Show Time!

MONMOUTH -- Afghan hounds are described as having a regal appearance and a temperament that borders on haughty. To be certain, Mister looks like he might fit that bill.

MONMOUTH -- Afghan hounds are described as having a regal appearance and a temperament that borders on haughty.

To be certain, Mister looks like he might fit that bill.

The 3-year-old hound and champion show dog has the perfectly-plucked saddle and movie-star hair, after all.

Standing on a grooming table inside owner Emilie Peterson's home in Monmouth, however, a wide-eyed Mister leans forward, with a tail wag and inquisitive sniff during a brushing.

"He's very curious and friendly," Peterson, 17, said. "Afghans are supposed to be aloof ... I think he missed that in the standard."

Left to his own devices, Mister is rambunctious, Peterson said. But he'll have to be on his best behavior during the next few days.

The duo will be in New York City to participate in the prestigious Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, Feb. 14-15. Peterson, a veteran dog handler and Dallas High School student, is one of 128 young people from across the United States who have qualified for the Junior Showmanship portion of the competition.

Unlike the breed judging, it's the handlers themselves, not the dogs, that are evaluated in this particular event, Peterson said.

"I'm excited, nervous," Peterson said. "I've been talking to different handlers who have gone to it, trying to find out what I should bring and what to expect."

Peterson qualified for Westminster last summer, after earning a 10th junior show victory at an American Kennel Club event in Washington.

Peterson has had roughly 50 placements and accumulated $1,500 in scholarship money through the showmanship circuit. Mister, meanwhile, has met benchmarks to be considered an AKC champion.

"My one goal was to make it to Westminster before I aged out," she said.

Peterson started showing dogs through 4-H when she was 9, teaming with the family's Labrador retriever.

"She didn't make the best show dog," she admitted.

Peterson received a papillon -- a toy dog -- and became involved in AKC sanctioned events in 2007. She befriended a Springfield-based Afghan hound breeder around that time, Debbie Petersen, and became a handler for Mister.

"Some kids like obedience and agility shows," Peterson said. "I like showing more what I can do with a dog than what the dog can do with me."

Training a dog for show means starting with them as puppies, first getting them used to leashes and in crowded areas.

When the dog reaches the point you can control them through the leash, you graduate to the actions they're to take in the ring -- like running patterns alongside the handler or posing the dogs' legs and body -- stacking -- for evaluation by a judge.

The handler, meanwhile, has to be able to be in complete control of the dog at all times.

"The dog can be a royal pain, but if I keep my cool, don't show frustration, it shows the judge I can control the dog no matter what happens," Peterson explained.

But there are mishaps. During an event last year, Mister decided to relieve himself in the ring.

"It was awful," she said. "I was running with him, I looked behind me and it was like, `Oh. Whoops.'"

Being a handler takes time. Lots of it. Besides the regular care and grooming for a show dog -- it can take two hours to clean Mister -- the show season runs the entire year.

For Peterson, who also shows animals through 4-H and FFA, that means an event nearly every weekend from the beginning of spring to the end of summer.

David Frei, Westminster's spokesman and the event's television announcer, said in a telephone interview that showing canines has grown considerably as a family sport.

Many professional handlers got their start through junior competitions, said Frei, who grew up in Eugene and also owns Afghan hounds.

"It can be very competitive, those adults who show often laugh at how good the kids are," he said. "And they're especially talented to make it all the way to Madison Square Garden."

Peterson opined that the Pacific Northwest is among the most competitive places in the country for showing dogs. Indeed, there will be nine youths from Oregon and Washington involved in Westminster next week; last year's winner was from Gearhart.

Peterson said there hasn't been much she and Mister can do as far as training, though she has had the dog trail her on a bike during the past few weeks for conditioning.

"It's so he won't get tired when he's in the ring," she said.

Danni Peterson, Emilie's mom, won't be making the trip with her. Television coverage of the showmanship competition will be spotty at best, so the entire two-day show has been "permanently DVR'd" in case Emile makes an appearance, Danni said.

The winner of the event will receive $6,000 in scholarship money; Peterson isn't worried about the cash.

"The reward will be seeing New York for the first time, being at the show and just knowing that you made it."

Dog Show Basics

Each dog presented to a judge is exhibited ("handled") by its owner, breeder or a hired professional. The role of a handler is similar to that of a jockey who rides a horse around the track and, hopefully, into the winner's circle.

Most dogs in competition at conformation shows are competing for points toward their AKC championships. It takes 15 points, including two majors (wins of three, four or five points) awarded by at least three different judges, to become an American Kennel Club "Champion of Record."

About the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show

* Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show was first held in 1877 and is the second-longest continuously held sporting event in the United States, behind only the Kentucky Derby.

* There have been a total of 299,024 dogs entered in Westminster's 134 shows through 2010

* There will be 2,500-plus champions, competing in 173 different breed and varieties, at the 2011 Westminster dog show.

* The first telecast of Westminster was in 1948, three years before "I Love Lucy" premiered.

* The dog show has outlasted three previous versions of Madison Square Garden, and is currently being staged in MSG IV.


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