With the revered Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show set for the bright lights of New York next month, dogs and handlers from around the country, and even the world, are taking the opportunity to sharpen their skills this weekend — albeit in a different Westminster dog show.
The Snowbird American Kennel Club Dog Show, which began on Thursday, will continue at the Carroll County Agriculture Center until Sunday.
This is the second year the Ag Center has played host to the show, said Carroll Kennel Club board member Laurie Walters, and the Carroll Kennel Club is co-hosting with the Annapolis Kennel Club.
"We dog-show people bring in lots of revenue for the county," Walters said. The Days Inn in Westminster reported more than 100 nights booked by people in town for the show.
Though the competition is a great way to bring dogs and breeders to the Ag Center, Walters said it is also a good opportunity for members of the community to come see different breeds in action if they are considering getting a dog.
"It's a great time to come see the breeds and talk to the breeders to find out about what are some of the characteristics of the breeds [and] will it make a good pet or be suitable for what you want to do," she said.
Walters said people can also find out about any genetic issues certain breeds tend to have. A good purebred dog is often expensive due to the testing that goes into determining if there are any defects.
Taneytown resident Mary Smith, an owner of Scottish terriers, said she sells her Scotties to both "show homes" — where the dog will be trained as a show dog — and to families looking for a pet.
"All my guys are lap dogs," she said, "house pets as well as show dogs."
Smith said she doesn't place her puppies in a home until they are at least 12 weeks old, and by that time, they have been crate- and leash-trained, spent time around other dogs and people, and gotten used to being bathed and groomed.
"I introduce them to as much as possible to make them good dogs," Smith said. A Scottish terrier from Smith costs about $2,400.
Smith said she has been breeding Scottish terriers for seven years after her pet Scottie died at 15, and she got a young, unspayed female Scottie that was well-behaved and would show well.
Smith began breeding and never looked back.
"I've always wanted to have puppies," she said. "I love puppies."
With each new litter, she said the dogs are evaluated and one or two "picks of the litter" are selected. Smith keeps at least one of the recommended dogs and sells the others.
Smith has had four of her Scotties achieve grand champion status at competitions, and one of them received a bronze medal at an international dog show.
Walters said the goal at shows such as this weekend's is to earn points by having a dog win its breed.
Dogs are pitted against one another based on appearance and behavior, she said. Dogs are shown in their class —which is determined by breed, sex and age — then the winner of each class competes against other dogs of that breed and sex that won their class.
The winner from each group is then considered for best of breed, Walters said. The best of each breed then competes in its group: terrier, toy, hound, working, sporting, nonsporting and herding.
Dogs often compete across multiple days because the judges for each breed change, and a dog can win one day and lose another depending on the judge, Walters said.
The competitions draw a mix of people who breed and show dogs as a hobby, and also those who handle dogs professionally, Walters said.
"It's also a social thing as well as a competition," she said. "People's lives center around this. This is a big commitment when people get into showing their dogs."
Paul Clas, of Hanover, Pa., said he has grown up in a family that shows dogs professionally.
"It just evolved into a business for me too," he said.
Clas runs Lakeside Pet Resort in Hanover, which offers boarding and grooming services as well as show-dog handling. He said he enjoys watching dogs grow, develop and learn.
Australian-born Emma Bawden travels the world showing dogs and is currently working with a 2-year-old female saluki named Pooh.
"It's something that I've always loved," she said. Bawden's mother has bred ridgebacks since 1974, and Bawden said she spent all week at school waiting for the weekend so she could work with the dogs.
"It's hard to explain," she said. "It's something I've done all my life."
Bawden, now based in Oklahoma City, said she enjoys traveling for competitions.
"It's a fantastic way to see the country," she said.
Judge Arlene Benko said she has been certified as a judge since 1972, and though the traveling is not as enjoyable, she loves seeing cities and experiencing the shows.
"The traveling's a pain, but once you get to the show, you forget about it," she said.
Benko said she became interested in judging because she was a breeder herself, and once you do it long enough, you learn to spot a good dog.
"You see good dogs, and you feel they should be best in show," she said.
Benko said to become a judge one must have had success as a breeder, attend seminars and pass written tests.
When judging, she said she must make assessments very quickly once the dogs enter the ring, including assessing their beauty, movement, balance and expression.
"Expression, to me, is very important," she said.
Though she has not bred dogs recently — Benko and her husband, John, breed collies and Pomeranians — she said she misses the competition.
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"There's no bigger thrill," she said.
Reach staff writer Heather Cobun at 410-857-7898 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you go
What: Snowbird American Kennel Club Dog Show
Where: Carroll County Agriculture Center
When: Gates open at 8 a.m. Saturday and Sunday
Cost: $5 to park, free admission