A Chilliwack teenager will be spending part of her summer vying for the Canadian national title for junior dog handler.
Isabelle Loranger, 16, recently won at the Canadian Kennel Club’s B.C. Provincial Junior Handling Competition in Kelowna, and is now getting herself and her standard poodle, Storm, ready for the cross-Canada trip to Newfoundland at the beginning of August.
“I’m really excited,” she says. “It’s going to be cool to compete against my friends and people that I’ve known for quite some time, but it’ll be fun. (The nationals title) can go to anyone. At this point, everyone is very, very good.”
Junior dog handlers can start to compete as young as seven years old, up until they’re 18.
Though Isabelle grew up with dogs, her family was never a show-dog family.
When she was four years old, they got a beagle from a breeder — that’s when she first heard about dog shows. The Victoria-based dog breeder shared her passion for showing dogs with Isabelle, and told her all about what goes into owning and handling a show dog. Young Isabelle was intrigued and whenever the breeder came to Chilliwack for dog shows, Isabelle would tag along to get a firsthand taste of the dog-show life. She loved it.
When Isabelle was about eight years old, her family got a retired show dog which she used for training purposes so she could learn the art of dog-handling. When the time came, at the age of 14, Isabelle became the owner of Storm, then just an eight-week-old puppy.
“He has to be really well socialized because he has to be good for any kind of judges going over him,” explains Isabelle.
To do that, Storm met more than 100 people before he was four months old. She would take him to school yards so kids could meet and pet him. She’d also ask random people who met Storm to check his teeth so he’d get used to people’s fingers being in his mouth.
Along with the socialization came grooming — lots and lots of grooming.
“We would have to do all the grooming in very small increments so it’s always positive and it’s always fun for him. Instead of spending an hour on the grooming table, he would spend six or seven minutes twice a day,” she says.
Now that he’s an adult, it takes nearly all day to bathe and groom Storm. He’s on the grooming table for up to six hours at a time, plus it takes an hour to bathe his waterproof coat. He’s bathed every week, and his hair must be blow-dryed.
Isabelle loves grooming her poodle’s hair. She compares it to brushing her Barbie doll’s hair when she was a kid.
“I would never be a hair dresser, but I really enjoy brushing his hair,” says Isabelle. “It’s funny because I can go to the store and buy the same shampoo for both of us. We use the same shampoo, we use the same leave-in conditioner. He’s got the same hair spray as me.”
Though Storm has always been very good with being groomed, he did struggle a bit with being in the dog show ring when he was a puppy, and Isabelle admits it was frustrating at times.
“Poodles are very sensitive dogs. You can’t be too hard on them or they’ll just shut down,” she says. “(Storm) is a little different because he’s so mellow, but it was still the same thing — you can’t get too frustrated with him in the ring, or get too stressed out waiting to go in, or he just won’t show” because he senses that.
“That was a learning experience — to know that I have to be calm whether or not I feel really anxious.”
Once Isabelle calmed down, so did Storm and they started winning the points they needed to become champions.
“You need to have 10 points for your championship, which basically means you need to have beat at least 10 dogs,” she explains. Within a year, and after about eight or nine dog shows, Isabelle and Storm had the points they needed.
He used to be very fidgety as a puppy when Isabelle would try to get him to stand still or for judge’s exam. Now she’s able to stand back and hold his leash while Storm holds his own tail up and head up. He can stand still for up to 20 minutes if he has to.
“It’s really cool for me to see how far he’s come from when he was a puppy, to see how well he shows, how responsive he is. He does cute little things like wags his tail when the judge comes along,” she says.
Now, all of Isabelle and Storm’s teamwork with grooming, training and socializing has paid off.
The two will be heading to the Canadian Kennel Club’s 2017 Junior Handling Nationals which take place on Aug. 12 in Conception Bay, Newfoundland. She is one of two juniors from B.C. and 20 from across the country who will be competing.
“I’m excited to go to nationals and I’m excited for the possibility that I hopefully can win and go to internationals, but it’s nice that I’m so excited about different things going on (in Newfoundland) as well. It really takes off a lot of the stress.”
She’s looking forward to going on sightseeing tours, whale watching, and a blueberry festival while there.
“It’s okay if I don’t win or if I don’t place — I’m still in Newfoundland, I’m still going to see all these different things, and see my friends.”
If she claims the Canadian national title, she’s off to Birmingham, England for the international juniors.
“It’s getting bigger every year. Ten years ago there were only about 50 countries competing and now it’s almost every country,” she says.
To help offset the $4,000 cost to go to nationals, Isabelle is raising funds through an online auction which ends on July 18. To see the items up for auction, go to: facebook.com/groups/1596413927060250.