You had me at “Woof”

On Valentine’s Day, Malachy, a small (kind of ugly if you ask me) Pekingese dog, was named “Best in Show” at the 136th annual Westminster Kennel Club dog show in New York City. To participate in this “sporting event” – this prestigious “Doggie Olympics” – entrants must be well-trained, purebred dogs. To prepare for and compete in this famous and respected event, owners shell out hundreds of thousands of dollars and likely invest an equal number of training hours. All for the recognition and a trophy.

The pride of the Westminster Kennel Club is evident on their website. “The elegance, beauty and grace of the canine athletes combine with the excitement of the competition in the world’s most famous sporting arena before a live national television audience. The result is an event that is the dog show world’s version of the Super Bowl and Academy Awards. But even greater, The Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show is a celebration of the wonderful canine spirit, reflecting our emotional and spiritual attachment to our dogs.” Canine athletes? The Super Bowl? The Academy Awards? A reflection of emotional and spiritual attachment? Seriously???

We brought our puppy, Kylie, home with us when she was 10 weeks old. She is a rescue dog; a purebred mutt that has the face of a black lab with the body of flat-coat retriever. We all fell in love as soon as we met her and were eager to integrate her with our family and life.

I was SO excited and proud when she quickly learned how to go up and down the steps. My kids were thrilled and captivated by her exuberant hops across the kitchen floor as she speedily bounded after and retrieved the toy they kept throwing. My husband was impressed by the agility and ease with which she jumped high onto the couch or the bed. We knew we had a champion in our midst!

After six months, I eagerly enrolled Kylie in a training class; the American Kennel Club Canine Good Citizen program. This was no PetSmart puppy class; not for our canine. This was serious stuff. The six sessions were designed for teaching beginning obedience and manners, as well as demonstrating basic skills (i.e. walking on a leash, sit, down, stay, come) in a consistent and reliable manner. At the end of the course, she would have to perform these skills and pass the AKC Canine Good Citizen test to receive a certificate. The teachers were unbelievably serious and completely focused on turning their pupils into obedient achievers and good canine citizens. From there, we could progress to developing advanced skills.

Honestly, the program turned me into a nervous wreck. Between classes, I made Kylie practice her skills daily; becoming stressed out and frustrated when she didn’t want to pay attention or complete her homework assignments. In class, I desperately wanted her to be the most improved from the prior week and show off what she learned. And, as we approached the big “final exam,” I practically chewed my fingernails off at the thought of her potentially failing the course. What would my family and friends say? Thankfully, my fears and concerns were for naught. Kylie passed the test! She got her certificate. And, I’ve been kvelling ever since.

Kylie is now three. We never took another class. We still walk and play, but for the sheer fun and joy of doing it together. Recently, at her annual check up, I learned from the vet that Kylie is a tad overweight. My husband says she is just “big boned” and reminds me that she has a great personality. A strict low-fat doggie diet is now required.

My dog is not going to be a world-class athlete. (Sigh!) She’s chubby, happy – and she makes me happy. Coming through the door at the end of a long workday, I’m greeted with an enthusiastically wagging tail, slobbery kisses, and a happy “woof.” This is what unconditional love, strong attachments, and true companionship are all about! And, I always will have our Canine Good Citizen certificate framed and proudly displayed.

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