Finding friendly insiders with insight who love to share information might seem rare at the Westminster Dog Show. But they are there in the bounty!
I had the fortune of finding two that have varied backgrounds including medical experience!
Ashley Tripodi (in the blue dress) is a pet owner with experience as a dog handler. She represented the USA at the International Juniors Handler Competition/ Crufts in 2003. She also has experience in Obedience competition with mixed breed dogs.
Dr. Cheryl Stiehl, DVM
Cheryl Stiehl, DVM, (blonde hair) is a Veterinarian and Breeder of Irish Setters (Bramble Bush Kennel)). She has participated in Conformation events. She holds the Winners Dog at the Irish Setter Club of America/National Specialty in 2019.
I was thrilled to challenge them, armed with my top 10 questions. Here is what I learned:
Are the dogs happy being here to show? Or are they just trying to be dutiful and please us, but they would rather just be home?
Ashley: “They absolutely love being here and eat it up! The atmosphere is great for them. They are bred to move, perform and have a job.”
Cheryl: “They love the crowd interaction and the cheering! The cheering is great for them and enhances their desire to do well. Many show dogs have very jovial personalities.”
What is their life like at home? Are they just like other dogs or do they lead lives of leisure and pampering?
Ashley: “They are just like any other pet at home. They sleep in your bed, hang out on the couch, stay active and do whatever job they love and live for. Be it (protecting, companionship, keeping watch over the family…etc.”
Cheryl: “there are just more baths and nail trims!”
Do breeders and handlers tend to prefer purebred dogs instead of mixed breeds?
Ashley and Cheryl (simultaneously) “No!! They love ALL dogs!”
What does a breeder/owner/handler look for in a dog to determine if it is show-worthy? Aside from the obvious breed conformation requirements, of course.
Cheryl: “We call it the ‘X factor’. Beyond being physically sound, there is a personality trait, a sparkle, character, spirit and charisma.”
How long does it take to get a dog ready to show?
Cheryl: “In terms of grooming, some are easier dogs such as a ‘wash and wear’ Vizsla. Others like Irish Setters require careful grooming for days and months ahead. Some coats require hand stripping. The dog should be physically mature, fit and with good muscle tone. Breeders usually start evaluating a dog for show ability as early as 8 weeks of life.”
Ashley:” Some dogs learn to tolerate and maintain stacking and follow the rules of the ring within a few weeks. Others can learn with their handlers through a longer period attending handling classes.”
What efforts are made to prevent acute or repetitive injuries, especially in agility or obedience competition?
Ashley:” You start using lower heights for the jumps than the dog would qualify for. This is typically determined by height at the withers. You also limit the number of jumps initially.
Cheryl: “To help keep the dog in top physical condition we utilize swimming, treadmill, stretching, chiropractic adjustments, and acupuncture.
Both: “We watch for balanced movement during different directions as the dog performs.”
After the competition, the dogs return to the benching areas. What should people understand about being in these areas and desiring a closer experience with the dogs yet respecting boundaries?
Ashley and Cheryl:” Always ask first, just as you would ask anyone before touching or petting a dog. This goes for photography too. Try to time your visit to the benching area after ring showing and not right before. Try to ascertain if the handler or owner appears stressed. Keep a respectful distance if you feel it might not be a good time to interact. “Otherwise, interaction with the dogs and questions are typically welcomed.
Many people have concerns about the quality and health of a puppy they might be interested in owning. What efforts responsible, ethical breeders make to keep healthy bloodlines and avoid genetic defect promulgation?
This question was clearly for Cheryl. And she provided great insight: “The mindset of a breeder must be that of a lifelong learner, always a student. A responsible breeder must research pedigrees, meet all of the various breeders and use the wisdom of those trusted ‘elders’ in the field.
Honesty is the cornerstone of sharing information about disease or genetic defect potential or history. The eyes, heart, hips, and elbows are often areas of concern to be identified early on. Breed clubs and AKC’s Canine Health Foundation provide information, research, and science-based data to guide breeders in making sound decisions.”
What suggestions can you offer a potential pet owner looking to have a pure-bred dog? How can they differentiate a responsible breeder from one less responsible?
Ashley told me “a responsible breeder will always take a dog back if a new owner is unhappy. There is typically a written contract of sale with detailed information about the dog. Potential owners should inquire about the pluses and minuses of the breed line. And the breeder must be available and willing to answer them.”
Any final thoughts you wish to share about the Westminster Dog Show experience that readers might not know about or that you with to emphasize?
Cheryl and Ashley both love the Westminster Dog Show and highlight the tradition of 144 years of bringing dog shows of the highest quality to the world. It is one of the oldest sporting events in America, second only to the Kentucky Derby.
Lake Shore Pet Hospital: Dr. Cheryl Stiehl, DVM