2022 Vizsla National Specialty Show, Part 3: Obedience and Rally

After wrapping up at the agility venue, we packed up and drove across town and checked into our hotel for the rest of our stay in Minnesota. We even had enough time before it got dark to find our way to the convention center where the competition would be held starting the next day.

I finally took all of my suitcases into the hotel room, and hung up all the show clothes. I set up the travel crates for the dogs, leaving a set of wire crates in the car that I would be setting up at the show in the morning.

The dogs think hotel bathrooms are great and the lid is always up.

Now, one thing that those of us who travel with our show dogs and stay in hotels are asked not to do is bathe our dogs in the hotels that still allow us to stay there. I’m sure that it would be a drain catastrophe. So, if I post pictures of my dogs being bathed here, know that I carefully wiped out the tub afterwards and left a generous tip for housekeeping.

The next morning, I had crates to set up at the show, and then four classes: Beginner Novice Obedience with Fellow, Novice Obedience with Eggi, and then Novice Rally with each of them. This is the day I really could have used a hand moving stuff, holding dogs, making sure I got lunch, and most of all, getting pictures.

Most shows organize the obedience classes starting with the most advanced and working their way to the most basic. So, Eggi’s Novice class was before Fellow’s Beginner Novice. Eggi and I did a good enough job for a qualifying score, so we were asked to come back for the long sit and down, which is held in a group with the whole class. Finally, we had a qualifying leg.

I feared that I would have a conflict with the Rally ring, so on my way to train Eggi for Fellow, I told the steward there about it, and she cheerfully said it wouldn’t be a problem. So, I traded dogs, Took Fellow out to pee, brought him in to do his Beginner Novice Obedience round, where he was exuberant if not wholly obedient. At the time, I did not realize we had a qualifying score, and someone would come and find me with our green qualifying leg ribbon later, asking, “Aren’t you the woman from New York?”

I barely managed to make the course walk for Novice Rally, and dashed back to get my dog, and when I arrived with him I was told I had missed my slot and I would have to go last. I looked at the steward and said, “But I had a conflict.”

She replied, “You should have told me in advance.”

I said, “But I did tell you.”

She stared at me blankly. Now the judge, and everyone else waiting to go, all turned glaring in irritation at the public disagreement in their midst.

“Fine! Fine! Just go next!” said the judge, throwing up her hands.

The steward asked the woman who had thought she was next if it was ok. And she said it was.

So.

This is why I have nothing to say about the Novice Rally I did with Fellow, with tears drying on my face, except that I did it as quickly as I possibly could, thanking the judge and walking directly out of the room to put this dog away and get the other one, line up, and do it again.

Both dogs had qualifying legs in Rally.

Postscript: about a month later, their Novice Rally titles arrived in the mail from the AKC.

2022 Vizsla National Specialty Show, Part 2: Agility Day

This was the day I was probably the most worried and excited about.

Eggi jumps a lower height than Fellow. In the FAST, I tried to start her off on things she would be confident in, like jumps, and move on to the bigger, scarier equipment, like the dog-walk, A-frame, and teeter. She was happy to go through tunnels and do weave poles and jump jumps. She would not even try any of the equipment that might creak or shake. There was no working through it. Still, I told her she was a good girl for trying.

When it was Fellow’s turn, the dog ahead of us did not even break the timers; Buzz ran around the first fence, grabbed the nearest yellow cone, which had a large 5 on it, and ran around the ring in a celebratory frenzy, unwilling to be caught, as everyone laughed at him, calling his name. After several hilarious minutes, the show secretary came out of his office, shouted a suggestion to the owner to try sitting down on the floor, and when she did, the run-amok Buzz trotted to her with his head down, game over, dropped the cone, and having by some obvious measure already become the clear winner of the day.

Of course, I had to spend every second of those wacky minutes asking Fellow to sit and look at me and feeding him the tiny crumbs of the last bit of dog treat I had in my pocket, and when I ran out of that I gave him pieces of a treat I found on a shelf and when I ran out of that I gave him pocket lint and when I ran out of that I gave him the ends of my fingers to nibble, all the while maintaining as much eye-contact with him as I possibly could. The last thing I needed this day was for Fellow to see the super fun cone-grabbing run-amok game.

So, Fellow got his turn at last. Our go in the FAST was a little rough, but he hit all of the equipment, did the send, and got out, feeling like it was worth our time to try. We did not have a qualifying score, but it still felt successful. And soon enough, we’d be back for the standard novice and then the novice jumpers with weave.

What can I tell you about Eggi’s standard novice run? She was fast and intense. She was still afraid of the big equipment that moved at all. We were not going to be able to address her concerns that day because it was a show; we needed seriously good treats and plenty of time in the ring, with the opportunity to repeat elements. So she did what she could, and my job was to tell her she was a good girl.

And what can I tell you about Fellow’s standard novice run?

We had to deal with the same shenanigans with the run-amok cone-stealing dog ahead of us while we waited to go. This time I had more treats at the ready, so I didn’t have to feed Fellow my fingers. He had a bad entrance to the dog-walk, so we started over. Other than that, no mistakes. What fun!

We took water breaks and potty walks and came back to discover that Fellow had a qualifying leg and won that class.

