Some of the healthiest and most handsome dogs strut
theIr stuff at the Westminster Dog Show.
Here’s how their owners take care of them.
By Allan Richter
A busy schedule of back-to-back press photo opportunities can be a daunting affair for anyone. But after a full day of meet-and-greets, including a trip to the Empire State Building observation deck, a chicken lunch at Sardi’s in New York’s theater district, a stop at a toy convention, and a visit with Donald Trump, Malachy, a 12-pound Pekingese who had just won Best in Show at this year’s Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, didn’t seem too overwhelmed.
Malachy, last year’s No. 2 dog, is an old hand at Westminster and the full, sometimes stressful, schedule that goes with it. So he seemed unfazed by his busy day of post-victory press visits, along with stops to pose with gawking New Yorkers who wanted a photo with the new champ. “He was a perfect dog for this to happen to because he’s so secure in himself,” said David Fitzpatrick, Malachy’s proud handler and co-owner. “He was a really good sport and took everything in stride.”
Back at home with Fitzpatrick in East Berlin, Pennsylvania, in the rural Susquehanna Valley, Malachy builds his strength with regular walks, free reign on a couple of fenced-in acres, and a nutritious diet of high-end store-bought dog food fortified by chicken that his owner boils. And though Malachy hasn’t needed them, his veterinarian offers homeopathic and complementary remedies such as acupuncture that some of Fitzpatrick’s six other Pekingese have been treated with when they’ve had sore muscles or a pinched nerve.
“He’s been a pretty healthy dog,” Fitzpatrick says of Malachy, who turned four in January. “He’s been on the road for a couple of years, and every once in a while he’ll get a case of the sniffles. The main thing I do at home is give him as much freedom as possible.”
To say Malachy and other dogs on the show circuit are doted on is an understatement. Westminster dogs are fluffed, primped and groomed in a ritual that rivals the treatment any regular is given at a human beauty salon. And the dogs are increasingly taking after their human owners, particularly those with a more naturalist disposition, when it comes to their healthcare.
Steeped in 136 years of tradition and judged by men in tuxedos and women in evening gowns, the Westminster Dog Show and the elite group of animals it attracts evokes a conservative image that doesn’t necessarily jibe with the unconventional image sometimes associated with alternative medicine, says Jeffrey Levy, DVM, CVA, a New York veterinarian who volunteers at Westminster.
Still, veterinarians such as Levy that Westminster keeps on hand in case emergencies arise are schooled in complementary approaches like massage and acupuncture (and other Traditional Chinese Medicine techniques). And, like people who are apt to employ these methods, some Westminster dogs take vitamins and eat raw foods.
Knowing which of these approaches to use means understanding your dog’s particular needs. For instance, larger dogs are susceptible to hip dysplasia, which stunts the development of hip joints and can lead to limping and lameness. So Paula Lacker gave vitamin C to her Entlebucher Mountain Dog Giggles, a Swiss herding dog, until the animal was two years old, when she was X-rayed and past the risk for developing the ailment.
Lacker also feeds raw turkey to Giggles and the other Entlebucher Mountain Dogs she breeds at her farm near Cincinnati. The protein builds their strength and beautifies their coats, Lacker says. The animals also get 1,000 milligrams of bee pollen twice a day for their coats and overall health, which Lacker keeps a careful eye on because of other ailments particular to the breed.
“They have ectopic ureter syndrome, which has to do with the ureter and kidney not connecting correctly. Generally the dog loses a kidney from that, and in very rare occasions they lose both kidneys and do not make it,” Lacker says.
Giggles garnered an Award of Merit, or third place, in her breed at Westminster this year.
Fitzpatrick knows that the Achilles heel of his Pekingese and other braciocephalic, or short-faced, breeds is hot weather. “During the summer months, I get up early and let him out. A lot of it is humidity, too. It can be 80 degrees and not very humid, and the dogs can run out for a while. You just have to get up earlier. It’s just like if you had children; you’re not going to leave your kids out in the hot sun.”
To Robert Dove, DVM, Fitzpatrick and Lacker are following what he says is one of the essential laws of dog ownership: know thy breed.
Dove and his wife Cecilia can relate to the exhilaration of victory—and the tumult that goes with it—that Fitzpatrick and Malachy are experiencing. The Doves own Hickory, a six-year-old Scottish Deerhound that won Best in Show last year. The couple, who met when Cecilia brought her Scottish Deerhound to his veterinary practice in Flint Hill, Virginia, breed the dogs.
Where a Rottweiler has a need to protect and will be motivated by a person’s violent movement, the Doves’ Scottish Deerhounds are more likely to be afraid. “My dog is turned on by something running away from them,” Robert Dove says.
“No matter what type of a dog you’ve got, as long as you understand what kind of a personality you’re dealing with you can safely say there are no bad dogs, only bad owners,” he says. “When I see a ‘bad’ dog in my practice, it’s usually because the owner has no idea what’s going on in the dog’s head, and he transmits incorrect signals.”
A case in point, not necessarily breed specific, is when a dog drifts too far from home. Owners will often yell the dog’s name to get it to return. When the dog comes back, however, owners will chastise it for running away—a scolding that the animal is likely to interpret as punishment for returning home. Conversely, owners can reward negative behavior.
Those confusing signals can add to a dog’s stress, especially in a show environment. “I see it as a pretty demanding schedule for the dogs,” Levy, the New York veterinarian, says of the show circuit.
“They come from far away, they travel, they’re in a new environment, and they sleep in a strange place. Some of them get worked up and have heat exhaustion. They’re high-performance animals.”
Like Levy, Dove treats his patients, as well as his own animals, with complementary approaches.
In addition to major dog food brands, Hickory is on a regimen of vitamin and mineral supplements, usually a multi-vitamin, when she is under stress: spending a long time caged up over a five-day showing schedule, for example, going through a heat cycle or having puppies, as she recently did.
“She’ll also get herbal supplements,” Dove says. “The herbals are a little more toward energy medicine, like acupuncture and homeopathy. We have a tendency to use herbals.” In some instances, “if she looks a little tense,” Hickory will get acupuncture along with massage therapy, Dove says.
“The acupuncture points are generally the same as humans, and located anatomically the same,” Dove says. “The acupuncture points are very similar in dogs. The points relate really well. The points don’t relate as well in horses.”
The Human-Canine Link
Acupuncture has its limits, however, if the human influence over a dog is not calming. There’s an old maxim on the dog show circuit: Dogs can read your mind though the leash. “Is it always loose or have you got them gripped by your side?” says Dove. “If you’re out walking and you see another dog and get apprehensive, you get a little tighter on the leash. Now you’re telling the dog that you’re apprehensive, so your dog might get apprehensive, too.”
That’s why owners like Dove carefully choose their dogs’ handlers. “For pet homes and show homes it’s all the same,” he says. “You don’t get a dog to behave like you see at Westminster just by chance. They behave that way because they trust the people they are with. It doesn’t require a heavy hand or a heavy voice. It’s just understanding how that particular dog thinks.”
Lacker, owner and handler of Giggles, the Entlebucher Mountain Dog, in part attributes the animal’s relatively strong showing at Westminster to her own peace of mind and sense of calm—acquired by losing 54 pounds before the show.
“I lost the weight because first of all I needed to. I didn’t have any health problems. I just knew I needed to lose the weight for myself, and I wanted to look good for Westminster. So I did it the old-fashioned way, with diet and exercise,” says Lacker, who walks her dogs on the pastures of her 47-acre farm.
“I’m definitely more confident,” she adds. “You hold your head a little higher when you lose weight. And when you’re more confident, your dog knows.”