By Shirley Shuman
Alison Westfall has what, among Braxton Countians, may indeed be a unique avocation. She travels widely to show her Wirehaired Pointing Griffon, and both she and her dog love it. She is proud of her dog “Davy,” whose official name with its prefixes and suffixes is CH B&T’s Black Jack Davy TKI VHMA. Westfall explained that the prefixes and suffixes indicate what titles he has earned.
Westfall described the first experience she and Davy had showing. “Davy’s first time in the ring was in Pennsylvania as a four-month-old beginner puppy,” she said. “There are starter shows for dogs under six months. We won the puppy starting group that day against five or six other sporting breed puppies. I’m sure we looked completely out of control, but the judge was very gracious.”
Here Davy’s owner/handler explained some of the disadvantages she faced as a beginner with the AKC dog shows. “As a complete newcomer to the sport, I was at a disadvantage. Most new handlers have handling classes in their areas to teach them the art of handling a show dog,” she said. Since she knows of no such classes nearby, Westfall noted she “Just learned as [she] went.” She added, “Most competitors in my breed are willing to share tips and tricks [although] this isn’t always the case. I feel fortunate to have met some really encouraging helpful friends throughout our journey.” Westfall did go on to explain she is challenged competing against those more experienced and those with professional handlers “but we have a good time out there even when we don’t earn any points.”
Just preparing a dog to show can take time and patience. “There is an aspect of training and socialization that is unique to dog shows,” Westfall explained. “The dog must learn to stand in a ‘stacked’ position to show off proper breed characteristics. The handler must also learn the right speed to gait the dog so that it moves as smoothly and gracefully as possible,” she said.
“Grooming is often a big component of several breeds, but according to breed standard, a Griffon may have a bit of an unkempt appearance.”
Since her dog’s breed is wire-coated, they are hand-stripped. “These dogs are never clippered or scissored to achieve the proper groomed look,” she said. Westfall continued to note that she bathes her dog “4-6 days” before the show and does “some coat-stripping to make sure he is in good condition.” On the day of the show, she does nothing more than run a comb through his fur.
At the actual show, the judge examines the dog and asks it to trot in specific patterns to demonstrate its adherence to the breed standard. The judge checks the coat, skeletal structure, dentition, and looks for any disqualifying features or faults which may appear in coat color or texture, height, and several others. The winner of the breed moves on to group, and the group winner moves on to best in show.
Westfall has shown Davy in seven different states in the past three years. Her dog finished his conformation championship title in Louisville, Kentucky. “We have spent many a night in hotels and surprisingly the dogs love it. Her other dog, Brom Bones, who does not show, accompanies her and Davy on show trips, and she has persuaded her mother to accompany them to take care of her second dog while she and Davy are showing.
These procedures do not always go smoothly, of course. Westfall tells of one incident which she calls “the most embarrassing thing for us personally,” which occurred in Lexington, Kentucky. “The show was in an arena with tall walls. Davy and I were in the seats above the main floor. Front row,” she said. “I asked him to put his feet up on my knees, but he mistook that as ‘jump over the wall.’ He landed on a booth set up to sell leashes and toys. No one was hurt, but an 80-pound dog crashing down on their booth was a mixture of panic and embarrassment on my part. Davy was just fine and went on to win Best of Opposite later that day.”
Although such unfortunate events do happen, Westfall and Davy have been successful in their competitions. This year they are finishing as the #3 Owner Handled Wirehaired Pointing Griffon. This honor comes out of over 100 owner-handled griffons for the year.
Asked why she shows her dog and what rewards she receives aside from her dog’s ribbons and accolades, Westfall replied, “I enjoy meeting people and dogs when we go out. There aren’t many tangible rewards beyond winning ribbons, but helping preserve and educate about the many breeds out there is a worthwhile cause.”