For Deb Davenport and her dog, Partito, preparing for a dog show doesn’t involve too many long training sessions.
In fact, a good part of their practice happens while Davenport is waiting for her toast to pop up or filling time during a TV commercial.
“We probably work a little bit every day,” said Davenport, who along with Partito will take part in three events at the Rapid City Kennel Club dog show next weekend. “I am the queen of five-minute training. I don’t have big blocks of time.”
Davenport enjoys the days when she does have more time to spend with her Spinone Italiano, whose name means “party” in Italian.
“I really enjoy doing things with my dogs, so it’s not really work,” she said. “It’s kind of play for me.”
Davenport didn’t start showing dogs until she was an adult, but she grew up attending dog shows with her family. Her dad sometimes showed their cocker spaniel.
“After that, they had four kids and they didn’t have time,” she said with a laugh. “After we grew up and went away, they replaced each of us with a dog, and then they showed Labs.”
Davenport, on the other hand, fell in love with Spinoni. Known for being energetic and sociable, the Italian dogs are also versatile hunters used for waterfowl and upland game birds.
“They are also truly versatile in life,” Davenport said, noting that the dogs are excellent family pets and great hunting companions. “They suit us because they just kind of fit into our family all the way around.”
“They’re great dogs,” agreed Heather Jenner, who began showing Spinoni after seeing Davenport’s dogs. “Everyone says they’re like potato chips — you can’t have just one. It’s the truth.”
Jenner, who has two Spinoni Italiani, shows her dog, Kip, at a handful of shows each year, though she won’t be at the Rapid City show.
“I love doing it,” she said. “I’m out in the ring with my best friend. … You just have a really neat bond.”
Although training a dog is an ongoing process, there are things to brush up on before a show.
“We practice the stacking (holding a pose) and standing still for the judge, and the moving around in a circle,” Davenport said.
She doesn’t introduce any new challenges just before a show. “We’ll just be, I guess, putting the shine on them.”
They’ll also work on attitude.
“I want him to be willing and happy in the ring,” Davenport said.
That’s not always a given. Davenport described her retired Spinone, Argyle, as one of her favorite dogs — “but he doesn’t believe in circus tricks, and it was his unfortunate circumstance to belong to someone who does,” she said. “We kind of had to work out a truce and a partnership on the circus trick thing.”
Even so, there were days Argyle refused to cooperate.
“I have great memories of working with him, a lot of them hilarious,” Davenport said. “They were not particularly successful always, but I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.”
As for grooming, Spinoni Italiani owners are lucky. Both Jenner and Davenport describe the breed as “wash and wear.”
Still, there is washing, combing and trimming to be done in the days before a show, all using special shampoos and grooming tools.
“I liken it to getting ready for the prom or a wedding,” Davenport said.
Partito will have a bath before next weekend’s show. Just before he enters the ring, Davenport will comb and brush him and wash his beard.
“Each day, he gets spot-cleaned and freshened,” she said.
He won’t mind. In fact, he’ll enjoy it.
“They know they look good, so they like to show off a little bit,” Davenport said. “Most show dogs truly enjoy what they’re doing.”
Partito will compete in conformation, which is where dogs are judged against a written standard of ideal characteristics for a particular breed. But he’ll also take part in obedience and rally obedience, an event where dog and handler must complete a course that involves performing various skills — and that’s where the time they’ve spent together pays off.
“I think it’s more of a relationship showcase at that point,” Davenport said. “It’s like my dog and I understand each other and he knows what I want. … You put a lot of time into the training for that.”
To Davenport, being able to demonstrate that relationship in the ring is the addictive part of dog shows. Dog and handler have to work as a team in the ring, just the way Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers did on the dance floor.
“Pretty soon, you know all the steps and you can read each other’s mind,” Davenport said. “It’s like the whole world goes away. … It’s just you and the dog. It’s just really cool.”
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