The Best Dog In The World (Aside From Yours, Of Course) Is Right Here In Southern California
What does it take to produce a champion dog? Look no further than a kennel in the Inland Empire.
King, a sleek, wire fox terrier originally from Belgium, won last week's Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show at Madison Square Garden.
His handler, Gabriel Rangel, lives in Rialto and has trained show dogs since he was 15.
He's no stranger to winning — he's now taken the top prize at Westminster three times.
But that's not without a demanding, round-the-clock training schedule that includes hours-long grooming sessions and even putting some lazy dogs on treadmills.
We sat down with Rangel to learn more about what it takes to breed a winner.
How does it feel to win — again?
GR: It's a very happy feeling, but it's also like everything is down to earth now, it's over. [laughs]
How did you get started showing dogs?
GR: I just love dogs and that's most of the people that's how they start, and then you start finding out things about the sport and shows. And then you just get to that point where all of a sudden someone says, "Can you show my dog? You do it so well!" I've shown dogs for many years. My first dog that I had as a show dog, I was 15. I made a lot of friends, and I ended up showing all their dogs.
What does a typical day look like?
GR: You start by exercising your dogs by 7 o'clock. Then you make sure they all eat their food, have enough water, try to check that everybody's ok. Then you start grooming the dogs most of the morning, train them, and walk them. And you do that all day — 'til it's time to go to bed, so maybe around 7 p.m.
What kind of exercises are they doing?
GR: They exercise themselves. You have some dogs that are just all day running around — you got to almost stop them from doing it because they lose too much weight. But the ones who don't want to do it, we put them on a treadmill.
Wait, what if the dog doesn't want to get on a treadmill?
GR: I never really had any problems with that. They're so used to going up and down on the grooming tables. So you start very slowly, and then just start moving so they get the feeling. I mean, I don't recommend anybody just try to put a dog on a treadmill and get the dog freaked out! [laughs] But we do it, because we know the dog.
Let's talk about King. How did you know this dog was going to be a champion?
GR: There's a breed standard that describes how the dog should be — size, structure, all kinds of movement. He's pretty close to that. A lot of dogs can have that, but they're not really outgoing. He's really outgoing. He's always up on his toes and happy.
I really don't know, but you can tell he is special. Just like when you see someone with talent, it's just like that. He was born for this. You go to so many shows, you see so many dogs, you've seen them all, so when you see a special one, you can tell right away. He has what it takes.
What's it like to be in the show ring at Westminster?
GR: I've been going to the Madison Square Garden since 1986. I've been there 33 times. It was a dream to be there. It's very special. My job is to make sure that what I see, people see. And you basically manage for him not to make mistakes, not to look bad, not to bark the wrong thing [laughs].
In this case, the judge for Best in Show is a very famous terrier person. We knew this was good for us, but also, he could be a terrier person and not like your dog!
You can never say, oh, I have a chance. Because there's three judges you have to go through. You have to be cool - otherwise you can get nervous.
And all your feelings go through the lead, to the dog.
Is that a saying in the dog show world?
GR: I believe it. Dogs are very sensitive. They feel if you feel bad or nervous. The dogs feel if you have a problem with your diabetes, so many things. They're so sensitive.
How do you get King to focus when it's competition time?
GR: We train them by giving them treats. And you find out what is the best treat for them. Sometimes people use squeaky toys or chicken; sometimes it gets their attention, sometimes they go totally crazy for it. You need to find out whatever works for the dog, and just use it in moderation and also try not to bother other dogs next to you. Like, you show them the chicken and ... the other dogs are going crazy or squeaking.
He loves chicken and he's so good with it. He knows I'm not going to give him too much, and he just pays attention to me.
Does King like other dogs?
GR: Yeah! You have to expose them and get them used to other dogs.
What are King's pet peeves?
GR: He doesn't like to be carried. Every time I have to put him on the table, it's like a struggle for me, because he doesn't like it. Dogs, usually you carry them and hold them — he's all, "don't touch me."
Does he like the rain?
GR: No. We don't like the rain, he doesn't like the rain.
Is there a "Miss Congeniality" award for dogs at these shows?
GR: No. You don't judge the dogs against each other. You judge them according to their breed standard. It's not like we decide who is the most popular dog.
How do you feel about puppy or breeding mills? And shelter dogs.
GR: To be honest, I just know what I do, and have no control over what other people do. We rescue many dogs, we pick them up, try to find the owners. And I tell the people here, put on a tag or something. But you can't really change people.
There's a lot of people that ... don't really understand the dog and they breed it because it's fun to have puppies, and then the dogs go out there. And it's a shame. I feel bad about it. But I don't think it has anything to do with dog shows.
Does King have an Instagram account, or is he a dog "influencer?"
GR: I think the owner wanted to do an Instagram account. But we don't do that. We're like a trainer — we just make sure the dog is out there in good condition.
Is there anything else you'd want people to know about the world of show dogs?
GR: If you want to get a dog, just make sure to go to a responsible breeder, and make sure you understand what you are getting into.