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A dog show is not for the faint of heart. Learning how to survive losses in the ring is critical to your long-term success in the sport of conformation.
My husband: “So, how did Junior do in the ring today?”
Me: “Ok, but he lost… again.”
My 7 year old son in the backseat: “No, Mom, Junior came in second place. You should be happy. That’s really good!”
Me: “Perhaps, sweetie, however Junior came in second place…. out of 2 dogs.”
Some days I think I need to leave it to my second grader to put things in perspective for me.
This past weekend was Junior’s 7th dog show and, as it turned out, my 7th opportunity to reflect on the meaning of the phrase, Attitude is Everything. The following are 6 tips for surviving dog show heartbreak that I have garnered from my experience handling Junior in the ring. My hope is that these will resonate with you and that you will share them with anyone you know who may need a dog show pick-me-up.
How To Survive Dog Show Heartbreak
1. Try Your Best
At the end of the day, if, and when you lose, you can eliminate a lack of effort as one of the reasons for the loss. For me, that is everything. I never want to look back on my actions and say, “well, if only I had tried harder…”
I look back on every moment I have been in the ring with Junior and I know that for those two minutes in the ring, I did everything I could to show Junior off to the best of my ability. Sure that has included stacking Junior in the splits a time or two, but, hey, I said TRY your BEST, not that I AM the BEST.
While I’ve come up short every time, I know our losses are not due to a lack of effort.
I have tried my best and at the very least I like to think Junior and I have provided desperately needed comic relief at times in an otherwise stuffy, serious sport.
If you want a taste of some of that comic relief, head on over to 5 Reasons Why Dog Handling Is Best Left To The Professionals.
2. Be Friendly With EVERYONE You Meet
There are all kinds of people at dog shows. All kinds. I have often said dog show people are a breed of their own. If you have spent any length of time on the “outside” (of the dog show world), you know exactly what I mean.
At dog shows you will find people who are genuine, people who are passive-aggressive, people who are new to dog shows, and veteran dog show folk who speak in an indecipherable language only spoken on the show grounds and in social media.
I sometimes drop words like hock, stack, and bitch at a dog show just to fit in. Don’t tell my kids.
And lastly, at dog shows you meet lots of people who are friendly but insulting at the same time without even realizing it. “See son (holding Junior’s head up), this dog could very easily be confused with a Bullmastiff because of this square head. It’s just because I know the breed so well, that I know he’s an English Mastiff.”
Here’s my point. Aesop said, “No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.”
Life is too short to spend it being negative. I like to think a pleasant attitude, kindness, generosity, and encouragement toward others will go a long way. It may not bring me and Junior a win in the ring, but it may just pay off in a few new dog show friends to share some laughs along the way.
“No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.”
3. Have Realistic Expectations
I struggle with this one BIG TIME.
I am very competitive, in a friendly, easy-going way. I believe deep down that if I pay the entry fees to be in the dog show ring, I should have an equal shot at a win. As long as the judge is basing his or her decisions on how closely each dog conforms to the breed standard, that is.
When Junior, my kids, and I packed up the Navigator and headed to Idaho in June, I believed Junior had a great chance of winning. Perhaps it is because of my competitiveness and determination that I can be a bit hard-headed.
I spent 6 days listening to judges and others say to me “he’s a nice PUPPY,” “he’s JUST a PUPPY,” “be patient, he’s just a PUPPY,” and “it’s not about winning, it’s about having fun out there…he’s just a PUPPY.” But it wasn’t until the time we were pulling out of the parking lot in Idaho Falls that it dawned on me… Junior never really had a chance of winning.
Having realistic expectations at a dog show allows you to mitigate the sting of a loss and more quickly see the opportunity that exists in spite of it.
4. Don’t Expect Wins, Be Surprised By Them
I think this is good advice for all of us. There is nothing more annoying and frustrating to see than someone with a sense of entitlement. I DO NOT believe in participation trophies or winning an award without merit.
We have all seen it – a high-priced handler with a dog owned by deep pockets who may or may not deserve the number of wins they receive, but act as though they do.
I love nice dogs, wish I had deeper pockets, and have nothing against professional dog handlers. It’s the attitude of entitlement that I don’t like.
So, for all of you who will get the pleasure of witnessing my and Junior’s first win, watch out. I will be surprised and oh, so appreciative!
5. Have Faith That Your Day Will Come
This is not Big Dog Mom’s opinion here, it’s math. While you may not win, you are guaranteed a loss if you don’t enter the ring.
Am I saying dog shows are a crapshoot either way? Well, no, not exactly. What I am saying is that the more times you flip the coin, the better your chance of getting “tails.”
6. Consider What You ARE Winning In The Absence of a Blue Ribbon
If it’s not already obvious, I am a glass-half-full kind of person. Because of this, I am able to quickly move past enormous disappointments in my life and find the “bright side,” the “area of opportunity,” and the “bigger picture.”
While this might just be a coping mechanism for perpetually losing, I like to think it’s the right way to view the dog show world.
I believe dog shows are a fantastic medium for training and socialization for dogs of all ages. In fact, there really is no better training ground for future Canine Good Citizens than a dog show.
At dog shows dogs are bombarded with new sights, smells, people, and dogs. They practice impulse control on so many levels from calmly maneuvering around the dog show grounds to ring manners, walking past other dogs, and resisting countless other urges they have by virtue of being canines.
On Saturday, Junior and I left the ring after our 7th loss, and the first thing I said to my daughter was “We lost again, but I couldn’t be happier with how good Junior has been all day!”
I have a sweet, enormous puppy who loves to meet new people and other dogs and is eager to learn. He may not be a blue ribbon yet by others’ standards, but he is on his way to being a gold ribbon Canine Good Citizen and a model for the Mastiff breed.
That is the true value of the dog show for me. A win in the ring is a bonus serving only to feed my competitive spirit.
A Dog Show Lesson for All of Us Courtesy of a Second Grader
My son was so proud of my Idaho second-place ribbons that he placed one next to his most prized karate and baseball trophies. He told me he wanted that red ribbon to be a constant reminder of how great Junior and I did at the dog show and for me to “keep up the good work.”
With wisdom beyond his years,