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Show Dog: The Charmed Life and Trying Times of a Near-Perfect Purebred

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A veteran magazine journalist captures the idiosyncratic world of professional dog showing, from the local competitions held in florescent-lit school gymnasiums to the granddaddy of them all, The Westminster Dog Show, as he follows a lovable novice dog through his inaugural year in competition.

393 pages, Hardcover

First published February 7, 2012

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About the author

Josh Dean

6 books43 followers
Josh Dean is a New York based journalist whose work has appeared in Popular Science, Bloomberg BusinessWeek, GQ, Men's Journal, Rolling Stone, Inc., Fast Company, ESPN the Magazine, and many others, covering subjects as diverse as pee wee go-kart racing, snowboarding in Iran, the byzantine world of small production watchmakers, and a start-up nuclear fission company. He is a correspondent for Outside, a former deputy editor of Men's Journal, and one of the founding editors of PLAY, the New York Times Sports Magazine, where he had the great fortune to work with David Foster Wallace on the late writer's classic Roger Federer profile/essay. Josh is almost certainly the first person in history to play in both the WEPA Elephant Polo World Championships and the Quidditch World Cup. (Sadly, his teams won neither.) He is the author of SHOW DOG: The Charmed Life and Trying Times of a Near-Perfect Purebred, an extremely real and yet still unbelievable trip inside the world of dog shows, and THE LIFE AND TIMES OF THE STOPWATCH GANG, about Canada's infamous and prolific 1970s gang of bank robbers. His latest book, THE TAKING OF K-129, tells the incredible story of Project Azorian, the largest and most audacious covert operation in CIA history. He lives in Brooklyn (and sometimes in the Catskills) with his wife and two sons.

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5 stars
290 (33%)
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305 (35%)
3 stars
213 (24%)
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45 (5%)
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15 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 113 reviews
Profile Image for Ann.
1 review
July 10, 2012
Since Tom and I and our current Best In Show Dog, Gr. Ch. CR Wicca's Trade Secret (Trader)and our handlers, Heather Bremmer and Kevin Bednar, are in this book, I have to give it 5 stars!!
Profile Image for Ang.
1,703 reviews39 followers
March 28, 2012
What an enjoyable read! Interspersed with chapters about the dog on the cover (Jack, an Australian Shepherd) and his quest to win Champion and then Grand Champion status (while remaining a pet, no less)are chapters about the history of dog shows, the history of dogs, and tidbits about dogs. It read so quickly! And I was sorry when it was over. You can't really ask for more from a non-fiction book. Even if you don't *LOVE* dogs, this might appeal to you.
3 reviews2 followers
May 12, 2018
This book was AWESOME. It gave me a completely different perspective as to how the dog show world works for people who dont normally get to show. It also gave me a nice refresher as to what the breed standard is, as after a while a forgot a lot about it. Finally, gives a nice history of the breed, as i probably wouldnt have been able to learn that information without having read this.
Profile Image for Suzy.
38 reviews
April 21, 2020
Every now and then I will Google "books about dogs"... I'm usually disappointed. I've read most of what looks interesting to me (not really looking for fiction) and it seems to be slow-growth genre. But about one year ago I entered the world of dog shows and when I saw this book (even though I have a dog in the working group and there's a herding dog on the cover) I thought, "Why not? This is right up my new alley."

I don't know about the rest of you, but I collect books much faster than I manage to read them, even though I love few things more than the feeling of a book between my hands. So I have this HUGE bookshelf filled with books that are on deck. "Show Dog" sat in the on deck circle for a few months before I finally decided to take it along on a short road trip just before the pandemic hit.

I didn't even make it past page one of the preface before I realized... this book is about MY people. Why hadn't anyone told me to read this? It's about my dogs' handlers, Heather Bremmer and her husband Kevin Bednar. It's about my youngest dog's breeder and co-owner, Dawn Cox. In fact, the Bernese Mountain Dog in this book, Tanner, is the great grandfather to both of my females... or, bitches, if you're in the show dog mode.

