Labor Day weekend dog show packs Chugiak grounds

Friday, September 8, 2017 - 14:18
  • Brittney Barber, 17, shows her Great Dane, Dream, at the Working Group Dog Club of Alaska Working Group Show in Chugiak on Sept. 4, 2017. (Star photo by Kirsten Swann)
  • Junior competitors and their canines circle the ring during the Working Group Dog Club of Alaska Working Group Show in Chugiak on Sept. 4, 2017. (Star photo by Kirsten Swann)
  • Samantha Elliot, 11, competes in the Working Group Dog Club of Alaska Working Group Show in Chugiak on Sept. 4, 2017. (Star photo by Kirsten Swann)
  • Camryn Hayes competes in the Working Group Dog Club of Alaska Working Group Show in Chugiak on Sept. 4, 2017. (Star photo by Kirsten Swann)

In Chugiak, Labor Day weekend went to the dogs – glossy Rottweilers, fluffy Bernese mountain dogs, towering Great Danes and sleek Siberian huskies.

Featuring approximately 100 competitors from Fairbanks to Kenai, the Working Group Dog Club of Alaska’s annual summer show temporarily transformed the lawn of the Chugiak Benefit Association into a miniature Westminster. Kennels and RVs crowd the parking lot. Handlers in suit jackets and numbered arm bands roamed the grounds. Dog-lovers of all ages milled around, catching up with old friends from Alaska’s dog show circuit

“I enjoy the camaraderie that we have,” said event chairwoman Marti Rhine, who organizes and runs the Labor Day show. “It’s a very active community.”

The Working Group Dog Club of Alaska is one of several clubs throughout the state, Rhine said. There are clubs dedicated to nearly every class of dog, from herding breeds and hounds to terriers, toy breeds and sporting group dogs. The working group dogs are bred specifically to guard and to pull — people, livestock, carts and sleds.

Monday morning, as the sun shone bright and clear over the Chugach Mountains, a half dozen young competitors gathered in the main ring to take part in the show’s junior showmanship competition. At the direction of the judge, they led their dogs across the grass, loping slowly past the spectators lining the ring.

“You have to have fun with your dog,” said 11-year-old Samantha Elliot, who traveled from Fairbanks to participate in the Labor Day show.

After showing dogs for more than half her life, Samantha said she’s learned a few tricks. Try not to worry about messing up, she said. Focus. Having fun is the most important part, she said.

Brittney Barber, 17, spent the first part of Monday’s show grappling with a glistening Great Dane named Dream. Shows can be a challenge, Barber said, but she keeps coming back for more.

“It can be testy because of the dogs, but you’ve just got to keep calm,” said Barber, who has been participating in shows since she was 12. “It’s fun — it gives you a sense of accomplishment.”

Success depends on a variety of factors, said Chugiak resident Sierra Long, competing in the junior division alongside a burly Bernese named Bernie. The mood of the dog, the weather, the personality of the judge — all can play a role. Every judge is unique, Long said. Some want you to smile at them. Some want you to be serious, focused entirely on the dog beside you.

While every show is different, Long said, they’re all “awesome.” At the end of the day, it always comes down to one thing.

“You want to be one with the dog,” she said.

Correction: The photo of Camryn Hayes was originally misidentified as Sierra Long.

Contact Star reporter Kirsten Swann at kirsten.swann@alaskastar.com

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