How long have you been in Great Danes? Have you had any other breeds?
LS I have had Danes for 11 years. My husband, Erik, actually picked the breed. I wanted a dog and he was not quite sure if he was ready to deal with slobber, hair, etc. His experience with dogs was limited to an Irish Setter when he was growing up. I tried to soften my ultimatum by allowing Erik to pick the breed. His very enthusiastic first response was a “Great Dane”. I asked him about his second choice and, of course, it was another not a bit less enthusiastic “Great Dane”. Thus, Danes have stolen my heart, moved into my house and very quickly took over my retirement planning
I also have to thank Erik for the decision to buy our first show Dane. My focus prior to that was on playing around with obedience but not to a competitive level. We had kids and life was too busy to dedicate myself to a hobby of such an overwhelming proportion. Once the boys were gone I had to find another purpose in life.
I grew up with my aunt’s German Shepherd (European type). She was one phenomenal canine being! I still think we had a soul to soul connection. It was then I discovered that I love dogs enough to prefer them over a vast majority of the people.
My Mother loved mini poodles so that is what we had when I was going to college. Smart little things they are!
GDR Have you always handled your own dogs?
LS I have to credit Jessie and John Gerszewski for finishing Cosmo, Ch. Longo’s Cosmo Noble Legacy RN, CGC, and Reeney, aka. Pinkie Puppy, Ch. Longo’s Miller Noble Legacy AOM, CDX, RE, HIT, CGC. They both are superb handlers with, if I am correct, 30 + years of experience. I love watching Jessie stack a Dane! I never get tired of it. Such a precision of every movement for a well calculated result. Also, her trademark whistle gets my dogs’ attention no matter how long they have not seen her. John, with his inner calm can take any unruly “specimen” and transform it into a show Dane right before your eyes. A great couple to watch and learn from.
I also had most wonderful experience with Patrice and Jeff Lawrence. Both are ethical professionals through and through. I still try to catch Patrice warming up a Dane before going into the ring. She is superior at the attention work to anybody I have seen in Danes. Jeff is the King of improvisation, reacting with lightning speed to the Dane at hand, the line of judge’s sight, and his peripheral vision of other handlers. I do not think he stops working even as he exits the ring. Another great couple to watch and learn from.
Ch. Longo’s Cosmo Noble Legacy RN, CGC
GDR What made you decided to start handling?
LS I am a very driven individual. I cannot live without setting goals and laying out 5-year plans (joke at my Russian heritage expense). My poor Erik has to deal with me every day. I cannot just sit down on a couch and watch a show. I have to be doing something “worthy”. I wish I could tell you exactly why I decided to show Pinkie myself at the Nationals in 2007 but I am no longer quite sure why. I probably had no other big goals to set the day I made the decision. Once I made the decision, I started working towards the goal. The Big Goal (and I am very honest about it) was to show off my girl before I breed her, look very good doing it and have a blast. I had no plans or hopes for any kind of a win at the Nationals which in itself was very liberating. Every cut we made was a pleasant but surreal surprise with no further expectations. I just kept getting surprised all the way until we got AOM. The magnitude and significance of which did not sink in until the next day. I would blame the adrenaline…
GDR Was there any one particular handler that you tried to emulate?
LS I mentioned above the handlers I used personally. I would prefer to limit my answer in order to avoid a chance of missing somebody with no ill intention. In my opinion, there are two main types of handlers: those that show every dog the same way and those that try to find what each dog needs to work and look the best. The second type is, of course, one you would need to watch. I am very fortunate to be able to go to Laura Coomes with all my questions. She has been very kind to share some of her immense knowledge with me. I have heard that “she has the best hands in the industry” and I absolutely agree. Laura always tries to find what makes a specific dog tick. She uses it to bring out their personalities and attitudes. We all know how much of that we lack in the Dane ring. First time I saw Laura was in Top 20 competition with Ch. Longo’s Alana Fontana AOMx2, HOF, CGC. I saw her glide out in a pink gown and pink slippers with that magnificent Dane and make everybody’s heart stop. That was a sight never to forget.