So my experience has been a little different. These are not faceless names; I didn't have to rely on the short section of photos in the middle of the book to collect images to assist my imagination. This... was a delight.

This is one of my favorite book genres... investigative journalism with a good dose of humor. Author Josh Dean does a great job exploring the dynamics of show relationships, particularly between handlers and dog owners and between competing dog "teams". Dog showing definitely produces camps within the community that either bond together and cheer one another on, or compete with an edge of disdain and (dare I say... jealousy) for the success of others.

If you want an informative read that dives a bit inside the world of dog shows, I cannot recommend a better book. Dean manages to weave in a year of East Coast shows (my stomping grounds) with informative side visits to the history of dog shows, the compelling draw of the Big One (Westminster) that draws a HUGE television and live audience year after year, introductions to a number of interesting breeds recognized by the American Kennel Club, and a rainbow of colorful people he met along the way during his year ringside.

The most haunting quote for me came at the end of the book, from the co-owner of my youngest dog, no less. Her Tanner, at the time the top Bernese Mountain Dog in the country, was the only dog "on the truck" (a dog campaigned by his owner and traveling year-round with his handlers) to not win or receive an award of merit at Westminster in 2011. Dawn Cox said to friend and often business partner Georgeann Reeve, "Guess what - there's another dog show, next weekend." Why does this haunt me so? My Zuzu (also a Tanner great granddaughter) took Reserve Winner at York, PA on March 15. She won a big purple and white ribbon and some gifts... but she missed five points towards her championship by ONE DOG. And there won't be a dog show next weekend. There won't be a dog show for a long time yet.
1 review
July 27, 2012
This is a great book for anyone entertaining the idea of showing their dog and has very, very deep pockets. Having grown up spending just about every bloody weekend at a dog show from infancy to about age 12 - (my father bred herding/working dogs)...well let's just say this book offers the insight, costs, conflicts and joys of showing dogs. It clearly explains why - you cannot make money breeding and raising show dogs even if you're in the top 20 of your breed. This is something I have been telling people for over 40 years.

I think the thing that the book fully explained is the justification of kennel club standards - it defines the physical standard characteristics accomplished by breeding to enable the dog to DO HIS/HER JOB - be it herding, hunting, swimming, or grabbing puffins out of their lairs. Read the book for a better understanding of the latter.

The main character is Jack, an Australian Shepard. To say he is a live wire would be a gross understatement.

That said, dogs are the greatest thing that man has ever designed. The author, Josh Dean did a great job of providing information about AI, breed histories, the AKC, and other dog related topics. It is a very well written and humorous book.
Profile Image for Armelle.
278 reviews
July 10, 2014
Jack is a show dog, owned by a newcomer to the dog-show world. He lives mostly with his owner, but is mostly shown by a professional handler, and thus straddles the gap between the total show dog, and family pet.

Jack fairly easily earns his AKC Championship - perhaps too easily - but falters some in his climb up the rankings. This book follows Jack on his year or so on the circuit. Along the way we meet some great dogs, and learn a lot about purebred dogs and the history of the sport of showing dogs.

I've never owned a show dog, and never will, but I enjoyed learning about the world of dog shows.

Profile Image for Becky Hummer.
16 reviews2 followers
September 8, 2013
I am determined to finish this book as I really want to learn all about the show world. However I am finding it very difficult to keep my interest. I am finding that the show world is very complicated and although this book is helping me some I believe if you want to learn it would be better to get involved in the world personally. I have started helping a friend as she shows her beautiful Yorkies and chasing the points for their championship. Even she says she doesn't know everything. It has become my lunch break read.

