Showsight Interview: Pat Hastings

From the February 2019 Issue of ShowSight – Click to subscribe.

ShowSight columnist Allan Reznik sits down with Pat Hastings to discuss her life in the dog show world. 

1. Where did you grow up?

I grew up in a small town in central Washington State.

2. Were you born into a dog show family? If not, how did your interest in breeding and showing dogs begin?

No such luck. We were not even allowed to have pets while growing up. Our father had a Hunting Spaniel at one time, but it was not allowed in the house. We always had an outdoor cat because our mom was afraid of mice, but the cats were also never allowed in the house.

My first husband bought me a Toy Poodle as an engagement gift and that was the beginning of my lifelong journey in our “Wonderful World of Dogs.” I was talked into showing her and, after winning some ribbons, I was hooked for life. We showed and bred both Toys and Minis, but it didn’t take me long to learn that having both small children and Poodle coats to care for did not go well together so Poodles did not last long. My next dog was an Afghan—my first obedience-titled dog (just because someone told me I couldn’t). She probably taught me more about the canine mind and intelligence than any dog I have ever owned. Next came Borzoi, which my husband loved. However, they were followed by a divorce and the realization that being a single parent 
and working full time did not leave the time necessary to maintain our breeding program. My best dogs were given to my brother and his wife, who continued with the line for numerous years.

At the very beginning, we joined our local kennel club and were welcomed with open arms, which sure doesn’t seem to be the way many clubs operate today. The majority of today’s clubs complain about the “graying” of the sport and that they cannot get young people interested in joining. I have found many times the reason young people don’t join or stay with a club is because they do not feel welcome and are discouraged from contributing opinions or ideas. The clubs just want them to join in order to bolster the membership roster and do the grunt work. Many clubs are unwilling to change with the times; they want to continue to do what they have always done, but this is a new age with new challenges. If we want this sport to continue and to grow, we need the young people with their new ideas to make it happen. In order to achieve new things, we must try new things. I know it’s very difficult to relinquish control and power, but if we want to save our sport, we must make room for and embrace the up- and-coming fanciers.

3. Who were some of your early mentors? Elaborate on what they taught you about the sport.

I have always had fabulous mentors. Our local kennel club’s members and all of their different breeds opened a whole new world for me. I have never forgotten the things I learned from them about Briards, Bulldogs, Saint Bernards, Collies and Brittanys. Professional handlers have more all-around dog knowledge than most people, and the majority of them are more than willing to share and teach. From their general show knowledge, breed-specific information, grooming, traveling with, feeding dogs and everything in between, they are incredibly important as mentors. Our local handlers were Mac and Erliss McCormick who were all-breed handlers and breeders of Irish Setters, Springers, Chows and Cairns. They taught me a lot about what to do and what not to do. (Bill McFadden got his very first show dogs, which were Cairns, from Erliss when he was still in high school, which shows just how old I am!) Our Poodles came from a great kennel—Masters, in Yakima, Washington. Celeste was a Poodle breeder and Ron was a great field trainer. Mike Shea, one of our late AKC Reps, was their kennel manager for numerous years. Ron and Celeste were both incredible mentors about all things dogs—Ron with training and conditioning and Celeste on pedigrees, raising dogs, plus coats and grooming.

I also had great mentors from the judging ranks, most of whom were willing and happy to share tips with and teach newcomers. Ed Brach taught me incredible things about temperament and behavior; Lang Skarda always had great breed comments that you never forgot; Charlie Hamilton, Fred Young, ‘Tip’ and the list goes on. They were all willing to sit, talk and teach anyone who had an interest in learning. As a member of dog clubs, I learned how clubs functioned and how to put on dog shows. I held many offices and spent numerous years as show chair. I learned from the ground up with the help of everyone around me in the sport.

4. For those who didn’t know your late husband Bob, please tell us about how the  two of you progressed in the sport, as breeder-exhibitors and professional handlers.

Bob was the best mentor I could have possibly had. He was an incredible dog man and probably the best human being I have ever known. We met when Bob was an AKC Rep and I was a show chair. He eventually went back into professional handling, and took me on the ride with him, until we retired in 1990 and started judging.

Bob purchased his first Doberman from an ad in the newspaper and finished him by going Best in Show. He handled a Doberman to Top Dog All Breeds, won Handler of the Year, won everything you can win at the Doberman National—from the Futurity to the Breed. He also won many Nationals of other breeds and more than 250 all-breed Best in Shows. He was a great breeder and a great student and believed very strongly that knowledge is wasted if it is not shared. He instilled that belief in me, and it’s why I continue to teach and to share all that we had the opportunity to learn over the years.

5. How and when did your decision to begin evaluating litters come about? Tell us about that career path.

All breeders, including Bob and myself, evaluate their own litters, and as professional handlers, we were very involved with the breeding programs of many of our clients, so we helped with a lot of evaluations for them as well. As handlers, you have the opportunity to meet so many other breeders, and you invariably also end up being involved with their evaluations.

