Several years ago when my youngest child started college, and I would finally become an empty nester, I decided needed a new hobby. I was terrified the daily interruptions I had grown so used to while having a child at home, would leave me stranded. I felt like I would be stuck with nothing to do and no distractions and I wouldn’t know how to cope.
So, I felt like the perfect solution would be a new puppy. I had had dogs all my life and had recently lost my beloved Golden Retriever to heart disease. After 13 years of golden retriever hair throughout my house, I only knew I wanted a breed that didn’t shed.
I began my search, like most of us, online. I Googled, “dogs that don’t shed”. I saw poodles and doodles, Westies, Maltipoo’s, Shiz Szo, Wheaten Terriers and Yorkies. Then I saw the Australian Silky Terrier and I was hooked!
A lot of people think Yorkies and Silkys are the same, but they are not. Yorkies are 4-7 lbs and they hair is supposed to drag the ground. Silky are 8-12 lbs and their hair is never supposed to touch the ground. The ears are shaved, unlike Yorkies, whose ear hair is long and look like “butterfly wings”. Silkys also have a longer snout than Yorkies and their face is more pronounced. Silkys are cousins to theYorkie as they were orginally a cross between an Australian Terriier and a Yorkshire Terrier. I wanted a dog that had more weight than the Yorkie, so I decided the Silky Terrier was the dog for me!
Yorkshire Terrier above.
Australian Silky Terrier
I spent weeks searching online for a litter of puppies and finally settled on a breeder outside of Austin. To make it easier for me, the breeder brought the entire litter and met me halfway between Austin and Fort Worth for me to pick out my puppy. I picked her out, put a pink collar on her so she would know which one was mine and waited to bring her home at 8 weeks old. I never saw were the puppies came from. To this day I do not know if it was a backyard breeder or a puppy mill. However, the photo she used as the sire I saw passed around the internet which makes me believe she could have come from a puppy mill. Regardless, 8 weeks is too young to bring a new puppy home. Nevertheless, I was about to get the biggest education of my life.
I named my sweet puppy, Hadley and she was at the vet the first month I owned her. She couldn’t eat or drink or keep anything down. After a month in the hospital, I decided to return her to the breeder and that day she started eating. Since I was already attached at this point, I kept her and she became my constant companion.
We went everywhere together. I even threw an ellaborate birthday party for her when she turned one year old. She loved everyone and everything, never met a stranger. She loved people and other dogs.
When she was just over a year old, I had her spayed and she didn’t recover like a normal dog should. She couldn’t eat, she was lethargic and she kept throwing up, so back to the Vet we went again. This time, we determined through more tests she was born with a genetic defect called Polycystic Kidneys. This is where cysts form clusters on the kidneys which lower kidney function to life threateningly low levels. It is inherited and often caused from too much inbreeding. We were able to save her, but she was going to have to be on a special diet for kidney patients. I googled Canine Kidney Diet and began cooking for her right away. Kidney patients need very, very little in the way of protein. I began with a slow cooker recipe of sweet potatoes, rice, spinach, egg shells and black sesame seeds. The egg shells acted as a phosphorus binder and the black sesame seeds were cruicial because of the high calcium content.
We began rotating her annual vaccinations because we knew she could not filter the “poison” through her barely functioning kidneys. She continued pretty “normal” for over a year, until she went into renal failure again. I don’t remember for sure, but I think I gave her heartworm and her flea and tick meds at the same time. We tried everything to make her well. I drove to the vet twice a day for IV fluids, but nothing worked. She kept getting worse, and by the end of the week, we had to put her down. She was 2 1/2 years old.
I was heartbroken and completely devastated. But this isn’t really a story about Hadley. This is a story about the lessons I learned with buying a puppy off the internet and not doing my homework.
The day after Hadley died, my Silky Terrier friends on Facebook were blowing up my page with condolences. I was grieving badly and in terrible emotional pain when I came across a FB post of a women whose 5 Silky Terriers were asleep on her bed. I thought to myself, well this woman knows where to get one! I sent her a message and asked if she was a breeder. She said she only bred so she could have a dog in the show ring. She said she had not had a puppy in about 3 years, but that she was getting ready to breed in the next month or so.
So began a 6 month long conversation. Beth was patient and kind and took the time to answer all my questions. I wanted to make sure the next puppy I brought home was going to be healthy above all else.
I got to ask what was the longevitiy of her line. Did she do genetic testing on the mom and dad? Could I look at and research the pedigrees of the male and female she would be breeding? Could I have the puppy sonogramed before I decided to keep her? All these questions racked my brain. Because of Hadley, and her disease, this time I got to ask all the hard questions. Beth was so kind and so patient and I will never forget her kindness. It is what got me through my many months of grief.