Finished but it was a struggle.
70 reviews2 followers
March 2, 2012
By the end, I knew more about Jack -- the show dog on the cover -- and his show history than I cared to know. Some judicious pruning of Jack's efforts would have made for a tighter book. The parts about dog shows, however, were quite interesting, and that's why I picked the book up in the first place.
Profile Image for Cristin.
3 reviews
January 29, 2013
As an avid dog show person (my gig is agility and obedience instead of conformation,) I thought this book was fantastic. It was a very truthful and fun window into the world of dog showing. I think it is a must read for anyone who is thinking about stepping into the world of AKC conformation for the first time. Even if you're not an aspiring owner/handler...dog people will enjoy this read.
Profile Image for Barb.
318 reviews
October 21, 2022
Show Dog chronicles a year-ish in the life of ASCA/AKC GCH Wyndstar’s Honorable Mention NA NAJ, also known as “Jack,” who is a rising star in the dog show world. (I don’t know what all the letters stand for, but I’m pretty sure GCH stands for Grand Champion.) It begins shortly after Kimberly Smith purchases him from the Wyndstar Kennels in California. She wanted a pet first and a show dog second, even though she had never shown dogs.

Unlike many show dogs, Jack gets to be a dog—his favorite game is frisbee, he lives indoors instead of in a kennel outside, but when it’s show time, he is on. Not every single time; he did jump up once when his handler was taking him around the ring (while being judged).

Before entering the ring, Jack and numerous other dogs stand on grooming tables where they are pampered, primped, and prodded. Not only are they washed, blow dried, brushed, and trimmed, sometimes the handlers use hairspray, chalk, or other items (straddling the line between legal and illegal) on them.

I hadn’t realized that dog shows are a big endeavor. Many of the owners and/or handlers own RVs in which they travel around the country going from one show to another for three or four days a week. And you need big money to play the game. One owner took out a $20,000 loan against her house in order to keep doing this! But if your dog is number one or close to it, you maybe can recoup some of that money from breeding these dogs. Probably only some of it.
5 reviews
November 26, 2018
I started out with really high hopes for this book. I love dogs. I love watching dog shows. I even have enjoyed the handful of dog shows I have attended. I had a really hard time staying with the book once I got about 1/3 of the way through it. I would put it down and have to force myself to pick it back up. Maybe my expectations of the book were off and I never recovered. But I think the more likely reason is that I was looking for a story focused on the people and the dogs, specifically Jack, and got too much history of the breed, dog shows, and long departed figures in the dog world.

That said, the book did confirm some things that I had long believed about dog shows...judges have their favorites, there are outside forces that influence results, and judging Best in Group and Best in Show really comes down to pick a dog, any dog, because they all had to be pretty special to get that far.
Profile Image for Tamara Taylor.
427 reviews15 followers
March 9, 2022
Oh gosh, I loved this book. As a new show dog owner it was the perfect look "behind the curtain". It captured the eccentric sub-culture of the dog show world without poking fun or making it a parody. It points out some of the zany realities without disrespect or judgment. I appreciated how the writer had no experience with the show dog world and doesn't even own a pet dog. Very much laid it out in layman's terms. It was exciting to follow the roller coaster of emotions as we track the career, wins, losses and breeding escapades of one promising young dog and all of the humans connected to him.
Profile Image for Alexis.
153 reviews
August 17, 2019
I really enjoyed reading "Show Dog" but I think it is because I was extensively involved in the show world myself, albeit with pedigreed cats in C.F.A. (the cat world's equivalent of the A.K.C.) I had also visited a few dog shows over the years, so I was familiar with what goes on at dog shows. However, even if you have never been involved with showing pedigreed cats or dogs, I think that "Show Dog" will give you some interesting insights into the dog show world. If you've ever visited a dog show and considered buying and showing a pedigreed dog, I think you should read "Show Dog".
208 reviews2 followers
August 31, 2019
Amazon Prime First Reads

If this book handy been offered as a Prime First reads, I would have missed it. I enjoyed the behind-the-scenes look at the crazy would of dog shows and owning a show dog. It's not for the faint of heart nor for anyone who doesn't want to spend money and time doing it. Such an endeavor is all consuming. I own alpacas and such a lifestyle requires support, if not family participation .

