This article appeared in Top Notch Toys in June of 2005 and is published here with their permission.
So you'd like to show your Italian Greyhound! That's not a bad thing to do, but it does require a certain amount of preparation and it isn't something that can be taken on as a fun thing to do every once in a while. Those of us who are involved with purebred dogs see this involvement as a sport, and no sport can be played casually if one wants to be successful at it. With the current availability of Westminster, the AKC/Eukanuba Invitational, Crufts, the Philadelphia Kennel Club show and other dog events on television, many people who had never considered getting into showing dogs have a new interest in this activity. What many do not realize is that the glamour we see on TV is not the "real" dog show world but only a small part of it. I'll assume that those of you who are reading this magazine are aware of that and still have an urge to try your hand. I'll also assume that you are already enamored of the Italian Greyhound and either already have one or more or are looking for one to acquire.
What personal qualities should a person have in order to show an Italian Greyhound? Fantastic athletic ability would be a plus but is not a necessity. Good coordination, a little grace of movement and the ability to walk smoothly at a good pace on sometimes uneven turf are great assets. Ability to follow instructions and, above all, patience, are necessities.
The Italian Greyhound, although no expert grooming or trimming is necessary, is a comparatively difficult dog to show. Everything about the dog is right out there for the judge to see, and there is little that can be done to hide any faults he may have. The IG is also a very spirited little dog with a mind of his own. Although he loves being the center of attention in his own home where he is familiar with everyone and everything, he can be shy in unfamiliar places even if he has been socialized from puppyhood. Even if he is not spooked by the unfamiliar surroundings, getting him to show attentively and look his best can be a challenge. He may have been walking beautifully on a lead for months, but going around the ring he wants to charge after the dog immediately in front of him, or he finds the smells in the grass irresistible and refuses to carry his head and neck correctly. A dog that responds readily to a clicker or a squeaky toy may acquire selective hearing in the show ring, and one that is a food fanatic at home can turn up his royal nose at even the finest of treats being used for bait; or, he can be easily distracted by someone else's use of squeakers or liver. The answer, of course, is training and practice. This is not a breed that can be successfully trained in the ring at a show as we sometimes see done with a few other breeds. Practice, handling classes and puppy matches before the show debut are an absolute necessity. Italian Greyhound puppies that are destined for the show ring should be trained from early on to stand steadily on a table, to walk on a lead without pulling or sniffing the ground, to be touched by strangers without falling apart and to respond eagerly to a sound, a toy or bait -and to do all of these things in a variety of unfamiliar places.
To back up a little, let's assume that you already have an Italian Greyhound and you feel that he is a very pretty specimen or you are looking for a first show puppy to purchase. A newcomer to the breed should not only research breeders but should also be completely familiar with the Italian Greyhound breed standard. I never cease to be amazed by the number of people looking for a show puppy (or already owning a puppy they think is show material) that have never even read the standard. It may be hard to believe, but an occasional prospective buyer doesn't even know that such a thing as a breed standard exists. This is once again where a knowledgeable and responsible breeder comes into the picture. It's difficult enough to buy a healthy, well-bred puppy as a companion, but acquiring one that is suitable for the show ring is a project no novice should take on without some experienced help.
I happen to believe that the IG standard is quite adequate the way it is written. The problem occurs in understanding and properly interpreting it. This is true of most breed standards. In the IG standard there is more of a problem with reading something into the standard that is not there than in misunderstanding it. For instance, the words "roach" or "wheel" do not appear anywhere in the standard. The topline of the IG is described with the words "Of medium length, short coupled; high at withers, back curved and drooping at hindquarters, the highest point of curve at start of loin, creating a definite tuck-up at flanks." That is just one of the important breed characteristics that make up the ideal Italian Greyhound. To be successful in the show ring, a dog should have as many of those characteristics as possible, and "very pretty" just isn't enough. To complicate things even further, some of the necessary characteristics of type do not appear until a puppy reaches several months of age. Buying an eight or ten week old puppy for showing is a gamble, especially for a novice. IG puppies look very little like the adult version. Buying from a responsible breeder with a good show track record is a step in the right direction, but a novice -even one experienced with other breeds -should think seriously about acquiring an older puppy -five or six months of age at least, although this can be difficult if not impossible, not to mention expensive. Many breeders -even the "good guys" -can be kennel blind about their puppies. Beware of anyone who says that they breed only show quality. One of the best things to do is to take someone along when you are seriously evaluating show puppies -someone with experience in the breed and a good eye. This should probably also be someone who is not trying to sell you a dog.
Especially for a newcomer who has no experience at all with dog shows, a good mentor is invaluable. A mentor can not only help to choose a good puppy but will also be able to offer advice with training and showing. Of course, the puppy's breeder should be willing and able to help as well; but sometimes it is necessary to get a puppy from a breeder who is some distance away. It might be well to mention another pitfall at this point. Buying a show puppy from a nearby breeder sounds like an ideal thing to do, but it should be remembered that hardly any breeder will sell her best puppy -especially not to a newcomer. The puppy you buy from your local breeder will be in the same ring competing against a most likely superior littermate. This is not an end of the world situation, but a novice exhibitor needs to understand that sometimes it becomes necessary to await one's turn for success. Being a good sport is always advisable, but congratulating your breeder who has just beaten you in the class will do wonders for that breeder continuing to be a helpful friend.
If you already have an Italian Greyhound and think you may want to show
it, a good mentor is even more important. If the dog was purchased as a
pet the chances that it is of show quality are fairly slim no matter how
many compliments he has drawn when people have seen him. There are very
few ugly Italian Greyhounds, and the sleek, elegant lines of the breed
will attract many favorable comments. Read the standard and try to
apply its various nuances to your dog and then have someone who knows
the breed well look at him. Ask for an honest opinion. Showing a dog
takes some commitment of time -and some money; so it is important not
to waste any of these on a poor specimen of the breed. The cost to show
and finish a decent Italian Greyhound is within the budget of most
middle-income families, but the time and effort involved are a good part
of the statistic that says the average person is in and out of dogs
within five years. If your Italian Greyhound is worthy of being
exhibited and you prepare your dog and yourself well for delving into
the show world, chances are that you will be looking for your next show
IG and possibly into becoming a serious breeder rather than beating a
hasty retreat from the competitive world of purebred dogs.