Our third course was jumpers with weave. Now, Eggi could finally show how quickly she could work. No intimidating equipment; she just had to be fast and clean. She was so fast that I managed to trip over her and step on her foot on the way into the weave poles. Poor Eggi! Again, no qualifying score.

Fellow ‘s go was once again preceded by the dog ahead of us going on another cone-stealing romp, and the judge explained for all who cared to listen that if you don’t touch the dog or the cone you could actually complete the course without penalty. We did not watch.

Our trip wasn’t quite as smooth and fast as we needed for a qualifying leg, but we had so much fun it really didn’t matter.

2022 Vizsla National Specialty: Part 1, Getting There

It was going to be a three day drive: 1,200 miles, and Eggi, Fellow, and me, the only driver, because you know what? Dogs don’t drive. Without them, I could picture maybe, like, I dunno, doing it myself in two days, but, ok, the dogs were the point of the trip. So, a three day drive, with regular stops to smell the grass.

There is also the issue of wanting to be two states away the first night, because you aren’t making progress across this enormous country of wackos if you can’t get two states away from home the first day (sorry, Western/Midwestern America), so I simply had to get through all of Pennsylvania the first day. I don’t make these rules, they just are.

Something I brought plenty of: dog kibble.

Something I should have brought more of: familiar-tasting water from home.

Packing for the dogs: grooming stuff; two crates for riding in the car, two portable crates for sleeping in hotels, two wire crates and crate pads for the show; leashes and collars for walks, slip leashes for agility, show leashes; treats, poop bags, toys.

Packing for me: overnight bag for travel days with sneakers and clothes to compete in agility; two choices of outfits for obedience ring, plus shoes; three choices for conformation ring, plus boots; dress for banquet, plus other boots; raincoat, down vest, sweater, parka. Food, colored pencils, pens.

There used to be things to say about road trips across America. Regional sodas. Billboards for miles exhorting us to See Rock City. Now, we drive thousands of forgettable stretches of highway, following the blue line on the navigation app of the thousand dollar Chinese-made mobile device, hooked up to the car with the special white cord that always frays in the same place, jammed mindlessly on cruise-control between enormous trucks full of toilet paper and game consoles, great long reaches of endless pavement interrupted by exits for towns still named for native tribes long ago chased off the land by whites, but today a couple of streets, some potholes, a few sad but familiar fast food chains, and a drab purveyor of fuel and plastic-wrapped snacks as unmemorable as any other town on the way.

My traveling companions need to visit the rest areas to do their business, and we gain efficiency at every stop. Sometimes other people at the rest areas want to tell me things (my shirt matches my dogs), or ask me things (are they hunting dogs? is he a stud dog?). I walk them one at a time to control the chaos. But I wish I had found time to practice walking them together more, and I wish Fellow wouldn’t try to pee on his own legs or on Eggi. I say things to them about it. You could aim that, I say. Remind me I need to scrub those legs, I say. No one wants you to go there. Ok, good job, thank you for that, let’s go.

They get good at jumping in and out of the back of the big Ford, at waiting to pee until I encourage them to, at pooping every day at around 11 a.m.

The gas in Ohio is a dollar cheaper per gallon than everywhere else.

The dogs are good in the hotels and I didn’t do such a bad job of picking places the first two nights.

On the second day we arrive early enough to look for a park in Beloit, Wisconsin and actually go for a walk. The dogs are wild and hard to keep up with.

Anyplace I wear a mask, I am the only person in a mask. I am relieved to find that people are less likely to talk to me if I am wearing it.

The first day of showing will be agility. I have each dog signed up for three classes, two which count towards their point totals in the Iron Dog, novice standard and novice jumpers with weave (poles), and a third, which is called FAST, an acronym that means something like Fifteen and Send, where you do obstacles for points and have to send to a required element. The FAST event will be held first, and I intend to use it to familiarize the dogs with the venue and the equipment.

Fellow and I went to the Vizsla National Specialty last year, and he and I took an agility class at a big, new, unfamiliar place with strange (endlessly barking) dogs, a different instructor, and regulation mats and equipment for a few weeks in preparation. So, I am pretty confident he will get around the courses ok. He is game. Eggi is a year older, but is more sensitive, and has not had the experience of classes outside the supportive, familiar backyard place where we have been going since she was a puppy. I wanted to take her to the same class as Fellow, but I hadn’t been able to get it organized.

But, anyway, I make it all the way to Minnesota, and it’s still cold and windy at the end of April, and I marvel that I’ve signed myself up for this, and come all this way by myself.

Four Legs

Because of the Covid pandemic (which continues unabated), last year’s Vizsla National was postponed from April to October, so while it was held only a few months ago, it’s already time for this year’s, in Minnesota. And I hear it’s way out west next year, so I’ve been pretending oh, sure I’ll go again this time. Why not? I don’t have anything better going on. Who does?

Besides, Eggi and Fellow and I have been working pretty hard at obedience and agility, going to twice-weekly classes with our trainer who teaches in her backyard when the weather allows and in a classroom above her garage when it doesn’t.  My dogs love the classes, indoors or out, and whether I wear a mask or don’t, they’re used to both by now.

