Dog Shows: Behind the Scenes January 1, 2004
By: Mark Edmund
Drama. Politics. Heartbreak. Elation.
Some would argue that sure, that’s what it’s all about. Mareth Kipp likes to think of it as just a good excuse to gather with friends, family, and even strangers and share a passion that bonds them all together.
“I think what I like about it most – it can be so much of a family sport,” said Kipp, a long-time dog breeder in North Prairie, Wis. and world-renowned judge of terriers. “The best part about it is the people. We’ve made just some marvelous contacts.”
“The sport has been very good to me,” she said.
To others, as well. Just scan the weekend events calendar in your local newspaper. Do a quick search on the web. Check in with a local kennel club. Most likely, there’s some type of dog show competition taking place this weekend or next in your area – or within reasonable driving distance.
The American Kennel Club (AKC), which sanctions and licenses the events, documents more than 15,000 of these shows each year – many in the southeastern Wisconsin and the northern Illinois region. Dog shows were first created as a venue to showcase and evaluate a number of a dog breed’s attributes, including its physical beauty, its agility, and how obedient it is.
There can be all-breed shows that include competition for dozens of breeds of dogs, or small specialty shows that feature a specific breed. Group shows, too, limit the dogs to one of the seven dog groups: sporting, hounds, working, terrier, toy, non-sporting, and herding. These three types of shows are considered “conformation” dog shows.
None of the dogs who compete in these conformation classes are spayed or neutered. The dogs are being evaluated in terms of its breeding stock.
Within each show, the dogs are divided by male and female, as well as by class: puppy, 12-18 months, novice, bred by exhibitor, American-bred, and open. The judges evaluate the dogs and awards one of 10 different colored ribbons for those chosen superior. At conformation shows, dogs are awarded points that add up to the AKC championships and to become an AKC “Champion of Record.”
Kipp first started showing dogs in 1966 when her children participated in the 4-H club. “Everyone had something to show except their mother,” Kipp said.
Something got her hooked, and she showed her first dog – an Airedale – the next year.
Since then, she and her husband, Fred, have bred more than 75 champions on their dairy farm in Waukesha County. Airedales continue to be their specialty. The Kipps have passed the passion down to their son Scott and his wife, Susan of Union Grove. Both are involved in shows as professional handlers. Another daughter-in-law, Monica Kipp, handles show dogs, as well.
Kipp branched out from breeding and showing dogs to actually judging the terrier group in the 1980s. She’s traveled around the United States and the world to countries like Norway, Finland, Germany, Australia, New Zealand, Columbia – and next year, England, to judge dog competitions.
“We’ve been very lucky we’ve been able to do these things,” she said.
Not everyone will be lucky enough to make the commitment necessary to be active in dog shows. Involvement doesn’t come overnight, Kipp warns. Make sure you do enough homework and research before you commit to a breed or a dog.
“Do a lot of reading and research,” she said. “Not every dog is for everybody.”
Decide what type of competition you’d like to focus on. Agility? Obedience? Conformation?
“Go to a dog show, walk around, ask questions,” Kipp said. “Research your breeder very carefully.”
Find contacts through the local kennel clubs, breed specialty clubs, or even veterinarians who may treat dogs of those who participate in shows.
“If you really want a show dog, talk to people who know. Ask the very tough questions: ‘Have the parents had hip dysplasia? What are the health problems?’ Be prepared to pay some money – like $800 to $1,500 or more for a puppy.”
And be prepared to invest some significant time in training, grooming, and becoming familiar with AKC rules and regulations for dog shows.
“You just don’t walk in and luck out on something.”