Dean writes very well and I enjoyed his humor. This book did not disappoint.

PS no profanity other than shit used appropriately. No sex other than the canine type.
Profile Image for Rita Ciresi.
Author 14 books57 followers
August 25, 2019
I started thumbing through this book as research for something I was writing, and instantly got hooked. It's a charming, well-written, and informative look at the whole dog show phenomenon, with lots of interesting tidbits about the history of showing and breeding. You can't help but cheer for the main character, Jack--a beautiful but naughty Australian Shepherd who loses as much as he wins. So enjoyable!
Profile Image for Denise.
33 reviews2 followers
November 14, 2019
While I found the book entertaining in spots, as a person that has been an owner-handler, I was a little disappointed that the book focused on a dog that has a professional handler. I did appreciate learning more about it, but not everyone, as pointed out in the book, can afford a professional handler.

It would be nice to see a similar book that does focus on the struggles of the owner-handler.
Profile Image for Sassafras Lowrey.
Author 26 books173 followers
October 25, 2019
Love this book. I as skeptical because people who aren't of the dog world writing about the dog world - and specifically the world of dog shows? But this book did it and did it well. An absolutely enjoyable read, and probably the best dog book written by a non-dog person i've ever read. if you are curious about the world of dog shows this is a great (and sometimes funny) introduction!
Profile Image for Ranny Welton.
44 reviews
June 8, 2021
My wife has been showing or training dogs for her entire life, so I just had to read. With that said, I thought Dean did an excellent job of capturing the nuances of this slice of life. We know several people mentioned throughout the book, so it was fun following the story. Obviously, I am not unbiased with this subject, but if you have any interest in the dog show world, highly recommend.
Profile Image for Susan.
206 reviews5 followers
September 8, 2018
A great layman's introduction to the dog show world. This documentary-style book was entertaining and very readable, with just enough technical details to make it educational as well. I especially enjoyed the brief spotlights on various breeds and their history. Fun read!
Profile Image for Sara Goldenberg.
2,010 reviews15 followers
October 2, 2019
I'm not a dog person but somehow this book showed up on a list of interesting books so I borrowed it from the library. It was SO interesting - a glimpse into a world I'll probably never see otherwise!

It was well written and cute illustrations too!
Profile Image for Kayo.
2,327 reviews28 followers
April 4, 2020
Huge book. Kind of slow at times, but definitely a fun book.
Profile Image for Khanh.
187 reviews1 follower
August 13, 2021
4.5 stars. This is the first nonfiction book I have read about showing dogs. I enjoyed it, although the human politics and finer details of showing kind of made my brain hurt.
Profile Image for Mary Ronan Drew.
872 reviews99 followers
February 24, 2012
Ah, show dogs! The prima donnas of the canine world (and that includes the males.) I picked up this newly published book in hopes a little dog show reality would help me get over my crush on Westminster's 2012 Best in Show, Malachy. This Pekingese, as Josh Dean says, is an animal that appears to be a Pac Man ghost bred to an angora goat and looks pretty much like Cousin It from the Addams Family. What better way to take my mind off Malachy than to read a book about Jack, an Australian Shepherd, a dog that looks like a generic Dog.

Jack coulda been a contenda. He may, some time in the future be one of the "campaigned" dogs who are in line to win Best in Show at big dog shows. He blew onto the scene and came away with his championship status in four months. He's a delightful character and a splendid show dog.

But the dog show world is complicated and seldom does a dog like Jack, whose owner can't afford to pay a handler to travel with him to shows all over the country all year or to advertise in dog magazines in an attempt to bring him to the attention of judges, make it to top dog in the US or to the winner's circle at Westminster. But people who love dogs love to show them off and dogs like Jack, who are natural showmen, want to be shown, so his owner will probably bring him back to the show circuit.

