Take it from This Pooch: It’s a Dog-Eat-Dog World

By MELISSA HECKSCHER
Los Angeles Daily News
December 1, 2007

Sure, my legs are as skinny as Christmas tree branches and my body looks as fragile as a leaf in a wildfire.

And so what if I only weigh 12 pounds? In this business, size doesn’t matter.

“It’s hard to judge a Chihuahua against a Rottweiler,” says West Los Angeles resident Kathryn Holmes, the woman who bred and raised me. “But some dogs are just special.”

That’s me. Special.

In case you don’t know me (I’ve been in 26 dog shows in the past year, so you very well might), my name is “Champion Littleluv’s Nick Charles” — Nickie, for short — and I’m a 3-year-old Italian greyhound.

You’re reading this because today’s the big day — the first day of the seventh annual AKC Eukanuba National Championship, one the most prestigious dog shows in the world, being held through Sunday at the Long Beach Convention Center.

I’m one of more than 2,500 dogs from around the world competing to win Best in Show.

Though it’s not as well-known as the 130-year-old Westminster Kennel Club dog show, the two-day event is the only show held solely by the American Kennel Club, the nation’s oldest dog registry.

It’s also one of the only shows to offer significant prize money — a total of more than $225,000 — to the top dogs. (You’re lucky I’m not the drooling type because all I can say is: Mmmm, that’s a lot of bones.)

Unlike most dog shows, this is an invitation-only competition. To be invited, a dog has to have racked up a certain number of points at other dog shows throughout the year.

To win the $50,000 Best in Show award (which will be awarded Sunday night), a dog has to first win Best in Breed, then Best in Group.

There are seven groups: Sporting (pointers, retrievers, setters); Non-Sporting (bulldogs, Dalmations, poodles); Hound (beagles, basset hounds, dachshunds); Working (boxers, doberman pinschers, St. Bernards); Terrier (Scottish terriers, Cairn terriers, airedales); Herding (sheepdogs, collies, German shepherds); and Toy (Chihuahuas, Maltese and, well, me).

Dogs are judged on how closely they conform to the breed’s official AKC standard. We Italian greyhounds, for instance, are supposed to have long slender legs, a long neck, and a long and pointed face.

Personality matters, too.

“Judges want to see a dog that’s showy,” says AKC spokeswoman Daisy Okas. “They want to see a dog that’s happy, that’s energetic, that’s wagging its tail.”

Last year’s big prize went to James, an English springer spaniel from Virginia whose owner listed daily 20-minute jogs on a custom-made treadmill as part of his fitness regimen.

(Oh yeah? Well, I can run 25 mph … without treadmill training.)

Speaking of fitness, more than 400 of the most athletic dogs in the country will compete in the AKC’s Agility Invitational, also held this weekend at the convention center. That’s where dogs show off their athleticism by racing through obstacle courses of tunnels, jumps and seesaws.

In addition, nearly 100 of the country’s most obedient pups will put on their best “Sit” and “Stay” at the AKC National Obedience Invitational.

“For the people who are competing, it’s absolutely a sport,” Okas says. “They want to win. They believe their dog is the best, and they want some vehicle that they can show off their dog.”

I know what you’re thinking: Wouldn’t I rather be doing, you know, dog stuff (chewing shoes, for instance) than trotting around a ring or standing motionless on a table while being poked and prodded?

Maybe. But it’s not that bad.

“Being in the show ring is a little bit more than going for a walk,” says Laurel Canyon resident Karen Dillon, who shares ownership of me with Holmes. “It’s just teaching them to be calm.”

And come on, I’m a dog. If I weren’t happy, don’t you think I’d cringe every time a judge lifted up my ear to look inside?

“Some dogs absolutely love showing,” Dillon says. “Dogs love structure and they like knowing that there’s a leader giving them structure. … Nickie is a really proud dog. He knows people are looking at him.”

It’s true. Set me on a table and I’ll stand still as a statue (unless it’s cold, in which case I’m all shivers. I’m no Siberian husky, after all).

And go ahead, look at my teeth — clean as a whistle, right? I don’t endure those once-a-day electric tooth brushings for nothing.

Plus, check out how my whiskers are shaved down to keep my face looking streamlined smooth. Nice, right?

I’m a stud. I know it.

“If I don’t (shave his face) once a week he’ll get major stubble,” Dillon says. “Then, when he nuzzles against me, it scratches.”

Dillon recently adopted another Italian greyhound named Nora.

She’s my daughter, and even though she’s only 18 weeks old, she’s looking like she’s going to be a show dog, too.

“Nora’s wondering why everyone is looking at Nickie and not her,” Dillon says. “She’s like, ‘Why does he get all the attention?”‘

Ah, well. Like father, like daughter.