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How To Be Top Dog at Westminster


The finest thing that can happen to a well-bred dog is to be named "best" at the Westminster Kennel Club Show, which begins February 12 in New York's Madison Square Garden. Owners ambitious for this honor must begin to seek it even before their dog is born. After a carefully arranged mating with a championship stud, the future winner's mother must be nursed through her pregnancy with patience and tenderness. Her puppies, once they arrive, must be shrewdly watched and evaluated until—at about six weeks—one of them displays enough promise in conformation, temperament and general quality to warrant training him for top competition.

The first difference between a future champion and an ordinary dog is his name (see page 59). Soon after his birth he will be registered with the AKC as, say, Cap Gris Nez Jumping Jacques. But for his first six months at home he will be called Jumpy and will live much as any other pet. He will be played with and petted and taught basic good manners. Then, at the age of six months, no longer just Jumpy but a dog with a mission, he will be packed off by tearful owners to begin the arduous training for his professional career in the home of an expert handler with whom he will practice and practice the exacting techniques of his trade.

Many of the future champion's early lessons are concerned with making a good impression on show judges, for a puppy's behavior at his first show often determines the course of his entire future career. Despite the distractions of other dogs and the irritating scrutiny of the public, the ambitious pup must maintain an alert and attractive front at all times. When at last he is led by his handler into the show ring, he must submit with grace and good will to the most intimate and probing inspection. He must maintain his dignity, face his judges squarely and preserve an appearance of self-confidence even if he is nervous.

With the capture of his first blue ribbon, the future champion has committed himself for months to come to the restless life of a traveling professional in any sport. Along with his handler, he may cover as many as 2,000 miles in a month, making appearances at dozens of shows, spending night after night in strange motels across the country. As he accumulates more ribbons, his scrapbook will bulge with press clippings and his bankbook will begin to swell with fees paid for his services as a likely progenitor of other future champions. By midwinter of his second year on the road he should be ready to attempt the big time.

At long last, having acquired sufficient show points and, in all likelihood, the right to use a patent of nobility before his name, Ch. Cap Gris Nez Jumping Jacques will arrive at the Garden. There he will encounter more people, more dogs, more noise and more excitement than he ever thought existed. Quartered in the biggest basement he has ever seen, he will be forced to endure the attentions of swarms of baby-talking women and badly behaved brats. Each time he sees the ring it will seem bigger. But if the years of apprenticeship have made him a true pro, when at last he faces the top judge in this giant ring he will be at his absolute best. Then a head will nod, the crowd will roar and victory will be his.

With the great prize secured, the fringe benefits of stardom will be quick to follow. Newspapers, magazines and television will plead for interviews. Advertisers will proffer large checks for the privilege of claiming that the champ eats their products or sleeps on their cushions. Hotels that frown on run-of-the-yard pets will solicit his custom. But while those who have helped to achieve his triumph will revel in the sudden surge of popular acclaim, the champion himself will accept the homage paid to him with equanimity. For perhaps the finest measure of this true champion's right to be called top dog in the nation lies in his ability to remain through it all a true dog.