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– Henry Ford  
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  Volume No. 17 Issue No. 5 May 2020  

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Bill Radford

  On the road with show dogs
  By Bill Radford

   You could say their lives have gone to the dogs.
   Eric and Joan Liebes are often on the road, traveling to dog shows either to show their own dogs or judge others. This month, they'll be in New York as Eric serves as a judge for the 144th Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, touted as "the world's greatest dog show."
   Eric Liebes, who was first approved to judge by the American Kennel Club in 1992, has won several titles at Westminster showing his dogs. But it's the first time he has judged at the prestigious show.
   "It's one of those things that doesn't happen early in your judging career," noted Liebes, who will be determining best-of-breed winners in 19 individual breed competitions.
   Eric and Joan Liebes, who live in eastern El Paso County and have seven dogs at home, met each other through the dog world 30 years ago; they've been married for six years. Eric Liebes is a retired geophysicist who worked for Chevron for 30 years and previously lived in Texas.
   "When you work for the oil industry, you inevitably end up in Houston, so I lived there for 25 years," he said.
    Joan Liebes, who has a particular love for Samoyeds, has been showing dogs since she was a teenager. Eric Liebes got started a bit later.
   "We never had a dog in the house," Liebes said of growing up in New York. But he had a relative who was active in showing dogs, so he was exposed early to the sport. He got his first show dogs in the early 1980s, a Komondor and an Ibizan hound. A friend was breeding Komondors –- also known as Hungarian sheepdogs –- and Liebes was attracted to one in particular; he chose the Ibizan hound because he wanted a dog he could go jogging with. "And an Ibizan hound is a perfect choice for someone who wants to be active with their dog,” he said. (The AKC describes the Ibizan hound as "a lithe and leggy visitor from the dawn of civilization, bred as a rabbit courser on the rocky shores of Spain’s Balearic Islands.”)
   Liebes said the world of dog showing is "a big family of people who travel all over the country and know each other. To that extent, they're very friendly with each other." But in the ring, the competition is intense.
   "Like any sport, there are sore losers and there are good winners and good losers," Liebes said. The sore losers tend to be those newest to the sport, "and don't understand what's going on. … The ones that know what's going on, they're like, 'OK, he didn't like that my dog's front leg went out like this. I'll find another judge that cares less about that.'"
   So what should a newbie know?
   "The first thing is the dog needs to be social and kind of willing to do what you ask them to do," Liebes said. "A big part of that is getting them to listen to you when they are puppies." Training is often treat-based, "but if the dog actually likes it, you don't need a treat. They know what's going on."
   In the ring, "like at a horse show, we want them to be sound, easy moving and graceful," Liebes said. The judge, of course, is also looking to see if a dog meets breed standards.
   "Each breed was bred for a specific purpose; that's why they look what they look like,” he said. Samoyeds, for example, were raised in frigid climates and are thus well-defended from the cold with their coats. "One of the reasons they're so social and sweet is they were a family dog for the people who had them in Siberian and northern Finland,” Liebes said. “And so they're good with kids, all that kind of stuff."
   The toughest part of being a judge is dealing with either of the two extremes, he said. One extreme: "When the entries are very good, so you're choosing between multiple dogs and you like them all. And then, it's even harder when the entries are of low quality and then you're compromising. Nobody moves that great. Well, that one at least has a pretty head."
   For those who want to see a dog show in person and don't want to travel as far as, say, New York City, the annual Colorado Springs Kennel Club All Breed Dog Show will be in June at the Norris Penrose Event Center — and it's a good one, Liebes said. "Some of the best dogs in the country make it to the local show.”
Eric Liebes, shown with one of his dogs, will be a judge this month at the prestigious Westminister Kennel Club Dog Show in New York City. Photo by Bill Radford
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