that so many dog shows
are turning up on product-hungry cable TV, I figure that Challenger’s
animal issue is a good place to explain just what a dog show is all
about and how it works.
begin with, a dog show is nothing more than a gigantic elimination
contest. At the beginning of the day, there may be up to 3,000 dogs
in competition; each continues going into the ring until he is
defeated, and when only one is left, the show is over.
Now, the notion of having 3,000 dogs walk into a single ring at
the same time is just a little far-fetched, so the competition is
initially divided into breeds, and each breed is subdivided into
In collies (which are what Carol and I bred and exhibited for over
a dozen years) – and indeed in all other breeds – the
sexes are divided for all but the final class. Males are judged
first, then bitches, and finally there is an intersex competition
for the Best of Breed Award.
classes are as follows: 6-to-9-month-old puppies, 9-to-12-month-old
puppies, novice (for dogs who haven't ever won a class),
bred-by-exhibitor (which should be self-explanatory), American-bred
(also self-explanatory) and finally the open class (for which all
dogs six months and older are eligible).
Where there are color differences the open class is frequently
divided. Thus, in collies, there is an open sable class (sable being
that "Lassie " color which can vary from lemon-yellow to
rich mahogany), open blue merle (the gray or mottled collie that we
had inadvertently specialized in), open tricolor (the basically
black collies, with white collars and legs and tan facial markings),
and the very rare open white (for collies which
colored heads but predominantly white bodies).
after the judging of the various classes in males, only the class
winners are still unbeaten. They in turn come back into the ring for
what is known as the Winners class, from which the judge will select
one male as the best of the dogs he has seen thus far, an award
known as Winners Dog. As a rather meaningless honorarium, he will
select the second-best dog as well, an award known as the Reserve
Dog and not at all unlike first runner-up in the Miss America
all the males entered in the breed on a given day, only the Winners
Dog will receive points toward his championship. Based on the number
of dogs he defeats, he will win from 1 to 5 championship points in a
day, and he requires 15 points to become a champion.
as if that is not hard enough, the American Kennel Club has placed
two further stipulations on the attainment of a championship: first,
a dog must win at least two "major" shows, which by
definition are shows that are worth 3, 4, or 5 points (which
prevents him from beating a pair of stinkers fifteen times in a
row); and second, he must win his two majors under two different
judges, and must have won some of his remaining points under a third
judge (which prevents him from following one judge who happens to
like him all over the country and showing under no one else). The
point scale varies from breed to breed and area to area; in the
Midwest, where our collies did most of their campaigning from 1968
to 1983, a male had to defeat 2 other collies in order to win 1
point, 10 to win 2 points, 19 to win 3 points, 31 to win 4 points,
and 53 or more dogs to win 5 points. The magic number is 19, since a
dog cannot complete a championship without beating 19 or more dogs
at least twice. The point scale was usually a little higher for
the points are awarded to Winners Dog, the same procedure is
repeated in bitches. Then Winners Dog and Winners Bitch,
representing the best non-champion in the breed that day, enter the
Best of Breed competition against the champions, who compete only in
this class since they have already amassed their 15 points and have
no use for any more. One dog, usually but not always one of the
champions, is chosen as Best of Breed, and a dog of the opposite sex
is chosen as Best of Opposite Sex. If a male is Best of Breed, a
bitch will be Best of Opposite Sex, and vice versa.
the judge chooses between Winners Dog and Winners Bitch and awards
one of them Best of Winners. Best of Winners is occasionally a very
important award, for it represents a way of picking up extra points
without working very hard for them. Let us say that Winners Dog has
won 3 points and Winners Bitch has won only 2 points. If the Winners
Bitch is selected as Best of Winners, she has, by proxy, defeated
all the males and is hence awarded that extra point that the
Winner's Dog had won.
