Howard Lake-Waverly Herald, July 5, 1999

Best of both worlds: show dog and family pet

By Andrea Vargo

In the world of dog shows, it is always exciting to see the puppies develop and make their mark (not on the rug, but in the show ring).

One such youngster is Old English sheepdog Pettibone's Majestic Times, quite a handle for a a seven-month-old puppy that answers to the name of Jasper.

Jasper belongs to Steve and Mary Swenson of Howard Lake, and he is the third Old English they own.

He may have a bright future as a show dog, as his grandfather was best of breed at the Westminster Dog Show in New York in 1998 and 1999.

The Swensons purchased the puppy when he was about 12 weeks old from Ann Lapp of Eau Claire, Wis. Lapp is dean of students at the University of Wisconsin, Eau Claire, and has been a breeder and show handler for many years.

Lapp is their mentor in this foray into the dog show world and gives advice on everything from coat care to which shows to enter. She has also been handling the puppy at his first dog shows for the past several months.

Jasper went to Lapp's home to be trained for the show ring and to get his coat conditioned and trimmed properly, sort of a training camp for show dogs.

The pup was gone from the Swenson's household for months, and Mary was worried he wouldn't remember them.

Not to worry! He remembered everything and was up to his old tricks within a day.

Jasper loves to pull a loaf of bread from the counter and chomp on it. He doesn't eat it, just squishes it and generally makes it unusable for toast.

Part of the training of a show puppy is to hardly ever say no to them. They have to be exuberant and outgoing at all times. It is part of the personality they project to the judge in the show ring.

So Jasper is mostly kept out of trouble through the vigilance of his owners. He leads a very stress-free life, and he does a lot of things other dogs might not be allowed to do.

For some of his more relaxing moments, Jasper can be found just sitting in an empty bathtub or reclining in front of his personal fan.

His personal hair stylist (groomer) is Sarah Swenson, 16, who spends at least an hour every other day brushing the 85-pound pup.

Sarah said she started him out as a little one with about 15 minutes a day on the grooming table to get him used to it.

A show dog spends a lot of time on a grooming table and needs to feel comfortable and safe.

Sarah gradually increased the time and the brushing, until he could be happy with an hour or so. Now he spends as much as three or four hours on the table at a dog show, getting ready to go into the ring.

"Now, Jasper just falls asleep on the table," said Sarah.

The dog's coat is about eight inches long, right now, and must be sprayed with a protein conditioner three or four times a week between shows, she said.

Sarah brushes Jasper's teeth with a mixture of baking soda and salt, and checks the length of his toenails several times a week to see if they need to be trimmed.

Mats are the big enemy! If the coat gets matted at all, there will be some hair loss when it is combed out. The ultimate sin for the owner of a dog with a huge amount of coat like an Old English is to let it get matted.

Like most people with their first experience with a coated breed, the Swensons had their own disaster.

The first Old English they owned, six-year-old Fergie, was due to be shown at the Howard Lake show a few years ago.

The Swensons didn't live in Howard Lake at the time and rented a cabin in Waverly for the weekend.

They bathed their dog and let it air dry, because it was so hot. Mistake! The coat matted terribly, and they had to cancel their appearance at the show.

Mary said she had been told to use the dryer and brush, but she thought, "What the heck."

Well, they never made that mistake again.

Of course, there are always other mistakes waiting in the wings of life. Sarah's big one was cutting too much off the dog's bangs that hang down in front of its eyes before a show.

"Fergie looked really bad," said Sarah.

Sarah has competed in junior handler classes, and was top national junior handler for Old English sheepdogs in 1996 and 1997.

Look for the Swenson family and Jasper at the Wright County Minnesota Kennel Club dog show Saturday and Sunday, July 10 and 11 at the Wright County Fairgrounds in Howard Lake. The show starts at 8 a.m. each day.

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