I thought it would be good to do some practice shows locally to get ready for our big trip. I did a couple of conformation days handling my own dogs in the breed ring, and while they know what to do, I understand it like a child playing dress-up, wobbling around in high heels and a party dress that doesn’t fit, miming doing cheers with an imaginary glass of champagne. Eggi was so surprised I was in the breed ring with her she watched the handler next to me. Fellow had the grumpiest judge I’ve ever seen, and I strangely enjoyed watching her find fault with him. No ribbons. Who cares?  They’re both grand champions, and I’m not chasing more breed titles with them.

Now, in the obedience ring, this is where we might stand out. Novice obedience is easy for Eggi, so I felt Eggi and my trips around the ring would be confidence boosters; she and I already have a beginner novice title that we completed last summer in Vermont.  Fellow is younger, less experienced, goofier, and easily excited, so I was hoping I would be able to use my time with Eggi in the ring reinforcing the calm, positive efficient way I need to work with Fellow. I signed up for the two dogs to do two different classes each of the days, Saturday and Sunday, one of obedience and one of rally. I had four numbers to manage between the two dogs, three judges, and three rings over two days. It was for practice. 

We arrived early as one must. The drive had been unremarkable. I had brought a pair of travel crates and a chair which I took inside and set up. I also had to check on and change the classes I entered with Eggi, so I had to find the superintendent to do that first thing. There are A sections and B sections for novice levels; A is for the Novice handlers with no previous titles and B is for Novice handlers with any previous titles but if you read the rules carefully you might come to the conclusion (as I had) that being a beginner and working on your first titles might be reason to put you in the A group, but any title at all puts you in the B group. Anyway, I managed to get myself switched into the correct class, by trying to be polite and apologetic, or maybe they’re used to nitwits like me, begging for mercy. In any event, by doing so, Eggi and I would show in the B group, and we would have to be last to go. 

Walking into the Better Living Center at the Big E, I could tell something was wrong. Like, if you showed up at a high school party, the music was loud and unfamiliar, and you could smell something burning, a couple of kids looked like they were already puking, and all before you even made it inside. The Better Living Center was crowded (13 rings), and it was loud. And it wasn’t fun and happy loud; it was tense loud. Eggi stopped to smell every pillar like it had just been peed on. Fellow turned to me and just barked in my face.

It was too crowded. It was too loud loud. There was a puddle of pee by the obedience and rally rings that I watched dry slowly over two days, turning from a wet puddle to a sheet of thin, faintly yellow crystallized urine. No one came and cleaned it up. The first dog to go in Eggi’s novice obedience class stepped 15 feet into the ring, stopped, squatted, and took a dump. His handler picked it up, the ring steward rushed over and dabbed at the spot with a couple of squirts of hand sanitizer (yes, hand sanitizer), and the judge moved the cones for the figure 8 away from the place where it had happened. This pair was disqualified for pooping in the ring. 

When Eggi and I entered the ring, the judge commented that mine was the third vizsla in the class. I replied that one of them was Eggi’s grandmother. The judge may or may not have said anything else. In retrospect, I think she may have tried to say something nice to set me at ease, which was hard to do, and became increasingly more difficult as we moved through the ring, because from that moment onward I’m pretty sure I misunderstood most of what she said, at least at first.

Eggi had her good moments, and a few, unexpected moments of sightseeing. Her automatic sit while heeling was absent. She came when called but finished herself and never presented herself in front of me. It was a bit like showing a dog that already had a novice title but I did not know how to handle. Nevertheless, we got a qualifying score, and were called back for the group long sit and down.

And that might have gone ok had the judge not lined us up so that one dog had to sit in the spot where the disqualified dog had pooped earlier. And of course, one dog was instructed to sit there, and it was mine. The sitting actually went ok. But for the down stay, which lasts a minute, Eggi started by hinted to me that there might be a problem when she lay down diagonally away from me rather than straight. And after about 35 seconds I could see that she was thinking about doing something with one hip. Was she going to roll onto one side? That would be ok. But, no. At 45 seconds she popped up into a beautiful square sit, with a satisfied smirk on her face. She surveyed the other, obedient dogs, all good, lying down dogs for the full minute, Eggi clearly thinking, “All y’all are doing down stay on the dog dooky floor mat like a bunch dog dooky chumps.”

So we were disqualified. With 15 seconds to go. No score. No qualifying leg towards her title. Not the confidence booster I was sure it would be.

Fellow’s turn was pretty typical for him. He was boisterous, bumping into me on the heel work and popping up whenever I returned to him, costing us a qualifying score as well. 

Then we took a couple trips around the rally ring, which is the miniature golf of obedience. It was reasonably fun, as I believe it is intended to be. You go in the ring and follow the signs. Both dogs had qualifying legs.   And then we went home, ran around the yard and ate ramen

The next day, all the obedience judges traded places. Fellow’s ring worked very efficiently that morning, so I showed him first. He kept himself together better, and bumped into me less. The judge told me twice how beautiful he was and asked about his breeding. He had a qualifying score, and that was his second beginner novice leg so when he shows at the Vizsla National he could possibly finish his title.

Eggi and I had practiced everything she’d had trouble with the day before, so I went in feeling confident it would go ok. Alas, the sightseeing during off-leash heeling was even worse on Sunday. The overall noise level was less, but a work crew arrived during our turn and started dismantling the ring next to us. When I left Eggi to do the recall (where the dog sits and stays and the handler crosses to the other side of the ring and calls the dog on the signal of the judge), there was a tremendous crashing noise behind her. Eggi did not get up, but she did turn her head to look, and she did not turn back to look at me. The judge signaled. I was in a situation I had never practiced: my dog was not even looking at me. Normally, I say, “come!” brightly and clearly. Some people say their dog’s name and then “come.” I decided, given that she was looking out of the ring, that I would say, “Eggi! Come!” as loudly (and brightly and clearly) as I could manage. So I did.

