LR: Welcome to Pure Dog Talk. I have three amazing guests with me this evening. Mr. Bill, Ms. Valerie, and Mr. Andy, please introduce yourselves.
BM: I’m Bill McFadden
VNA: I’m Valerie Nunes-Atkinson
AL: And I’m Andy Linton
LR: Excellent. And the reason that we’ve all come together this evening, is that these three amazing humans have all won Best in Show at Westminster Kennel Club. And so, we gonna talk a little bit about livin’ that dream, and how that feels, and what that looks like, and what you do, and what you don’t do, and the steps that you take to get there, and what you do after. So, we are gonna start with our most recent winner who’s here this evening, Valerie. I want you to tell me what was the word, what was the first word that was in your head when the finger was pointed. The word.
VNA: I can’t believe it. Oh, my God. Honestly, I thought Rumor was gonna win, and when he was coming my direction and started with “German,” I was ready to turn and offer my congratulations. So, it was just disbelief, because like we spoke about earlier too, I was 10 when I wanted that dream. I was that 10-year-old girl, that was the first time I went to The Garden as a junior handler with my very first German Shorthaired Pointer, and that’s always been the dream. It is the dream for everyone I think.
LR: I think it is. I think it is. So, and living that dream is pretty amazing.
VNA: It’s a fairytale, it really is. It’s something, I mean now it’s been almost a year later, and I still think about it and think about the emotions in the moment, and everything leading up to it and everything after. And I still can’t really believe it happened.
LR: Right, like it’s not really true.
VNA: Ya. I don’t think I ever will. I mean, I don’t.
LR: Ok, Mr. Bill.
BM: I mean, it was kind of like relief, disbelief, it didn’t feel real. It was like out of body, kind of just like what Val said. Exactly.
AL: Well mind was a little different. I had these great dreams of winning, having the top dog of all breeds, and then winning Westminster. And everything was going to plan, had the top dog all-breed, came into Westminster maybe the favorite. Then on arrival at the New York airport, and my dog Indy was, I pulled her out the crate and she was bloating. So, my whole weekend went way different than I’d hope to have it go. Spent the weekend at the hospital, she got tubed, showed the dog on Monday morning and I was in the ring just thanking God she was alive. And I’m in the ring showing the ring, crying. And everybody couldn’t figure out why I’m crying, and it’s cuz the dog’s alive. But then we got it together and she won the group that night, and then the next night for Best in Show, she was kinda back in form, really good form and won. And they said relief, they don’t know what relief is. Mine was pure relief, it wasn’t the exhilarating win that everybody would think it was going to be, but it was just relief that my dog was alive, and that she won was actually just a bonus. Not really that it was so exciting. It was a thrill and it’s always stuck with me.
LR: What is it when you do your individual exam, you do your down and back, what are you thinking? What’s your plan, what’s your preparation?
BM: Well, I think Westminster’s a really hard to show a dog, it’s a hard place to take care of a dog, it’s a hard place to get a dog to. So, there’s lots of stress involved, and the only time you really feel any relief is when you get into the group ring cuz you finally have a ring your dog can actually show in, and live in, and I find it to be a really comfortable place. It feels good. Not necessarily the breed rings, but the group rings. And with Mick, I won the group three years in a row and he was really hard to show there. He thought every person was there to see him, I’ve said that before. There’s a lot of electricity with the crowd, and I just remember that third time, I was like, I’m never going to make you do this again. I promise you we’re never touching ring carpet ever, and I mean really it was like riding a bull, it was like, just stay on for eight seconds and then we can get out of here. And that was what I was thinking.
VNA: Tell them about what you did differently though.
BM: Another person that won Best in Show, she said she’d always tell people, just don’t do anything different, don’t change your routine, don’t change your food, don’t change your lead, don’t change your underwear, whatever. And I said I changed my routine the night I won, and it was because Mick had a prostrate infection. And when he was around any males or any excitement, his testosterone was flaring through him, which was then increasing his discomfort. And he had started on the down and back, when he got back to the judge he would stiff-neck and look up at me and just bark, like arf, arf, arf, arf, arf, which isn’t that attractive. So, I had in my head that I had to do something that would throw him off his game, so when I came back to the judge I kneeled down which is not something I never do. And he went woof? and arched his neck and looked like me, like are you ok?
