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Interview with Owner Handler Teresa M. Vilá

Teresa M. Vilá


Interview with Owner Handler Teresa M. Vilá

I began in the sport of purebred dogs, exhibiting and breeding Dalmatians with my family, in the early 1970s. I was very active in Conformation training and showing my parents’ Montjuic Dalmatians, spending most weekends traveling to shows throughout the Midwest, and later, on the East Coast. After leaving for college in 1980, I only participated in shows periodically, but slowly the desire to become more involved in dogs grew.

I am actively serving the Xoloitzcuintli Club of America as Secretary and I chair a couple of committees. I am also a member of the Fayetteville Kennel Club, the Dalmatian Club of America, and the Morris & Essex Kennel Club. While living in Trinidad, Colorado, I served on the Trinidad Tourism Board and as President of the Trinidad Area Arts Council. As my interest in pursuing activities with my dogs grew, I switched gears away from community involvement and back to my roots to the sport of purebred dogs.

After several years helping friends and family show their dogs in Conformation, I searched for a show quality Xolo and decided on Besitos Muñequita in 2012. “Muñe” and I had great fun at local shows, but we were often the only entry. By traveling to different parts of the country, she earned her Silver Grand Championship with limited showing, owner-handled. The highlights of her campaign were a Group First during the XCA National Specialty weekend in Alamogordo, New Mexico, BOS at Westminster as a youngster, and BOB during the AKC National Championship shows in Orlando against a large and strong entry.

I am presently handling my Xolo, GCHS Zacahuil Del Rey RN CGC TKN ATT, who is currently ranked No. 5 All-Breed and Breed. Pursuing some “end” titles has given us other avenues to work together as a team. We are currently training in Agility, which is fantastic for my high-energy boy. In addition, I finished and special GCHS Libertad Perla De Montjuic, a Dalmatian bitch I co-own with my mother. “Perla” and I are also training in Agility.

My husband and I started Ahuilaca Xoloitzcuintli with a litter of eight in 2016 and have produced CH, GCH, and GCHB. Our goal as preservation breeders is to produce healthy, moderate, balanced, true primitive-type Xolos and to share our love for the breed with the public. I am dedicated to the Xoloitzcuintli and wish to assist in the preservation of this amazing and versatile breed. Since relocating to Louisburg, North Carolina, at the end of 2021, I have started training again in Rally Obedience and have started introducing our Xolos to Agility, Fast CAT, and soon, Barn Hunt and Scent Work. I love the sport of purebred dogs and am a proud Breeder/Owner/Handler.

How were you first introduced to the sport of purebred dogs? To your breed?

I began in the sport of purebred dogs by exhibiting and breeding Dalmatians with my family in the early 1970s to 1980 when I left for college. In 1999, I saw my first hairless dog in Cafayate, Argentina, which piqued my interest and ultimately led me to
the Xoloitzcuintli.


How many years in dogs? In your breed?

I grew up in Dalmatians. In 2002 and 2004 we got our first two Xolos. After many years away from the sport, I started back in dogs doing Rally Obedience with these two Xolos, earning the first RAE (Rally Advanced Excellent) title for a Xolo in AKC. Meanwhile, I was also helping others in the Conformation show ring with their dogs. This motivated me to return to the Conformation ring while also wanting to learn as much as I could about Xolos and their pedigrees. In 2012, we brought home our first Conformation Xolo, GCHS Besitos Muñequita, from a world-renowned breeder, Patty Hoover of Besito Xolos in Washington State.


Do you attend show handling classes? Have you attended in-person handling seminars?

I have always attended handling classes. When we lived in Colorado, I took my first Conformation Xolo to classes held at the Southern Colorado Kennel Club. Since moving to North Carolina, I found Positive K9 training facility, run by Dorothea Hand. I also do drop-in classes at Durham Kennel Club. I still go to classes often with my current specials and class Xolo. I feel the classes help me improve on my handling skills as well as help the dogs understand what is expected of them in a relaxed environment before having to perform in the dog show venue.

I have not had the opportunity to attend an in-person handling seminar, but would absolutely take advantage of that type of learning experience. We do a lot of casual training at a young age. By keeping sessions short but numerous, the puppies build on their skills. When they are 3-4 months old they begin Conformation classes, which helps transition them to the show ring. Xolos are a primitive breed and require proper and consistent socialization; attending classes is helpful. Perla, my Dal, also attended classes as a puppy and has returned for some fine-tuning.


Have you found virtual learning tools to be helpful? Videos? Websites? Social Media? AKC Canine College?