One of the things I would absolutely love to “emulate” is getting at least one of the 5 BIS that Laura and Alana won. I would like to use this opportunity to congratulate Laura on yet another Top 20 win this year.
GDR What sort of techniques did you use: stand in front of mirror, read books, videotape yourself handling, handling classes?
In my opinion showing a dog is somewhat about basic geometry and mechanics. It is about lines and angles, distribution of weight and counterbalance.
The most important thing for any handler is to truly understand the breed at hand. If one does not have a clear image of the Ultimate Perfect Dane (the one we all are looking for) one cannot strive to show a Dane at hand in the way that gets him/her closer to that vision.
When I was younger I was thinking about becoming a psychiatrist. I always loved observing people and watching for little things. Sometimes this habit is a curse but I also think it has been helping me tremendously. If you know me, I unfortunately do not “circulate” well. I get to a show, work with my dog, watch the show and go home. While my Danes were shown, I spent hours and I mean hours sitting by the ring watching handlers. I watched them from any possible angle. At the beginning I was not always sure about some of the little tugs, pulls and pinches. Once I started understanding the breed, it all came to life.
I started videotaping myself in Obedience training a long time ago but I think it can be very useful for conformation also. This way you can see exactly what you do, not what you think you do. Believe it or not there is a big difference.
The most valuable way to learn is to have a trusted expert watch in you in the ring or in training and give you the feedback for the specific dog you are showing. Some basics, like posting, anybody can notice and tell you about. Intricacies of movement are better noticed by a professional. Any time I am around Laura, I always beg her to watch me if she gets a chance.
When it comes to handling classes, unless they are given by a professional handler, they are best places to practice but not necessarily to learn. Handling classes at kennel clubs are run by volunteers that show a limited number of breeds, and probably not Danes. Take their advice with a grain of salt. See what works for you.
I do believe in the continuous learning. I have an MBA and almost went for PhD but decided that teaching business is not for me. Once you think you know it all, you become stagnant. Learning also keeps me from getting bored with the task at hand. I will be honest with you; I do not read about conformation or even much about obedience. I focus all my reading on canine behavior. I go to seminars and watch DVDs. This is where my true passion lies. I love working with problematic dogs: insecure or with bad habits, or pure rotten. I am currently thinking whether or not to join a dog training association. Canine behavior is going to be my niche. Joe Longo already jokingly or not calls me a “Dane Whisperer”. Thank you, Joe, I love the name!
GDR You have been very successful with Pinkie, for those who don't know can you tell us about Pinkie's and your accomplishments to date.
I am very proud to say that Pinkie is the first true Dual-Ring Top 20 contender in GDCA history (she is a Top 20 Contender of 2008 handled entirely by myself). By dual-ring I mean competing in both rings during the same year. While we were competing in conformation in 2008, at the same time Pinkie earned her CDX, or Obedience Open title (all 3 legs) and earned 3 extra legs after that. She finished her Rally Excellent title and earned 8 RAE legs (requires qualifying in Rally Advanced and Rally Excellent on the same day). She has even attempted Utility, which we will wrap up after puppies next year.
Last year’s accomplishments included AOM at the Nationals under judge Mr. Lowell Davis and ranking # 4 ALL BREED in Obedience Novice A as recorded by Front and Finish magazine (for the year 2007). Front and Finish is a National publication that creates rankings based on the scores recorded by the AKC Awards across all of the United States. This particular ranking is based on the scores obtained in Novice A within 60 days of receiving the CD title. Pinkie was preceded only by two Dobermans and one German Shepherd.
Last year Pinkie also passed Herding Instinct Test outside of AKC. I just hope I will have time to begin herding with Pinkie. Such skills and temperament requirements are unheard of in Danes. I wish I recorded her with the sheep!
GDR Many people say you have to have a Handler to win as big as you have. What do you say about that?
One of the main reasons why I began specialing Pinkie is to find out if I would like to do this professionally. Once I decided that yes, I would like to, I set a goal of getting into top 20.
