Seven Secrets of Show Dog Success

Part 7: Be Lucky

What’s luck got to do with it? We’ve now talked about the many moving pieces needed to make the complex process of showing a competition dog at a high level even possible. Still, after all of the long-term hard work of finding the right dog and handler, organizing the program and advertising, developing backers and committing most of your own time, you still might not win. Why? Ultimately, it still comes down to “luck.”

When we heard an old pro talk about how the stars, the moon and the planets all needed to be in alignment to win a Best in Show, we thought it was just another urban myth — we were wrong. After 20 Best in Show wins we were surprised every time without fail. Some weekend lineups looked so good we were sure we couldn’t miss; then we couldn’t get out of breed. At some shows where we almost withdrew our entry to reduce the pain and bleeding we knew was coming, we won the whole damn thing! Go figure.

We’re of Irish descent and a little superstitious about some things. When Ladybug was born on St. Patrick’s Day we raised an eyebrow at our good fortune and quickly gave our “Irish Litter” such names as “Luck Be A Lady,” “Lucky Charm” and “Luck of the Irish,” figuring we would at least have fun. In fact the whole litter was a powerhouse, led by the indomitable Ladybug.

Several lucky events coincided with our campaign for Ladybug. The breed became better known by virtue of the Obama family’s addition of a Portuguese Water Dog, “Bo,” in 2009. Ladybug was featured on the Madison Square Garden marquee throughout the weekend promoting the 2010 event. And last but not least, several high-profile all-rounders and breed specialists put her up early on to help establish her as a credible contender.

We’ve all heard the old sayings about luck such as “I’d rather be lucky than smart” and there’s a lot of truth to all of them. The best we ever heard describes how luck really works in the real world: “Luck is the intersection of endless preparation with that moment where life demands your very best.” Luck begins when you know in your gut and heart that you are prepared and ready. Ever have one of those moments at work or at play where everything around you seemed clearer and a little voice in your head said “I can do this”?

About the power of preparation: Mario Andretti is regarded as one of the best all-around race car drivers in history; winning everything from the Indianapolis 500 to Formula One championships. In person, Mario is unimposing but carries a persona that suggests he could do anything he set his mind to do. He took me (Mike) around the 500 track for a couple of laps as a favor and scared the crap out of me. We never got over 150 mph, but on the turns the car would be mere inches from an unforgiving concrete wall, focusing my attention like nothing else.

I asked Mario what separated the great drivers from the very good ones; much less mere mortals like me. He told me that the great drivers saw everything in slow motion. He might be hurtling down the track at 230 mph, inches from the wall, debris and other cars swirling around him, but to him he was coasting along at 50 mph. No big deal. Because he practiced so much, planned every move and visualized every turn and pit stop, by the time race day came, he had already finished the race. Mario also laughed about how in some races all of the great planning blew up on the first lap and he knew it was going to be a very long day. Some days you are lucky and some days you’re not.

If you have decided to compete at a high level in anything, including the world of dogs, you’ve made a personal decision to succeed; the only question left is how you are going to actually do that. You have decided to live and work with magnificent creatures that will do anything you want (up to a point — dogs have standards too). For us it really is about honoring the dog and embracing the trust placed in us to care for them all of their lives.

As part of our learning process we observed and listened to all the many veteran breeders who would put up with us. We found that the breeders/owners who have had success year after year are a fairly rare bunch. Faced with the same variations, health issues, down-line breeding surprises and sheer craziness of the business, they have managed to operate above the fray, plow ahead stubbornly once they’ve made their breeding and competition decisions and accept the wins and losses with equal aplomb. From the outside, they just look “lucky.”

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