Slowly, she turned her head towards me. She sat, still stuck to the spot where I had told her to stay. She had stayed through a loud crashing noise. She had been extremely good, hadn’t she. Had I just said her name? What were we doing? Still she sat. 

I called again: “Come.”

She came. But we did not have a qualifying score. Again.

Did I sit in my chair and cry while I watched the work crew who ruined my obedience competition roll up the mats and take the ring away? Yes.

Wasn’t this supposed to be practice? Wasn’t Eggi actually very good, under very hard circumstances? Isn’t this just a dog show? Yes, yes, and yes.

Did I go and learn the miniature golf rally course and stick around and do that with both dogs? Also, yes.

Fellow was first of my two goes in rally. I like to get those rally courses over with, so we marched through it very efficiently, and on our way out the judge said Thank you, which is kind of weird because usually they tell you if you qualified or not. But I thought we nailed it. Whatever. It’s only practice.

So I put Fellow in his box and grabbed Eggi out of hers and got her walking around warming up and I saw someone getting ready to go in the ring ahead of us who was practicing a specific sign, the 5th one, which was down your dog, walk around them, and proceed, and I’m thinking….wait….I didn’t dooooo that

But what did I just do? because I did the whole thing so fast I didn’t even remember… 

I grabbed my map just to make sure, and oh boy, howdy, I just skipped it? Or made something up? Or had him sit instead of down? I still don’t know.

Anyway, Eggi did do that sign correctly, but Fellow never did. So Eggi had a qualifying rally leg that day, but Fellow didn’t. Which means that she, too, could perhaps finish a novice rally title at the Vizsla National. 

But the goal of going is to enjoy it. We leave in the morning.

Participant

October 14, 2021: We go on a long car ride to Virginia where I get to stay in a hotel. Maggie says it is the Vizsla National Specialty Show. Elevators are mysterious, but new toilet water is always worth trying.

October 15, 2021: Agility today. I get measured, officially. I am 22 3/4” so I will get to jump in the 24” novice division. I get loose during my warmup so I can say hi to some new vizslas. When it is our turn to go, Maggie is too slow after fence two and doesn’t tell me about the tunnel, and mis-cues me so I jump the fence before the weave poles backwards, and she needs two tries to get me into the weave poles the right way. Then I don’t want to hold still on the pause table. I run past the A-frame which is huge so I have to come back and climb it from a stand-still instead of running up. Everyone gasps. The teeter lands with a boom and I spring for the last fence. 60 faults, 75 seconds, no qualifying score, no ribbon. I win a fancy towel. Had a great time.

October 16, 2021: New hotel. Hundreds of vizslas here. Obedience and Rally today. Maggie seems tense. I try to be my best good boy. I have some trouble doing a sit in the right spot, but we have qualifying scores in both beginner novice obedience and novice rally, so we even get some ribbons. Had a great time. Watch several hours of HGTV in the hotel room because Maggie won’t let me watch anything with shouting or shooting.

October 17, 2021: Went for a long walk on the eerily empty college campus next to the hotel. Had a great time. Spent several hours selling raffle tickets, which made me whiny. My mother Lucy won best veteran in the sweepstakes class. We ran into Eli and his owner in the dark when I was supposed to pee. I felt like he smelled familiar and Maggie said he is the father of Eggi’s puppy. 

October 18, 2021: Another day selling raffle tickets. Also watching home remodeling shows on TV. Saw some ducks. Had a great time.

October 19, 2021: Got a bath. Went in the show ring with a handler I didn’t know. Got to show with my mother and sister. She got second place for brood bitch. The wait for getting our picture taken was long. Still, had a great time.

October 20, 2021: Today we competed for the breed. We had to line up in catalog order, which Maggie said was numerical order even though the steward corrected her and said it was catalog order. There was such a long line of vizslas that it actually did go on forever. We go in the ring, they check our numbers and we go out again. Then we wait. I go in the ring with the new handler from yesterday and make the first cut. Then there is more waiting. I go in again with a different new handler and make the second cut. Then we wait some more. I go in for the third cut, and do not make it. Don’t care. Had a great time.

Maggie let me go to bed early. She went back to the show and watched Eli win the whole thing, even though he is 12 1/2. She says Eli looked like he was in it to win it. My sister Lolli went best of opposite, which is pretty impressive for being my boring sister. 

They pin the Iron Dog competitors, who did two agility courses, rally, obedience and conformation and had their scores totaled. Maggie did not enter me in two agility classes, only one, so I have a zero in one column and I come in second to last. But I get a participant ribbon.

October 21, 2021: Today is the last day. There is a different judge, and more new handlers and I get cut in the second round. Maggie comes and gets me, thanks the handler and takes me straight outside to pee, and then we go to the car to drive home. I am so very happy to get into the car and I am so tired I sleep on top of the crate pad and not under the crate pad like I sometimes do.

