On Feb. 14 and 15, the 134th Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show will take place. This show is the second longest continuously held sporting event in the United States, just a year behind the Kentucky Derby.
The Westminster Kennel Club was established in 1877 and is America’s oldest organization dedicated to the canine sport having been the first dog club to join the American Kennel Club which was established in 1884.
In order to be invited to compete at this show, a dog must be rated as top five in its breed category. To achieve this, the dog must be shown throughout the previous year (Jan. 1 to Oct. 31) and earn points. The more competition the dog has in the ring, the more points it earns should it win. However, any dog who has earned a championship title can enter, provided the entry limitations have not yet been met.
Virginia resident Susan Smith has an Irish Wolfhound. She will be attending the Westminster Kennel Club show as owner and handler of CH (champion) Tenderlands Jamesons Amber Spirit, CGC (canine good citizen), born in 2008, known affectionately as Jamie.
Both Jamie’s great-grandmother and grandmother won Best of Opposite Sex (female) at Westminster in 1998 and 2006, respectively. Her dog’s breed line originated at Nutstown Kennels, owned by the Kelley’s, in Ireland.
Wolfhounds are not a common breed, but this year the competition will be fierce as the top 3 highest scoring Wolfhounds of 2010 will be competing. With Jamie being a female, the odds are against her, as the gender has never taken a Best in Breed title in the history of the show. Breed standards call for preference of dogs who are large, which are usually the males who average 5 inches taller at the shoulders than the females.
Also, Jamie is one of the rarer color varieties as she considered a red. Wolfhounds have five color varieties (most common to rarest): Gray brindle, red brindle, black, red and white.
It has been Smith’s lifelong wish to show a dog at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show at Madison Square Garden in New York. Below is our phone interview this week:
How long did it take you to earn Jamie’s’ championship?
Smith: Jamie has been showing her entire life. She earned her United Kennel Club Championship at the age of 10 months. She just started showing at American Kennel Club sanctioned shows in 2009 and finished her championship in two years. She is currently only six points away from hearing a Grand Champion title.
What did you do to prepare your dog for the Westminster Kennel Club show ring?
Smith: To get her body in condition, we did lots of intensive road work. I run with her two to five miles at least four days each week. Then, on the weekend, I bring her to my farm. As I ride my horse for an hour or two, she runs alongside. I also started her with some lure-coursing (a sight-hound activity) I also give her a low-carbohydrate diet along with lots of fiber from green beans. She does not receive the same type of grooming as most other show dogs. The breed specifications prefer a dog with a coarse coat, so she gets a bath of vinegar and water to take out any dirt, just before a show, along with some brushing to detangle.
To prepare her mentally we began attending group training classes at Marumsco Dog Training club. My instructor, Patti McKeown, is a professional handler and helped me learn how to work Jamie in a conformation ring. We trained every week for six months. Then we did private lessons in different locations and various surfaces to emulate the dog show environment where there is lots of noise and always a novel location.
To overcome the threat of having a judge’s hand come directly at her face, I gave treats to every person who was about to greet us and told them to allow Jamie to touch them and earn the treat. This approach gave her a positive attitude when seeing someone come towards her to touch her face.
What will be your tactics to achieve a good performance at the Westminster Kennel Club dog show?
Smith: The morning of the show, on Monday, we will be up and going at 4:30 a.m. The first thing we will do is go outside and get some exercise. I will then feed us a light breakfast. I will groom her around 6:30 a.m. Then, arrive at the show at 6:45 a.m. As I get my exhibit package, Jamie will relax with Sue Whalley. We must be near the ring by 8 a.m., as the Whippet class finishes up. While we wait on will sit on a stool and brush Jamie’s, speaking to her in soothing tones. The moment we walk into the ring I will give her a cookie to continue with the positive associations.
What are the rewards when you win?
Smith: Well, first of all if that happened I’d be speechless. I’d sob and shake. When I finished my first bitch (one of Smiths’ Labrador Retrievers), I was overwhelmed.
As for rewards, Jamie would be much sought-after as breeding stock; with a waiting list for puppies. I believe the monetary rewards are dog food from sponsors, trophy and ribbon.
What’s next for Jamie?
Smith: I intend to enter her in Rally Obedience and earn her titles. I just want to keep her happy and continuously work with her to achieve training goals.