Meanwhile, in spending a year following Jack around, meeting owners, handlers, judges, and others in the dog world, Josh Dean has learned much that ranges from interesting and amusing to hilarious to downright weird. For example, did you know that George Washington was a breeder of American Foxhounds and instrumental in defining the breed? That there are 15,000 polar bears in Canada alone, but only 500 Sealyham terriers in the entire world? That Berger Picards are often mistaken for Wirehaired Portuguese Podengo Media? (I had to throw that in there. If Sealyhams, which are familiar to everyone, are down to 500 dogs, how many Wirehaired Portuguese Podengo Media can there be out there?)

The dogs are characters, but the people who own and show them are, as we learned from the movie, Best in Show, sometimes more eccentric than the dogs. One owner tells the story of a handler who was kicked of a show in Pennsylvania . . . for relieving herself in the exercise pen.

It seems that this owner of a field spaniel who "almost certainly having spent too much time in the company of dogs, ducked into one of those sawdust lined, fenced enclosures . . . and not just any ex-pen. It was the one for puppies, which has a short door intended to keep out larger dogs. The woman . . . had to crunch down into a ball and crawl to get in, and then - to add to the indignity - she got stuck on the way out. Within a few minutes of her ungainly exit, someone had hung a sign that said DOGS ONLY."

The book is full of anecdotes and serious discussions about such things as breeding and health, popularity of breeds, cost of advertisements ($4,500 for the cover of The Canine Chronicle), the difficulties of training a dog to perform in a dog show, and the money flowing into the American dog show world from emerging economies, with major players now in Brazil and China, for example.

A wonderful book and I hope not the last from Josh Dean who lives in Brooklyn with his wife, son, and imaginary pet dog.

2012 No 33
Profile Image for K.
338 reviews3 followers
April 25, 2012
I do have to say I am partial to dogs. Long ago I grew up with shelties (that would be Shetland Sheepdogs) and some of them had been show dogs but were given to us in retirement. While I no longer have dogs due to my life style and I am currently owned by cats (one being a purebred Abyssinian who just wasn’t good enough for the cat shows) someday I want to have another dog. Now, I always thought it would be a sheltie but after reading this book I am almost sold on an Aussie – otherwise known as an Australian shepherd.

One will fall in love with this dog breed just by looking at the cover (and also the back cover). And the love affair will continue inside the book as we follow a year in the life of our cover model named Jack, otherwise known as Grand Champion Wyndstar’s Honorable Mention, a blue merle Aussie. We first meet Jack as a 20-month old trying to break into the dog show world in 2010. And for the next year we follow Jack, his owner and newbie to the dog show world Kimberly and his professional handler Heather as he goes from local weekend shows to grand old Westminster in search of his AKC Championship.

It is pointed out that the Aussie is the 26th most popular breed and is part of the herding group. But it isn’t a breed or group that will win the top award at most shows (noted as Best in Show). That honors seems to fall to the terrier group. That doesn’t stop Jack from trying to be the best during the many weekend shows he enters while during the week he is Kimberly’s hyper and intelligent pet … and sometimes the local lothario to any female dog (aka a bitch) in the vicinity.

The author, Josh Dean, is a journalist and it shows as he does a fantastic job researching and detailing in a humorous way the behind the scenes life of dogs shows. Throughout the book he throws in tidbits about the history of dogs, breeds of dogs, how judging is done (or supposed to be done), why handlers are such a necessary part of a show dog’s life, and the amount of marketing that goes on to make a dog a success (I never knew a dog needed a press agent to push his case for winning). Dean’s knowledge is amazing and you come away knowing so much more than you would have thought possible about the world of dog shows though never in a boring way. And while the focus is on Jack and his shows we never really feel there is any bias towards or against the world of showing even during Jack’s “off-period”.