Titled Deed

So, like, back in June when I didn’t know when Eggi was coming into season or anything, I figured that if we were waiting to see if she was pregnant in July, we might enjoy the distraction of a dog show. The thing is, I’ve been doing obedience classes with Eggi once a week since she finished puppy kindergarten, so we were as ready as we were going to ever be. When the entries opened for the Vermont Scenic Circuit, I entered her in the first level of obedience, beginner novice. 

Also who can pass up an excuse to go to Vermont? Not me.

Obedience used to be a popular event to compete in, but there are a lot of different things to do with your dog now (like Rally, Agility, Nose Work, Barn Hunt,  and Dock Diving, just to name a few). 

The dog shows in Tunbridge, Vermont are held in mid-July, and a popular event for the professional handlers, who all camp on the show grounds in their RVs.

There aren’t any hotels nearby, so I went with a dog-friendly Air BnB that was about 25 miles away. 

The drive to Vermont was uneventful, and I would like to nominate the rest stop on I-91 just as you cross into Vermont as the Prettiest Rest Stop on the East Coast.

It was not quite dark when I arrived, and thought I’d eat at a promising restaurant recommended by the Air BnB owner, but my timing was poor and I pulled up just in time to see the last spot appropriate for a large vehicle taken by a car with a bunch of kayaks on a trailer. So I went back to the Air BnB and ate sandwiches and went to bed early.

Thursday we woke up early, ate a quick breakfast, and hit the road. I knew there was no mobile coverage between where we were staying and the dog show, so I had to pick my route and stick with it. The fairgrounds in Tunbridge don’t really seem to have an address; I used the town as my destination and was counting on the dog show judging program for more details; it said that RVs needed to follow the signs due to a low overpass. The navigon offered three routes, and I gave little thought to which I picked, other than it was supposed to be the fastest.

As soon as we turned onto Route 113, I regretted it. There was construction for the next 15 miles, with flaggers, many large construction vehicles, and long stretches of road where they are repaving and have taken the surface down to corrugated pavement or dirt. 

We stopped many times.  I wasn’t in a hurry . We made it eventually.

Once at the dog show, I could see the big breed show tent and row upon row of RVs, but I had no idea where my handler was parked. There is a Parking Authority Person who decides where you park if you’re in an RV, and I guessed she’d know where my handler was, but she was nowhere to be seen. So I drove past her station hoping I’d get lucky on my own. After discovering several dead ends, I threaded my back and waited for the Parking Authority Person. She knew just where my handler was, and as it turned out there was enough room for me to park the White Whale and even stay out of everyone’s way.

Thursday was hot. Fellow’s entry got messed up and so when someone went to his ring to get his number there was no number for him. Annoying. As a result, Fellow did not show and had a very boring weekend.

Eggi and I walked to the obedience ring and watched for a while and got our number. I counted entries and tried to estimate when we would be going. We were the second to last entry in the very last class in the obedience ring, and the judge was methodical. We talked dogs with various people, hung out, walked around, and eventually had our turn. I stopped and talked to the guys setting up the beer garden. They offered me a beer; I said I would wait until after I competed. They took our picture. I promised I’d come back when we were done.

Finally, it was our turn. I was nervous, and Eggi was inquisitive and excited. Every time the judge asked if we were ready, which is the judge’s cue for letting an exhibitor know that they are now about to be judged for the next element, Eggi jumped to her feet. She was ready. Really ready.

So we did not start from sitting in heel position on the heeling pattern, but by the time we halted at the end of the pattern, she sat promptly and looked eagerly at me and I knew that she knew what we were there to do.

We muddled through, with about 15 points of deductions, but ended with a score good enough to qualify for one leg towards our beginner novice obedience title. Not too bad for our first time in the obedience ring at a show, ever.

Celebratory Beer

For dinner we stayed and had hamburgers and brats with the neighbors. I left the dog show and drove back the exact way that I had come, because in the excitement of the long day I had forgotten to look for another route. In reverse, with all the contstruction paused until the next morning, it wasn’t so bad, maybe just a little rumbly for the extra length of dirt road.

Friday, I got up, made myself a sandwich for lunch, and fed the dogs in the car. I forced the navigon to take me a different way. It was easy to pick since there was obviously construction on the other two routes.

Of course, a few short miles into this route revealed construction, and once again the pavement ended and I drove a number of miles on a dirt road. But, there was a covered bridge, and several cute, tiny towns.

At the show, they had saved me a parking spot, and I parked. We had another hot, humid day, with a similar schedule and a lot of waiting to go in the ring. The judge was more efficient, and very kind. I was a bit discombobulated by being cued by someone who wasn’t my normal trainer, so I had to have a couple of do-overs, but Eggi was spot on and this time we won the class. Two legs done in two days.

Saturday, the hot, humid  weather finally broke and we had drizzle, the threat of rain, or rain all day. Bliss! As I told the guy at the smoothie truck, while he made my $6 Mocha Madness, with whipped cream, our water cycle is part of the miracle that sustains life on our planet. He wanted to know what kind of a vehicle a water cycle is. Earth science is cool, kids; you won’t catch me being unhappy about the rain.

Fellow at this point was terribly bored and neglected having spent most of the last three days sitting in his box. I took him for a walk across the fairgrounds to check the progress of my ring, and came to a blocked off road with a piece of yellow caution tape strung across it. As I stepped over I told him to jump it. Now, Fellow knows ‘jump.’ We do agility. He loves to jump. But right at this moment he was not thinking agility, and decided to go under the tape, and I had committed to stepping over, so I fell in the mud in front of a couple hundred dog show spectators. If any of them saw me, I bet they laughed.