We were simultaneously amused and confounded by the many mistakes we and almost everyone else we knew were making in puppy evaluations. Everyone we knew has kept a puppy at one time or another that did not turn out to be what they thought it might and I don’t know anyone who has not kicked themselves for one they sold as a pet. We kept wondering what we were all missing and why we weren’t learning from our mistakes.

So we started looking for answers. We had no idea the results of our many queries would become so useful to so many. We just wanted to learn why we continued to make mistakes.

Our first mentor in this endeavor was Dr. Hal Engle who was the professor of anatomy at Oregon State Vet School. He and his wife were Brittany breeders who showed in conformation and competed in field trials. We spent a great day with him and drove him nuts for years afterward with our many questions. We also went to two additional veterinary colleges and were fortunate enough to find an incredible mentor in Dr. Barclay Slocum. He was a canine orthopedic surgeon who was always pushing the envelope and was born thinking outside the box. He was the forerunner of PennHip, and the creator of a total hip replacement, through the use of bone grafting, and the TPLO cruciate surgery. We were looking at many litters at his clinic; he would take x-rays, palpate and let us feel what he was doing, and would get the bones and tissue out to show us how things worked. We were learning an incredible amount but still we were not learning how it all went together. It was also making Dr. Slocum nuts that he couldn’t put it together for us. Late one night, he called us. He said, “Pat, I think I have it figured out. I want you to do whatever it takes to find a structural engineer who has never owned or lived with an animal in his life. I think the problem is that all of you ‘dog people’ look at these puppies with your heart and you have to learn to look at them with your mind.”

It took a long time to find that engineer but once we did, it only took one appointment to figure it out. It does not matter if you are building bridges, skyscrapers or breeding dogs. If you don’t build them for the purpose they are intended to fulfill, they break. It is that simple. No matter what we think we know about dogs and puppies, we cannot go against the laws of physics or the laws of nature. Once you understand the basics, everything else falls into place.

6. Where did your drive to educate others in the sport come from? What motivates you?

Bob was an incredible mentor, but he did not like to be around groups of people—one to one, there was no one better. As I like people, it was natural for me to be the public speaker, while he worked with individuals.

Not much of anything I’ve done in my life has been intentional; it just seems to happen and one thing leads to another. The seminars started when my old club wanted Bob and me to come and speak, but neither of us thought we had anything to say. They kept pestering us until we finally agreed to come and just have a rap session. We were rather shocked at the questions they were asking, because all of it was second nature to us; we didn’t realize everyone else didn’t know it.

So this was the beginning of the seminar called “Tricks of the Trade.” Some people thought that the title referred to cheating but that could not be further from the truth. Every professional, from a plumber or doctor to a handler, has the tools and the knowledge to make things easier in their respective discipline and that is what it was about; all of the hundreds of things that make life easier in our sport. Of course, the seminar created a request for a book based on it, and since we had a writer (Erin Rouse) at hand, we started working on the first book, entitled Tricks of the Trade: From Best Intentions to Best In Show. At the same time, we were in the beginning stages of doing puppy evaluations, and though we were going to put a chapter in the book about evaluations, we felt the information would be more meaningful in a visual form, so we put the book on hold to produce the video “Puppy Puzzle: The Hastings approach to evaluating the structural quality of puppies.” It got its name because the evaluations we were doing were only one piece of the puzzle. We were only evaluating the structural quality of puppies. The breeder needs it all—breed type, proper coat, sound temperament, good health—but you cannot ignore the structure, which appeared to be a missing component in many breeding programs. After the video became an unbelievable success, we went back and finished the book.

The next book was called Another Piece of the Puzzle: Puppy Development, and it was inspired by a great article by Kathryn Lanam that was published in the Briard magazine, The Dewclaw. The article was based on some of the best research about developmental stages of a puppy, and I thought it really needed to be seen by a whole lot more people than just those who would be reading the Briard magazine. I called Kathryn to see if she had any future plans for her work. She said no but wanted to see it available to others, so we came to an agreement to let me publish a book with her work as the basis. She did not want any reimbursement so I suggested we donate a percentage of the sales for a couple of years to a Briard cause of her choice. She loved the idea, so Briard Rescue benefited from her work. The book turned out to be a great success because many breeders give it to their puppy buyers.

Our next project was our award-winning book, Structure in Action: The Makings of a Durable Dog, co-written by Dr. Wendy Wallace, who was one of the vets of the Agility World team. We wanted all breeders and performance people to have an opportunity to learn how the structure of the dogs they breed and buy impacts their ability to do what’s being asked of them. Hopefully this would help lessen the chances of injuries and breakdowns. From that book came the “Structure in Action” seminar.

What motivates me are the dogs, plain and simple. If we are going to be involved with dogs at any level, in any part of our sport, then the dogs themselves need to be our primary consideration. When we are dealing with our best friends, our egos should not get in the way. Above all else, the welfare of our dogs and the quality of their lives are what matter.

