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October 26, 2007 - Austin. Friday night the 25th I was sleepless. The next day would be the Austin dog show. And it was 2:45 am.
I made a conscious effort to relax and take deep, slow breaths. Made myself stop tossing. I closed my eyes and, drifting off, led Weegie into the ring and told her to stand. In my half-dream, I said softly, “Stay,” and gave her a small hand signal as I let the leash go slack and stepped out in front to face her.
In the corner of my eye I saw the judge looking up and down the line. Her eyes lingered when she looked at Weegie. We were first in line as usual, lucky number six, so she came to us first. She became the man who judged the show two weeks before in Canton. He stood right by my shoulder and looked Weegie in the eye.
“She has a beautiful head and expression,” said the judge in Lake Charles. “Take them around.”
I have learned to step back and trust the jump on the table. Weegie sailed up in Waco, and the judge rocked back on his heels and laughed. She is usually the only female, and the first dog of the day, to do this. You occasionally get a big male special in Best of Breed who can jump on the table unassisted. Rarely another female.
“Nothing wrong with that dog’s hips,” said the judge at Fort Worth as she approached to table.
I was going to try something new the next day. I learn to do less and less, and this time, I was going to stay quiet for a beat or two and let Weegie stand herself on the table. She knows where to stand. So I let her legs settle where they naturally fell, just did a light lift of the chest to make sure the front went straight. I never even look at Weegie’s back legs.
At San Marcos, the first year, the judge fell in love with Weegie on the table. I thought we had it made and dropped my guard. Dick had warned me not to do that.
“Sometimes,” he said, “a judge’ll reach back at the last minute and touch the dog’s behind.”
That’s exactly what the judge in San Marcos did, and Weegie swung around and snapped at her. The judge’s friendly face turned severe, and we lost.
I turned over in bed remembering that one. I now knew to offer Weegie one more treat as the judge finished up, and I never let go until the judge had walked away, nothing but smiles.
I let her jump down these days. She likes that. My book says to get your body in between the judge and the dog for that clumsy moment when you lift them down from the table and set them on the floor. I step aside and let the judge watch. Weegie stretches down gracefully and trots away lightly from the impact.
We had a problem all last summer, from the time I started letting her jump down. It seemed to go to her head, and she took to barking at the dog who got on the table next. I guess she thought it was her table. No amount of correction seemed to help, and you hate to correct in front of the judge anyway.
Thomas said, “I thought you had me for the breed in Lake Charles, but then she misbehaved so bad she lost it.”
We went back to obedience class, and I asked Margaret what to do.
“Spray bitter apple at her,” she suggested.
I got a little spray cannister of breath freshener. It fit right in my hand. They say you should have mint on your breath when you go in the ring so the dog can’t smell how nervous you are. So this was for me, supposedly.
At Canton, on the sidelines, Weegie barked at somebody’s dog, and I surreptitiously squirted at her with the sharp-smelling mouthwash. She looked at me in consternation and snorted once or twice. I slipped the sprayer in my pocket with the treats.
On the table, we were fine. Nice judge. Right before Weegie jumped down, when the judge turned around to step away, I said to Weegie softly, “Look what I’ve got” and showed her the little spray bottle.
Then the judge turned back, and I let Weegie jump down. We took our turn for the out-and-back, and I saw Weegie stiffen as the next dog was lifted on the table. I gave the slightest tug on the leash and almost laughed: I could see her remembering abou that nasty-smelling spray. No more misbehaving in the ring.
I haven’t had much luck with conformation classes, but I did find one where we learned to start off easy, slow, and let the dog accelerate naturally. This works: the dogs move much better that way.
I thought back on the last show, at Canton. On the sidelines, Thomas said, “I thought sure you had me twice.” That would be for the breed. It was nice of him to tell me. It gave me confidence.
I lay there, eyes wide open in the dark now, and thought about when we won and when we lost and wondered how I could make it happen with my innermost mind. Because it seemed like that was what I did. They say you have to go in thinking you're the winner. I don't understand why that works, but it does.
I must have drifted off at last because next thing I knew, it was a beautiful October day, with blue skies and a fresh breeze. The show site was open under cover with a coarse concrete floor: no worries about footing for the jump. We found a quiet place to set up two chairs with a towel on the ground in between for Weegie.
I left Craig and Weegie there and went to get my armband. Showing is performance, meaning that it sounds like fun and it is fun and I remember it as fun, but right before it happens the predominant feeling is dread.
Anne Bishop asked me if we would go to Waco. I said we were already entered. I didn’t say, “But we won’t have to go if we win today or tomorrow.” We were that close, and I was afraid I’d jinx us. I went back and sat down at our little camp.
Ring-time came, and we lined up in front of the gate. When they called number six, I stood Weegie at the front of the line and saw the judge’s eyes come to rest on my dog. There were other dogs lined up behind us, but I never looked at them.
I made myself relax and step back when she leapt on the table, and I let her stack herself like I’d planned.
The judge told me she was a pound or so overweight (not a little for a 25-pound dog). She made us do the out-and-back twice. She said the extra weight was keeping her from moving quite her best.
“She has good legs,” the judge said. “Take that pound off and she’d be outstanding.”
She called us out for first, and we moved up to Winners class. This time I did glance back to see the dogs behind us. “No way,” was my distant thought. I was in the zone, and so was Weegie. The judge wasted no time.
“One, two, three,” in order. We had won.
I moved to the first place marker, and it hit me.
“We finished!” I said to the judge when she handed me the ribbon.
She smiled. “Congratulations.”
She sent us out while she judged reserve, and on the sidelines, I was overwhelmed. Barbara hugged me. Thomas shook my hand. I had tears in my eyes and couldn’t speak. Weegie was a breed champion. We had worked for this for two years, and we had done it.