When the Dog Show Bug Bites

Through the years many people have asked me how I got started in the world of showing and breeding dogs. I tell them I got started the way most people do – there was one dog in my life that set things in motion.

That One Dog Introducing You To Dog Showing

That dog of mine was Henry. He was a rescue Pekingese, taken at the age of 6 months from a pet store that was closing. He was big and ugly, not a show dog at all. The store manager fell in love with him and nursed him through his bout of kennel cough, which is why he was never sold as a cute, cuddly eight-week-old puppy. Older and now gangly, no one wanted him; the manager’s current divorce situation didn’t allow for another dog. This meant only one thing – he’d be sent back to his puppy mill breeder and probably euthanized.

Our paths crossed one day in June 1992, when I stopped in at the pet store to find a book on dog training, because my five- year-old (pet) Pekingese, Muggs, just wasn’t behaving herself. Learning that I already had a Pekingese at home, the desperate manager thrust Henry into my arms. There was just something about this sweet, gawky dog that drew me on and that fateful day was one that changed my life.

Henry and Susan Speranza, the dog that gave her the dog show bug.
Henry and Susan Speranza, the dog that gave her the dog show bug.

Everything I have now, from my home in Vermont to my many Pekingese champions and all the experiences and friends I’ve made along the way, began with that one dog.

Dog And Handler Get Into It, Slowly…

I took Henry home and discovered that as quick a learner as Muggs was, he was just the opposite. Perhaps lack of early training and unpleasant pet store experiences interfered with him learning any basic obedience commands. My only choice was to take him to a class. This was a new experience for all of us.

While Muggs flourished and loved it, Henry hated the class, taking a special dislike to two golden retrievers. This class, with the emphasis on punishment not reward or motivation was clearly not for him, I inquired if there were any other more suitable classes. Someone directed me to a local club, Suffolk Obedience Training Club (on Long Island where I lived at the time.)

There I discovered the world of dog shows and obedience competition. I saw dogs off lead jumping over high boards, seizing dumbbells or gloves in their mouths and returning to their owners who had communicated with the dogs through only hand signals. That dogs and owners could work so well in synchrony, intrigued me.

Muggs took to obedience competition readily and by the time her career ended due to a back injury, she was one of the few Pekingese who had garnered a CD and one leg toward her CDX. I entered the obedience portion of all breed shows and while at the shows, I’d wander over to the breed rings. There for the first time I saw show Pekingese, these beautifully groomed little dogs waddling around the ring with handlers who also waddled. I knew then that this is what I wanted to do.

Ch. Castlerigg Hallelujah - stunning Pekingese girl
Ch. Castlerigg Hallelujah – stunning Pekingese girl

« AHA Moment! », When You Realise This Is What You Want To Do

I began talking to other exhibitors and they recommended that I learn about the breed standard. I found that most exhibitors were very willing to share information about their breeds. I went home and began researching the Pekingese, its history, the famous kennels, breeders, exhibitors and dogs on both sides of the Atlantic. Every chance I got, I attended dogs shows and sat at ringside observing the dogs, the judging and talking to the exhibitors. Soon I was able to zero in on what type of Pekingese I preferred.

While all of them were beautiful, I seemed to be drawn to the light blonds with black muzzles and fringes and expressive eyes. This look was prevalent in certain lines, so when I finally decided to buy my first show dog, I sought out breeders whose dogs went back to those lines.

Champion show pekingese
Castlerigg Pekingese was started in 1993 when our first show dog, Ch. Calico’s Merci Beaucoup, arrived at the age of 10 weeks.

Everyone advised me to begin with a male because I wasn’t sure that I wanted to get involved with breeding, and Pekingese males hold their coats better than females who are always coming into season. I found a small breeder who had one male left from a nice breeding. He was ten weeks old; her life circumstances didn’t permit her to continue with dog showing, so she was disbanding her kennel. She sold him to me for a pet price and asked if I would be willing to take a chance. She couldn’t guarantee that he was show quality. With only photos to see, I took the plunge. He turned out to in fact be show quality and he became my first champion, Ch. Calico’s Merci Beaucoup.

When I advise people on how to go about purchasing their first show Pekingese, I tell them to do what I did not: buy a dog who is older – 4 to 6 months is preferable because you can then see better how they are going to turn out.

Pekingese are very difficult to access as young puppies. Other breeds are not, so taking a chance on a 12 week old Great Dane is okay. This clearly depends on the breed. While photographs are great, meeting the puppy in person and getting your hands on not only the puppy but the parents and grandparents is the best way to evaluate the perspective show dog.

The Best Way To Start Showing Dogs

But what is most important for someone looking to get into the world of dog showing is to spend time researching the breed and talking to other breeders/exhibitors. The concept of mentoring is prevalent in the dog show world, for exhibitors understand that new people, especially young people are the future of our breeds. Without them, we just won’t continue. Seek out breeders whose dogs you like and ask them to mentor you.

Many people have come to their breeds the way I came to mine – they usually have that one pet dog that they love beyond all loving and that leads them to the breed of their choice. It inspires them with a genuine desire to improve the breed they have come to love so much and to show the world just how wonderful their dogs are.

And soon, before they are even aware of it, the dog show bug has bitten them.

Written by Susan Speranza, from Castlerigg Pekingese.

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