How do you know when it's time to retire your Poodle from the show ring?
I was, recently, faced with this question. It took a lot of soul searching and serious considering before I was ready to make the final decision on retiring a Poodle from the ring. I'll tell you now, I wasn't ready to retire my Poodle... but my Poodle was... and that made all the difference.
Five years ago, I wanted a Standard Poodle to take with me on my hiking adventures.
Four years ago, I found that Poodle in my eight week old love, Wallace. As Wallace's story unfolded, we got to see that he became much more than a hiking dog for me. He was also my early introduction into the world of showing dogs.
Wallace's show career lasted a mere six months. He attended 15 shows, really, just a blip on the screen when compared to the vast majority of show dogs. But, through Wallace, I learned the basics in dog shows.
I learned how to enter a dog in a show. I learned that dogs in the ring were odd numbers, while bitches in the ring were even numbers (well, most of the time ;) ). Add to that, I learned that calling a girl dog a bitch was not only acceptable, it was preferred!
I learned about the points schedule. And, even though I didn't thoroughly understand it, I could at least apply the points schedule when doing my calculations for Wallace's Championship points.
I also learned which group of dogs the standard Poodle variety belonged to- the Non-Sporting group! And I even memorized all seven of the AKC dog groups! (a moment of memorization pride surpassed only by my achievement of memorizing the books of the Old and New Testament of the Bible, when I was 12 years old)
When Wallace received his final Championship points in July 2015, I felt really good about retiring him from the show ring, a few short months later. This handsome dog of mine had exceeded my own expectations. In the three years since retiring Wallace, I've come to understand something about show dogs; the personality of a dog in the ring is EVERYTHING. That showy attitude, that desire to be in the ring and have the world looking at you, that want of being seen... that's what makes the best of the best in show dogs. Wallace was very showy in the ring. To this day, that boy has not lost his showy personality.
One of the valuable lessons time in dog shows has taught me is that personality, that desire to turn on the charm and really SHOW in the ring, is an uncommon gift to have in a dog. And it is a beautiful gift to behold.
Which brings us to the arrival of Bryce, my show puppy.
Bryce came into my life at the end of Wallace's show career. And boy, that little Poodle puppy arrived in my life with a great deal of pomp and circumstance! Bryce was going to be my show poodle. The Poodle I bought with the specific goal of showing, winning, and making a name for myself in the world of dog shows.
Spoiler alert: Bryce and I did show, we did win lots of ribbons, and Bryce did help me to begin making a name for Galavanting Poodles.
But our path was challenging, right from the beginning.
A very favorite quote of mine is this; When we know better, we do better.
And, this is the mantra I've repeated to myself through out Bryce's first two and a half years of life as a show dog.
Wallace's six months of showing, I was flying by the seat of my pants. I'd hired the first person I met who said she showed dogs. My priority was to learn what I could about the dog shows themselves. I knew nothing of showing Poodles and even less of how to take care of their show coats! Even though I spent much of my free time, looking at magazines to study Poodles and their show coats, I'll admit, when it came time to get Wallace ready for his shows, it was me and a can of hairspray. My goal was just to get Wallace, generally presentable for the show ring. I used a LOT of hairspray to just sort of get his hair to stick together. Let me just say, there was a lot of patting and spraying to get his hair to stick up and stay out of his eyes.
And I say this with zero hyperbole; I could not begin to explain, let alone repeat, the steps I took to spray up Wallace for his shows. Most of Wallace's time in the ring was spent with a mid-twentieth century beehive style bouffant on top of his head.
But, hey, I did the best that I could with the knowledge I had. And I'll be honest, I was pretty dang proud of that silly bouffant!
I tell you all of this about Wallace's brief show career for one reason; to demonstrate just how green I was when Bryce entered my world.
Bryce was meant to be my big show Poodle. But first, he was my practice Poodle. I learned everything I know about showing Poodles, with Bryce. Bryce would lay on the grooming table for hours while I practiced proper spray-up techniques. There was going to be no beehive bouffants for him! Bryce was the Poodle to stand for me while I perfected the art of the 40 blade attached to a clipper. I learned how to shave close and avoid clipper burn, with Bryce's skin. I began my scissoring journey with Bryce. He was the first Poodle I learned to dry with a force dryer. And i even learned the best way to dremel nails with Bryce's feet!
Poodles are unique in how they're presented in the show ring. Poodles are a proud breed and should demonstrate, "an air of distinction" when being shown in the ring. (feel free to check out the illustrated breed standard for the Poodle, here!) When Bryce and I began our dog show journey together, there was no one in our area who showed Poodles. And certainly no one to mentor us on how a Poodle should move in the ring and be presented.
BUT, I did have a fantastic breeder in Debra Ferguson-Jones of Lakeridge Poodles. Debra mentored me from afar. I was in Alaska and she in Washington. But texting was our go-to when it came to communication about Poodle education.
When I traveled for dog shows, Debra would stand ringside at shows and video me in the ring with Bryce. Debra's videos always included her narration with tips and critiques for me to play back and study. I cannot count the number of times she told me, "Stop staring at your dog, look up at the judge!!"
