Sioux Forsyth, daughter of dog show royalty, handled dogs professionally herself and is now judging, following in the footsteps of her parents, Robert and Jane Forsyth. This is part two of our conversation with her.
“I started with six breeds,” Sioux said. “It’s not cheap to become a judge. My mother loved judging, she lived for it. Father said ‘you gotta be kidding me.’
“I wanted a little experience in different groups. To see if I like it. Turns out, I love judging. The people in my ring, they come in the ring, and we laugh at ourselves and each other. A lot of people take this or themselves entirely too seriously. It’s just a dog show. There’ll be another one tomorrow. If it’s not enjoyable and you’re not having fun, what’s the point? Take the dog seriously. Work your hardest, present the dogs at their best. But it’s not the end of the day if you lose. You’ll get somebody else’s opinion.”
While it took Sioux two and a half years to get a group, her memory is that her parents both acquired their all-breed status within about 10 years of their retirement. But it wasn’t without a small battle.
“We had a tiff with the AKC when (my parents) retired,” Sioux laughed. “(They) refused to move away from the kennel. The only dogs boarded there were pets, but AKC refused to give them a license for a year. Eventually, they each got a group. Mom got sporting, dad got working. Each got separate groups until they couldn’t anymore, then they started doubling up.”
Sioux’s best advice for folks who are just starting out in purebred dogs is to “talk to as many people in the breed you’re interested in as possible.”
“Do your homework,” Sioux noted. “Find out who’s been successful. Follow them. Talk to them, ask them questions. If you don’t understand something, ask it again. A lot of people that are in this for a year are suddenly experts. It really doesn’t work that way. To me, I always say, find somebody you admire that you want to resemble, to present yourself like, and watch them.
“I love to help new people. To mentor people. I was judging last year at a Boxer specialty and I asked a young lady to come talk to me because I wanted to know who was helping her, who had been guiding her. The young lady said no one. Two years this young lady had been showing her dog and no one tried to help her. I got ahold of a couple people and told them ‘I’m assigning you this young lady. She’s very interested and nobody is helping her.’ It is amazing she was still plugging away.”
Reflecting on the rising interest in performance events, Sioux noted that her mother, Jane, got started in dogs when she was 16 years old and took her Airedale to an obedience class. It was there Jane met her lifetime best friend, Anne Rogers Clark.
And who are the next Janey and Annie? Sioux observed that purebred dogs have some very talented women rising through the ranks.
“Katie Shepherd Bernardin, Angie Lloyd, Laura King, Laurie Jordan…. I don’t think it’s all about winning,” Sioux said. “It has a lot to do with the person you are. The way you help and teach and share your knowledge. If we don’t share our knowledge it’s going to be lost. I don’t understand not wanting to share knowledge. It helps everybody. It helps you to give it away. It helps others that look up to you.”
“One thing my father always taught me,” Sioux reminisced, “is that you’re no better than anyone else, you’re just you. You may be different, but you’re not any better.”
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Dog: Bark, Bark!
Laura: Welcome to pure dog talk. I'm your host, Laura Reeves. I am so honored to be joined again by Sioux Forsyth in part two of this conversation that we had. Sioux is talking with us today about the knowledge that she acquired as the child of one of the profoundly legendary couples of purebred dogs, Jane and Robert Forsyth. From showing dogs in proper condition, to the transition from handling to judging, and spoiler alert, she gives us her thoughts on some of our future legends.
Dog: Bark, Bark!
Sioux: So you were raised by the best in the sport and you know what top condition looks like. You understand the importance of this and I would love to have you pass on that wisdom about what proper condition is and isn't. I can remember having an Akita client many years ago whose dog had gotten a hotspot smack in the middle of the top of his head between his ears. They were quite insistent that I should show this dog to Michelle BIllings of all people. And I said "nahhh...no".
New Speaker: Yeah, probably not a great idea. First of all, and I don't understand this form of thinking that... oh, we can't let our Great Danes because they'll hurt themselves. Well, what were they bred to do? They were bred to run after and take down wild boar. Laying on the couch is not the best thing for any animal or human in my opinion. So our dogs, were always out in the paddock all day long. There were certain dogs that we'd road work - those that didn't really condition themselves. And we would always mix two Smooth Fox Terriers with each one of our Boxer bitches, because Boxer bitches are bone lazy and Smooth Fox Terriers are not at all.
Laura: No, not lazy.