LR: I remember that
VNA: And it worked
BM: And it worked, ya.
VNA: You know, it can be cold in that back-waiting area. And with a smooth coated dog and a Southern California dog, I think it’s important to keep them warm. Not only to keep their muscles warm, but smooth coated dogs that are cold don’t look very pretty, so I spent a good probably 20 minutes warming him up in that back hallway.
BM: You mean like a hot massage, or?
VNA: No, I mean like running, running, and running, and more running. And so, actually, when we got up there, you know when you wait in the back area and your kind of in the lights but not really? Everyone’s excited, and that’s when I was not nervous at all. Because as I was told later in the media room, I was the long shot at Vegas. So, you know I mean, a new young dog, he’d just turned three a few weeks before The Garden, and so I had nothing to lose. Everything to gain and nothing to lose. I think the hardest thing going into that group ring is the lights. Something that I had dreamed about, and wanted to be in that spotlight going into that Best in Show, you know seeing it every year since I was 10, I think that was the hardest. Because you cannot see outside of that light, it is a bright light, and it is pitched black out, and you have a dog, you talked about the electricity in the air which is, you can feel it. And you want your dog to be, you know, on the edge, on the edge of almost out of control, giving everything but in control. So, going with a fast-moving dog and not being able to see where you’re going was scary. And I remember just looking for the inside carpet, that square and then the box, I was looking for that. And as soon as I saw that I kind gauged my circle, I think my circle was kind of small actually, cuz I was trying to keep that within the edge of the light.
AL: It’s an interesting question how to prepare for The Garden if you’re talking about at the Garden. You have a case with Bill who’s got a fire-breathing dragon at the end of the leash, who’s just stallion, personified. And there’s not a lot you can do with that except try to steer him in the right direction. And then you’ve got Valerie, who’s got a dog that she’s been training since he was born.
TL: Pretty much before he was born.
AL: I remember working with her with her puppy, and she had him trained to perfection as a baby, and so it’s a lot different preparation. Bills dog. Valerie’s dog. And in mine case, I had a dog more in line with Valerie’s dog that was pretty much perfectly trained, and showy, and easy to deal with. So, it’s more about doing the routine, and maybe as Valerie also stated, just kind of getting your dog pumped up, a little bit on edge, and just trying to show the light and the spirit that your dog has. And maybe, maybe be a little bit more dramatic if you can get away with it. But, for me, it’s been so long ago, I don’t remember what I did.
LR: The mind is the first thing to go.
AL: But, my dog was literally so showy, and easy to show that I could just focus on what I wanted to do, and project how I thought I needed to that particular night. So, I think the main thing is, if you prepare as Valerie did with her own dog that she bred, and raised and trained, it makes it a lot easier if you go in there with a trained dog. Bill really was up against it with a fire-breathing Terrier.
BM: Ya, it was totally the opposite, I have to go Zen, the other way. I have to like totally show no emotions.
AL: Exactly, exactly so it’s a whole different train of thought, and the preparation is different too.
LR: It is different. And I think one of the things that’s really interesting that Andy brought up is, so much is individual, not just your breed. Ok we’re got three different groups represented here as well as the different breeds of the individual dog. You’ve shown other Terriers before, you’ve shown other Short Hairs before, you’ve shown 90 million Dobermans, each individual dog within a breed, and each breed in a group, but all of that, there’s so much that we have to do that is specific to the individual dog. And I think that Andy brings a really good point that Valerie, like owner/handlers everywhere, has that advantage. They have raised it, they have trained it, they have a good bond with it, they have put the time and effort into it that we don’t all necessarily get. And so, you know you can look at those two different perspectives. So now let’s talk a little bit. You’ve prepared ahead of The Garden ok, you’ve prepared the night of, you’ve won the breed, you’ve won the group, you’re in the Best in Show. Ok, how did you get there? So, go backwards now. What was the primary thing that you were able to do to get yourself in a position to win that Best in Show. You had to put a lot of advance work in. So, Valerie trained her dog from the get-go, Bill, three strikes you’re out
BM: I wouldn’t call winning the group at The Garden a strike
VNA: I think that’s a hat trick
LR: But what I’m saying, talking to the average person, how are you preparing, what are you doing, what’s your process? Andy?
