A dog show has to be one of few competitive endeavors in which the majority of spectators don't know who the players are and don't really care who wins.
Most people come to a show to see beautiful dogs, buy a new leash or toy, or even try to figure out the answer that old question: Do people look like their dogs?
The dog show season runs almost year around -- with a gap around Christmas -- and hits a high point at the prestige shows early each year: the American Kennel Club's national championship and historic Westminster.
The moderate weather of spring makes this one of the better times to catch a dog show, and there are shows going on all across the country every weekend.
Some tips to get the most out of your trip:
-- Dress appropriately. Comfortable shoes are a must, and clothing that can adjust to temperature changes is also advisable if the show's outdoors. If you're researching a breed or looking for a breeder, bring a notebook and pen. Since shopping is a major dog show activity, consider bringing a tote bag to haul away your goodies. Seating is often in short supply, so if you have one of those collapsible cloth camping seats, bring it.
-- Get a program. Different breeds show at different times in different rings. Most larger shows will have a free one-page directory to rings and times. If you're on a research mission, pay for the full catalog, which lists the dogs in competition and is a good resource in the hunt for a reputable breeder.
-- Beware of handler. Sometimes the dogs can be friendlier than the people with them. Although many professional handlers will take time to answer questions if you ask when it's convenient, others consider spectators an unwelcome distraction from the hard work of getting a dog groomed and shown. It's probably best to avoid the big setups of the top professional handlers and look for a person with just a couple of dogs, such as a breeder or owner who's handling her own dogs.
-- Beware of dog. Show dogs are generally well-behaved and well-socialized, but common sense dictates asking a handler's permission before petting a dog. The grooming that goes into some breeds is so time-consuming and elaborate that it's often best to wait until after competition to pet a dog, anyway. Ask before petting, and you'll never go wrong.
-- Enjoy the show. Dog shows are often stressful for competitors at both ends of the leash, but they should be pure enjoyment for spectators. Take time to visit all the vendors, watch both people and dogs -- the people are often more interesting -- and find where the obedience competition is for a change from the "beauty show" aspect of the larger event.
The American Kennel Club sanctions the majority of dog competitions. To find an upcoming show in your area, use the events search function on the AKC's Web site (www.akc.org).
Many smaller dog shows are free for spectators, but larger ones usually charge admission and possibly even parking, depending on the venue. The events listings of local newspapers usually will have information on start times and admission prices for larger shows. Typically, judging starts at 8 a.m. and culminates with Group and Best in Show competitions in late afternoon.
The dog-watching, people-watching and goody-buying last all day.
How it works
At an all-breed dog show, two different competitions are being played out.
Dogs who are not champions compete within their own breed for "points." Championships require 15 points and are awarded according to the number of dogs competing in a breed. The more popular a breed, the higher the number of dogs that must be defeated per point.
The breed ring is also the launching pad for the show's other competition, where dogs who are mostly already champions compete for Group and Best in Show wins. These dogs start by competing against other champions of their breed. Each best of breed advances to compete against other breed winners in their group -- working, toy, herding, etc. The seven group winners then compete for Best in Show.
Group and Best in Show wins are important in determining national rankings, and in landing invitations to the most prestigious shows, such as Westminster and the AKC national championship.
Dog declawing not an option
Q: My arms are ripped to bits from my dog's habit of jumping up and clawing me. Trimming is a wrestling match, and walking her on hard surfaces isn't helping. I'm getting to the end of my rope on this problem. Can dogs have their claws removed like cats can? -- N.W., via e-mail
A: While a dog's claws could in theory be surgically removed, it's not commonly done, and you'd have a difficult time finding a veterinarian who'd agree to such a thing.
Instead, get a trainer's help in teaching your dog to keep her feet on the ground. If the nails are really overgrown, consider having your veterinarian cut them all the way back while your dog is under sedation. This will give you a fresh start to the problem, so trimming a little off each week after the quick recedes will keep the nails short. And unless your dog is doing miles and miles of sidewalk time a week, walking on hard surfaces won't help with the nail-length issue.
Don't make nail-trim time a battle. Start slowly by handling your dog's paws without trimming nails, and build up your pet's tolerance through treats and praise.
Some dogs do better having their nails ground down rather than cut. You can buy an appliance designed to grind dog nails, or use a rotary tool such as the Dremel to do the same thing. The advantage to grinding is that you won't go too far -- as soon as you see the quick, you stop. As with using a nail-trimming, make sure you introduce a grinder slowly and gradually, with lots of praise and treats along the way.
Two pups not always better than one
Q: Would it be a good idea to get two puppies at once? I'm not home much and worry about leaving a puppy alone. Would getting two help to ease their loneliness? -- L.E., via e-mail
A: Are you sure you're not too busy to have a dog? If you're never home, you really need to reconsider having a pet of any kind. But even if you were home all day long, I don't recommend getting two puppies at once.
Two puppies raised together will often bond more tightly with each other than with the human members of the house, especially if the pups are from the same litter. Experienced show breeders, who often "grow out" a pair of promising puppies, routinely get around this problem by sending one of the youngsters to be raised by another breeder.