I do not have illusions about what I am and what I am not. Before I started showing Pinkie no one had ever seen me. I am a “brand new face” specialing a black bitch which is not as easy as a big Fawn boy (I would love to special one, please call me). What helped me is that Pinkie is one high quality, beautiful bitch with breathtaking movement and we a good hard working handler/special team.
GDR Do you Travel a lot?
This year we traveled every weekend but 4. It is when I tacked Pinkie’s stomach. I realized that for us to be on the road so much I just cannot take any chances. I also do not have the luxury of going to all the local shows. We travel on average 5-8 hours every weekend searching for judges in favor of color and open-minded about new handlers.
GDR Do you advertise a lot?
I would if I could. I had a very small budget for the set goal and while I did a couple of covers, they took away from all-breed publications. I work in marketing full-time and will be the first to admit that advertising is important for more reasons than one. Next year I will continue advertising at some level but will focus on handling and my clients.
GDR Were people supportive of you for owner handling?
People that I care about did. My husband, Erik, has been my strong shoulder and my biggest fan. I do not know what I would do without him. Jay Miller has been my greatest motivator and I am indebted to her eternally. I probably caused her cell phone to go over the limit every month
GDR. Did you get pressure from people to use a handler?
Not once they understood my goal is not just getting Pinkie into Top 20, but getting Pinkie into Top 20 myself.
GDR Did you talk to judges about your wins or loses?
LS I thank them for the win from the bottom of my heart but I do not ask the reason for not being chosen. I always think that I would put a judge on the spot if I do this.
What was your favorite win?
Definitely, AOM at the Nationals and our first CD leg.
Ch. Longo’s Miller Noble Legacy AOM, CDX, RE, HIT, CGC at the 2007 GDCA National Specialty
GDR Do you have a most embarrassing moment in the ring?
LS Do not believe those who tell you they do not have those moments. I think I was at Hoosier specialty a while back and I was so excited to show off to everybody my new dual-ring Dane, Pinkie. When we got to the heel off lead, after a couple of steps Pinkie gave me that “I just can’t help it or I am going to burst” look and proceeded doing zoomies around the judge in the ring for good 5 minutes. That is a very long time. I thought I would never go into the Obedience ring again. I needed a lesson in humility and Pinkie gave me one for sure.
GDR What was the biggest mistake you ever made while in the ring?
I lost my spot at the Ohio specialty after making a cut. The judge, unfortunately, did not leave enough room for the line-up and I am trying not to ”elbow” so I stayed behind the line and when the judge sent us around, I lost track of who I was supposed to follow. Bless Jeff Laurence’s heart for moving his Special at the very critical moment and letting me back in the spot.
GDR At what point do you think a handler should take the dog? Should the owner expect that the handler will take some time to work with the dog? Does the owner need to be there ringside to hold the dog?
LS I cannot speak for any handler but myself. I am a true believer in creating a bond or some level of trust with a long-term client’s Dane. Bond cannot be created by “hand-off and go”. You would instantly argue that it is hard to create a bond with each client’s dogs and the only reason I can do it is because I do not have the number of clients equal to a big-time handler. Yes and no. Yes, I do not have as many clients. No, I would not want to have so many clients that I cannot spend enough time with the dog to bond. I cannot get into the details in this interview but bonding does not take much time with a well socialized Dane if done properly. Other Danes might longer. How many beautiful Danes could never be shown because of their fears and lack of confidence? It takes time and a knowledgeable person to recondition a Dane like this. Most of these Danes should be able to be shown.
To be truly successful in the ring requires teamwork lead by the handler. If there is no teamwork, there is only bait and there is only compliance. Pray your Dane never looses interest in bait because you have nothing else to fall onto. If there is no teamwork and no bait, there is only compliance. Compliant Danes usually do not show their personalities. A compliant Special is more difficult to show and you will struggle to achieve as much as you could have with the true trust and true respect from the dog.