At the start of each of the different obedience levels, the judge had a walk-through for competitors (without dogs). Most people parked their cars at that end of the fairgrounds, so they left their dog in a nearby crate and got their instructions from the judge. I handed Eggi’s leash to a different handy stranger each day, and she was relaxed and calm about it. There were many so called pandemic puppies at the show, looking overwhelmed and out of sorts about the change in routine, and all the people, all the dogs, and all the noise. Of course, the pandemic puppies will be fine, in the end, with patience and persistence, but had they the chance to see and do more as puppies, they wouldn’t need to spend so much time on it now, and could move on to more interesting challenges.

Our third time in the show ring, Eggi was flawless. She heeled consistently, sat crisply, and came when called. I made a handler error, telling her to stay one more time than necessary or allowed, and had a four point deduction. We won that class and so have a new title.

The drive home I did not even stop for gas. 

Still the Best Dog at Westminster

Two days before the show, I planned to give Fellow a mani/pedi. I usually do all three dogs’ nails once a week with a Dremel micro-tool. Captain went first. Now that he is old, he is very good about having his nails done. Also, he likes the treats. Having a lot of treats is how we get nails done. I recommend keeping your dog’s nails nice and short, sitting on the floor, and giving them lots of treats when you do it. Usually Fellow wants to be second, but this time he just stood there and looked at me, so I did Eggi next. She is very sensitive about her nails, and takes the longest on account of all the unnecessary flinching and wrestling. When Fellow saw the inexorability of the nail trimming, he sat in my lap of his own volition.

The afternoon before Fellow was to go to the Westminster Kennel Club Show, I gave him a bath. Now, he just had a bath for the show he went to last weekend, so he was a bit incredulous. I sat on the edge of the tub and put my feet in and he acquiesced. He will not sit in the tub, and he sometimes jumps out when you don’t expect it, but otherwise, he stands there pretty well.

After his bath, I rub him with a towel, and let him rub himself on the towels on the floor. If you skip this step, he will rub on the curtains, your legs, available chairs, and the walls. Then, I dressed him in his doggy bathrobe, and put him away to dry. I have heard from other vizsla owners that they don’t bother giving their dogs a bath before a show. I wonder how their dogs know they’re going to a show.

When it was time to deliver him to T, I took him straight to the car, still in his robe, and took it off once I got him in there. Eggi, being extremely food-motivated, was pretty easy to teach to jump into the car. For Fellow, who likes treats but thinks he might miss out on something if he’s in the car, a treat isn’t always enough to get him to jump in.

I met my handler at a Park N Ride just off the highway. Fellow went home with her and the plan was to meet up the next morning at the show. I went to bed early and dreamed I was on a ferry to Canada.

The next morning, I got up early knowing there might be a line to get through the gate. This year’s event was held at the Lyndhurst estate in Tarrytown, about 30 minutes from Bedhead Hills. There was a lot of staff checking us in; everyone had to submit test results or proof of vaccination in advance, fill out a Covid questionnaire on the day, and present exhibitors’ tickets. My car got a badge and I got two wrist bands (one for the Covid status and the other for being an exhibitor). I was directed to park in a grassy field. It went so smoothly I now know what it takes to make a safe and successful event in the pandemic times: lots of planning and lots of staff.

As I left my car, I looked around at the expanse of rolling, grassy hills and neat rows of parked cars and wondered how I’d know where I parked. It was a bright and beautiful day.

I parked left of the castle.

I headed towards the tents and began to wonder how I would find my handler T, but then I saw her on my way to the bathrooms.

I followed T back to where she had her van set up, and stood around awkwardly while people groomed dogs on tables with generators blasting away so nobody could really talk at all.

Then it was time to go to the ring.

American dog shows start with the singing of the national anthem. I could not see the singer, nor could I hear her, and I could not see the flag we should be facing. For a moment I thought about singing. I taught at a Catholic girls high school for a few years and if I learned anything from going to mass it was that it is improved by singing along. At the end, I may or may not have said, “Play ball.” I often do.

I stayed where Fellow couldn’t see me even though I always swore I wouldn’t be one of those people. There weren’t any spectators allowed at this year’s show, so everyone milling around or idly watching was an exhibitor; people were surprisingly amenable to my hiding behind them and peering into the ring.

If I was nervous watching him, it was out of love; for me, in my desire to see him do well, for my family, who know him, for my handler, who works with him and has gotten him to this point, for my breeder, for my friends (in real life and online), cheering for him, from homes all over the world. The pandemic has kept us apart, and for a few minutes on Sunday, we were all together, pulling for this sometimes goofy, always joyous dog, trotting around at an extremely competitive event, wagging almost every step of the way.

When he did not make the cut, it was ok because it was an honor just to qualify, but it wasn’t ok, because he’s such a good boy, and it should certainly be obvious to everyone. But it’s just a dog show, and there will be more of those. I greeted him outside the ring, and he was so happy to see me I let him jump up on me and knock off my sunglasses.

