ally.

Having spent every minute of every day with the puppies and their mother, the breeder will have a good idea of which pup is likely to be the best fit for the expectations of each new home. Just because the pups are all English Springer Spaniels doesn’t mean they will all become grand champions (or field champions). In fact, the likelihood of a dog’s success in either endeavor depends entirely on the experience of the breeder and the talent of the trainer/handler. Competition within a breed can be fierce, so picking the best dog can be a “make or break” proposition.


The Appropriate Handler

There’s nothing quite like spending time with a favorite dog. Whether hiking on a mountain trail or hollering at a Flyball competition, sharing fun experiences is what having a dog is all about. Dogs can encourage people to get out of the house and “lighten up” by engaging in activities that might otherwise by overlooked. For those who compete in dog sports, expectations (and limitations) should be carefully considered before commitments are made and money invested. With the best dog of the right breed in hand, its partner’s abilities must be considered.

Although not much is expected of exhibitors whose dogs are entered in Barn Hunt events or Scent Work trials, Agility is something else altogether. So too is showing in Conformation, as both activities require considerable stamina from participants. If a High in Trial or Best in Show is a real possibility for the dog but not handler, it might be time to hire someone who can get the job done without risk of injury or embarassment.

Choosing the right dog for competition.
Picking favorites in the sport of dogs is the key to happiness (and success). – photo by Dan Sayers

The Finest Event

With so many options available to exhibitors who have the appropriate handler for the best dog of the right breed, the time inevitably comes to focus on a workable schedule. Although dreaming of a long list of titles on both ends of a dog’s name can be a great motivator, achieving each goal one at a time may be best for both dog and handler. Slow and steady wins the race (okay, not in Agility or Flyball or Fast CAT, or…) and avoids the burnout that often comes to those who do too much too soon.

For exhibitors who want the title but also the invitation to compete at the AKC Agility Invitational or the AKC National Championship, choosing where to compete throughout the qualifying period can mean the difference between standing on a podium and staying home. Entering each and every competition with careful consideration of each event’s venue, courses/rings, competition, and judging panel can provide a greater return for all the hard work.


The Perfect Moment

The arrival of those invitations provides validation that every big and little decision made along the way has led to this very moment; the moment when achieving the ultimate goal becomes a very real possibility. Any bad choices that were made have been superseded by good decisions which brought greater and greater success, despite the setbacks and failures. With the ultimate prize in sight, there can be no doubt that difficult challenges have already been overcome and the right to compete on the world stage has been earned.

The only thing that remains is to stay the course, maintain focus, and remove all doubt. On the day of the big event, rest assured knowing that the important decisions have already been made. Trust is what’s needed now: trust in the breed’s legacy; trust in the dog’s abilities; trust in the partnership; trust in the journey shared; and trust that when the moment comes to shine, success will be within reach. Even when all seems lost, choose the successful outcome. Finding happiness in dogs is easy. It starts and ends with making choices that lead to happy outcomes.

  • 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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