On the Road: Dog Exhibitors

On the road: Dog exhibitors see a lot of the country.

By Brian J. Lowney

A reader recently thanked me for a column I wrote a few years back about obedience training. She said that the article had inspired her to become involved in the sport of purebred dogs, which lead to her making countless new friends and took her to many new and interesting places.

One of the best parts of showing dogs, for me at least, was traveling to new destinations. Dog shows are held every weekend all over the United States and Canada, offering exhibitors a choice of where they want to go. Perhaps a certain judge is officiating at a local venue but you know that he doesn’t particularly like your dog, so you pack up the van and head to Pennsylvania or Maryland to show under a friendlier judge.

If you ever need to find directions to a far-off destination or want to know about accommodations or a good restaurant, just ask a dog exhibitor. Long before the days of MapQuest and the Internet, dog handlers were hitting the road before dawn in search of ribbons and rosettes, most often just relying on the poorly written directions of the show superintendent or sponsor.

Early on in the game, I learned to spot vehicles filled with dog crates. I figured that these folks must be going to the show, so I followed them. Only once was I wrong, and pursued some poor guy who was probably heading out for a morning of hunting with his retriever. Thankfully, some genius invented and made a fortune selling “Show Dog: Do Not Tailgate” signs. These markers were a godsend for the geographically illiterate, as the vehicles sporting them could be easily followed to the show.

While my travels took me as far as Southern California and to the beautiful horse country of Northern Virginia, perhaps the best dog show trips I ever took were to Prince Edward Island in Canada. The only way to get to the island province back in the 1980s was to go by car ferry, crossing the majestic Northumberland Straits that separated New Brunswick from the picturesque island renowned for its red soil, magnificent beaches, enormous potato farms and “Anne of Green Gables.”

I was in for a shock when I arrived, only to find that there were less than 150 entered at the event, whereas in this country a 900-dog show is considered to have a poor entry. My fellow exhibitors and some of the judges who hadn’t traveled frequently outside of the Maritimes were quite curious to see a Kerry Blue terrier, a breed seldom exhibited in that part of Canada. Because of the small entry, two shows were held daily, in the morning and afternoon. My dogs did quite well, despite the tough competition. I quickly learned that Maritime Canada is “terrier country,” with many handlers of English and Scottish descent exhibiting outstanding Smooth Fox, Scottish and West Highland White terriers, Cairns and Airedales.

One problem that many American exhibitors complain about today is the lack of camaraderie found at dog shows. Many years ago, handlers and owners would spend the day at a show, dining on picnic lunches and talking about their favorite subject — Man’s Best Friend. Now, there is a rush to get in and out of the ring and to load up the van and leave. By Best in Show time, there are often no more than a handful of people to support the finalists.

After the second show on Prince Edward Island, everyone gathered for a hayride and then sat down in a community hall to crack fresh lobsters and enjoy homemade potato salad and strawberry shortcake. All thoughts of competition had vanished; everyone was there to have a good time and to enjoy a glimpse of island life. Not only did my dogs do well on PEI, but I was also fortunate enough to find a treasury of beautiful Beswick dog figurines at a jewelry store in Charlottetown, the provincial capital — a small, quaint city well-known for its friendly people and historic buildings. The sales ladies, who had worked there for decades, were astounded when I expressed interest in making a purchase, since some of the figurines had been in the store so long they could qualify as store mascots.

When I returned the following summer to add to my growing collection, little had changed. They must have known that the “American dog exhibitor” was coming to the island show, because the number of dog figurines had somewhat grown, which enabled me to purchase a few pieces that I was unable to find in the United States. While I no longer exhibit dogs, I have a treasury of memories of exciting trips and fascinating discoveries that will last a lifetime.

(Swansea resident and past Kerry owner, Brian J. Lowney has been writing about pets for more than a decade. He is a past president of the Wampanoag Kennel Club, an active dog show judge and shares his home with two shelter-adopted cats. This story appeared on Page B1 of The Standard-Times on July 12, 2005. We thank Brian for permission to post this first of hopefully many articles. Brian would love to hear from his Kerry friends. Just click on his name to send Brian Lowney an email.)

Last Updated: 07/13/2005, 3:51 pm