At a Dog Show


I went to a very large benched dog show recently. I haven’t been to one for five or six years, so it was slightly overwhelming. So many dogs, so many people, so much stress! But it was interesting to observe the event in a neutral way; I didn’t know anyone there, and wasn’t attending with a specific task in mind. I took my camera, took some pictures (to use as stock photos for potential use in WDJ), and took my time with whatever I wanted.

It was also interesting to see how my own feelings about and observations of the dogs were very different than they were the last time I attended a show like this. I felt much more aware of canine body language and behavior – and perhaps more judgmental of how unaware of their dogs many of the handlers seemed. I felt really sorry for the “hairdo” breeds; the dogs who had to endure hours and hours of fussing with their coats. That has to be very depersonalizing! All day long, I saw so much more yanking dogs around than I have become accustomed to, and handlers physically pushing and pulling dogs into position, as if the dogs were completely inanimate objects, and that did not feel good.

But when, in the minority experience, I saw a handler who seemed genuinely emotionally and mentally connected and communicating with a dog, it really stood out — a beautiful thing. Sometimes, it seemed to me that I was seeing an intense dog/person bond. There was one gorgeous young Weimaraner, for example, who seemed smitten with her handsome gentleman handler. But there was one woman who stood out to me again and again over the course of the day – handling several different dogs of different breeds! If I had to guess, I’d say she was not the owner of any of those dogs, just a very gifted canine communicator. All the dogs she handled looked keen yet comfortable. I loved watching her and the dogs she showed; she was the best thing I saw all day.

Another observation: After taking pictures of dogs in the conformation ring for a couple of hours straight, I saw something that I had never really noticed before. Almost every dog did the same thing after being handled by the judge, and before really getting into the required gait away from and back toward the judge: he or she shook all over, as if shaking off the experience of being examined by yet another stranger. I know that dogs often shake off like this when they are stressed by something, but I wouldn’t have thought that very experienced show dogs would be even mildly stressed by what must be a very commonplace experience for them. And yet, about 19 out of every 20 dogs did it (I actually counted).

The worst thing I saw all day: German Shepherd Dogs. While the long, smooth, floating trot they have been re-designed to perform is admittedly beautiful to watch, when that floating dog slows to a walk, and then comes to a halt and stands, the exaggerated hind-end conformation that produces that flying gait looks, to my eye, freakish and crippled – especially in contrast to the German Shepherd’s more athletic-looking cousins, the Belgian Malinois and Belgian Tervuren. I know I’m not the first to make this observation, but wow. Seeing a dog stand on his hocks rather than his feet; how can that be desirable?