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Let me tell you ‘bout my best friend

By Keegan Prosser on February 8, 2013 – No Comment

Cowboy wins Best of Breed in the working dog division on Aug. 25, 2012. COURTESY PHOTO

Baseball may be “America’s pastime.” And football may be the most watched sport on television. But neither holds the spot as the oldest sporting event in the country. That one belongs to the dogs.

The history of showing dogs begins with the Westminster Kennel Club. Formed in New York in 1877, the intent of Westminster was to increase interest in dogs, improve breeds and hold an annual dog show. Now in it’s 137th year, Westminster is still the biggest and best. But it’s not the only place to show your dogs. In fact, we’ve got our own flourishing show dog community right here on the Eastside.

SHOWS

The basic purpose of a dog show is to facilitate the evaluation of breeding stock for use in producing the next generations.

As such, each breed’s parent club creates a “standard” – or written description – of the ideal specimen of that breed. Most standards describe general appearance, movement, temperament, and specific physical traits of a dog.

Most dog shows access these standards through tests in conformation (to the described standard), obedience and agility. Some shows offer separate events and courses for specific breeds (water trials, hunting trials) if warranted.

While some standards can be very specific, others can be rather general and leave much room for individual interpretation by judges. This results in the sport’s subjective basis: one judge, applying his or her interpretation of the standard, giving his or her opinion of the best dog on that particular day.

BREEDERS

The Northwest is known for having a number of high caliber breeders – many of whom have produced dogs that have gone on to be shown at Westminster.

“Some of the top poodles in the country are [Northwest] dogs – and have been for a long time,” says Peg Dunner, who has been a breeder for 50 years.

Dunner, who lives on Mercer Island, says she got her start when she was introduced to a group of people that bred Miniature Schnauzers as a child. She bred Schnauzers until her son was wanted a bigger dog and they decided on a Standard Poodle. She’s been breeding poodles ever since.

Seattle resident, Dr. Robert Gloster, has been breeding dogs since buying his first Samoyed 25 years ago. In that time, Gloster says his animals have produced 100 to 125 dogs.

“When I bought my first Samoyed, I was enticed by the breeder to show the dog,” Gloster says. “And I found it strangely addictive.”

A member of the Sammamish Kennel Club, Gloster also serves as an official American Kennel Club judge in shows across the country. His specialties are working and sporting dogs.

“For whatever reason, [breeders] became attracted to their breed and commit to it,” Gloster says. “Once they’ve done that, it becomes a passion, and it’s unshakeable.”

He says he has much affection for the Samoyed’s beauty now, as he did when he started breeding them 25 years ago.

COMPETITORS

Maple Valley resident Tim Pearson has been showing his mastiff, Cowboy, for the past two years.

The owner of two other Mastiffs, Pearson had no intention of showing Cowboy when he first got him. However, the pup came from good breeding, and it was suggested by several people that he should be shown.

In general, Pearson says he tends to show Cowboy in shows fairly close to home. As such, he tends to see a lot of the same competitors; Pearson says a handful of Nationally campaigned dogs stop by ocassionally.

Pearson says Cowboy participates in about one show a month, most of which are two-day shows. In his career he has won Best of Breed 13 times, some of which include the Seattle Kennel Club, Sammamish Kennel Club, Olympia Kennel Club and Mount Rainier Working Dog Specialty (at Marymoor Park).

In 2012 Cowboy won 3 group placements in the working dog group, including winning the entire working group at the Gig Harbor Kennel Club show in September, as well as Best in Show in January 2012 at an International Show in Ridgefield, Wash.  He also recently won Best of Breed at the Tacoma Kennel Club in Puyallup.

In addition to breeding and judging dogs, Gloster has extensive experience showing his own dogs. He even made an appearance at Madison Square Garden for Westminster, where he showed his dog Jimi (d. 2009).

A Best In Show and Best in Specialties dog, Jimi did not place at Westminster, but Gloster says he left a lasting impression.

“Delighted to have honor of showing him there” Gloster says of his experience. “The atmosphere was exciting but tense. It was beautiful – and crowded.”

The Westminster Kennel Club’s Annual All Breed Dog Show takes place Monday and Tuesday, February 11-12, 2013 at Madison Square Garden in New York City.