Kingsport's Jaclyn Smith, pictured with Angel and Cutter, shows dogs across the country.
If you’ve ever house trained a dog, you know how hard it is. Now imagine training a dog to show off in front of hundreds of people.
A Kingsport teenager does just that, and is very good at it. So good in fact she’s one win away from competing in the Westminster dog show.
Jaclyn Smith is a 14-year-old Kingsport teenager who shows dogs at American Kennel Club competitions around the country.
“I’m number one in shepherds, number one in herding breeds and number 11 all breed,” Smith said.
Dog showing is a sport like anything else. Points are given and winners are named at the end of the competition. Smith competes in the junior division of the dog shows.
There are different categories handlers and their dogs can compete in such as obedience and confirmation.
Smith had to work her way up the ranks to be so close to Westminster. Juniors compete in their own age group against each other.
Every junior starts out in a novice class and the person has to have three wins in order to advance past novice class. Wins are counted if you beat someone else in your class.
After the participant notches three novice wins, they stay in their age group but move into the open class. Open juniors have to have five wins in order to get an invitation to the Eukanuba Invitational at the end of the year.
At the end of every junior competition, all of the winners from all of the different classes are entered into another contest for best junior.
It takes seven wins as best junior to be invited to Westminster. Those seven wins have to come in the fiscal year for dog shows, which starts on November 1 and ends on October 31. Smith has six wins this fiscal year.
Smith has accomplished a lot, but she still has more goals to meet before she will be satisfied.
“Getting to Westminster is one of her goals she’s told me that she wanted to make,” Clark said. “She’d like to win Best Junior at this breed (herding) national. She’d like to win or place at Eukanuba and she’d like to win or place at Westminster, so just qualifying for Westminster is gigantic.”
Last year at this time, she only had one best junior win.
Cutter and Angel
Smith credits her winning more frequently this year to showing bigger dogs and one dog in particular, Grand Champion Melana’s cut a shine of thornrose or Cutter.
Cutter is a six-year-old German Shepherd who was retired and living as a normal house dog in South Carolina.
He moved to the junior circuit with Smith. He has been staying with her for the last year and a half, although his owners live in South Carolina.
He goes back to his owners in February of next year. For Smith, it will be hard to see him go.
“I try not to think about it,” she said. “It’s going to be hard.”
Cutter’s eventual departure forced action from Smith. She worked at odd jobs, sometimes for $25 a day, and saved all her money so she could buy a German Shepherd puppy of her own. A few months ago she finally was able to afford Angel.
Angel is five months old. In another month, Smith will begin showing Angel during competitions. Puppies are not allowed to be shown until they reach six months of age.
Smith plans for Angel to be a show dog for a short amount of time and then retire her. She said it’s because dogs look differently at different stages of life and some stages are not good for competitions. After retirement, Angel would be a regular house dog.
Smith trains with her dogs everyday. Training matters, but having a good relationship with your dog is the most important thing.
“Repetition and definitely having a good bond with your dog is important,” Smith said. “Everything from learning simple things to taking it out, you walking it to you feeding it. You know, just you do everything with it. If you have a good bond, they’ll respond to you.”
She has already been working on training with Angel. Angel can already respond to her name, which she gets praise for and is now starting to come when called. Eventually Angel won’t get the praise every time, but she will know it’s a good thing because of past praise, Smith said.
She said the dogs practice show techniques around half an hour a day, but really are training more because she combines play and practice.
“It has to be fun for them,” Smith said. “Otherwise they’re not going to show. You can have an awful dog conformationaly that wants to show and is happy in the ring and it might beat a dog that is amazing when it comes to confirmation, but just takes the show ring. If you have a dog that doesn’t want to do it, you’re not going to kid anybody.”
Smith conditions the dogs. They take the dogs to Boone Lake and teach them how to swim and she runs with them.
They also train the dogs to travel since a lot of time is spent in a vehicle traveling from one show to the next. Smith takes Angel with her everywhere to get her used to riding in a car.
Traveling through the past
Because of all the traveling, Smith is being homeschooled. She just started this past January. She studies on the road and during the week when she’s at home.
Part of the training is grooming. The dogs have weekly grooming that needs to be taken care of like trimming toe nails, cleaning ears, baths and cleaning teeth. Clark said Smith has been a big teeth cleaner ever since she was little. If she met a strange dog on the street, she would tell the owner if the dog needed to have its teeth cleaned.
Her love of dogs began a long time ago.
“We got our first (show dog) when I was about four,” Smith said. “My mom raised Australian cow dogs when my brother was little, but she got rid of all them when I was born...My mom didn’t want me to be afraid of dogs so we got a smaller dog, which was the cardigans.”
She started showing dogs when she was five. Smith’s mother, Clark, affectionately refers to her as her little Elle Mae. Clark also is a professional dog handler.
When the day of the show arrives, it is a long process. It starts with Smith waking up at four or five in the morning to begin initial prep work. She gives the dogs a bath if needed and takes care of little details in grooming, for herself and the dogs.
Then they head over to the competition. Sometimes it’s in an arena or sometimes it’s outside. Dogs and handlers compete on every type of surface too, from dirt to mats to grass and everything in between. Because of all the different performing areas, handlers have to know the temperament of their dogs.
“Dogs are like people, they have to gain confidence,” Clark said. “There is always the noise around the place...Everything is different for each dog. We had a coon hound we were showing and he kept looking in the stands up in the big arenas because he kept looking for things to come get him.”
Smith explains the best way to overcome this is to always act like the dog won. Even if she placed last, she would treat the dog like it just won first place.
Competitions usually last all day and the more you win, the longer you have to stay.
Winning dogs pay big. Dogs that place number one or in the top twenty of their breed is what breeders want. Breeders can then promote their blood lines and sell the dogs for anywhere between $2,500 to $45,000, depending on if you want a house dog or show dog, Clark said.
Smith is hoping to reach her goals and that all the hard will pay off with a trip to Westminster.
“It’s going to be awesome (if I go to Westminster) because it will be the first time I qualify for it,” she said. “But, besides the whole fact I’ll be happy and everything, I’ll still be really nervous and it will probably bother me the rest of the year until I’m there.”