Photo courtesy Melissa Hampton Photography
A dog-show newbie says handling isn’t as easy as it looks, but it sure is exciting.
In “Talking Sports” we present advice from high achievers in the world of dog sports. But in this edition, about conformation dog shows, we thought it would be fun to see the sport through the eyes of a rank novice in an activity that can be intimidating to newcomers. For our interview subject, we looked no farther than the next cubicle.
Our co-worker Antoinelle Szwed, of Clifton, New Jersey, sells advertising for AKC Publications. Not long ago, she was bitten by the dog-show bug. Here, Antoinelle tells Family Dog’s Bud Boccone how she has managed to handle her Skye Terrier pup, Archer, without falling flat on her face.
BB: YOU CAME TO US FOUR YEARS AGO. WERE YOU A DOG PERSON?
AS: I grew up with my family dogs, mostly Golden Retrievers. I didn’t know much about dog shows at all, pretty much just what I knew from watching dog shows on TV. But I did know something about dogs, from living with them and watching Animal Planet all my life.
WHY A SKYE?
Working here, you fall in love with so many breeds. But you also learn about the ones who need a little extra TLC. Skye Terriers are one of the rarest breeds. I thought it was my duty as a young dog person to find a breed that was right for me and might also need a little more attention.
SO, WHAT DID YOU DO FIRST?
At akc.org, I got contact information for the Skye Terrier Club of America. The club put me in touch with breeders in my area, Michael Pesare and Maida Connor, in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. At first, we had a lot of e-mail exchanges, with me just telling them about myself. Any good breeder wants to know a lot about their prospective puppy buyers.
AND YOU CLEARED THAT HURDLE. THEN WHAT?
Michael and Maida invited me to come and meet their dogs at the 2015 National Dog Show in Philly. I went with my fiancé, Frank, and we sat with them, watched them in the ring, even got to help them groom their dogs. Then I visited their kennel and spent a lot of quality time with their Skyes.
THE WORD MENTOR COMES UP A LOT IN THIS SPORT, DOESN’T IT?
I’m so thankful for the guidance I’ve received from my breeders and from other members of the Skye Terrier club—so encouraging and helpful. It’s been a wonderful community to become part of.
HOW LONG WAS IT FROM FIRST CONTACT TO THE TIME YOU TOOK YOUR PUPPY HOME?
Two years. And the agreement was I would show Archer. Also, that I would breed him if he turned out to be a good specimen with favorable traits to pass on.
YOU CAN’T AFFORD TO PAY A HANDLER. YOU HAVE TO DO IT YOURSELF…
But it’s so much fun to do it yourself. I sat on the sidelines for so long that joining the action in the ring was exciting.
IS IT AS EASY AS IT LOOKS?
Of course not. The basic idea is simple. The hard part is, your dog has to want to do it and look good doing it.
HOW OLD WAS ARCHER ON THE FIRST DAY YOU SHOWED HIM?
Seven months. I entered him in the 6-to-9-Month Puppy class at the Somerset Hills Kennel Club.
YOU WERE NERVOUS?
Super nervous. I had no clue of what I was doing, but the judge was very patient and helpful. And my breeders drove three hours to a show they didn’t enter, just to watch Archer and coach me. Who would do that?
Photo courtesy Nor Cal BullDogger Photography
HOW’D ARCHER DO?
He moved very well in the ring. Then he went to the bathroom.
IN THE RING?
In the ring he peed, yeah. It was mortifying. But I learned that with puppies it happens at outdoor shows, so everyone let it go.
AS DID ARCHER. FROM THERE, WHERE?
Hatboro Kennel Club. We had a bad day. It was very hot and humid, and he just didn’t want to move. That Sunday he was entered in the Skye national-specialty show at Montgomery County Kennel Club, the ultimate event for terriers only.
DID ARCHER RISE TO THE OCCASION?
I asked my breeders and some other dog people what I could do to improve. They were great and gave me some pointers on my presentation. And Archer won Best Skye Terrier Puppy in Show, and Reserve Winners. What made it extra special was that Michael and Maida were in the ring with me, showing Archer’s littermates.
DO THEY WANT THEIR DOG BACK NOW?
[laughing] No, they were so excited for me. Before the show, they were helping me groom Archer, helping me get ready, and then we all got into the ring and competed against each other. It’s such a tight-knit community.
HAVE YOU TRIPPED IN THE RING YET?
No, but I have gone in the wrong direction around the ring! But my dog looked great in spite of me.
DOES YOUR FIANCÉ MIND THAT A NEW BOY HAS WON YOUR HEART?
He was a little skeptical about Skyes at first. He said, “Well, if this is what you want…” But Archer is the easiest, best-behaved puppy we’ve ever had. I think Frank is already looking forward to getting another Skye!
Originally printed in AKC Family Dog.