Gone to the dogs

June 2023

There’s a lot more to dog showing than meets the eye.

For those who want to see their dog prancing in the show ring, preparation begins almost as soon as a purebred puppy is born and the big questions are posed: Will this dog be worthy of competing in a show? How well does he or she compare to the written standard of the breed? When it’s determined the dog can compete, the hours of training begin.

The dog must look his or her best, from the inside out. This means not only a luxurious and healthy coat but a well muscled dog who is fit and trim, and well behaved. An exercise routine is established and followed, a training routine set and adhered to, as well as a strict diet of only the highest quality dog food.

When the show day approaches, there’s bathing and grooming and practice and more grooming and more practice and … which makes one wonder, why does a dog owner do all this for a simple blue ribbon?

For Grace Pella, dog breeder, trainer, handler, and zone finals champion, the answer is quite simple. It’s not the ribbons, or the recognition, it’s the simple fact that she loves her dogs.

“Show dogs are spoiled dogs,” Grace laughs. “Their owners spend lots of time with them, care for them … love them. It’s a wonderful friendship.”

Grace was drawn into dog showing at the tender young age of five when her nana brought her to her first dog show. The parade of dogs with their handlers, looking so fine and dapper, was spell binding.

It wasn’t until she was seven, when her family got their Shetland sheepdog, Kobe, that Grace began to participate in shows.

“I’ve been in love with the sport ever since,” she says.

A couple years later, when her family got Lucy, a Dalmatian puppy, the show ring experience took off. “Lucy and I grew up in the show ring together. She taught me more than any other dog I have ever shown,” Grace admits.

Grace also admits that learning how shows work was very confusing at first. Dog shows are meant to find the best dog in the breed in order to improve the breeders breeding stock. However, learning when a dog and handler should go into the ring and when they need to be at the show takes time and practice. For Grace, it took a while to fully understand why some dogs would go back into the ring and why others wouldn’t, as well as the point system that deems a dog a champion. 

In the dog show world, there are two types of shows, the all-breed and specialities. All breed dog shows are for purebred registered dogs. Dogs are split into seven groups including sporting, hounds, working, terrier, toy, non-sporting, and herding. Each dog competes within its designated group to be the best and represent that breed in the group. In the group competition, the judge will pick four of the best dogs that are the closest to the breed standard. The first-place dog will compete in Best in Show representing that group, with seven dogs competing altogether. Specialty shows are similar but they compete for prizes within that specific breed. Therefore, in a Dalmatian Speciality, best of breed would be like best in show. 

Grace believes that travel is the most exciting part about dog shows. She’s had the privilege of travelling in the United States with close friends and professional dog handlers, Dave and Sandy Slattum. She brought her dog, Price, who won both specialities and shows, a very impressive feat, and won the speciality as an adult the following year. He was the first dog Grace bred to win a best in show. She’s also travelled to Florida, Colorado, Newfoundland and PEI.

The work has paid off.

Grace has won the Zone finals twice in 2015 and 2017 and represented Thunder Bay in the Junior National Competition. She’s also won five Best in Shows, including one with her dog, Price. The greatest honour, however, was in 2016 when she won the American Junior Handling Nationals. “I think that was the greatest thrill. Ever,” she adds with a grin.

And the dogs enjoy the experience too. “My dogs LOVE the show ring!” Grace laughs. “They are absolutely pampered because it’s like a spa weekend. They get extra walks, fans and cooling coats if it’s hot, memory foam beds and constant attention from everyone who comes to see the shows.”

There are, however, some things to gain from dog showing, other than ribbons. “I’ve gained confidence, poise, elegance and boundaries,” Grace says. “The dog show world is an amazing place to learn these skills because it’s easy to get surrounded by the idea of winning and have that be the only thing that matters.

However, when you learn these life skills, you also learn that a ribbon will collect dust and you will forget about them - but you will never forget your memories with your dog and show family.” 

If you’d like to check out a local dog show, the Lakehead Kennel Club hosts an event on July 28-30 and the Northshore Show happens Aug 11-13. You can visit their website at www.thunderbaykennelclub.org

Donna White is an accomplished author and Jubilee Medal winner for her volunteer work with World Vision. Visit her website at www.DonnaWhiteBooks.com

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