A recent graduate of Snohomish High School, Anna Pearson, 18, has been participating in dog shows since she was a toddler. Having won seven junior handler awards at local shows, she has been invited to attend the Westminster Dog Show in New York City for the first time in February with two dogs: Oscar, a 5-year-old Chinook (a rare breed of sled dog), and her own Australian shepherd, Promise.
Question: What will be the difference between showing Promise and Oscar at Westminster?
Answer: With Promise, it’s in the junior showmanship category, about how well the handler presents the dog. You want to be smooth. You want to make a pretty picture with the dog. With Oscar, he’ll compete in a conformation category: It’s all about the dog.
Q: How much did you know about Chinooks before you met Oscar?
A: Absolutely nothing about Chinooks. Marleen Mandt (Oscar’s owner) gave me a ton of information, and about a month before they were recognized by the American Kennel Club, they held an educational seminar. I made sure I did a lot of research ahead of time. They’re actually pretty similar to Siberian huskies and the way you present them. And I’ve shown Siberian huskies for several years. Chinooks are a little bit more masculine, but the style is the same.
Q: What was it like training Oscar to be a show dog?
A: One of the hardest things is that when we got him he wasn’t a puppy. I spent a whole year getting him ready to show, because he was crazy. I mean, he’s crazy now, too. When we first got him he was pulling all over the place. Once he went into competition, he started winning. The only person who’s ever beaten him was my sister, Laura, with her Chinook, but we don’t talk about that.
Q: How did you go about training Oscar?
A: It was really being extremely firm with him: “You do it correct, or you don’t get the reward.” I might be a softer trainer with an Aussie, but not with a Chinook. He isn’t afraid of anything.
Q: How do different breeds like an Australian shepherd and a Chinook respond to a show environment?
A: It depends. With my Aussie — Aussies can be a little bit more reserved, because they’re supposed to question their environment. With Oscar, he’s not going to question the environment as much, he’s going to be excited. We’re probably going to have to run him beforehand to calm him down, because he’s going to be crazy.
Q: What are you studying at Cascadia Community College?
A: Just the basics, right now, but I’m choosing whether I want to be a political science major or an English major. I know I want to go into law.
Q: You’re also working a part-time job at Macy’s. How do you balance schoolwork, training dogs for shows and working?
A: At Macy’s it’s easy because every Sunday I go in and pick up shifts, so they have no problem if I need to work during the week and do a show on the weekend. With school, I’m really fortunate that my professors have given me the OK to take a day if I need to go to a show. And most of my work is done electronically so it’s easy for me to do my work on the road.
Q: I understand you work with a couple of professional handlers. What do you do for them?
A: At shows, I wake up early in the morning and walk all the dogs. I’m responsible for food and water, I help groom the dogs, and I’ll help show them if they need me to.
Q: What is your favorite moment from a show?
A: I don’t have a personal favorite moment, but I do a have a personal favorite show. I really like to go to the Seattle Kennel Club show, because that’s the one a lot of my friends go to and I get to show off what I do to my non-dog friends.
Q: Any truth to the personality types satirized in the movie “Best in Show”?
A: Absolutely! In fact some of the judges that were in the movie are real judges, and some of the handlers in the group are real handlers. My parents went to the movie as a date, and my dad leaned over and whispered to my mom, “The sad thing is you guys are exactly like that.”
Chris Winters: 425-374-4165 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Evening sessions of the 138th annual Westminster Dog Show will be broadcast from 5 to 8 p.m. Feb. 10 on CNBC and from 5 to 8 p.m. Feb. 11 on USA.