The two oldest sporting events in the United States are the Kentucky Derby and the Westminster dog show. We’ve been to both extravaganzas and have had dogs compete at Westminster for several years. Until this year though, we never thought we actually had a dog that could win at the Garden, the Mecca of purebred dog competition.
When our handler, Amy Rutherford, came charging out of the chute led by our Portuguese Water Dog, GCh. Aviators Luck Be A Lady, ‘Ladybug,’ we joined in the cheers and hooting for our powerful “little black dog.” Watching the spotlight track her run across the green carpet competing for Best in Show, our emotions and delight crested with the very idea that we were here at the big show with a dog that had become the top-winning Portuguese Water Dog in the breed’s history.
Even better, Ladybug had come roaring into Westminster with a Working Group win at the AKC/Eukanuba Championship in December, knocked off two more Best in Shows in January and marched into the Garden ranked as the No. 1 Working Dog and No. 7 Dog All Breeds! When she won the Working Group at Westminster, she exceeded all of our expectations by a mile.
How did we get here? What does it take to find and produce a dog that can compete at the highest level week after week for three years with more than 300 Best of Breed wins, claiming that victory 80 percent of the time in competition, and in addition racking up 20 Best in Shows, 88 Group Firsts, more than 170 Group placements and smashing every record?
Born on St. Patrick’s Day (a good omen) in 2006, Ladybug demanded attention almost immediately. Although we have been operating Aviator Kennel in Shingle Springs, Calif., since 1987, it was rare that a 5-week-old puppy attracted Cathy’s eye so quickly. Ladybug was not to be denied.
Ladybug was shown by Cathy in the Bred by Exhibitor class and won her first major at the Southern California Portuguese Water Dog Specialty when she was 7 months old. She finished her championship with Best of Opposite over specials at the Northern California PWD Specialty at 18 months. She was already demonstrating her unusual power and effortless drive in the ring.
In 2008, Ladybug campaigned on the East Coast and won her first Group placement, a Group One, under Judge Houston Clark when she was less than 2 years old. She won her first Best in Show under Judge Ken McDermott on May 10, 2008. For 2008, Ladybug placed as the No. 2 ranked PWD to Ch. Pouch Cove’s Monkey See Monkey Do on the last show of the last day of the year, trailing by only 24 breed points. It was a great start.
In 2009 to 2010 Ladybug campaigned on the West Coast, superbly handled by Amy Rutherford and her career took off immediately. Against the arguably toughest Working Dog Group in the country, Ladybug was able to become a dominant competitor for PWDs and the Working Group. She also won the PWD National Specialty among many specialty wins. Competing against hundreds of the best breeders in the nation, she won the Breeder’s Showcase at Santa Barbara, Calif., in 2009 and placed Reserve at that show in 2010. She set all-time records in every category for conformation competition for PWDs.
For 2010, Ladybug finished the year as the No. 3 Working Dog, No. 15 dog All-Breeds and was the No. 1 PWD All-Systems in 2009 to 2010. Once Westminster was over, Ladybug came home to Shingle Springs and immediately came in season; always the consummate professional.
For any breeder, the goal is to produce consistent, outstanding dogs that exemplify the breed standard with excellent temperaments along with competitive drive. Although Aviator Kennel has produced over 120 champions, including over 50 PWD champions and multiple Top 10 dogs, Ladybug is truly the dog of a lifetime.
Many judges have described her as the epitome of what a PWD should be: powerful yet feminine, exhibiting the ability to do the work that the breed was bred for, with a reach and drive full of power and grace, and an enthusiastic love for the ring.
What we learned from our experience with Ladybug is just how difficult it really is to breed, train and compete at the highest level and win. In this series, we’ll talk candidly about what it really takes to win big. Even after 24 years we found that we had a lot to learn and made our own rookie mistakes. Cathy’s training to become an AKC judge with Mike tagging along learning to be a ring steward was no preparation for achieving success in major competitions around the country.
In this seven-part series, we’ll look at what it takes to succeed. This article kicks off the task with the first thing you must have: a great dog. The future topics will include what else it takes:
- Being a great owner
- Finding a great handler
- Having lots of money or knowing where to get it
- Being a kennel
- Understanding the game
- Being lucky
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