the Best of Breed Award has been given out in 100 or more breeds,
the original 3,000 dogs have been whittled down to 100 or so who are
as yet undefeated on that day. When we were those, these breeds were
now divided into six groups – Sporting, Hound, Working,
Terrier, Toy, and the catch-all Non-Sporting Group – and very
shortly only six dogs were still undefeated. (Since we retired from
the game, they split Working into Working and Herding, so there are
now seven groups.) These seven Group winners now enter the ring for
the top prize of the day: Best in Show. Once that is awarded, the
show is over, everyone packs up their dogs and grooming equipment,
and the whole pageant moves on to the next day's show site.
do people who lose on a Saturday go right back against the same
competition 20 miles away on Sunday?
judging of a dog show is entirely subjective. If Secretariat wins a
race by 20 lengths and sets a track record in the process, no one
can deny he was the best horse in the race; there is an official
photograph of the finish that proves he was first across the wire,
there is an automatic timer that proves he ran the distance 4
seconds faster than the second-place horse, and there are tens of
thousands of spectators, each and every one of them ready to testify
that he did indeed finish ahead of all the other horses. But a dog
show depends on a judge's subjective taste. He may have an innate
prejudice against the color of the dog you are exhibiting, or his
own kennel may have been plagued by the very fault your animal
possesses, or he may simply have gotten up on the wrong side of the
bed. Or, in altogether too many cases, he may be licensed to judge
50 or 60 breeds, and is the equivalent to
a man who is a jack of all trades and master of none.
what does a judge base his decision?
breed has a written Standard, a verbalization of the ideal dog, and
theoretically the judge selects those dogs that most closely
approximate their Standards. To do this, he will have the handlers
trot their dogs around the ring so he can evaluate their soundness,
he will examine each dog's head and body individually so that he can
determine its structure, and he will have each dog strike an alert
pose so that he can stand back and evaluate the animal as a whole.
shows are held almost every weekend of the year, all across the
country, at sights ranging from Madison Square Garden (infrequently)
to out-of-the-way fairgrounds that can be reached only by the most
circuitous of back roads (altogether too frequently). The only
stipulation placed on them by the American Kennel Club is that shows
being held on the same day must be at least 250 miles apart.
you’ve got the basics. Now let me give you a typical day in
the life of a show kennel – ours. And let me take a show from
May, which is Desperation Month for collies, because once they shed
their coats they can’t be shown until the hair grows back five
or six months later. This particular show occurred in May of 1974,
and was a little more memorable than most.
a chilly Saturday morning I packed three collies into my trusty
Dodge minivan and headed north from Libertyville, Illinois to a pair
of Wisconsin shows.
of the three was Ch. (for “Champion”) Gully Foyle.
(Recognize the name?) Gully, a burly, big-coated blue merle, was the
Eddie Stanky of the collie world. Leo Durocher used to say of
Stanky: "He can't hit, he can't field, and he can't run. All he
can do is beat you." The same was true of Gully. There were
dogs with better heads, dogs with better bodies, even a few dogs
with better coats -- but Gully was the consummate show machine. He
loved traveling (and a top show dog will log 30,000 miles a year or
more), he loved strange surroundings, and he never relaxed in the
ring. He knew exactly what was expected of him, and always did the
job to perfection.
the house, Gully was a little on the dull side. All of his
personality was channeled into his stomach (not necessarily a bad
thing in a show dog, since they are "baited" with liver in
the ring to make them look alert.) The best example came 1973,
during the final days of the 17-year locust infestation. We had
heard stories that 1973 was to be the "year of the locust",
but laughed it off as merely leftover dialogue from an old Charlton
Heston film – until the spring day the sky became black with
them. They didn't exactly harm anyone, but for the better part of a
month they were an incredible nuisance. Then, in midsummer, they
began dying off by the millions. Every day I would go out to the dog
runs, each of which was 50 feet by 15 feet, with my shovel, prepared
to get rid of another 10,000 or so of the little insects – and
never once did I find a single locust corpse in Gully's run. He was
motivated entirely by his appetite, which exactly what was needed in
a show dog. It was enough to make a man quietly proud -- once he
Gully wasn't eating – and his diet consisted of anything
smaller than himself (or larger if it was cut into pieces) –
he spent his days and nights lying atop his dog house, very much
like Charlie Brown's Snoopy. Once, after hearing one joke too many
from a visitor, I decided to break Gully of the habit by erecting an
A-frame dog house. The next morning, when I went out to clean the
runs, I found Gully on the roof, his front feet wrapped over the top
of the A-frame, his back legs suspended in space. At this point I
gave up and gave Gully his old roof to lie on.
