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From Fido to Iron Eyes, a Breed Apart

June 24, 1989|PETER W. FREY

With only Fido as inspiration, lying there under your chair, scratching his fleas and occasionally emerging to stick his head between you and the newspaper to give you a sloppy wet kiss on the cheek, the idea of going to a dog show may be the furthest thing from your mind.

Not that Fido isn't the best dog in the world, of course, but there are dogs, and then there are dogs .

The Life of a Champ

Consider, for example, Galbraith's Iron Eyes, a member of the bouvier des Flandres breed and winner of Best in Show honors at last year's prestigious Kennel Club of Beverly Hills All Breed Dog Show and Obedience Trials. Although only 2 years old, he is a major contender again for this year's event, Sunday at the Los Angeles Sports Arena.

Owned by a Sacramento attorney and his wife, Iron Eyes leads the life of a champion, competing in as many as 120 shows a year and spending about seven hours before each show getting his coat brushed into the canine equivalent of an Oscar-night hairdo.

In the competition itself, he works with a professional handler, and when his two- or three-year career as a show dog is over, he will be returned not to his owners but to his breeder, where he will live out his days in pampered luxury while siring new generations of champions. "The life of a champion show dog gives a whole new meaning to the phrase 'It's a dog's life,' " says Susan Vroom, Iron Eyes' handler. "A champion's owners may spend $100,000 a year or more to campaign the dog on the show circuit, but the rewards, in terms of prestige at least, are worth it to them."

Vroom rates Iron Eyes as one of the best dogs she's worked with in 20 years as a professional handler, although she notes that he does have one peculiarity.

Smoked Turkey or Nothing

"He won't eat the usual boiled-liver tidbits we use as a reward for good performance in the ring," Vroom says. "After much experimentation, we've found that the only thing Iron Eyes regards as a treat is hickory-smoked turkey breast."

"Show dogs used to be a rich man's sport, but that's not true any more," says Bob Rains, public relations director for the show and the Beverly Hills Kennel Club. "Dog shows and obedience trials are one of the fastest-growing family sports in America, and people of all income levels are involved.

"There will be more than 2,000 dog shows and obedience trials in the United States in 1989, with more than 1.6 million dogs participating--a 10% to 15% increase over last year. And you can bet their owners aren't all millionaires."

Thousands Participate

In California alone there are 60 "all-breed" dog clubs and more than 250 clubs devoted to specific breeds and/or activities such as obedience and herding. Rains estimates that tens of thousands of Californians participate in dog shows or events almost every weekend of the year.

For hard-core dog devotees attending Sunday's show, the multilevel judging of individual breeds of dog, leading ultimately to one particular dog being judged Best in Show, will be of special interest. However, for those to whom the subtleties of what makes one particular Portuguese water dog or wire-haired dachshund better than another are of little interest, the show features a wide variety of special events, information, training tips and expert advice.

Special events include a "fly-ball" competition in which teams of four dogs race over hurdles to a machine that dispenses a tennis ball when hit by the dog's paw. The dog must then take the ball back over the hurdles and deposit it with its handler before the next dog on the team can start.

There will also be "scent-relay" racing, in which teams of dogs of different breeds and sizes, all wearing colored and numbered jackets, compete by jumping over hurdles to locate a wooden dumbbell with the same number and color as their jacket.

Hauling and Training

And for those to whom an afternoon of watching tractor pulling on TV is entertaining, the Newfoundland hauling demonstrations involve large, very strong dogs pulling incredible loads while negotiating an obstacle course. If control is more to your taste than raw power, handler Laura Bridges will demonstrate the use of trained dogs in herding ranch and farm animals.

In the "education ring," Kim Lindemouen and Sandy Ellington will show how movie and TV dogs are trained and will explain what the judges are looking for when a dog enters the ring with its owner/handler for judging. Alpha Training is another educational event, which will demonstrate how a dog can be made a responsible and loving member of the family.

The International Guiding Eyes foundation will present a slide show and demonstration on how dogs are trained to help their blind owners.

Free professional advice concerning the health of your dog is available at the "Veterinarians' Corner," and "Pedigree Selecta-Dog" is a unique, computerized breed selection service that analyzes life-style factors of potential dog owners and then suggests several breeds that best suit each individual.

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