I stayed and watched the vizslas. In the end, I did not know any of the dogs that won the ribbons. I also watched Newfies, and pointers, and boxers, and Lakeland terriers, and cairn terriers, and Rottweilers. I caught up with my friends who are pointer breeders, and got to hear a happy story about a pointer that was placed as a service dog. She was thriving, and so was her teenaged owner, who was there at Westminster, capably showing the animal who had done so much for her. Of all their many decades of accomplishments breeding dogs, my friends are proudest of this.

The show felt so much like the pre-Covid days that for a few hours I forgot about it. It was such a relief to just be outside with dog people, doing dog stuff, on a nice day. When I’d had enough, I rose and turned and began walking out of the big tent. I passed an exhibitor, with an Airedale, about to go in the show ring. I looked at the dog and before I could stop myself, I gasped. It was as fine an Airedale as I had ever seen. I said as much. The exhibitor smiled gently and said he’d bred it in England. I told him that when I was a kid, an Airedale was my dream dog.

This is true. I don’t know how I even heard of the breed as a kid, since I didn’t know one.

Back at home, I found my cat and my most cat-like dog being cats in the living room, and I went to take a picture.

Fellow inserted himself into the peaceful scene. He never wants to miss out.

The Best Dog at Westminster

During the pandemic, many dog shows were cancelled, but show organizers, working with the AKC, quickly regrouped, figuring out what it would take to keep people safe. Soon, shows were rescheduled, sometimes moving to outdoor venues, but everywhere requiring masks, having more rings or bigger rings, limiting entries, omitting spectators, and adding the concept of show and go. So the dog shows resumed. In the capable hands of our professional show handler, T, Fellow was able to complete his grand championship in 2020, and even qualified to show at this year’s Westminster Kennel Club Show.

Some conformation show dogs stay with their handlers and live mostly on the road, touring from show to show. Our handler, T, typically comes home between shows, and lives near enough to us that we can send Fellow with her to a show about once a month. T takes excellent care of him, sends me pictures of him hanging out with his fancy show business dog friends, and tells us how he loves riding in a golf cart, and if he hears T up in the night in the hotel room, he thumps his tail happily in his kennel. Fellow thinks T is awesome. We agree.

Sometimes Fellow comes home from a show with no ribbons at all. He doesn’t care. When he gets home, there’s a lot of excited barking, some Eggi-chasing and Captain-wrestling: all normal goofball Vizsla stuff. Vizslas need to do quite a bit more than just lie around the house and go for an occasional romp in the yard. Our usual routine includes agility classes, once a week for Fellow. He is famous there for his occasionally extravagant leaps over the fences, for how he sometimes climbs backwards onto the pause table, and, yes, sorry, he still sometimes runs off course to say hello to the other dogs in the class because he is only 2 1/2, and a Fellow has priorities. Fellow thinks agility is awesome.

Fellow also goes to an obedience class once a week, and when he isn’t forging or lagging or bumping into me, we are making progress with heeling. He sits. He stays. He downs. He’s gotten the idea of fetching dumbbells, and needs to work on waiting to be sent. I have to remember to move across the ground faster with him than with Eggi. He’s a little less food-motivated than she is, too, so with him it’s more “good job!” and less cheese. Fellow thinks it’s awesome being told he’s a good boy.

Speaking of cheese, Fellow is happy to pose for pictures, and quite willing to balance things on his nose or head. He also likes to sit in a chair. Fellow thinks climbing on top of things is awesome.

Fellow was born in the car on the way to the veterinary hospital; he was the biggest and boldest in his litter and when we met him at three weeks he climbed over his siblings to get to my husband and demanded to be picked up. At the time, I was not sure that getting a second puppy just a year after getting Eggi was a good idea, but that didn’t stop me from visiting him several more times. We brought him home right after Xmas.

Fellow has been a lively addition to our household. He is ready for anything, at all times, and never, ever wants to miss out.

We feel very fortunate to have found our breeder, and Fellow, and to work with T, Fellow’s show handler. Qualifying for the Westminster Kennel Club Show this extraordinary year is a tremendous privilege.

Vizslas may not require much in the way of grooming to be ready for the show ring, but there are a lot of nice vizslas out there showing. A number of astute judges had to pick our Fellow out of the crowd of lovely, lively, Hungarian russet pointer-retrievers. Miles and miles of travel and hours of packing and unpacking dominate the lives of professional show handlers, punctuated by many, many trips around the ring with a dog on lead. Every dog showing at the prestigious Westminster Kennel Club Show got there because of effort, organization, perseverance, good luck and some real expense.

The show is being held outdoors, this weekend, without spectators. Owners and handlers in attendance have to be vaccinated or provide proof of a passing a recent covid-19 test. The venue this year happens to be a short drive from our home in Bedhead Hills. Vizslas are in the sporting group, and are showing Sunday at 9 a.m. in ring 3. There will be 36 vizslas competing for best in breed, and Fellow’s handler will be wearing armband number 21. Watching vizslas trot around the ring can be dizzying; all are pretty much the same shade of red-brown. If you can’t see armbands, you might look for the wagging tail. Fellow thinks showing is awesome.

Is it obvious that we think Fellow (GCH CH Suzu & Shannon’s Charming Fellow) is the best dog going to the Westminster Kennel Club Show this weekend? Of course we do. Is he going to win? He’s going to have a great time, trotting in a circle. I asked the Bacon Provider what his favorite thing is about his dog, and he said Fellow’s enthusiasm.