When the puppies were born, there were two females. And so began the next 12 weeks raising these girls and Beth evaluating them both. She had asked early, on if both girls were show worthy, would I show my girl and finish her to her championship? I agreed. I mean, how hard could it be? You walk around in a circle and spend about 60 seconds on the table? All I can say is it was about to get real, real quick.
So, my new life began as a dog show handler. I drove from Texas to Missouri to pick up my puppy. I decided to name her Addison, or Addie for short. Her AKC registered name is Jay-Rays Chances R Imma Sweet Addiction. Her sister, from the same litter was named, Imma Maizyn, or Maizy for short.
Addison and her sister, Maizy.
I quickly learned that a show dog is never, ever sent to a groomer. The owner/handler is in charge and does all grooming. From nails to tails it is all done at home. Well I had a lot to learn. I knew what to tell my groomer to do, but had no idea how to actually trim between the eyes, or the tail, or the feet. So I spent nearly 12 months learning from the ground up. Looking back, when I had decided I needed a “project” when my daughter left for college, I’m not sure this is what I had imagined. It was on the job training and I had a lot to learn!
On the Dog show circuit. Two women, 2 dogs, one night in a hotel.
I didn’t know at the time, but few dog show handlers are willing to share their knowledg of the show ring. No one gives aways their secrets. Keep in mind, this is a competition! Cliff note version is, the first year I went into the ring, no one gave me instructions on how to handle Addie on the table. I learned by watching others. Believe me when I tell you I was a hot mess. I had no idea what I was doing, so basically, I was faking it all the way.
My first show was a disaster. There were 4 other Silkys and I was told I only had to compete against a woman who had horrible examples of the breed. I should have beaten her dogs easily. I didn’t. It was humiliating. Not only that, but I had no idea what I had done wrong. No one ever shared with me what I should have done differently. In hindsight, I will always look at that first show and realize how embaressing it was. How I should have been taught how to show a dog in the ring. No one ever instructed me as to what and how I was supposed to do in the show ring in front of the judge. No wonder I didn’t win. I’m sure it was obvious I had no idea what I was doing. I knew I had a wonderful dog, I just didn’t know how to make her perform for the show ring.
I went from there to the Silky Terrier Club of America National Speciality. A Speciality is an AKC sanctioned event where only Silky Terriers compete against each other. I was full of enthusiasm and ready to get back out in the ring. Afterall, I felt like I had a superior example of the breed in my precious little Addison.
However, my first Speciality was a complete disaster. Addison was in season, which didn’t help matters any and, I still really had no idea what I was supposed to be doing when the dog was on the table. I also didn’t know not to wear open toe shoes in the shoe ring. (it was 2 years before someone told me that little tidbit!). We embarressed ourselves so bad that year. No one said a word to me, but I also knew that meant disapproval. I was trying as hard as I could, I knew I had a good dog, I just did not know how to translate all that in front of a judge. The show people I met had been showing dogs for something like 30-40 years!!!! They had bred, raised and showed dozens of dogs. You would think, after all that time, they would want to pass their knowledge on to the next generation. I was told one time what shampoo and conditioners to use, but I was so allergic to it, I broke out in hives. So, I was pretty much on my own. I had to watch everyone else in the ring, pick up pointers wherever I could, go to confirmation classes in between shows and learn how to groom. It was definitely no small undertaking!
To make a long story very short, I spent the next year practicing and practicing and practicing some more. At least I had met several Silky Terrier people at Speciality so I could call on them and try to put together what we call a major, that is a show where you have enough dogs entered to win 3, 4 or 5 points, depending on the number of dogs entered. Even learning the scoring system was difficult! To complete her championship I needed a total of 15 points, two of those events had to be major events where she would compete against several other dogs for major points.
The summer before my next Speciality, I teamed up with my friend Linda from Denver. We have a second home in Colorado, so I asked if she would go with me to some shows and mentor me. She agreed. We went to our first show in Vail, CO in July of that year. There perhaps is no prettier place that Vail for a dog show in the summer! Anyway, in that 3 day show, I learned more from Linda than I have learned from any of my fellow dog show competitors in the last 3 years. Linda literally taught me everything. To say I am grateful is a supreme understatement. When I take time to really think about all the things she taught me, it nearly makes me cry. I will be indebted to her the rest of my life!
Linda and I were scheduled to go to Speciality together the following month, but a week before the event Linda was hospitalized and nearly died. Well, actually she did. She coded 3 times. Before she went on the respirator, she told her neighbor to call me to come get her silky, named Blu who was a Top 20 in the nation. He was supposed to be shown at Speciality. I cannot tell you how terrified I was to go to that show by myself. Not only was my dear friend hanging on for dear life, but I was in charge of my dog and hers!!
Linda and Blu
Blu on a hike in Colorado. He has the pink donut around his neck because he was an escape artist and liked to sneak through my patio decking.