second of the three dogs was Elf, a tricolor bitch who was fast
closing in on her championship. Elf was an unusual case, the kind of
dog Albert Payson Terhune would have loved to write about. Some
dogs, like some people, try very hard to live; Elf, in her happy but
empty-headed way, tried just as hard not to. She was one of the few
collies on the grounds that we had bought rather than bred, and when
she stepped out of the fiberglass airplane crate that brought her
she was just about the prettiest puppy either of us had ever seen.
She remained that way for almost three days. Then she got
progressively uglier, and progressively bouncier, until it reached
the point where she was offered as a pet, first for $100, then for
$75, and finally for free. There were no takers.
decided to train her for the show ring, on the unlikely chance that
she might some day look like a show dog again. Training Elf was not
like training other dogs. She bounced. And bounced. And then bounced
some more. At one point I recall suggesting, only half in jest, that
we nail her feet to the floor until she learned what was expected of
her. We never got around to it, and she never quite learned what was
when she was seven months old, and bearing the official name of
Nightwings (which made her Bob Silverberg’s favorite dog), she
was entered in a huge show in Cincinnati – and lost about as
badly as a dog can lose. We decided that the competition might be
easier further away from home, and she was sent to a handler in
Texas. She was perfectly healthy when she boarded the airplane, and
just about dead when she got off. No one knew what had happened
during the flight. It took a veterinarian in Texas some two weeks to
save her life, and she was then returned home.
was entered in a show in mid-April of 1971, at which time she would
be 10 months of age, but two weeks earlier, while Carol and I were
away, she was the victim of the only serious dog fight the kennel
had ever seen. (We never found out quite what happened, but we knew
it had to be her fault. She just naturally got on people's –
and collies' – nerves.) When we came home we found her lying
on the ground in a state of shock. I immediately raced her to the
vet's, where her front legs required 47 stitches – and while
her legs were being sewn up, she began wagging her tail and finally
jumped around so playfully that the vet was forced to anesthetize
by this time that the God of Dog Shows simply didn't want Elf to get
into the ring as a puppy, we decided to breed her – just in
time to discover a mild vaginal infection that made breeding her
impossible at that time. Unbothered by all of this, Elf bounced her
way to her first birthday, managing to sprain a leg while jumping up
to visit Gully on his roof.
was entered in another show in September, but when Carol was
brushing her coat out prior to putting her in the car, Elf suddenly
yelped – and blood began pouring down her leg. It turned out
that she had done so much playful thrashing around while getting her
stitches that one tuft of hair had been inadvertently stitched into
a wound, and the brush had pulled it out, opening up the wound as
bounced along for another three or four months, and was then bred.
She whelped 8 puppies, three of them of unquestioned show quality.
As each of the 5 pets was sold, Elf was offered to the prospective
purchaser at the same price. There were no takers, and so the little
tricolor bitch, still addle-pated and undaunted, remained in
late August of 1972 we were preparing to go to California for a
science fiction convention when we received a phone call from Stan
Flowers, a professional handler who occasionally exhibited our dogs
when we couldn't get to the ring ourselves.
got a couple of nice judges coming up on Labor Day weekend,"
it," I said. "Everything is out of coat."
you sure?" urged Stan. "These two have put your dogs up
before. They like what you breed."
I said. "The only thing I've got in coat is a pet bitch that
me take a look at her."
I packed Elf into the car, drove the five miles to Stan's house, and
looked at her and grinned. "You think this is a pet, huh?"
