The competitive world of dog shows: This ain’t a spectator sport

Pulling into the parking lot of the Coast Convention Center for the Mobile Kennel Club dog show could be somewhat deceptive for one not familiar with the ins and outs of American Kennel Club–sponsored events. There were only a handful of cars in the lot.

But peek behind the facility, and you are met with the sight of campers, RVs and expensive minivans filled with equipment used to transport dogs, because those in the know will tell you AKC dog shows aren’t a spectator sport.

Welcome to the competitive world of purebred dog shows.

Bear from Baton Rouge

Lisa Peterson of St. Francisville, Louisiana, and her Australian shepherd Bear, 7, were showing Saturday in the herding group competition.

She said this is the first show in which they have competed since the recent flooding in the Baton Rouge area.

“We live on a hill so we didn’t have a lot of damage,” she said. “It was mainly on the outside of our house but we didn’t lose everything like a lot of people.”

In the AKC world, there are three primary players — the dog breeders, the owners and the handlers. Although some dogs have never spent a second in the homes of their owners, Peterson said that was definitely not the case with Bear.

“Bear is my pet, he’s like a member of the family,” she said. “He’s slept inside his whole life — I’m his owner and his handler.

“He’s my first show dog and I take him in the ring myself.”

When Bear is not competing and trying to win ribbons and accolades, Peterson said he can be found in his favorite spot.

“He loves getting in our pond,” she said. “He’s a farm dog.”

A family affair

While Peterson was busy grooming Bear for the show, his brother, Styx, was in the next stall getting his final touches with his owner and handler, Rachael Fayard of Biloxi.

“He was named after the band Styx,” Fayard said, “but I didn’t name him. He came with the name and I liked it and kept it.”

Fayard said she likes going to the dog shows to see Styx’s litter mates and the people she considers family.

Styx, Fayard said, is also her pet.

“Styx is a member of the family — he won’t leave my side,” she said.

Tricks of the trade

Peterson and Fayard were working quickly to ready Bear and Styx for the competition. They were brushing and blow-drying and wiping and straightening in an effort to make sure their dog was noticed by the judges.

“I think Bear has more grooming products than I do,” Peterson said. “I couldn’t find my curling iron for months and I recently found it Bear’s grooming bag.”

Fayard said she has a few grooming secrets to make Styx stand out.

“I use chalk to make his whites whiter and I have to wet his whole body down and blow-dry him in reverse and then go the other way. And he gets some mousse, too.”

Fayard said she also learned a trick to help keep her dog stable during a competition.

“I use Stickum spray on his paws and my shoes to prevent us from slipping,” she said.

And Peterson literally has a trick up her sleeve. She keeps a hot dog in a rubber band in her sleeve to use when commanding Bear in the ring.

“He likes hot dogs and I like hot dogs, so at least it’s not something gross, like liver,” she said.

Saucier boys

Bear and Styx were born in Saucier.

Karen Broadus has been breeding dogs in South Mississippi for nearly 40 years. She was at Saturday’s show to watch her “grandsons” compete against each other.

“I love to come out here and support them,” she said. “It’s a big family event — you walk into the ring serious and you come out friends.”

While most people would stay away from favoritism, she said she was hoping to see Styx win the competition.

“If he wins, he will be a champion, so I’m pulling for him,” she said.

Styx was the winner of his breed and his brother placed third.

After the competition, Peterson said there were no hard feelings.

“It’s a competition, but we don’t take it too seriously,” she said. “If either of the dogs win, I’m happy.”