This past week, the 131st annual Westminster Kennel Club All Breed Dog Show took place in Madison Square Garden in New York City. Only dogs that have won their breed championship, which is no easy or inexpensive process, are eligible to enter this most prestigious show. Westminster is the nation's second longest running sporting event, following the Kentucky Derby.
Westminster is one of the few remaining benched shows, which means that the dogs in the show must stay in their assigned spot throughout the days of the show so that spectators can come and view the huge variety of dog breeds and talk with the handlers, breeders and owners. More than 25,000 spectators from around the globe were expected.
Showing dogs is not a sport for the average budget. Most dogs today are shown by handlers and spend most of their young years being campaigned, which means they are on the road going from show to show. One handler will usually show several dogs and quite often dogs and handler travel together around the country in an RV. The owner foots the bills. For serious breeders, this recognition is important.
This year, Westminster drew 2,500 champions representing all of the 165 breeds recognized by the American Kennel Club -- 48 states and five foreign countries had entries. The judges were looking for the one dog from each breed that best exemplifies the breed standard and also has that spirit and temperament that makes a great show dog.
The Best of Show judge was Dr. Robert Indeglia of Providence, RI, a respected vascular surgeon and dog breeder. He was kept in seclusion during the preliminary judging so he had no prior knowledge of the finalists until they entered the ring.
Pedigree pet food company was a big sponsor of Westminster. They, along with the American Humane Society, raised $1.1 million for shelter dogs and programs during this event.
Information about the Westminster Dog Show came from The Standard Times, the AKC Web site and my observations.
Last week's column gave a beginning session for working with your dog using a clicker. You might think it is a waste of time to teach frivolous tricks, but the training has great value. It exercises and challenges the mind and the body. Cats benefit, too. It is best to start out teaching tricks and fun things while you and the dog are learning how clicker training works. Once you have the system down pat and your pet eagerly responds when you bring out the clicker, you might be ready to move on to some basic behaviors.
The clicker is a great way to establish necessary behaviors such as sit, down and stay. Your dog certainly already knows the sit command. But if it gets a little sluggish, shape it up with the clicker. With the clicker in hand and the treats within reach, say the word "sit." When the dog's rear is almost to the ground, click and treat. Do this a few times at different sessions and you should see the sit become an immediate response. At that point, you can discontinue the click-and-treat, bringing it out only on occasion to refresh this behavior. Work also on the down and the stay. With the stay, increase the time that your dog is holding the position and then click, treat and praise profusely.
When your dog performs a requested behavior especially wonderfully, treat him with a "jackpot" which is several amazingly delicious treats all at once. Often this is a good time to end the session.
Use the clicker to teach your dog to walk at your side. This can be done without a leash and collar if you are in a safe environment. Walk along with a treat in your hand in front of the dog's nose. He should be at your side with his head up, paying attention to you. When he is in that position, click and give him the treat. As long as there are clicks and great treats, your dog should stay right at your side.
Teach this position on both the right and left side. I use the word "side" for left and "right" for working on the right. I do not use the word heel unless I am training for obedience competition and want the dog to sit automatically when I stop. The heel word should be used only when the dog is on your left side and you are asking for a very precise position.
Clicker work is great fun for both dog and handler when it is done correctly. You never want the dog or you to get frustrated. If it is not working, ask for an easy behavior, click and treat and then quit. Tug games and ball retrieves should be thrown in to keep the training sessions light and fun.
I try to spend a little time each day working with my dogs and the clicker. Sometimes I am tired and don't really want to, but they get very excited when I pick up the clicker. I find myself laughing at their antics as their tails are wagging feverishly. My efforts are well-rewarded.
Feb. 27 is Spay Day USA. The Payson Humane Society has some special opportunities to help defray the cost of spaying and neutering. Also, there will be a low cost spay/neuter clinic in Payson on March 29. Call (928) 474-5590 for more information.