7. Your new book, Let’s Make You a Winner, is so timely. Why did you think this book was needed?

The new book really came about out of frustration. I did not think I would ever write another book, as they are so much work and such an investment (I also do my own publishing). But as a judge talking to many other judges, we all felt pretty much the same—it is so frustrating to have a nice dog in the ring and not to be able to do anything for it because the owner-handler had done too much wrong. It is not just the lack of handling skills in the ring; it is the lack of knowledge of proper training, feeding, conditioning, grooming and everything else it takes to have a good show dog. It is more than the dog that wins at a dog show; it is the whole presentation that wins, so exhibitors need to know all of these things. It is also frustrating to have exhibitors constantly complain about professional handlers winning when they know they have a good dog, but they don’t realize that many times, because of what’s lacking in the presentation, the judge doesn’t have the opportunity to see their good dog shine.

Our sport is one of the very few where anyone can accomplish anything they want, as long as they are willing to do the work. But as much as I hate to say it, there really is very little mentoring available to the average owner-handler. You can’t learn this by osmosis; someone has to be willing to help. My goal with every seminar I present and every book we write is to create ONE better dog person and to teach the importance of sharing lessons learned.

8. You inscribed my copy as follows: “Let’s level the playing field and create a new generation of Great Dog People.” How do we do that, exactly?

I think it would be quite simple if everyone was willing to take a few extra minutes to help, encourage and educate others, including the public. Everyone knows something you don’t, so share your knowledge.

If I could be King of AKC for just one day, I would make ONE change, and that would be to encourage judges and exhibitors to talk to each other. We would all learn things at every show we attend. If this was encouraged, then no one could complain about others doing it because they would also be encouraged to talk and learn.

9. There is so much great information contained here. I was fascinated by how valuable the grooming table can be in teaching show prospects of all breeds to become show dogs. Talk about the grooming table, and give us a few more tips to help us bring puppies to their full potential.

A good grooming table is probably the best teaching and training tool that you will ever own. We cannot ‘make’ dogs do things and end up with a happy, competitive show dog, so you have to figure out how to work with them. The table accomplishes so much; it elevates the dog so you are working with him instead of on top of him, and you are giving him something else to think about, such as the height and the edges of the table, and these in turn give him the opportunity to stay calm, listen, learn and be successful. I even do this sometimes at a show when I have a break in my schedule and there is an exhibitor who is struggling. I feel that it is a win-win opportunity for the dog, the exhibitor and our sport to let people know that we care and are there to help.

Bounce back is the most important thing to teach puppies. It’s exposure to little things that might frighten or startle them that gives them the opportunity to recover, to bounce back. The more they experience things they recover from, the braver and more confident they become, and a dog that is full of self-confidence is always a better show dog. It is so critical that we teach our puppies proper behavior, as opposed to bribing them to behave. (I also think that this is crucial when it comes to our children.)

10. With only 2.5 minutes allocated to judge each dog, what can judges do to maximize the value of the experience for new exhibitors, beyond simply awarding them points? Are teachable moments possible within that tight time frame?

I know we have very limited time with each exhibitor in the ring, but it takes no time to have a smile on your face, to be polite and kind to both the exhibitor and their dog. I do not think there is any excuse for a judge who acts like he does not want to be there or appears not to like people or dogs. If you don’t enjoy what you are doing, then take up another sport. There is no excuse for rudeness. And a little kindness and courtesy can teach a lot, if only that they are treasures to be 
passed along.

11. What more can breeders do to mentor their puppy owners?

A breeder’s job should never end when the puppy leaves their home. Help with suggestions on everything from settling into their new home, crate training, feeding, vets, exercise, teaching, socializing, etc, should all be ongoing. With today’s social media this takes very little time. Most beginners do not even know they should be asking for help, so the breeder needs to stay on top of things before issues arise. We no longer seem to have the mentors available that we had in years gone by. Everyone is so busy and we all have so much on our plates that we need to make a conscientious effort to invest at least a few minutes a day to teaching and mentoring the new people in our sport, or we are not going to have newbies or a sport to nurture.

12. What do you hope exhibitors will take away after reading this book?

I just hope that after reading this book, exhibitors will change their attitudes about our shows being all about handlers and unfair judging. I hope this book will give them the tools to compete at any level and put fun and enjoyment back into their experience.

But even though I think this book could have a major impact on the future of our sport, we need to make sure that the book is available to them. Many breeders are already sending the book home with every show puppy they sell; handlers are giving the book to their clients because they say if 
clients would raise their puppies following the principles of this book, their job as handlers would be much easier. I have also had a couple of clubs inquire about buying the books to have available for sale at their shows. Wholesale is at a 50 percent discount so in addition to having the book available to help and encourage their exhibitors, it also makes a nice little profit for the club, and many of our clubs are struggling financially.

My thanks to my writing partner, Erin Rouse, because I could not be doing any of these things without her. 


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