I said. "Don't you?"
think she's the best collie in your kennel, including all your
did a double-take and looked at Elf again. Yes, she had a nice coat,
and yes, she wasn't quite so ugly any more, but it was hard to think
of her as anything but the resident kook. This was the bitch who,
three days before whelping her litter, had climbed onto the kitchen
counter, waited until I walked by, and then jumped into my arms,
thereby causing me to slip a disk in my back. This was the bitch
who, when singing, could reach K above high Q, usually at three in
the morning. She had a lot of talents, but winning dog shows would
never be numbered among them.
not going to pay you to take a pet in the ring," I said at
last. "I could enjoy my money more by burning it on cold winter
or nothing," said Stan. "Pay me twice my fee if I win,
nothing if I lose."
week later we returned home and found out that we owed Stan double
his fee. Elf had won 4 points, 2 at each show.
weeks later, at her next show, Elf not only won the points but went
Best of Breed over champions.
showed four more times in October, going Winner's Bitch at two of
the shows for 4 more points and Reserve Bitch at the other two.
as cold weather returned to the Midwest, she perversely began losing
her coat, and we drove 500 miles to Nebraska with her, hoping to
find a major before she was shed out completely. The Nebraska Collie
Club, held the day after Thanksgiving, drew an entry of more than 40
collie bitches, quite enough for a major, and the judge was an old
friend, Noel Denton, who usually liked our dogs.
spent two hours grooming what was left of Elf's coat, applying chalk
to the huge white collar to make it even brighter and then brushing
it out, trimming feet and whiskers, making each hair on her body
stand out proudly and beautifully.
is it," Carol announced when she was finished. "We won't
be able to get her into another show for months." She pointed
to the pile of hair, more than enough to fill a 50-pound grocery
bag, that lay on the floor near Elf's grooming table.
walked into the ring with her, and evaluated the competition.
There'd be no sweat winning the class; all I had to do was keep her
calm enough to take the Winner's Class as well.
began walking around the ring, looking at each dog in turn, and I
decided it was time for Elf to strike a pose and hold stock-still,
displaying her body, neck, legs and expression to best advantage.
at me, boss! said
Elf. I'll bet I can
touch the ceiling!
ceiling was 60 feet overhead. Elf made a valiant attempt to reach
she landed, Noel was staring at her. "Okay, pose her later,"
he said. "Let's see her move now."
began trotting across the ring, praying that Elf would run in a
reasonably straight line.
O.J. Simpson and I'm Dick Butkus and I've got to stop you from
scoring a touchdown,
said Elf. She hurled herself happily against the back of my legs.
finally made it around the ring and wound up in front of Noel again.
He bent down to examine her head, checking to see if the sides of it
were properly smooth and the teeth formed a scissors bite. Elf
decided it was mountain-climbing time and just about got her back
feet up to Noel's shoulders before she fell off. The crowd at
ringside loved her. I began trying to remember any old recipes I
might have seen for boiled dogmeat, while Carol covered her eyes
with her hands and began walking, trancelike, back to the grooming
was given a second-place ribbon and, having time of her life,
bounced all the way back to the grooming area. When the show was
over an outraged Noel Denton sought me out.
taught you to handle a dog?" he demanded furiously. "You
ought to be ashamed of yourself! This bitch might have won the
points today if she had behaved!"
handed the leash to Noel. "Show me how," I said, trying to
hide a malicious grin of anticipation.
certainly will," said Noel. As he was speaking, Elf did a back
blinked once, handed the leash back, and walked away without another
was bred to Gully a month later, aborted the litter with her usual
good luck, and never coated up in time to find a major entry. Thus,
when she came into season in the summer of 1973, she was bred to
Gully again and produced a litter of five puppies. Once a bitch
weans a litter she sheds down almost to the skin; with her usual
over-enthusiasm, Elf had lost so much hair that she had once again
been out of coat for most of the winter and spring shows. And now
she was going up to Oshkosh with me, hoping to win one of those
elusive majors before the size of the entries dropped off and she
had to wait until autumn again.
