Journalist Josh Dean tells the story of a loveable Australian Shepherd, Jack, on his novice tour through the exciting world of professional dog showing, following Jack from his first competitions in local school gymnasiums all the way to the great granddaddy of them all, the Westminster Dog Show.
Every weekend, for nearly fifty weeks each year, tens of thousands of Americans pack up their SUVs and minivans with crates and dryers and treats and shampoos and hairsprays and plush toys and fan out for some of the two-thousand-plus dog shows held annually across the United States. More than two million pedigreed dogs, and exponentially more humans who handle and care for them, will take part in these events—for the most part happily—and the world that has grown up to support them is massive and vibrant, and almost impossible to imagine unless you’ve seen it in person.
By spending a year alongside rising star Jack, a champion Australian shepherd, and his canine and human friends, magazine journalist Josh Dean yanks back the curtain on the dog show world, providing not just a hilarious and often touching portrait of a colorful subculture only slightly exaggerated in the film Best in Show, but also a revealing look at our love affair with the world’s most doted-upon and tinkered-with animal species, examining the colossal array of dog types and humans who love them.
Show Dog follows Jack as he matures over the course of a year, from still-improving adolescent to seasoned adult show dog. We get to know him and the people around him—his owner, his handler, his breeder—to experience what it’s like to own a show dog and to train one. And we come to appreciate him for what he is, a lovable and intelligent house pet—albeit one with a highly unusual occupation.
Along the way, Dean takes a close look at the eccentric and fascinating world of breeders and dog show fanciers—exploring the history and science of purebred dog breeding and the evolution of canine perfection via dog show culture, with that pursuit’s many related peculiarities: judging, training, naming, promoting, hairstyling, kennel-owning, RV-driving, hotel-finding, treat-selecting, and more.
A veteran journalist, Dean shines a warm, steady light on the trials that Jack and his plucky, dedicated owners come to face, and uses their story to explore the larger histories of dog shows themselves; the fascinating and sometimes bizarre history of purebred dogs; and our complex, heartfelt relationships to the pets we grow to love.
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