Call it a Miss American Foxhound pageant, or a hobby gone to the dogs. Either way, you've pretty much got a paw on the subject of dog shows, especially those happening in and around Ventura County.
At a typical show, about 1,600 designer dogs--representing more than 100 breeds--strut, wag and charm the judges into awarding them first-prize ribbons. All those proud canines in one place are a pooch lover's dream come true.
Usually about 2,000 spectators come to see some of the top-ranking dogs in the country compete in 12 exhibit rings.
"Dog shows are a wholesome way to spend the day," says William Bergum, show chairman for the Ventura County Dog Fanciers Assn. "If you're contemplating buying a particular breed, it's also a good place to see purebred dogs, talk to the exhibitors and ask questions," Bergum says.
But you say you know nothing about dog shows. Well, don't pant it, rover. After you read the short primer that follows and practice saying Lhasa apso, Chortay, Kaikadi and Weimaraner, you should do just fine.
Dog shows are basically obedience and posture contests leading toward Companion Dog and Champion degrees. Both degrees are prestigious and represent hours of work that dog people covet and wouldn't give up for the world.
"I love conditioning my borzois, Sheba and Deco, for the show ring by jogging five miles every day with them," Roy Silguero says.
The American Kennel Club has a standard list of qualities by which every breed should be appraised, such as eye color, coat quality, temperament and the way the animal moves. At the dog show, it is a single judge in the ring who makes the decision.
Stand on the sidelines and pick your own winner. If you think it's hard to choose just one, you're right. All the dogs are immaculately groomed and well-trained.
"It takes me two hours to get Crackers ready for a show," says LaVonne Brockway, who entered her 2-year-old Lhasa apso with its silky, human hair-like coat at the Ventura County show in February. "Every Monday, I shampoo him, then rinse him in an oil bath. I brush him every day after that until the weekend, when I do it all over again right before the show."
Participants must formally enter their American Kennel Club-registered dogs in the show at least three weeks in advance. If the only dog you own is a one-eyed dust-encrusted stuffed version named Excalibur, then planning won't be necessary--spectators can head over at the last minute.
The action begins when the public address system blares "The Star-Spangled Banner" promptly at 8 a.m., and continues until 5 p.m. Admission is free. Stay all day or just show up the hour or two when your favorite breed is being judged. The judging schedule is posted near the entrance, or call one of the numbers listed below a few days ahead.
Bring Excalibur along, but leave all live pets at home. Dogs not entered in competition won't be admitted.
Dress comfortably and bring a folding chair if you think you'll want to sit while watching the judging. There is no permanent seating.
If you like to shop, you'll find everything doggy imaginable for sale. Vendors offer a multitude of "I (heart) my (fill in the breed)" T-shirts, bumper stickers and key rings, shampoo for tough-to-manage fur, gourmet-flavored chew toys and informative dog books. Be sure to browse through "Dogs and Their Women," "Astrology for Dogs" and "The Joy of Breeding Your Own Show Dog."
While walking around, be prepared to have to weave through both people and dogs. All day long, show dogs are either going into a ring or coming out of one. If it isn't a group of Saint Bernards, it's a few dobermans or a frisky dalmatian or two.
* WHERE AND WHEN
Dog shows are held throughout Southern California on most weekends. For more information, contact Jack Bradshaw, dog show superintendent, P.O. Box 7303, Los Angeles 90022, (213) 727-0136.
Here is a listing of upcoming shows held in or sponsored by Ventura County kennel clubs and members:
* May 4--Conejo Kennel Club, Santa Monica Civic Auditorium, 1855 Main St., Santa Monica. Sally Higginbotham, show chairman, (805) 526-6878.
* May 5--Malibu Kennel Club, Santa Monica Civic Auditorium, 1855 Main St., Santa Monica. Dottie Adkins, show chairman, (818) 367-6795.
* July 6--Santa Maria Kennel Club, Ventura County Fairgrounds, Agriculture Building and grass areas, Harbor Boulevard and Figueroa Street. Dorothy McCauley, show chairman, (805) 925-5465.
* July 7--Ventura County Dog Fanciers Assn., Ventura County Fairgrounds. William Bergum, show chairman, (805) 642-5514.