There's little glamour or glitz involved, but the dog show circuit still has its share of thrills according to Nashville resident Curt Bucy.
Bucy first became involved in showing dogs in spring 2009 when he brought home his first of two Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, Rigby. Jasper joined her shortly after, and now they are rising stars on the dog show circuit, winning a slew of ribbons in the last eighteen months.
Bucy estimates that he's participated in 15 dog shows in the last two years. Three shows are hosted in the Middle Tennessee area each year---Franklin, Murfreesboro and Nashville---allowing Bucy to limit lodging costs and travel time.
"The longest trip so far has been to Lexington for a five-day event last year," he said. "I try to stay within this area. It's very convenient to be close to home."
Each competition includes five or six different classes for entries. Two-year-old Rigby is currently competing as an adult, while Jasper, a male who's one year younger, remains in the puppy classes.
These shows are sponsored by the American Kennel Club, established in 1884 to promote the study, breeding, exhibiting and advancement of purebred dogs. It is the largest not-for-profit purebred dog registry in the nation. The AKC oversees 15,000 sanctioned and licensed events each year.
To be eligible to compete, a dog must be individually registered with the American Kennel Club and be 6 months of age or older. Spayed or neutered dogs are not eligible to compete in these dog shows; the purpose of a dog show is to evaluate breeding stock. Each dog presented to a judge is exhibited by its owner, breeder or a hired professional.
"It usually takes ten to fifteen minutes to show a dog," Bucy said. "The role of a handler is simply to guide the dog around the track."
Most dogs are bidding for points toward their AKC championships. It takes fifteen points to become an American Kennel Club "Champion of Record." The number of championship points awarded at a show depends on the number of males ("dogs") and females ("bitches") of the breed actually in competition. The larger the entry, the greater the number of points a male or a female can win.
"Judges assess a dog based on characteristics such as height, weight, shape of eyes, coat, posture and personality," Bucy said. "The goal for them is to find a dog that's perfect for its standard."
Despite his relative inexperience, Bucy has seen his dogs regularly place in competition. The pair have even been pitted against each other in competition once, with the younger Jasper squeaking by his older sister, Rigby, to claim Best of Show honors after they'd won their respective divisions.
He says that owners are intimately familiar with theirs dog's strengths and weaknesses, follows a strict regiment to ensure his are the most attractive entrants.
"You can purchase specially-designed grooming supplies and shampoos online," he said. "It usually takes an extra hour of grooming before the show in addition to their usual grooming routine."
Money is no motivator for Bucy. Most shows only offer small cash prizes and ribbons for the winners. He doesn't travel the dog show circuit to have his competitive spirit sated. It's the enjoyment of the journey that makes his efforts worth it.
"There are some people that are serious and competitive," he said. "But I just have a fun time with it, and I enjoy seeing all the dogs at the shows."