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Tools for Life
by Brandi Smith

The purebred dog world has been an irreplaceable and invaluable part of my life for nearly 20 years, when my family got our first purebred Labrador Retriever. Since then, I have been involved in numerous dog activities, including obedience, junior showmanship, and conformation. Participation in these events taught me many things that are applicable to situations I encounter every day, including academics. As my roles in life have shifted, so have my roles in the dog world, but my interest in dogs has remained a constant over the years. This dedication has led me in directions that have greatiy enriched my life. My love of the sport of purebred dogs will undoubtedly remain a major factor in my future as I have many goals That are carving out my place in the fancy. Opportunities to include the sport of dogs in my academic pursuits have also revealed themselves, offering me another avenue of involvement in the dog world.

Beginning in the dog world through obedience, I earned a CD with my first Labrador, Sandley, after a lot of training frustration. Soon after Sandley and I obtained our first two CD legs, my father died unexpectedly, turning my life upside down. In dealing with my father’s death, the dog world served as a positive, constructive place for me, having a network of friends and an activity to be involved in that made me feel good about myself and that allowed me to spend time with Sandley and other dogs. I feel that this role is one of the most important that the dog world has served for me, its absence during those years still being unimaginable. Now well educated about childhood development and trauma, I realize that environment was ideal.

Having to thoroughly learn the skills of training in order to get our CD led to me being offered an instructor position at a behavioral obedience school at the age of 14, having many students in each class. Adding to the devotion I had felt for the sport since my first fun match, I began branching into other activities, including junior showmanship and breed competition. This branching out led to obtaining two new dogs over the next two years, another Lab puppy, Chip, and an adult German Shorthaired Pointer, Remis. Before aging out of juniors, Remis and I had become regulars on the show scene, entering an average of 45 shows per year. I obtained several of his championship points and then showed him as a Special after he finished. We also ranked within the Top 10 of GSP juniors each year we showed, but always fell just short of Westminster. My activity across the three events, and as a junior often invited to judge matches, led me to be featured in several national dog magazines, including Dog Fancy and Front & Finish. Having these activities to share with my “siblings” was beyond anything else I could imagine, time with these best friends always time well spent. We had a precious bond.

Financial difficulty kept me from showing after I aged out of juniors, with me taking a retail job instead. Feeling that I no longer had a role in the dog world, I let my connections diminish. This was very difficult for me because my life revolved around dogs. Yet, I felt unwanted in the sport, with handlers offering little encouragement and myself not sure enough of my potential, I sadly and bitterly chalked up those wonderful years as being over. I began college after a few years of working, which was an unlikely thing for me in itself. Ironically, it was my years of showing that made this possible for me, being largely responsible for my overcoming nearly debilitating shyness and low self-esteem rooted from my pre-show years. My involvement in behavioral based obedience brought me to enroll in psychology. While I found I was a very talented student, something of great significance was missing from my life: dog shows. Thus, Remis and I entered one of our favorite clusters. It felt so right to be back at a show! However, plans to bring Remis back out as a special were soon destroyed as he was diagnosed wh lymphosarcomic cancer, spread ing devastatingly fast. Loosing him was the hardest thing I’d ever gone through. Having sofew people in my work world that understood, or respected, my loss made me realize the special connection that a group can share, especially dog people,

Remis's death led me to my first GSP Nationals, which opened yet another side of the fancy for me. Hooked on the whole NSS experience, I jumped in GSPCA was appointed the GSPCA Juniors Committee Chairperson within a year, whereI developed programs and benefits that enable me to help GSP juniors get the most out of their dog work.

My academic talents have continued to grow and include numerous honors. Each seems to be directly rooted in that spirit of competition I picked up while showing. Participating in those multiple dog events as a young person each taught me their own valuable lessons. Breed competition helped me learn to deal with things I cannot control. In breed, my chance of getting closer to the championship title was based on the judge's subjective opinion of how my dog compared to the standard. Either my dog was what they were looking for, or he wasn't. There is no way to please every judge, nor every college professor. Juniors taught me that although there is no end achievement, such as a title, it's worth doing your best if you're going to do it at all. Here, the judge was looking at me rather than my dog's merits, so I had to learn to present myself and to be confident, not an easy task for me. I also had to learn how to deal with the frustration of ambiguity, as a lot of what one was expected to do in juniors changed with each judge. Ambiguity continues to rear its head in the form of college assignments! In obedience, ability to earn a degree is based on both the handler's ability (handler errors) and the dog's performance, a true team effort. Everyone can earn a leg, not just the first place dog. This taught me my merits can be acknowledged with others--it's not always "us or them."

My status as a full time graduate student keeps me from obtaining a new show dog for a few more years until I am able to offer her a stable home. Remis. Sandley, and Chip having all crossed the Rainbow Bridge. I now find myself to be very valuable in support roles of the fancy,  including as a judge, an active member of my local kennel club, and through my work with the GSPCA Juniors. I will definitely be back in the sport as a competitor in breed and obedience, and for the first time, field, believing in the importance of having a well- rounded dog who can do what the breed was made for. I have my eyes locked on the BIG shows! I also aspire to be an AKC all- breed Best In Show judge. I will continue to contribute in a meaningful way to Labrador Retrievers and German Shorthaired Pointers through involvement with parent clubs, mentoring juniors, helping to guide the direction of the breeds, and through the establishment of a responsible, purposeful breeding program. Finally, akin to my present academic work in dark sky preservation and light pollution in national parks and its effects on wildlife and visitor behavior, I see a new opportunity to benefit the fancy. This is through research I'm working on concerning show dogs and light pollution. I expect results to show how artificial lighting is negatively affecting our dogs, and how we can control such sources of artificial lighting for better dog health.

The work I began with Sandley is the foundation for all the experiences I've had over the years in the dog world, aiding me in all aspects of my life, keeping me focused on my goals, aware of what I want to accomplish and knowing that I can accomplish anything. To me, nothing compares to the world of purebred dogs, or the tools for life it has given me. It is my intention to make a lasting contribution for the fancy as the fancy certainly has done so for me.