I had a great (and stress-free!) time in Springfield this past weekend. I had no dogs entered, and I had only Magnum with me to introduce him to the indoor show environment. There was a good-sized entry there, and some dogs whom I hadn't seen before, as well as lots of friends and acquaintances. I even got to have the Best of Breed ribbon handed to me, though it had nothing to do with me personally -- Karen's Lexi went WB, and she was showing Brady as a Special, so I took Lexi back in for BoB. Despite her behaving atrociously for me and me not really trying to make her look good in an attempt to have WD goes BoW for the cross-over points, Lexi took Best of Breed anyhow. I guess the judge just really knew what she wanted. Oops.
Also over the weekend, I had a totally unexpected and amazing offer from someone to take Elli this fall to show and hopefully finish, since I've been unsuccessful thus far in putting any points on her. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that Elli would have a much better chance of finishing this way, as the offer came from a successful long-time handler and Cardi breeder.
All of which got me thinking about the short game versus the long game, the big picture versus the little picture, and why exactly I'm in this sport/hobby.
When I first started out showing Ian, I was a nervous wreck, emphasis on wreck. So after showing him a couple of times, I asked someone to handle him at a set of shows for me, and I learned something about myself that weekend: I didn't want to be a spectator to my own dog. As it turned out, we didn't take any points home that weekend, but I did take away a renewed commitment to show Ian myself and to try and finish my own dog. Though we haven't gotten those elusive last two points, and may not if I do indeed retire him at this time, I'm proud that I've come as far as I have in learning to handle, and that I've done it myself through trial and error, and by learning from some of the best and most generous peers and competitors in the Cardi world that one can hope for.
But now, there's Elli. While I didn't take Ian with the express purpose of having a show dog, I DID purchase Elli to be a show dog and a foundation bitch. There are a lot of things I like about her as a breedable bitch: she has a nice rear and croup, nice topline, a flat coat with no curl in it, a sound stance, a pretty profile, a whip-smart brain, and TONS of drive. She is also out of a bitch who produced well, was ridiculously fertile, and who whelped three big litters (11, 9 and 9 respectively) without complication, traits that I fervently hope she has passed on to her daughter. When I watch Elli run around the yard freely, doing regular doggy things, I am astonished by her agility, her ability to pour on tremendous speed and yet turn on a dime. When she stops and alerts on something, she freestacks herself beautifully, showing that her structure is sound and it is comfortable for her to use herself that way.
Elli has some strikes against her in the show ring, however. Though she is perfectly within standard at 27 pounds, when I look around the Open Bitch ring she is invariably the smallest girl in there. She is not at all flashy; she is small and black with a narrow white blaze and no white collar on her show side. She's a little longer on leg than is ideal, which gives her that light, free, agile movement, but which doesn't give her that perfect low, low Cardigan silhouette. Her shoulder is straighter than I would like, and her front movement looks a little choppy because of it.
What is interesting to me is that there have been only three judges whom I felt have really looked at Elli, while the others glanced at her in the line-up and didn't pay her much attention otherwise beyond the obligatory (and often cursory) table exam. One of those three judges saw her in a puppy class, and did not award her Winners but did tell me that she felt she would be nice when she matured, and that she would KILL for Elli's attitude. The second judge was our Nationals judge, who looked at Elli quite often in the ring and who awarded her second in her class at the National. The third was a judge up here in Maine just recently, who was very thorough with all of the entries she saw that day, who actually had me move Elli down and back again when she came back into the ring to compete for Reserve, and who DID award her the Reserve ribbon.
All of that has been a little frustrating. I recognize Elli's faults, but I also see her virtues, and I don't feel like most judges look to find them when they have bigger, typier bitches in the ring with her. In addition to her own faults and lack of flashiness, she has ME in the ring with her, and who am I in the dog show world? No one, that's who.
So, also frustrating is the acknowledgement that having the afore-mentioned, long-time handler and Cardi breeder show Elli WILL get her looked at. I mean, the judges aren't supposed to be looking at that end of the leash, right?
But, we all know they do. And that's where the big picture/little picture, short game/long game consideration comes in. If my only goal were to see my dog friends on weekends and go into the ring to participate and be a part of something, no matter win or lose, then it would be fine to keep showing Elli myself. However, my goal IS to breed sound, drivey, and typey Cardigans with good temperament, and to do that I want to have access to the kind of stud dogs who will improve on those areas where Elli needs improvement and who will allow me to better my stock as I move forward. To do that, the opportunity for a championship and to have Elli seen by more people is a golden one, and one that I should definitely take.
That's the big picture. That's the long game. It means that Elli will leave my house for what may be several months, months during which her agility training will take a back burner and she won't be in my home, on my bed, woo-wooing at me in the morning and making me laugh every day. But it also means that she may come home with the CH in front of her name, and she may get to date a star quarterback rather than a second-string wide receiver. Will it be worth it?
I sure hope so.
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