It Isn’t as Easy As It Looks— Our Introduction to Conformation
By David A. Golden
The whole conformation thing did not start well. It wasn’t the confusing entry form--so many little boxes to fill in. It wasn’t deciphering the arcane lingo and process--OK, Avi’s in the 6-9 month puppy class, but what’s a “winners”? And who is this “Major” person? It wasn’t even figuring out how to get the number to stay on your arm—use two rubber bands. It was the fact that Avi was literally spinning at the end of the lead. In the ring. With the judge watching. It wasn’t really his fault. Cynthia and I had no idea what we were doing.
Avi is our fourth Canaan Dog, so we have some experience with the breed. For almost 20 years we’ve been fascinated by these intelligent, versatile, caring and sometimes stubborn dogs. They’re living history—Canaans have populated the Middle East for over 4000 years. But we had never shown in conformation before, nor did we ever intend to do so. That changed, however, when the breeder told us that the little puppy we had our hearts set on was “show quality.” I still have no idea how she could tell that of a six-week-old white and black ball of fur, but we respected her judgment, honed by decades of experience, and agreed to show him. After all, how hard could it be?
We had religiously watched the AKC/Eukanuba Championship and Westminster on TV every year. So it looked like all you had to do was get a pretty dog, a not-too-outrageous outfit, and run around a ring for a couple of minutes. Avi was now teaching us how wrong we were. We should have known better. Why would anyone expect a puppy to stand still while some stranger petted him? That’s an invitation to play! So after we all got home and calmed down, we came up with a better plan.
The first thing we needed was a mentor. We were in luck, because we had the perfect person—our friend Annette, who had bred our first two Canaans, and with whom we co-owned our third, Salina. We had watched from afar as Annette had shown and finished Salina herself, so we knew where to go for advice. But Annette offered us much more than just advice. She started working directly with us, teaching Avi how to stack properly and us how to help him without fumbling around. And even though she was showing her own puppy, Annette kindly offered to handle Avi until we were comfortable enough to do so ourselves.
We also signed up for a handling class at a friend’s local dog training club. The first time we went Cynthia handled Avi, and the instructor wisely said, “Nice puppy. Let’s make sure he’s having fun.” For practice I handled Salina, and the instructor growled, “That dog is good. She must be a champion. But you’re lousy.” Once again, he was correct. But we kept at it, we started improving, and we were all having fun.
Then it was time for Avi’s second show. We were so nervous we accepted Annette’s offer to handle him. She took him into the ring and he looked great. We were thrilled--no spinning! The next thing we knew, he had won his puppy class. Everything after that was a blur, with Canaans and handlers shuttling in and out of the ring, as the judge worked through the various classes. We tried to help, holding dogs going in and holding dogs coming out, but we still kept an eye on our puppy. After what seemed like an eternity it was all over, and to our amazement the judge was pointing at Avi for best of breed. Wow. Five shows later, after I’d taken over his lead, Avi earned his championship. And we earned an appreciation of how complex yet satisfying it can be to show your dog in conformation.