AL: Well in my case with Indy that won the Best in Show at The Garden, she won a couple of groups there, the first year I showed here, first of all you have to have that dog that you believe in, and that’s super important. And then you have to work with that dog and develop a rapport and the typical stuff. But I really had faith in my dog because the first year I showed her, she was shown maybe 60 something times, and won 19 best of breeds, ok. So, I really had the faith.
LR: That’s a lot of faith Andy.
AL: That’s a lot of faith. The next year she won like 19 Best in Shows, and then the next year she was top dog all-breed, and then won Westminster, so it’s interesting how that can go. So, you really do have to believe in your dog, and I think Bill’s dog game came with great acclaim from England. So, my dog was kind of at first owned by some people that it was their first champion dog, and I was pretty young at that time to have a top dog, so there’s different dynamics. I didn’t go big at first. Later on, I just came on and really helped me to promote and get around to the shows I needed to get to, and so if you’re talking about having a top dog, obviously, you got to get into enough shows and get to the right places, and that creates some momentum hopefully. So, that being said, hopefully you come into The Garden with a little momentum, certainly with an act. You have to have an act I think, I mean as evidenced by Mick and CJ. You know they were just phenomenal acts, I thought. Bill had to kinda fake his sometimes, it was hard to do. But Valerie’s dog, like I said, I’ve watched her train hers from the time it was a baby, and it was an easy act. You know I mean, Valerie makes it looks easy. So, you hopefully you get an act together, create some momentum, create a little buz, and you know that can help. I’ve rarely seen a dog just come out of the blue and win Westminster over the years. It has happened a few times, but usually a dog comes in with an act, and a buz and a little momentum most of the time.
BM: It’s hard because the judges are under such time constraints, and literally you know, they feel the eyes of everyone watching them. And they’re having to watch for the red light, the green light. So, for them to even have the freedom in their mind to be able to fall in love with kind of an unknown dog, it would be amazing.
AL: It’s pretty rare.
BM: Ya. I don’t know, I wasn’t around back in the 20’s but I think with the TV and commercials and stuff, they really are under time constraints. So, I think that makes it hard for a star to arrive.
VNA: Well, I think that’s what was unusually about CJ too coming in. I think there was a buz about him before, you know he finished at three big shows, winning the breed from the classes and that’s kind of where it started. And that kind of wrapped one year, and the last being he won the breed at 12 months at The Garden from the bred-by class. And then the next year, he had a good year but we selectively showed him, we showed him for about a total of six and 1/2 months I think I was ill, and I had some time off, and we just kind of spot showed him, but he did well.
BM: Ya but you managed him.
VNA: Ya, I managed him that year.
LR: I think that management that a lot of people could not mimic, but certainly pay attention to.
VNA: Ya, and I think that’s hard. But having that dog that you believe in like Andy said, so as a breeder/owner/handler as well as professional handler, having something come into your hands and you know instantly. You know you’ve got to have a dog that fits the standard. You’ve got to have a dog that’s rich in type, that’s a given. But you need these other variables that make the dog a show dog, and that something special, the “it” factor I’ve said before, lots of people have said, that make you look at it. And so, I think realizing that and bringing it on and managing it, and picking the judges that you know, you think, you hope, will appreciate the dog, I think is what we kind of try to do about six and 1/2 months before we went into The Garden. So, he kind of came in as kind of as unknown, I mean he wasn’t an unknown, but he was cuz he was young.
BM: It was smart management cuz you made him, it was like tantalizing. Like enough people saw him, enough people saw the two of you together to build some interest in him. It wasn’t like he had the biggest record going it, but certainly had a lot of people that had seen him or heard about him.
LR: One of the things that a lot of people feel is they don’t necessarily have the opportunity to manage as successfully. And so, what we want to think about is, ok so you came in with a number one dog, you came with a dog sort of behind if you will, the not odds-on favorite, and Mick had probably been the favorite the year before.
BM: For like three years, he was a favorite every year.
LR: So, as you’re building and you’re managing that dog’s career, and you’ve got the right dog, and I think one of the things we haven’t talked about and I think we have to be frank, is money. This stuff ain’t free, so having the resources to do the management that needs to be done.
