I get lots of letters from people asking about dog shows
and why they matter in the overall scheme of things.
Let's take a closer look at that question.
Dog shows, like most shows for purebred livestock, started
out as a chance for breeders to compare their kennels
and evaluate the progress of their breeding, nutritional
and training programs. We still have that chance today,
in an age when shows have been elevated into glamorous
events of national stature. Has just about everybody
who loves dogs seen the recent Westminster Kennel Club
show from Madison Square Garden in New York City? Of
course they have. Nobody who has ever been to Crufts
in England, the Salon du Cheval in Paris or the national
Arabian horse show in Scottsdale can walk away without
being impressed by how far the world of purebred animals
has come. So, how does that fit with other kinds of
dog training, you ask? Other disciplines like Obedience,
Agility, Lure Coursing or Racing?
A recent conversation with Greyhound breeder/trainer
(and former Quarter Horse jockey) Kevin Gresham, from
his farm in Kansas brought an answer to that and it
goes something like this: "Years ago," he
says, "Back when I was ridin', you'd have horses
that did all kinds of crazy stuff. Some of them horses
could really get to carryin' on and a guy could get
hurt. Well, there was this one trainer who did a lot
of winning. And I mean a lot. I always liked ridin'
his horses 'cause they would just, you know, be real
calm and keep their mind on business. Well, what this
guy said was, the best racehorses are the ones who are
trained the most."
Now, that's a very interesting statement
and a rather broad one. But, Kevin has a broad base
of experience. Besides having a few show dogs, he raises
and trains some of the most expensive, successful Greyhounds
in the sport. Kevin Gresham counts among his clients
some of the most well known owners in the game and he
knows what he's talking about.
Hearing that statement is one thing. But,
understanding it and putting it into practice is a whole
different matter. What it boils down to is this: the
dog with more experience is less likely to be surprised,
distracted or worried about anything that happens. What
Kevin is talking about is cross-training. And that can
be the difference that makes a champion.
Some of the most successful people in other
disciplines have come from the show world. What secrets
do they know? To find that out, you'd have to ask the
many Arabian horse trainers succeeding on the track.
From there, you'd have to ask people like Neal and Ginny
Ehrhart of Keystone Driving Force, who show horses and
are also among the top winners in Harness racing. After
Neal and Ginny, you'd have to go on and ask people like
Jack and Mary Butler, who were busy showing Siberian
Huskies in New England about fifteen or so years ago
and today own one of the most respected Greyhound kennels
in the world. Or ask Jan Troxell who to this day still
raises and shows German Shepherds from her Greyhound
racing farm in Oklahoma. The list goes on. Maybe what
these successful breeders and trainers discovered is
that all training disciplines - no matter how different
from each other they may seem to be - go hand in hand.
Maybe they see the world of champions from a wider scope
and in a brighter light than their competitors do. Maybe
it gives them an advantage.
We are in the show world because we believe
in our dogs becoming the best they can be. Whether we
are fans, owners or somewhere in between, all of us
play a role in the making of champions and champions
can be found in many different arenas. Racehorses have
proven themselves in dressage, driving, hunter/jumper
classes, western pleasure and halter. Obedience and
Herding winners have become conformation champions and
retired racing Greyhounds have gone on to win ribbons
in the show ring as well.
In the dog sports of our choice, we see
time-honored rituals that touch a chord in all of us.
We see dogs from across the country competing to prove
which is smartest, which is fastest, which more beautiful.
We see kennels competing against each other like Esmeralda
and Blanche do in my dog show novel "The Blue Ribbon"
to prove which kennel is the best, which trainer the
wisest and which owner the most savvy.
In a society growing ever more soft, where
schools and companies and towns seem to be falling into
a political correctness that makes our lives more boring
at every turn, we in dog sports have something to look
forward to. We live our dreams every day. We see their
promise played out with every sporting event we attend
- the promise that if you look straight ahead and give
your all, you will get from where you are right now
to where you want to be. You will cross the finish line,
fast or slow. Dog sports are about the individual, not
about hiding behind a team that you're part of, but
about you, alone, against all odds. They don't teach
you that kind of self-confidence in high school, but
the dog world does. When you are a winner in the dog
world, you will always know on some level - no matter
how long you live or what you do - that you "made
There, for all to see, you stood before
the crowd. You reached the winner's circle and somewhere
in the archives of your Breed, the world will always