When I got to Speciality with Blu and Addie, I took a deep breath and decided I was just going to take my time and do my thing. I wasn’t going to have to show Blu but I was going to have to show groom both dogs and a Top 20 dog at that! The pressure was on!
On the first day of the Speciality when I went into the ring I really had no expectations whatsoever, I decided to just look at it as practice. At least this time, I was dressed for the part in a skirt, blazer and closed toe shoes and I knew my dog knew what to do. When I tell you the judge looked at me and pointed his finger to say I was taking Reserve Winners Bitch, I actually thought he was pointing to someone else. I looked to see if anyone was behind me. I pointed to me again. I absolutely could not believe that I just took Reserve Winners Bitch at a National Speciality under a National Judge. Those who were watching said the look on my face said it all. Finally, I wasn’t an embarrassment anymore!
The next day was the New Mexico Toy Group show and an Australian friend of mine, Jan was the judge. Since Silkys were originally an Australian breed I was super excited I got to show to her and see what she thought of my dog. Jan has pink hair and I decided that day I would wear my pink suit to match her hair. I mean, whatever it takes to impress the judge, right? LOL….
Well, it worked. I had worked hard, I had painfully paid a lot of dues and that day I took Winner’s Bitch of the New Mexico Toy Group Show!!! It was a Major, and I now had my first 4 points!
Oh and did I mention, most mornings our ring times begin around 8-9 am? Yep, that means we get up at 4:30 am to bathe and groom before heading to the show grounds. Not only did I have to groom my dog, I had to be fully dressed in dog show attire, makeup and hair. But, no ugly shoes. I found a pair of Taryn Rose flats I used to wear in the ring. Fashionable, but utilitarian! Seriously people, we are running and walking on concrete several hours a day, for several days in a row. Stop making fun of our shoes!
Showing confirmation means your dog must earn a total of 15 AKC points or more under national and international judges. It is a beauty contest for sure, but it alsp means they meet the breed standard for the silky terrier and that they are an excellent example of the breed. Is the back straight, do the ears stand on top of the head, is the tail set correctly?
A Champion AKC dog means they have earned a “CH” in front of their registered name. Anyone, literally anyone can register a breed with AKC. It is only the champions that have proven themselves in the ring. If you buy a registered AKC breed from a breeder, only the ones with the “CH” in front of the registered name means they have been tried and tested on a national level. They have been genetically tested for maladies specific to their breed and they have been tested in the show ring and found to be an excellent example of the breed.
On top of the grooming, my dog had to learn to stand on a table about waist high. Have you ever tried to stand a dog on a table? There is absolutely nothing whatsoever natural to a dog about standing on a table. Not only did she have to learn to stand on a table, but she had to get used to a stranger, i.e., The Judge, running their hands up and down her body, all while standing on that waist high table!
The Dog Show world is much tougher than it looks and it is highly competitive. It has definitely been one of the most drama filled, endeavors of my life. I have a wonderful dog, truly a fine specimen of her breed, but because of my inexperience as a show dog handler, I have been embarrassed and humiliated. If I could go back an do it again, I would never have chosen this route. I have seriously cried myself to sleep so many times over being made fun of in this sport, that the next day I had to put icepacks on my face to even be able to apply makeup and go to work. It has been an uphill adventure and one that has come at great emotional and monetary expense, hard work and little, if any, emotional support. In my younger years, I did a lot of competing with horses in the show ring, gymnastics and swimming, so being in the show ring was something I thought would be a natural fit. Never did I imagine how tough it would be!
Dog Show owner/handlers get a really bad rap because of one movie called, “Best in Show”. It is the very first thing out of anyone’s mouth the minute they hear I have a show dog. The movie portrayed show dog people as a bunch of oddball whackadoodles. If you really want to know what it is like to compete in the sport check out the Netflix documentary entitled, “Seven Days Out”. This is what it is really like to aspire to the Westminster Kennel Club Dog show which is pinnacle of every show dog.
Showing dogs is hard work and extremely competitive. One day you could wipe up and win everything, the next day, under a different judge, you could win nothing.
In order to finish all of Addie’s points in the show ring, Linda and I decided she would handle Addie at my 3rd National Speciality and the cluster of dog shows 4 days afterwards. If it came down to handling, Linda with her 40 years of experience would be the one to grab the last of her points. I got her halfway their with a total of 7 points, and only needed 8 more points to get her championship.
Addie would have to compete for 5 days straight without a break. Starting out, it felt like, “Groundhog Day’. Every morning we got up around 5:30 am and began bathing, blow drying, flat ironing and trimming to get Addie ready each morning.
The second day out, Addie won Winner’s Bitch and Best of Winners for a 3 point major! We were over the top thrilled!!! The second day she did the same thing, 3 more points! Now all I needed was her last two points. The third day in the ring, it was a Florida judge and there were 4 other Florida dogs in the ring. Addie came away with nothing that day. Zero.
