Who let the dogs out?


Any one who knows me know how crazy I am about dogs – training them, playing with them, and taking them to dog shows. In college, my ambition was to become a handler full-time.  I have lost count of how many times I have sneaked out of lectures and labs to go to dog shows all over India. Almost every one in my family thought that I will drop out of college and ” go to dogs”.  Well,  that did not happen – thanks to my dad’s cousin.

Uncle R was a retired business man – and an international all breeds judge.  He talked me out of my plan. His point was “Finish your engineering degree and get a job – you will be able to buy better dogs that way”. It was not easy, but I was convinced. So I finished my degree, went on to do my MBA and got a job. Next thing I know, I got assigned to USA . First thing I did before I left India was to find out the best German Shepherd kennels to get a puppy from. I found one in Germany, and used my first salary to buy a 6 month old pup.

I was generally happy that I followed uncle R’s advice. I could afford to buy the dogs I liked – and good dogs win at more shows.  After spending a lot of money and time buying dogs and sending them to handlers and trainers, and winning my fair share of shows – I realized one thing. It was not fun any more – I was just kidding myself that it iwas fun. Where is the fun when I pick a dog, and a handler finishes it for me and I hardly get to see the dog? I missed out on going into the ring and the fun of chatting with old friends at ring side.

Pendulum swung the other way – I stopped it altogether. No dogs with friends and handlers (well almost). My next dog had to stay with me home, and if a handler is showing him, I want to be there most of the times to see him in the ring. And since my wife didn’t like German Shepherds, we bought a Golden, and then a Lab. I have no qualms about using a handler to finish a title and some of my best friends are handlers – in India, Germany and USA. 

In the mean time, my career became more demanding and I am on the road a lot more than I used to. It is virtually impossible to attend several dog shows. I would rather spend a weekend with my wife and daughter than drive to a show. So I get to go to only a handful of shows these days, and that too mostly without a dog.  But I still get some time to play with dogs and train them when I am home, but not to the high degree that I could do earlier. In college days, my dog used to beat the top dogs in India in obedience and now, I don’t do anything with them beyond very basic obedience. 

My little Lab guy is 14 months now, and next weekend is his debut in show ring. He is not trained for the ring – and I am pretty sure he and I will make total fools in the ring.  Totally my fault – I dropped out of handling class, and his socializing is restricted to walks around the neighborhood. If I hand stack him, he will do it with a face that will make people think that he is expecting to be hit with a stick. If I free stack him, he will stay focussed for about 10 seconds at most, and then prefers to leap than stand. He hates showing his teeth, and since he is not conditioned like he should be (except for swimming  in our pool), he tires easily. 

Just yesterday I realized that he has not been around many dogs really – and my short cut solution was to drive to the bark park in Snedigar Park.  I expected him to either get bullied by other dogs, or bully someone himself. Instead he was a cool customer – he went and played with dogs of every size, and allowed himself to be petted by every one there. And he chased a frisbee for 30 minutes (not his toy, he just was faster than the dog it was thrown for). And when he was tired, he came to me and flopped on the ground. I am much relieved – he will do just fine in the ring with other dogs.

He is an independent spirit and a happy puppy. So my strategy in the ring will be to take a chance that judge will forgive him for his goofiness, but will like to see a happy dog, who will move well and do a great stack for a few seconds.  Far too many dogs look like mechanical dogs in the ring, and he will stand out. I am fully aware that this has only a 10% chance of working, and 90% chance exist for him to be the one that makes every one crack up and get me kicked out of the ring.  Either way – I have no complaints. I have lost plenty of dog shows with well-behaved dogs – way more than I have won. And while I am a fiercely competitive guy in general, I don’t feel that way about dog shows any more. (probably because I am well aware of my own limitations compared to others in the ring ).  However, we are going in there to win – and if we lose, it won’t be because we didn’t try.

And I still dream of my five-year old taking up junior handling (in addition to becoming an engineer, doctor, lawyer and a consultant). So far there are no indications of that.  But then if dreams were horses, fathers of five-year olds would fly !