VNA: Well I think it’s a different game than it has been in years past, and it’s probably I think that end has elevated greatly. However, I think back to Toby which is CJ’s great-grand sire, which was a top show short-hair, top winning dog and he’s the top producer in the breed, and I won I think 11 or 13 Best in Shows on him. He never had a single page of advertising, and he won under all of the great, most respected judges in our sport. And I remember Mrs. Clark actually giving him a group or a best in show somewhere, and she said to me, why have I ever never seen this dog before? And I said, cuz he’s owned by this little old lady, and she doesn’t have two dimes and we just show him locally here in California. And he went on to do a lot of very nice winning, so it could be done, that was back in the 80’s. So now you move forward and I still believe that can happen, because after CJ finished, that next year when I kind of just spot showed him, selectively showed him, I think he won 17 best in shows that year. And he did not have a single page of advertising. I think he might have had one in the breed magazine, but nothing. So, I think it still can be done, I think a lot of people will want to say you have to have it.
LR: Social media?
VNA: Social media, absolutely because I think that’s one of the things that’s helped
LR: One of the things that I would say is that it was one of the most masterful social media campaigns I have watched. I mean, I watched it on social media and I think it was tremendously impactful. Andy?
AL: I’m a huge believer that dog shows ultimately and in the long run, and one based on quality, condition and presentation. And I won’t quit tomorrow if I didn’t believe that honestly. The problem is, most of the people that have the best quality dogs and present them the best and condition them the best, also encapsulate an owner with that. And they’re smart enough to have all three things going. Maybe their dog is not quite as good, but their condition and their presentation is awesome. Basically, it kind of all sorts itself out. And I believe truthfully, if somebody had all three qualities at the top of their game, and they can get to where they need to go, they’re going to win a lot. And like I said, I would quite tomorrow if I didn’t believe that. I really totally believe that with all my heart, that if you had a great dog, and you had it in great condition, and you presented perfectly here as well as it can be presented, you would win. People would find it, and people would actually gravitate towards it, and it wouldn’t matter who, it wouldn’t have to be a name brand handler. If nobody knew who the handler was, and all three things were great, that dog would win.
BM: No I agree, and I think to people that have that dream, that seems unattainable or they don’t think they could ever do it but they dream about it, there’s a lot of work to be done. Because you can’t manage something if you don’t know what you’re managing or how to manage, so you gotta learn all that. And that means that you have to watch somebody while they’re doing it, pay attention to the judges as they’re judging your breed, so that it’s not just whether you win or lose, but you’re starting to understand what they like, what they expect in that breed, or in the group. There’s so many things that there’s nothing you can do but experience it, and it takes time. So, if you’re looking to go best in show like four months after you start showing dogs, at The Garden, you’re probably gonna be a like shot. I would guess, I would say. But I do, I agree with Andy, I think it’s definitely possible. There’s enough really good judges who get their rocks off on finding some that they think nobody else has found. So, with the right preparation, the right presentation, some people have that natural gift they’ve been able to showcase. It’s just a matter of learning how to manage it and not show to every judge up the road. Figure it out, ok I’ll wait and show that weekend because those judges will do something if I put on the right show, and I bring in the right dog.
AL: There’s enough owner/handlers out there with every bit as much talent as any of us have, that can handle a dog just as well as any professional. They don’t get to go to as many shows, they may not have as good of dog. But something’s lacking, the quality, the condition, or presentation, or they’d be winning too, something’s lacking.
VNA: But there’s a lot of owner/handlers out there that do have all of that, and beat all three of us.
LR: All four of us, thank you very much us.
AL: I guess I was referring to owner/handlers that complain maybe that professional handlers win all the time. And I would say to them, you can win just as much as we can win if you go to as many dog shows. You’ll win as many breeds if you have the quality of the dog.
VNA: The homework, the homework needs to be done. And I think that’s sometimes where it’s lacking in trim, and condition and training, and granted, they may have a full-time job, and this is ours. But like Andy said, ya you have to have those three things to be equal and on a level playing field.
LR: And I think Andy’s point is really, really well taken. And I say the same thing to owner/handlers all the time, the same type of basic concept. There’s no reason you can’t be me, or Val, or Bill or Andy, you can do that. Ok, what you need to do is to be able to do these three things as well, and you’re still not gonna win every single time, but you’re gonna win. That’s the goal.
VNA: And if they have that exceptional dog like Andy said earlier, they will win. They will win under those good judges that we all look to try to bring our special dogs to.