So, it was our last day and all we needed was two points. Addie is a mamma’s girl, so when Linda took her in the ring, I basically had to hide ringside behind someone else’s crates so she couldn’t see me. Linda later said, from the moment they stepped into the ring that day, Addie had decided she was gonna do it her way and Linda was just along for the ride.
Well…….she did it! She took Winner Bitch and Best of Winners, again, for the 3rd time that week. Another major, and Addie had won her CHAMPIONSHIP!!!! And she had finished with all Majors! What a feat!
I was sobbing so hard when she was handed that purple ribbon that I cried off all my makeup. Together, Linda, Addie and I had done it!!! By the way, the only ribbons that award points in this sport are the purple ones. Blue ribbons mean nothing. Scoring is so complicated I still have to ask for explanations.
Addie being flat ironed before we head to the show!
Linda and Addie after she won her championship!
When we are not practicing our table stance, Addie and I like to hike in the mountains near our second home. She travels with me whenever I go out of town and flies on the plane with me in my lap. She’s been to Tennessee, Nebraska, Kansas, Mississippi, Missouri, Arkansas, New Mexico, Colorado, Oklahoma, Arizona and California! She is also a bit of a neighborhood celebrity, as seen here on the cover of my local magazine.
I am ready to end this little adventure and get back to selling real estate 100% of the time. It’s been fun, but considering the obstacles I’ve had to overcome, would I do it again, not in a million years.
Having a healthy, happy and athletic pet is not overrated. My heart was broken when I lost Hadley to renal failure, caused by too much inbreeding. Puppy Mill, or backyard breeder, they were careless in their breeding habits and probably in it just for the money. In the end, I am still all for rescue, all for it, but having a healthy dog that is well bred who has never had a sick day in her life is like a miracle.
Have I learned valuable tools and lessons, you bet I have. I will never for as long as I live pay a groomer. Did I meet tons of new people? I did, mostly those who were only interested in teaching me how impossible it is for a newbie to gain any traction in this sport. Did I make lifelong friends in the process, you bet. I’m closer to my true dog show friends than just about anyone else besides my children.
“Imma Sweet Addiction”, age 3.
Lessons I have learned:
When you shop for a puppy, if you are looking at an AKC full breed dog, the mom and dad both need to have a “CH” or “GCH” in front of their names. This means both dogs have worked to gain their Championship or Grand Championship titles before national and international judges and they are excellent examples of their respective breed standard. Breeders that breed championship bloodlines are interested in improving the breed as far as temperament, disposition and confirmation. Anyone can literally apply to AKC to register a full breed dog. Only the Champions have been tested and tried and can stand up to the rigorous standard of the breed. You have to earn a champtionship, a simple AKC registration, you don’t. Champion bloodlines are also genetically tested for genetic faults associated with that breed. Ask the tough questions, make sure you are bringing home a healthy dog who has a good disposition and temperament. Just because a dog is pretty to look at doesn’t mean it’s a good dog. Just because it is AKC registered doesn’t mean much at all. My Hadley was AKC registered, but there were no champions in her bloodline. Do your homework. No one ever wants to get their heart broken.
And for God’s sake, please stay away from Puppy Mills and Backyard breeders. If you want a full bred dog, go to that breeds national website and search their approved breeders, otherwise adopt a rescue. I applaud you if your have resuced a dog, but if you want to raise a puppy yourself, do the homework, research the breed. Know what questions to ask. Don’t make the mistake I did my first go round with Hadley. And for God’s sake quit criticizing those of us who want a healthy, full bred dog. We are not the evil ones. We are the ones who treat our animals like members of the family, just like those of you who rescue your dog from the pound. Show dogs don’t end up in the pound. We are the ones improving the breed for looks, disposition and temperament. Just do you homework. Don’t let your emotions drive you, Dogs are family, and owning one is a lifelong commitment. Raise your puppy, train your dog. Don’t rehome them because you got a new job, or moved into a new rental that doesn’t accept pets. Get your priorities straight. Dogs are not disposable. Ask anyone who is a pet lover. Dogs have feelings and emotions and they get attached to their owners.
Additionally, show dog breeders will always take their dogs back if you become incapiticated or can no longer care for your pup. It is the illegitimate backyard breeder and puppy mills who are in it for the money are the ones whose dogs have behavior problems and end up in rescues. Owning a dog is a commitment. Make sure you are ready to take on all the responsibilities of dog ownership when you take that on. Enjoy you pup and they will take care of you as well.
In the end, I plan to use Addie for in the future for a set of children’s books telling her tales. With all the places she has been, she’s got quit a few stories that need telling! Keep an eye out for the Adventures of Addison The Silky Terrier in bookstores and on Instagram in the coming years.