ARE YOU LISTENING?
“EVERY SHOW DOG, FROM THE TINIEST TOY TO THE MOST MASSIVE OF MASTIFFS, COMMUNICATES WITH ITS HANDLER IN A VISCERAL VOCABULARY THAT OFTEN GOES UNNOTICED BY THE PERSON HOLDING THE LEAD.”
DOG SHOW DIALOG The dialog used by conformation exhibitors can be as restrictive as a wire crate with a raised floor. With so much emphasis put on side gait, side-view pro- files, and sideways glances, there seems little need for conversation that encour- ages anything less than the pursuit of the perfect free-stack. Show dogs, however, are more than the sum of their parts and piec- es—or personalities—and they’re far more than their size, proportion, and substance might suggest. Every show dog, from the tiniest Toy to the most massive of Mastiffs, communicates with its handler in a viscer- al vocabulary that often goes unnoticed by the person holding the lead. In the ring, however, the show lead acts as a conduit through which messages are sent back and forth. Most exhibitors readily acknowl- edge that this transfer of energy takes place, though few seem to understand how fundamental the exchange is to how dogs communicate. When it appears that a dog
is “asking for the win,” the dog is, in fact, actually asking for the win. Or at the very least, the dog is telling the handler the kinds of secrets that are shared between close friends and trusted confidantes. LEARN BY LISTENING Almost every exhibitor has the capac- ity to “hear” dogs at a dog show. (Indoor grooming areas can get downright cacoph- onous at times.) However, the ability to really “listen” to the messages contained in every bark and every howl is an entirely different practice. Whereas hearing is the passive process of perceiving sound, listen- ing requires something akin to creativity in the form of intention, intuition, and imagination. These three characteristics are shared by everyone—even the hear- ing-impaired—and by engaging them it can become possible to communicate in a transparent language that cannot be translated by those who refuse to listen. Unlike hearing, listening doesn’t require any sound to be heard. In fact, listening
doesn’t even require ears. When creativity is introduced into a conversation, the eyes have the ability to listen, and so too does the heart (as anyone who’s ever been in love can attest). It’s this language of love, in its purest form, that connects dog and handler, allowing communication to take place in absolute silence. Dogs know how to do this instinctively, and so do many dog show exhibitors who engage their canine companions with a litany of non- verbal cues in the ring. When a show dog appears to “ask for” the win, rest assured that it does so thanks to the encourage- ment it has received from an intuitive han- dler who has learned how to listen. If actions speak louder than words, intentions have the ability to sound louder than words. By practicing a more imagi- native dialog with your dog, you might be able to listen in ways you’ve never thought possible. So, the next time you ask your dog to join you for a walk… pause and listen. Maybe your dog is trying to tell you something.
BIO Dan Sayers has been an Owner Handler since 1985 when he showed his first Irish Water Spaniel (IWS) in Conformation. He’s shown a variety of breeds, and has handled IWS, Rhodesian Ridgebacks, and Sussex Spaniels to many Specialty and Group wins. Dan is a member of the Dog Writers Association of America and has contributed to a variety of print and digital publications, including the AKC Gazette, Dogs in Review, Sighthound Review, and Best in Show Daily. He is currently on Showsight’s editorial staff and is the co-host of Ring-Ready Live! with Lee Whittier. Dan attended Drexel University in Philadelphia where he earned a BS in Design, and he later received a Certificate in Graphic Design from the University of the Arts. As a designer and artist, Dan has produced dog-related works in a variety of media. He provided the artwork, editorial content, and digital page layout for the Irish Water Spaniel Club of America (IWSCA) Illustrated Standard, and his illustrations bring to life the words of the award-winning Encyclopedia of K-9 Terminology by Ed and Pat Gilbert. Dan has also judged at a variety of shows, including Sweepstakes at the Westbury Kennel Association, Morris & Essex Kennel Club, and two IWSCA National Specialties.
148 | SHOWSIGHT MAGAZINE, MARCH 2022
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