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Representing Germany--a Shepherd


The competition staged at Valley College a few days ago had all the ingredients of a miniature Olympic Games.

Besides the intense battle for prizes, there was extraordinary grace under pressure, plenty of fanfare and regalia, a village for the contestants, behind-the-scenes maneuvering and, of course, unabashed commercialism.

About the only Olympic-type spectacle not seen during the two-day event was the snarling, posturing, whining, back-stabbing, trash-talking interaction among the competitors that feeds the media coverage of the quadrennial gathering of the world's finest athletes.

Boorishness of that kind is simply not tolerated in championship dogs.

More than 2,000 purebreds commingled on the grassy quad of the Van Nuys campus Saturday and Sunday in the Burbank Kennel Club's All-Breed Dog Show and Obedience Trial.

Not a single dogfight broke out.

"There might be some people fights, because it is a political world," said Valerie Anne Yale, spokeswoman for the club. "It would only be between the people, though."

So focused were the dogs on their owners' commands and movements, they seemed almost not to notice one another, the hundreds of spectators who milled around them or the Polynesian dancers and cartoon-character impersonators.

Like Olympic athletes, the dogs had many events. Some jumped through hoops or chased flying objects. The Standard Bred Poodles showed remarkable poise, standing motionless for hours while their owners primped their brows with combs and hair spray.

The potential union between dog and master reached its pinnacle in the obedience trials.

Any dog owner who thinks of obedience training as whacking a pet on its behind to make it sit or raising a threatening hand when it barks should see Barbara Kiefer and her Rottweiler, named Rocksolid Risky Business UD, who won the trial.

During the award presentations, Rocksolid strolled across the lawn at Kiefer's heel, head canted admiringly toward her master's face, matching her pace instantly as it quickened from walk to double time to jog, and then a dead stop, without a gesture or sound as cue.

Kiefer then raised an arm sideways and marched away, leaving Rocksolid in place, as steady as her name. One hundred feet away, Kiefer turned and raised her arm again, releasing the dog, which charged into her arms with unmistakable glee.

The UD at the end of Rocksolid's name stands for "utility dog," an honorific title of exemplary modesty.

All purebreds have in their lineage physical and psychic characteristics suited to a particular job that its ancestors were bred to do. Thus there are herding dogs, hunting dogs, guard dogs, carriage dogs, and the tracking dogs with their modern manifestations in the marijuana- and bomb-sniffing canines used by law enforcement.

In spite of such yeoman heritage, some dogs can't help being hams.

As part of the festivities, a bulldog that has played a part or two in the movies showed just how advanced the trait can be. Dressed as a pirate in a bandanna and three-cornered hat, he stood regally on the bow of a miniature pirate ship and was wheeled into the judging arena in Sunday's grand finale.

"He was just adorable," said Yale.

For those who don't understand dog judging, it can be mysterious. The process moves quickly, without a lot of talk and no announcer to keep spectators informed.

Dogs are inspected in groups of about a dozen, all the same breed. The main drill requires the animal to lope at its master's side on a leash, sometimes alone and sometimes with the whole group lined head to tail.

There are professional handlers, like Doug Toomey of Tarzana, who are paid to run around the ring with other people's dogs.

A professional will handle up to 20 dogs per show, Toomey said. They ply the circuit up and down the state in motor homes converted into movable kennels, everything from Chevy campers to $700,000 buses. They do up to 75 shows a year.

At Valley College, their nomadic encampment filled a parking lot. Another parking lot was set aside for the tents of the prolific and inventive dog-paraphernalia business.

Along with all the competing brands of foods and grooming aids, one could buy stuffed dogs, stainless-steel cages, dog apparel with such catchy names as "bitches britches," dog mugs, dog porcelain plates and dog jewelry.

The ingenuity of these marketers is limitless. At one booth a vendor was selling dog pup tents in sizes for all breeds. They were made of crisp nylon with a separate dog run of fishnet that attached with Velcro.

At the First USA booth, applications were offered for the American Kennel Club Visa card. People can send in a picture of a dog and the image will be transferred onto the card with the pet's name embossed alongside the owner's.

Dog T-shirts are tailored to the breed, not just with cute pictures. Heather Kinch, who came to the show from Manassas, Va., extols, or sometimes satirizes, the qualities of each type in a limerick.

For the formidable mastiff, she writes:

Between mastiff, colossus and bear,

I'm asked who would win, like I care.

The debate rages on

While I nap on the lawn

But the answer is I would, so there.

Kinch was also showing a couple of non-dog limerick shirts. One was for an iguana and the other a cockatoo.

Surprisingly, there was no merchandise for cats.

"It's two worlds that don't meet," said Yale, the Burbank Kennel Club spokeswoman.

However, there's no animosity or feelings of superiority behind this animal apartheid, Yale said.

"I've heard a cat show is quite interesting. I'm just too busy at dog shows."

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