Little E at the Big Show

There are dog shows, and then there is the one that everyone has heard of, the one in that movie about dog shows, the big one in New York City: the Westminster Kennel Club Show. Eggi qualified her very first time in the show ring, by winning a major, and I didn’t know that when it happened, and really didn’t know what that meant. 

Eggi arrived at Westminster and was the only open class bitch in the vizslas. Her sisters both finished their championships about ten days before and would move up to compete for best of breed. Vizslas are in the sporting group, and their classes were Tuesday. 

733A2406-x-MaggieA snow storm was forecast to begin around 8 am that day, changing to freezing rain in time for the evening commute. We decided on Sunday to book a room for two nights at one of the hotels served by the dog show shuttle. Monday afternoon I drove up and picked up my friend S and her bitch, Vivva, who is Eggi’s sister. At the hotel the sisters rode the elevator, used the artificial turf potty balcony on the 12th floor, and chased each other around the room.

Our show day started early. We caught the second shuttle which left from the front of the other dog show hotel, the Pennsylvania, which I had been warned to avoid.

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Eggi shivered most of the ride. At the show I took her to the exercise pens to pee several times but she wouldn’t even smell the situation. She stayed in her kennel until it was time for vizslas.

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S had hired a professional handler to show her bitch, but did not want to sit in the front row of spectators lest her dogs spot her.

733A2401-x-MaggieA woman in the front row turned and said to no one in particular, “I don’t know why anyone would bring a class dog to Westminster!”

Eggi had no competition for the open bitches, so all she had to do was beat the open dog to take the best of winners ribbon (and the point). I’ve watched Eggi do enough showing to witness the losing. We’ve lost to dogs with pointy little heads, and bitches that misbehaved. The class dog was scrawny and small, with a shrimpy pelvis and a pointy little head.  Did that guy even feed his dog? I got that surge of adrenaline that you get when you really really must not lose. 

733A2395-x-MaggieAnd then, it was over.

Eggi got her winners bitch rosette and took best of winners. Her sister V got an award of merit.

I watched pointers and akitas and a little of the Nova Scotian Duck Tolling Retrievers after that. The thing is that what the put on TV (the groups and then best in show) skips over the bulk of a dog show, which is what happens in the breeds. Every dog you see representing their breed has beaten a bunch of other, winning dogs and bitches to get there. This is the real meat of any dog show sandwich. If all you ever see is the best of breeds and the best in show, that’s just the pickle and toothpick; you’ve missed out on the unique pleasure of a dozen of the same breed of dog, prancing or lumbering around in a big circle, being halted and stacked, having their bites examined, and the judge making their choices with the pointing of a finger or hand. It’s all over in an instant if you don’t pay careful attention. 

More Losing

So when Eggi won a major, she qualified for the Westminster Kennel Club Show, and about 10 days before it we had planned to do one last weekend at the Big E. I drove the truck because the Bacon Provider had taken my car to Vermont for a meeting. Eggi and I set off after dinner on Friday night, and it was a cold, dark drive, but the pickup seemed fine. In the morning we had an early start, since were first in the ring at 8 am. I started the truck early to let it run and warm up,. It was only 2F. I loaded Eggi, checked out of the hotel, and hit the road.

We’d gone about a mile when the engine died. With no engine the behemoth had lost its power steering, so I had to throw everything I had into the steer to pull over into a parking lot . I had no trouble restarting, and assumed the problem was the extreme cold. Or, like, it was an alternator thing. I still had time to make it to the show, and it was only about 15 minutes away. I let the truck run about 15 more minutes and hit the road again.

The engine died again.

I wrestled it into another parking lot (this time it was a veterinary practice that wasn’t open yet).

It was clear I was not driving even the few miles from  here to the show. I texted all the interested parties (my husband, the breeder, my handler). No one could make it to me in time to get us there. The Bacon Provider suggested I get an Uber. I sent him a photo of the corn field I was looking at.

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My handler suggested I call AAA.

AAA said they’d have a tow truck to me within the hour. Not in time to get us to the show, but I didn’t have another option. I texted my son and his GF and they said they’d come get us.

An hour passed. The truck was running, with warning lights about the battery not charging. I felt like I was right about it being the alternator. We were warm enough, and out of the way of traffic. The veterinary practice opened. Techs arrived, followed by patients and pets. No one asked if we needed help.

I checked with AAA. The time of arrival had changed. Another hour passed.

I heard from the breeder. Eggi’ sister Vivva had won enough points to finish her championship that day. My kids texted that they were an hour away.

Towards the end of the third hour, the truck started to get cold. It was still running but the fans weren’t blowing. The temperature outside had risen to the mid-20s. The gauges on the dash were no longer lit. I got Eggi out and walked her around. The tow truck finally arrived. 

We climbed into the cab. Eggi sat on my lap. The shop was a six minute drive from the spot where we waited. The Graduate and his GF arrived to pick us up while I was giving the shop my contact info.

 

The next day I took Eggi back to the show, where she took second in her class. Her other sister finished her championship that day. 

 

One of my new friends, a very successful breeder of pointers, told me that even with a really great dog you lose more than you win. 

On Monday we went back to pick up the now-repaired truck. The shop said it was a frayed serpentine belt.