third of the dogs I packed into the van was Kim, Gully and Elf's
7-month-old blue son. Kim, officially The Gray Lensman, had been
something special from the moment he was born. Very rarely can a
breeder look at a litter of still-wet newborn puppies and spot a
top-notcher, but Kim was one of those exceptions. He was simply the
best male we ever produced, and we know it the second he popped out.
much for beauty. Emotionally, he was even more scatterbrained than
his mother. Physically he was stronger and bouncier. He outweighed
her by a good 25 pounds, and was capable of doing far more damage
with only half the effort.
for example, dog crates. Almost all show dogs ride to and from shows
in metal crates, and for a very good reason: if the car should have
an accident, the crate will protect the dog and you won't have to
spend the next few days scraping his remains off one of the windows.
(And, in the case of Gully, it kept him from sitting on your lap and
helping you read the traffic signs.)
didn't like dog crates. Since his strength, even as a puppy, was
measured in megatons rather than foot-pounds, getting him through
the tiny door of a crate was usually a 10-minute undertaking. Once
he was inside, however, the door was locked and he could be driven
safely to his destination – until the day he became the first
collie on record to break out of a locked crate. It occurred on the
way to a handling class when Kim was five months old. There was a
huge crash, and a moment later Kim trotted to the front of the van,
proudly carrying a horribly misshapen metal door in his mouth.
Oshkosh Kennel Club was Kim's first dog show and he acquitted
himself well, winning a large puppy class. When three bitches didn't
show up, the entry fell below the level of a 3-point show, and I
withdrew Elf, who didn't need any more minor points. Gully went Best
of Breed again, for the 10th of some 22 such awards he was to win
during the year.
didn't win the Working Group, a loss which carried no disgrace with
it, since there were some 30 Best of Breed winners competing, almost
all of them champions, rather than the vast numbers of non-champion
dogs involved in the individual breed competition, and I packed up
the dogs and headed for the Oshkosh Holiday Inn. (Dog people soon
become experts an the best motel chains, as well as individual
motels within those chains: this one has enough room to set up three
crates and a grooming table next to the bed, that one doesn't have
enough grass to walk the dogs; another one has good food but lousy
water, and so forth.)
next morning I prepared to drive to Appleton, some 30 miles north of
Oshkosh, for the Sunday show. I opened the door to the van, took
Gully's leash off, snapped my fingers, and the big blue dog jumped
into his crate. I repeated the procedure with Elf.
I brought Kim out to the van, absentmindedly unhooked the leash, and
gestured to a crate.
screamed Kim, and ran off in the general direction of the highway.
He had gone about 50 yards when he spotted a puli practicing his
obedience routine with his owner, and ran over to see if this was
some game he could join.
puli took one look at the 85-pound instrument of destruction bearing
down upon him and didn't wait to find out whether or not it was a
playful puppy. He took off like a bat out of hell, with Kim in hot
and happy pursuit, and me and the puli's owner racing after the pair
and around the Holiday Inn we raced, through pass-throughs and under
playground equipment. Then, as I was turning a corner, I stepped
into a fresh pile of dog stool, slipped, and crashed foot-first into
a glass wall with a bone-jarring thud. Thinking that I had invented
a new sport, Kim raced up, tail a-wag, ready to participate. I
grabbed him by the neck, limped painfully to the van, threw him
bodily into a crate, and drove to Appleton.
the time we reached the show site, my foot was swollen to almost
twice its normal size from the collision, and I paid a group of
helpful boy scouts to unload the dogs and grooming equipment and
place them right next to the show ring. I then went around borrowing
pain-killers from my competitors.
asked why I didn't go home, I replied doggedly that Bernard Esporite
was judging, and that Esporite had given Elf a Reserve three weeks
earlier, and that the bitch that went Winners on that day had
finished her championship in the interim and wouldn't be competing
and that no goddamned little bruise was going to keep me out of the
nobody ever said dog breeders had to be smart.)
was the first dog in the ring, and I hobbled around painfully,
praying that we would be second so as not to have to return for
Winners class. Esporite fell in love with Kim, giving him the
first-place blue ribbon and gaiting him around the ring half a dozen
times in Winners class before finally giving the points to a more
mature sable dog.
this point I considered taking my shoe off to relieve the pressure,
but decided I'd never be able to get it on again over the swelling.