It was Lakeridge handler, and my friend, Lindsay Gorder, who had me running up and down hotel hallways with a cup full of water.
"Be smooth when you run! No bouncing!"
Back home, in Alaska, Bryce and I were part of a group effort to beg my friend, and handler extraordinaire, Stevie Collins, to come back and start teaching handling classes once again. Stevie's guidance and encouragement was an integral part of Bryce and my success in the ring.
Two years. Two years of trying, failing, trying again, and succeeding that marks Bryce's show career.
Bryce finished his AKC Championship, 100% owner handled and owner groomed by me. It took us a year, but we did it together. Bryce and I did hit our stride and we were a great team. The time it took Bryce to receive his AKC Grand Championship was much shorter, but no less rewarding for me.
Bryce received two Group Ones. One in the Owner-Handler category and one in the regular group. Both awards mean more to me than the moon. Both Group Ones are the culmination of all the work Bryce and I put in to making ourselves a team in the show ring.
However, as Bryce and I succeeded in the ring, there was a cloud that began to form over us. Bryce simply stopped loving dog shows. Now, Bryce never had the same showy personality of Wallace. But he did like to travel with me to shows. Bryce always had his tail up and he was always patient with me on the grooming table. But, more and more, he began to hate going in the ring.
Bryce and I would have a battle of wills. And, if you know anything about Poodles, you'll understand exactly what I mean when I say, Bryce always won those battles! Little things would start to become big things... Bryce would stand in a stack and then, for no reason, step out of his stack and look at me as if to say, "so? What are you going to do about it?" He would start chomping his teeth together while we were in the ring, a sure sign of agitation in a dog. And there was the pawing Sometimes it was subtle, other times, not so subtle. But always the message was the same; "I do not like this game anymore."
All of this has brought me to my California trip and an eye opening dinner with Poodle friends while I bemoaned Bryce's behavior in the ring.
"If Bryce hates showing so much, why do you make him do it?" Was the question presented over margaritas, chips and queso.
That was a good question. Why was I continuing to show a dog who so clearly, did not want to be shown? What more could I prove about this dog?
Well, he's a lovely specimen of a Poodle, for one. Bryce comes from a long line of beautiful and successful Standard Poodles. He had the potential to be an amazing Special in the ring.
Aw, but there's the catch; Bryce had the potential.
So what do I do with a Poodle who could be a great Special, but just doesn't want to be?
"But he's so pretty!" I would say
"And he hates it" would be the response
"But he moves so well!"
"And he hates it"
"But he has gorgeous coat!"
"And he hates it."
You can get a good idea as to the direction of the conversation that evening.
I left the dinner that night with a lot to consider. Mainly, why was I showing a dog who so clearly no longer enjoyed the process?
Bryce is the ground floor for my dog showing experience. He has given everything to me while we learned, together, how to be a dog show team. Bryce powered through his Championship, his Grand Championship, group placements, handling classes, grooming lessons, our failures and our successes.
So what more should I expect of him? How fair was it of me to ask Bryce to push through a career as a Special, when he was signaling to me that he was done with the dog show business?
The bottom line with Bryce was that he didn't like dog shows anymore.
His distaste was evident.
I took a couple of weeks to consider all that I'd discussed with my California Poodle friends. I watched Bryce enjoying his time at Jasets, playing, chasing, running happy and carefree. And I also watched something else, I watched Pali.
I watched Pali show off her cute little Poodle self in the show ring. I observed her unfettered excitement to jump into her kennel in Chris Bailey's van and head to a dog show. I could see how much Pali genuinely loved everything that went along with a dog show. And I knew, beyond any doubt, that as much as Pali loved to show, Bryce did not.
It was time for Bryce to get the retirement he so richly deserved.
At about midnight, back at Chris' after a long and fruitful dog show weekend for Pali, I took Bryce out to the grooming building. I bathed and dried him. We were alone in the building, he and I. I may have even shed a couple of tears while saying goodbye to the expectations I'd had for the show dog I wanted in Bryce. And I resolved within myself to embrace the amazing Poodle who stood before me as my best friend and my loving Poodle pet. I thanked Bryce for all he taught me about showing Poodles. I began to get excited about the future endeavors we had before us, outside of the show ring.
Chris wandered out to the grooming building, talked to me a little big more about listening to the signals our dogs give use when it comes to things they enjoy and things they do not.
And then, Bryce was the Poodle who was with me as I learned another lesson in showing Poodles; how to cut down the show coat.
Editor's note: in the few short weeks since Bryce has been officially retired, he has been enjoying his new freedom! Bryce can play with other dogs, get dirty during Spring break up in Alaska, and run through puddles of his own free will with no negative consequences!
Bryce is almost like an entirely different dog now that he is out of the show ring. I have Poodles who love the ring, but Bryce is not one of those dogs. First and foremost, my Poodles are my pets. And their well being is always the first consideration when I take on any endeavor with them. Bryce is exactly where he belongs, doing exactly what he loves. And he's still a gorgeous Poodle!
He will be available to stud to approved bitches in the summer of 2018.