When the Greenwood family of Bel Air purchased their first family pet more than two decades ago, they never imagined that man's best friend would lead them to competitions across the country and, eventually, to a coveted title at one of the most prestigious dog shows in the world.
On Feb. 11, Grand Champion Blackrock Jungle Juice RN, a Bernese mountain dog owned by the mother-daughter duo of Robin and Kristen Greenwood, poised and walked for the judges at the 138th Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show in New York City, to prove he was the best dog on the block.
The black, rust and white colored dog, who is called "Mufasa" at home, did not take home a best in group or the coveted best in show that went to a wire fox terrier from California, but with only about four months of specialized showing under his collar, the Greenwoods' dog was awarded Best in Breed.
"We are very proud of this achievement," Kristen Greenwood, 28, said Friday. "It's not something everyone can say they have done. It's a prestigious award from this dog show and we're just so proud that he won."
Mufasa, who will be 5 in human years in June, has been showing since he was six months old, though he does not show often. During the last two months of 2013, the Greenwoods entered him in several regional shows, where his score quickly shot up to the top 20, making him a good contender for the Westminster Dog Show.
"The breed gets ranked by how much winning they do," Robin Greenwood, 50, said. "In two months of showing, he ranked in the top 20 and dogs compete all year to be there. That's how we knew he was ready."
At the Westminster show, Mufasa took home a rosette and a medallion showcasing the dog show's logo and his category ranking.
In recent years, dog training has become a regular part of life for the Greenwood family. Robin Greenwood previously worked as a freelance designer and Kristen Greenwood was a college student, when the family took over a dog grooming and training center, 4 Paws Spa and Training Center in Forest Hill, in 2009.
4 Paws Spa and Training Center has annually partnered with the Harford County Health Department and international rabies experts to recognize World Rabies Day, offering low cost rabies vaccinations and informational sessions.
Over the years the Greenwoods have had a number of dogs of different breeds, including mixes and chows, but mostly Bernese mountain dogs, Robin Greenwood said.
"We've been into dogs a long time; we've had a number of dogs like 11," she said."When we got out first Bernese, we really intended on him being a pet."
Robin Greenwood said when she took her first Bernese back to the breeder to ask some questions, the breeder told her not to neuter the dog because he was well-bred with show qualities.
As a hobby, Kristen Greenwood started working as a junior handler, the person who presents the dog before the judges during the dog show. Eventually, the Greenwoods began putting their dogs through obedience school and entering them at shows as far south as Florida and as far west as California.
Kristen Greenwood said one of the beautiful things about Mufasa is his temperament, which is something she said always looks at in a dog.
"Temperament is key, not even just with purebreds, but even when you are going to the Humane Society," she said. "You have to look at [a dog] that will fit your lifestyle."
She said Mufasa has a "beautiful, lovely temperament" and is a family dog. The dog interacts well with her 14-month old son and thinks the baby is his, she added.
Mufasa also fits the breed standards, Kristen Greenwood said, explaining he has very fluid movements, a beautiful head, lovely top-line and face.
According to Kristen Greenwood, these qualities help Mufasa to rank and score well with the judges.
The Greenwoods' dogs compete in conformation, or breed, shows. The judges rank the dogs based on breed standards for their type or group.
The Bernese mountain dog fits into the working group. According to the Westminster Kennel Club website, Bernese mountain dogs originate from the farm areas of Switzerland. Historically, they were used to drive cattle, pull carts to market, watch the farm and be farm companions.
During a show, Kristen Greenwood said, the judges rank the dogs based on their balance and structure according to the American Kennel Club breed standards. She said they look at the bite, structure of the head, shape of the eyes, angles of the bones and other characteristics.
Kristen Greenwood used to handle Mufasa during the shows, but since reaching the rank of grand champion, the Greenwoods have contracted Mufasa to a professional handler from Pennsylvania.
At the Westminster show, Heather Bremmer handled Mufasa in the breed competition; her husband, Kevin Bednar, handled him in the working group competition.
"We've been showing him out with a professional handler since October of last year and he's done really well with her," Robin Greenwood said.
Mufasa gets very little down time. Kristen Greenwood said he competes in single day and multi-day shows every weekend, both locally and around the country.
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"He gets a bath and a blow dry once a week and in between shows if there is something we do need to work on his movement – or whatever – we work on that," Kristen Greenwood said. "He never leaves me. He comes to work with me everyday."