House-training can be a challenge with two puppies because one may not get the concept as quickly as the other. Fresh messes from the one who's not getting it may prompt backsliding in the other pup. Obedience training and all-important socialization can also be hard, since you have to find the time to work with each puppy individually.
If you really do have time for a dog and wish to have two dogs more or less "instantly," I'd recommend adopting two adults. Rescue groups and shelters often have dogs that were abandoned together and would be heartbroken if split up. These pairs are already companionable and can help keep each other company during the time you're away.
Puppies are wonderful, but there's a lot to be said about skipping those crazy first months of their lives. For many families, an adult dog is flat-out a better match.
(Do you have a pet question? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
ON THE WEB
Humane options for feral cats
Perhaps the one good thing to come out of all the hissing over the Wisconsin cat-shooting proposal is broader exposure for alternative methods for controlling feral cats.
There is another option besides killing them or letting them be.
Humane advocates for years have been practicing "trap, neuter, release" (TNR) methods of control, with the idea that a colony of healthy, managed ferals incapable of reproduction will keep other cats from colonizing a food-rich environment. TNR control methods are successfully practiced in many communities and on some college campuses.
Although many humane organizations endorse and support TNR efforts, Alley Cat Allies (www.alleycat.org) has done the most to advocate for kinder treatment of feral cats. The group's Web site has everything necessary to start a successful TNR program, along with tips on taming and re-homing those kittens and cats who aren't so wild that they cannot be turned into loving indoor pets.
Seeds a treat, not a complete diet
Seeds are parrot junk food and should be offered only as an occasional treat or used in trick training.
Pelleted foods should be the foundation of your bird's diet, complemented by a variety of healthy "people food." Fresh fruits and vegetables should be provided along with pasta, eggs, breads, rice and unsalted nuts in their shells.
Excessively fatty foods or overprocessed foods should be avoided, since many pet birds are prone to obesity. A good rule of thumb: If it's healthy for you, it's good for your bird, too. Do keep pellets and fresh, clean water available at all times.
In addition to rounding out a commercial diet, fruits, nuts and other people food give your bird something to keep him occupied and entertained. To that end, leave fresh food in as natural a form as possible. Clean it, of course, but make your bird work some to eat it.
Corn left on the cob is a great example of good food that also offers a fun challenge to eat. You can also find toys that are designed to hide food inside, making eating not only mentally challenging but also good exercise.
(Pet Rx is provided by the Veterinary Information Network (VIN.com), an online service for veterinary professionals. More information can be found at www.veterinarypartner.com.)
Kong remains king of dog toys
Kong is king. The pet toy that's shaped like the Michelin tire man has come a long way since its creator adapted it from a rubber piece off the suspension system of an old VW van. There's one thing that hasn't changed, though: This is one toy that has stood up to countless dogs.
Why are Kongs so remarkable? Part of the answer is durability, and part is flexibility. The basic Kong model stands up to hours of chewing. The rope-equipped Kongs bounce erratically when they land to make "fetch" even more interesting. There's even a Kool Kong for water retrievers. (With three retrievers, I buy Kool Kongs in bulk.)
Probably more important is the use of Kongs to help dogs with time spent alone. A Kong stuffed with peanut butter and pieces of dog treats offers a harmless and healthy alternative to chewing the sofa or scratching the windowsill. There are Web pages devoted to the art of stuffing a Kong: loose filling for introducing the stuffed Kong, and tighter-stuffed and even frozen Kongs for dogs who just love to chew and have time to kill.
While Kongs are mostly sold to dog lovers, their appeal goes beyond the canine realm: A stuffed Kong is good for keeping parrots entertained and out of trouble.
I get news of dozens of new pet products every year and samples of dozens more. Most are just variations on some familiar themes, or are something new that's perhaps nice to have but in no way essential to keeping a pet happy. Few pet products truly stand the test of time. Kong is one of those rare exceptions.
Like many veterinarians, trainers and behaviorists, I find myself recommending Kongs constantly. They're available in almost all pet-supply outlets. Prices vary by model and size.
Sticky litter meets its match
Clumping cat litter is great stuff indeed, but sometimes it gets where it shouldn't. Cats with silky, long hair can develop chronic problems with litter stuck to their fannies and the insides of their legs -- the moisture that catches on their fur from using the box attracts the litter. And then there's tracking: Moisture on a cat's paws can grab litter, which then gets rubbed off throughout the house.
Fortunately, you can minimize both problems.
With longhaired cats, if you're not inclined to comb out the spots that attract litter on at least a daily basis, then you should keep the trouble areas clipped short. As for tracking, putting a large sisal doormat under the litter box will help. The rough texture of the mat will help to knock the litter off your cat's paws as he exits the box.
Gina Spadafori is the award-winning author of "Dogs for Dummies," "Cats for Dummies" and "Birds for Dummies." She is also affiliated with the Veterinary Information Network Inc., an international online service for veterinary professionals. Write to her in care of this newspaper, or send e-mail to email@example.com. You can also read her frequently updated Web log or view her column archives at www.spadafori.com.
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