December 1, 2023

It’s been 23 years since the mockumentary BEST IN SHOW first hit the big screen, but it seems as if I am still watching it in real time today. People went crazy over it. My non-dog show friends would ask, “Did you see it?” “Is it really like that?” Gift copies of the VHS filled my mailbox. Frankly, I didn’t think it was funny because the movie was not nearly as humorous as real-life dog shows. Great satire needs to push the limits and be a caricature. In my opinion, the film was understated, at best. I personally know all those characters, for better or worse.

Fast forward 23 years to 2023 and if the film were made today, a lengthy section of the movie could be devoted to prepping a Havanese for the show ring. It would be hysterical. What used to be an owner-handled breed, shown naturally, has turned into anything but that. Those of us who have been around for more than two decades in the breed can tell you that back then dogs were groomed at home and brought to a show almost ring-ready. The dogs and their owners arrived at the show, got settled in at the grooming area and did a few last minute preps in order to look spiffy in the ring. You got to the show 30 minutes (at most) before scheduled ring time and you had more than sufficient time to be ready.

Now I watch with great bewilderment owner-exhibitors and handlers alike grooming for hours before showing the dog. Often that includes washing the dog completely (who ever did that at the show?), brushing and blowing it dry, sometimes with ice cold water in freezing temperatures. In over 50 years of showing long coated dogs, I never once washed a dog at a show. My dogs are washed the day before the show and touched up at night after the show, at home or in a hotel room. NOT dripping wet on a grooming table at a show.

More and more frequently, I am seeing Havanese about to walk in the ring being prepped with a rechargeable flat iron! It is important to note that flat ironing a Havanese coat is antithetical to how our Standard discusses the coat. Some of the words used to describe the coat include: “wavy,” “double coat,” and “stands off the body.” Flat ironing a Havanese coat will straighten the coat (no wave) and cause it to lie flat (not stand off the body). We deliberately used these specific words in the Standard to avoid being just another drop coated breed in the Toy Group. Seeing a proliferation of portable flat irons being used ringside is rather comical in its absurdity.

Except for neatening feet and tidying up the anal area, the coat should be untrimmed. Scissoring and sculpting the dog outside the ring brings me to laughter with tears in my eyes. Hair spraying and teasing back the head furnishings are also not offered as a presentation option in the standard. “Head furnishings may fall forward over the eyes or to both sides of the head…” The Standard does not say anything about the current rage of a pompadour look. So why is the entrance to the ring littered with cans of hairspray and mousse? Judges now are expecting to see expression on a breed that can have hair covering its eyes.

But wait, there’s more! The movie is just starting to get funny. Havanese are coming to the ring with their ear and tail furnishings wrapped. The wrap is quickly pulled off and discarded on the ground for the clean-up crew to pick up later. The camera will scan to the litter on the floor with exhibitors stepping on top of what they just discarded. And why must the wraps have to stay on the dog to the last second before entering the ring? The movie will pick up on the hysterical mannerism of exhibitors taking an endless amount of time brushing a dog every time the dog moves before and after it is examined. Brush, brush, move the dog, brush, brush. Stand the dog. Brush, brush, brush.

As funny as this may be on film, the audience will go whacky when they see a dog brought to ringside with an appliance taped around its tail to correct tail carriage. IF I hadn’t witnessed this myself, I would say it was too over the top even for a satirical movie. You don’t have to go too far to see the movie, Best In Show -Déjà vu.

Opinions expressed here are those of the author, not of the Havanese Club of America.

Alice L. Lawrence