When I first started back in the Conformation ring, I watched various handling videos on YouTube. I continue to watch live streams from shows around the country, including on AKCtv. One helpful YouTube series that stands out is the Will Alexander Dog Show Tips collection. I haven’t looked at them in years, but I do recommend people new to the sport to look them up, and other handling videos, as valuable learning tools.

Watching videos and then taking tips to use in class and in the ring can be very helpful. Brushing up and reviewing techniques is also very helpful. One of the best tools was to have my husband video us in the ring to see what is working and what needs improvement. He still does this for me when he is able to attend shows. Another thing I do, and recommend to all owner handlers, is watch the professionals or other handlers whom I believe present their dogs well. We can learn so much from each other.


I really enjoyed the series and the camaraderie among the fellow exhibitors. I still get to cheer them on ringside. Rankings are icing on the cake to being proud of our presentations and placements.


Do you compete in the National Owner-Handled Series? Are rankings important to you?

I did compete in the National Owner-Handled Series for the last couple of years with my current special, GCHS Zacahuil Del Rey RN CGC TKN ATT. After this last qualifying period, I have retired him from the series. We were No. 1 Xolo for the last two years and he reached the NOHS Platinum level. Often, the days were long; competing in both Groups can be a lot to ask. I have decided to pull back a little and improve on where we are now and ask less of him. I really enjoyed the series and the camaraderie among the fellow exhibitors. I still get to cheer them on ringside. Rankings are icing on the cake to being proud of our presentations and placements.

In which class(es) are you most likely to enter your dog(s)?

If I have bred the Xolo, I would utilize the Bred-By Exhibitor Class. Otherwise, I use the classes that correspond with their ages. I have held back my import from Mexico while I concentrated on my special, so she competes in the Open Class. Both of my specials, Dalmatian and Xoloitzcuintli, of course, are entered in Best of Breed.


Who have been your mentor(s) as an Owner Handler?

In the traditional sense of having a breed-specific mentor in the fancy, that would be Christine Feldman-Bartnick. She helped me select my first show Xolo. We would spend hours talking dogs, structure, movement, pedigrees, training, etc. When attending the same shows, we would sit ringside and watch other breeds. Of course, my mother would be my lifelong mentor, since I grew up in the sport showing our Dalmatians. After being away from the sport for many years, I would have to credit my sister, Mercedes, for getting me back in the ring when I helped show one of her Chinese Cresteds. Included as mentors are the many friends in Xolos and other breeds who freely exchange ideas and knowledge.


What are the benefits of competing with your breed(s) as an Owner Handler?

The connection with our dogs as an owner handler is special. Dogs bond deeply with their person to create a beautiful team. It is not always easy to hand off a Xolo to a different handler, but I have seen professional handlers put in the time to create that bond and they do incredibly well with their clients’ Xolos. Dalmatians can be a bit more receptive to a different handler.


How are you encouraging new exhibitors to participate in the sport?

I am always willing to answer questions and lend a hand should someone need help. Being approachable, encouraging, and available to new exhibitors makes their experience more comfortable and their continued participation more likely. When I see a new face with a Xolo, I am always sure to say hello. At least I try to; sometimes I “get in the zone.”


Are there any suggestions you’d like to pass along about the presentation of your breed(s).

Patience. Our breeds are highly intelligent and they are big thinkers, trying to take in everything around them. An emphasis on focus is key in the ring. I believe handling other breeds, with their unique presentation needs, is helpful for improving one’s handling skills. There is always room for improvement, new things to learn as well as reminders of things one may have forgotten. Handling the dog in front of you with their individual personalities and quirks prevents falling into a generic approach and will make a person a better handler.


What are your goals as an Owner Handler? Is there a victory that has eluded you?

My goal is always to do our personal best to improve on previous presentations, to learn from things that worked or didn’t work before, to be able to handle in an efficient manner any sort of behavior that may arise, and to do the best I can so that you can’t tell the difference between me as an owner handler and a professional handler. One day, I hope this all leads to a Best in Show!


Is there a funny story that you can share about your experiences as an Owner Handler?

Funny maybe to those ringside, but embarrassing to me mostly. I’ve learned to shake it off. These are dogs and we ask a lot of them, so when you have a strong-willed adolescent male Xolo, you have to roll with the punches. One particular example is dealing with my Xolo’s enthusiasm when entering the Group ring. He gets amped up, and one day he decided that we needed to run full-blast. I was focused on getting him to slow down, which wasn’t working, so I stopped. Well, the gal behind us almost collided right into me full-force, which rippled back to the other exhibitors. Next time I will be sure to pull off to the side should that ever happen again. It’s important to not only see where you are going, but to be aware of who is behind you!