An hour later I walked into the ring with Elf, who was bouncier than
usual. She won her class, and returned a moment later in Winners
class. Esporite had narrowed down his choice to two bitches, Elf and
a lovely locally-owned sable. He decided to base his decision on
Judge, Mike, Gully
went around the ring once, then twice more. Then we ran in an
L-shaped pattern, then a T-pattern. Then, just so he would be sure
he was making the proper selection, Esporite ran the entire class
around the ring twice more. Just as I was sure my foot wouldn't hold
up for another step Esporite pointed to Elf, and the little black
bitch celebrated winning her first major by jumping on me and
knocking me down.
God that's over!" I grated as I hobbled out of the ring.
about Gully?" someone asked.
it wasn't over after all. I sought out Jean Greenwood, a friend who
had bought a number of dogs from us when starting her kennel, and
asked her to take Elf into the ring.
remember," I said. "It wasn't a major in males, so do
everything you can do to let the male beat you for Best of Winners.
Don't take any liver into the ring, don't let her stand right, the
why?" she asked
a common courtesy," I replied. "She can't win any more
points today, but the male can get a major if he beats her -- and
maybe someday, when we have to go Best of Winners for the extra
point, somebody will do the same for us."
I was in the ring again. Gully tried his very best, but I simply
couldn't keep up with him as we gaited around the ring. As for Elf,
she evidently had decided to make a good impression on her new-found
friend; everything that she usually did wrong for me she did right
for Jean. A few moments later Esporite awarded her Best of Breed
over Gully, who was Best of Opposite Sex. Best of Breed of course
made her Best of Winners as well; I gave an apologetic look across
the ring to the owner of the Winner's Dog, decided that I couldn't
stay on my foot long enough to pose for victory photos with Elf and
Gully, and hopped off to a telephone to tell Carol the news. Carol
was properly overjoyed about the major, but a little too busy to
celebrate. The milk had gone bad on the bitch who had whelped a few
weeks earlier – the reason she had stayed at home – and
she was being forced to wean the puppies earlier than usual.
hunted up another batch of boy scouts, had them load the van, and
stayed just long enough to watch Jean handle Elf in the Working
Group. Elf was back to emulating a rubber ball again, and while the
spectators loved it the judge had scant use for such antics and
ignored her throughout the class.
came the 4-hour drive home. I had borrowed a knife, cut my canvas
shoe off, and wrapped my bare foot in my coat. Since the temperature
was about 70 degrees, I opened all the windows and pointed the van
the time we reached Milwaukee, it was 35 degrees out, and since I
was driving in a short-sleeved shirt, I was damned near frozen. I
pulled the car over to the side of the road in order to close the
windows – and discovered that I couldn't walk. So I shivered
for the final 90 minutes and at long last pulled into the driveway.
I turned off the motor and began honking the horn, waiting for Carol
to come out and help me make it to the door – but Carol was in
one of the back rooms, teaching toothless puppies to
eat raw hamburger, and didn't hear. Finally I got out of the van,
hopped to the front door, and opened it, yelling for help.
unloaded the dogs, put them in runs, and drove me right to the
hospital, where the injury was diagnosed as a badly torn ligament
complicated by gross stupidity, and I was fitted with a pair of
about the dumbest thing I ever heard of," said the doctor as he
finished applying an elastic bandage to the foot. "Why didn't
you come home the minute it happened – or at least get someone
else to show your dogs?"
was a major," I said, as if that explained everything.
the hell does that mean?" asked the doctor.
me put it this way," I said. "if you were on the
eighteenth tee, five under par, and you sprained an ankle, would you
no!" came the explosive reply.
is the same thing."
that it had been explained in medical terms, the doctor's expression
you break par?" he asked.
guess it was worth it at that," said the doctor.
strangely enough, it was.