This is a book to read even if you don’t have a dog. Besides being entertaining it is amazing what one will come to learn and might need to know one day if you ever stumble into being an owner of a dog, even if it is a mutt. And while I haven’t viewed the 2000 movie Best in Show many readers have said that this book comes close to the zany and crazy dog show life depicted in the film. I am going to have to get that movie and watch it now! By the way, Jack has his own facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/pages/Jack-t...) and web page (http://wyndstarshonorablemention.com/) and you can get an update to the month of what Jack is doing these days.

Profile Image for Brianne.
35 reviews14 followers
September 7, 2013
I absolutely adored this book. Dean is the perfect interloper into the strange, intense, awesome world of dogs. He writes about conformation, but I think that those of us involved in agility, rally-o, obedience, tracking, hunting, herding, schutzhund, search and rescue, earth dog, flyball, disc, dock diving, and lure coursing will also find quite a few of our people here.

It would have been easy to write a book to appeal to the outsider, spending 400 pages on how the sport of conformation works and gawking at its eccentricities, but Dean paints the characters - human and animal - so brightly that it would be enjoyable even for an experienced show person.

If would have been easy to write a book that was technical, tangenty, and inaccessible to the outsider but Dean avoids that too.

It would be easy to follow in the footsteps of everyone who has ever written a dog book and write one that is sugary, schmaltzy, or emotionally manipulative, but Show Dog is heartwarming without trying too hard. It's touching for all the right reasons.

It would have been easy to write a book that gets tedious while following Jack's career in a linear fashion, but Dean - with the exception of a 40-or-so page stretch that really does toe the line - includes so many relevant and interesting interviews, anecdotes, witty footnotes, and facts so obscure that even serious dog people may not know them - that it doesn't wear out its welcome.

It would have been easy to lean too hard for against conformation showing and all of its glitz, history, and controversy, but Dean reports the facts with little or no spin, including a very delicate handling of the very touchy AKC/ASCA split.

There is something here for everyone. This book was brilliantly researched and perfectly put together. I would dearly love a sequel that follows Jack's second career in agility and uncovers some of the nuances of that sport, as well.
Profile Image for Lily A. Mell.
10 reviews3 followers
March 14, 2013
Show Dog is a highly informative and clever book chronicling around 2 years in the life of a Blue Merle Australian Shepherd, GCh Wyndstar's Honorable Mention - more commonly known as Jack. Josh Dean not only tells of experiences at Jack's various shows, but also devotes a chapter to the evolution of the purebred dog and another to Mr. Wheeler, the famous blogger that created Dog Show Poop, a popular Dog Show blog.
He explains in detail the ways of Judges, Professional Handlers (which is a job, by the way), Breeders, Owners, and Funders of the dogs - and also their mating habits (the dogs, not the humans).

This book is not only about Jack, but also about Kimberly (his human mom), Kerry (his breeder and co-owner), Heather (his handler), and Kevin, Heather's husband (also a professional handler). Multiple other successful show dogs that are handled by Heather and Kevin are also featured, such as Rita the Chesapeake Bay Retriever, Tanner the Bernese Mountain Dog, and Nacho the bulldog - and their owners are given a few paragraphs as well.
He educates us about the top dogs at the time (Dodger, Malachy, and Emily) and about the nearly unbeatable GCh Myshara's Dream Girl, aka Beyoncé, who was at the time the top Australian Shepherd.

All in all, I learned a lot from this book, while being entertained as well. I now have a strong desire to buy a Blue Merle Aussie, and to see the Westminster Kennel Club dog show in New York City - and visit the dog-friendly Hotel Pennsylvania, which transforms into a veritable palace for Show Dogs at the time of the event.

I would recommend this book to anyone - even if you prefer cats, or rabbits, or birds to dogs. I have a hard time believing that anyone could read this book and not be utterly charmed by Jack.
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