I do not think there is a formula for how much warm-up each dog needs. If you are my client and your Dane is insecure I will ask you to arrive at the show at least an hour before ring time. If I am not ready to work with your Dane, I will ask you to walk the show with your dog. I do not think that sitting by the ring and holding the leash helps the dog get used to the show atmosphere. You need to get the dog to relax and that can only be achieved by switching his/her attention to something specific. Movement is the easiest thing. I cannot get into the details, but I wrote an article on that for the Great Dane Gazette.
If a client’s Dane does not have much energy and gets burned out fast, I would ask to bring that Dane only minutes before walking into the ring. I will have to work with that Dane to bond outside of the show.
I am hoping that my long-term clients would stay in the close cluster of the hotels so I would be able to work with their Danes after the show. Even if you do not think your Dane needs “work” it is still beneficial to spend some time doing fun things together outside of the show even if it is for a few minutes.
Many people would say that it is an impossible commitment. I disagree. I may not entertain my long-term clients like it is customary, I may not go for drinks or have a very leisurely dinner but I will spend extra quality time with their dog.
What responsibility do think the owner vs. the handler have in regards to training, grooming, etc.
LS Training and grooming is a paid service. Any handler should be able to train for conformation but any help from the owner would shorten the time needed for that training. At the end of the day it saves both time and money. I am less concerned about a Dane new to conformation than a Dane new to the life outside of the household. If the dog is properly socialized (by which I mean his reaction to abrupt noises, commotion, barking, crowds, bright lights, hair dryers and most importantly being handed off to strangers) training for conformation is much easier and less lengthy.
I strongly encourage owners to send their puppies to their handler as young as possible. Being outside of their daily environment is the best way to test for possible adjustment problems.
I will strongly encourage my long-term clients to have their Danes spend at least a week in my house so I could make my observations, train and, most importantly, bond. Another argument for an impossible commitment, one would say. There are 52 weeks in the year. If I have more than 46 long-term clients with new Danes, I am in trouble. Until then, it is manageable.
If I carry clients’ Danes to the shows, I will gladly groom them. If I meet my clients at the show, it would be best if the dogs are groomed. I am not lazy but I would rather spend better quality time with the dog than grooming. I am still looking for a Dane that likes doing nails better than having a massage.
18. We understand that you are handling for other people now. What Breeds of dogs are you handling?
I have not begun true advertising or heavy networking. For now I am handling Danes, Rottweilers and Ibizan Hounds.
GDR Who are your mentors?
LS In handling, Laura Coomes.
In Dane obedience, Gayle and Mike Smith
In conformation (in alphabetical order) Joe Longo, Tootie Longo, Dave Miller, and Jay Miller. I separated them by commas on purpose. They are 4 individuals with great taste in Danes and vast, and I mean vast, knowledge and experience.
I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate them on Pinkie’s sister, CH. Longo's Starry Studded v Miller AOM, HOF Top 20 win. Way to go, Starry!
Congratulations to Pinkie’s handsome brother Brew, Ch. Longo’s Miller Time AOM on ranking in top 20 this year and having a beautiful litter! Great job, Brew!
Congratulations to Pinkie’s Mother Alana, Ch. Longo’s Alana Fontana HOF, 2xAOM, CGC on being chosen a Champion of Health! Alana, you are a Champion all around!
What Advice do you have for someone who is just starting out or thinking about going into the show ring?
•Set an achievable goal and work towards it. Do not get discouraged by losses.
•Work harder that anybody you know.
•Dress smart and behave professionally. Treat it like a business and not a hobby.
•Be realistic about the quality of the Dane you show.
•Going to a lot of shows does not improve your odds. Do your homework on the judges and their preferences.
•If you do not have anything good to say to your competitors, do not say anything. (I forget to congratulate at times, which is unforgivable!)
•Be prepared that some show rings are like New York subways. Keep your head on and stay cool.
•Be your worst critic.
•If you do not enjoy it – your dog will not also. Pick a different hobby or hire a handler.
Do you have plans to breed Pinkie?
Pinkie will be bred in 2009 to BISS Am/Can CH Cheshire's Tailor Made V. Longo (Black) - Top 20 Contender, 2000. See my ad in the litter box.
We would like to thank Lena for taking the time to talk with us.
See Lena’s Ad in The Handler Directory.