LR: Right. I think what we’re hearing a lot right now in this conversation, we’re hearing the idea of culmination. The idea of it’s a culmination of knowledge, experience, preparation, bitter, hard work, and it will take you there. And win, lose or drawn, everyone has that chance if they do these things.
AL: But, it’s just not all politics. There is talent, there is skill involved in this.
VNA: I think that’s an easy way out for a lot of people to say.
AL: Absolutely, you hear it every dog show
VNA: It’s an easy way to claim that their dog’s not good enough, that it didn’t win based on politics. But really if you take a step back, and look, and you see that maybe the dog isn’t in hard condition, or isn’t trimmed as well. Or, purely maybe it’s just not as good as dog. You know I mean it’s hard sometimes when it’s so close to your heart, you want to think it’s the best ever.
AL: Handling skill matters. For example, you take a dog that’s a 5 on a scale of 10. Handled perfectly, conditioned perfectly, trimmed perfectly, this 5 can look like a 7. That same 5 in bad condition, shown poorly, can look like a 3. The same dog can look like a 7 or a 3, and people don’t factor that in and if people would look at it like that, they’d realize, hey, just do the work.
LR: Right. And I think that we hear this repeatedly, and I think that we can’t say it often enough. And I guess sometimes I think people don’t understand when we say do the work, and they said but we did. Ya, well no, this is the work. This over here is like you tried.
AL: And we’ve kinda veered off from Westminster, but it actually we haven’t. It all comes back to the same thing. You do the work, you be talented, you be skillful and have a great dog, and guess what? You can win Westminster.
VNA: Well, and like you said earlier too, I mean the line-ups at Westminster, you can’t go wrong any which way you would point.
LR: Don’t flip a coin, I’m just saying, don’t flip a coin.
VNA: When you get to that level in the dogs that are there, you’re talking about the best of the best for the most part, are always going to be in that final line-up at The Garden. So, quality again, rises, it’s gonna be there. And then it turns into a dog show on the night.
LR: In conclusion, and I really think that what I want to carry forward to people, what I want people to hear is that, live your dream, you know. Live your dream, work hard for it, do the blood, sweat and tears. And maybe you’ll win, maybe you won’t.
AL: So many dogs haven’t
LR: That’s right, great dogs, great handlers, great breeders. Lots of amazing people.
AL: There’s a lot of luck involved.
AL: Situation and timing goes a long way there.
VNA: And especially too, I mean every year you look at different breeds, and you’re like who’s gonna win this breed? And well if this one gets out of that breed, it could win the group. So, there’s so many variables about who you’re even gonna have in the group that could change everything. So that’s kind of an exciting part to look at and think about.
LR: Everybody’s getting ready, you’re getting on a plane. One last word of advice, you’re driving down the road, you’re getting on the plane. What’s the one thing you want to lodge in their minds, everybody that’s going?
VNA: Well I would say again like we talked about earlier, everything has to be perfect. So, your dog better be in perfect weight, perfect condition, perfect trim. Your homework needs to have already been done. You get on the plane and you arrive there, and keep everything the same, and then you go have fun. Enjoy the day, enjoy the night, show your dog. Again, it does go back to that, for a lot of us, it does for me, you know just the pure joy of showing my dog. It is what is was when I was 10 years old. I enjoy showing them, it’s a passion for me still. I think that if you keep it at the basis of it, you’re gonna have a good time, win, lose or draw.
BM: And you go see a play. Eat lasagna
LR: He eats lasagna in New York
AL: If you can get to Daniel’s, get there too.
BM: Be prepared to be unprepared too, because things happen.
LR: Right, I mean, look at Andy, it’s true. Alright you guys, I really appreciate your time, I know it’s been a long day. Congratulations Mr. Bill, best in show this evening, city classic.
BM: Thank you very much pretty mama.
LR: And good night.
LR: As always, if you have any questions or input, we’d love to hear from you. The show notes and links to resources on today’s topic are available at puredogtalk.com. Drop us a note in the comments or email to Laura at puredogtalk.com. Remember guys, this podcast if for you so if you want to know something, give me a holler, we’ll do podcast for you. If you wouldn’t mind, you could help me out here, take a couple minutes to visit iTunes and give us a review. This will help share the love with others out there in the sport. This has been Pure Dog Talk with your host, Laura Reeves. We hope you can join us next time as we continue the journey to success with your purebred dog