Sioux: They would be just annoying enough to keep a boxer bitch real. So if they didn't self exercise, yes, we roadworked them, which meant using a bicycle and having them run next to a bicycle. Sometimes we used a car where somebody drove the car and then there was somebody sitting on the tailgate of the old station wagon as we went down the road, and later on in years we had the dog with dog type of thing. That was first and foremost.. that dogs had muscle and were kept in good weight. In my opinion, there was one breed in particular... we never showed a Boxer that had his ribs showing and now you see it every time you walk in the ring.
Laura: So...what are you judging now? What did you come in? What are you working toward on your own personal judging career?
Sioux: Well, I started with six breeds because, you know, it's not cheap to become a judge. And I wasn't sure... I could go one way or the other. My mother loved judging and lived for it. My father said, you gotta be kidding me!
Laura: He was the one with a sense of humor when I saw them. He was always laughing and made me laugh. Every time I saw him,
Sioux: My father had the best sense of humor to the very end, very dry. He was hilarious. And if you didn't know him, I think that's when people would be a little afraid of him, because he would come out with some remark and then just have this little tiny grin in the corner of his mouth and you would know he was kidding. Because if the grin wasn't there...you better run!
Sioux: So I started with six breeds, I started with pointers, which are the breed. I bred with my dad for 40 some odd years, and which I showed a ton of, especially for Ben and Barbara Zhan (Barben). Then I did Boxers, Great Danes and Newfoundlands -- all of which I showed a lot of. I really enjoyed those breeds. And then I also went for Cavalier King Charles and Junior Showmanship. So I could get some experience in different groups and see if I liked to judge and I do, I LOVE judging. With the people that come in my ring and we can laugh at ourselves and laugh at each other and have fun, which to me, a lot of people take this entirely too seriously or take themselves entirely too seriously. And it's just a dog show. There's gonna be another one tomorrow.
Laura: Exactly. We're not solving world peace here people.
Sioux: Exactly. And if it's not enjoyable and you're not having fun, what's the point? That's what this should be. It should be fun. Now... do you take your dog seriously? Do you work your hardest and present them at their very best? Absolutely. But it's not the end of the day if you lose, there's another one tomorrow and you'll get somebody else's opinion. So I love to judge and I'm working towards getting the working group first, and the sporting group will be second. It's not as easy as some would like to say because it's probably gonna take me about two and a half years to get one group.
Laura: Wow. It's definitely a difference from when your folks retired and started judging to today. Just the judge's approval process is radically different.
Sioux: Yes. Well we had a little tiff with the American Kennel Club when they first retired, because my parents refused to move away from the Kennel, even though the only dogs that were boarded at the Kennel were pets, none of them were show dogs. The AKC refused to give them a license for the first year of their retirement. But when they did give them a license, they each got a group. My mother got the sporting group, my father got the working group and they each got separate groups until they couldn't get separate groups anymore. And then they started doubling up. And I honestly don't remember how long it took either one of them to become all-arounders. My mother was the first one and that's mainly because they almost had to force my father to apply for the toy group. He said it was because those little old ladies scared him, which just goes to my father's personality.
Sioux: It was interesting. I came across my father's letter from the American Kennel Club for all or part of the Non-Sporting Group -- and it seems to be the only letter of acceptance from the AKC. And this letter was in June 12, 1991. And they had retired 10 years previous to that.
Laura: Definitely the times they are a changing. But what would you say? Again, as someone with such depth and background, what's your best advice? What's your best advice for new People? People that are just getting started. People that don't have this history. What can we give them to bring that history forward?
Sioux: Talk to as many people in the breed that you are interested in as possible. Do your homework. Figure out who's been successful. Follow them. Talk to them. Ask them questions. If you don't understand something, ask it again. We have a lot of people that are in this for a year and suddenly they are experts, it really doesn't work that way. I just had a discussion about something in a standard that is unclear to some. Some people feel that it is a hound trait in a sporting breed, and I said, you know what, I need to talk to a geneticist, because I don't know. And if there's something wrong with continuing to learn and it happens to be a question about pointers, and it's been argued back and forth by all these people. So instead of not knowing. Go ask a genetic expert that can give you the absolute answer... and go from there and see what happens. So to me, always find somebody that you admire, that you want to with resemble or you want to present yourself like and WATCH THEM. I mean it makes me laugh. I've had a long time friend say to me... "Do you have any idea how long I watched you show dogs when you were a kid"? And I was like, uh, no.
Laura: Right, Right?
Sioux: But she became a great handler. She's now judging as well. It was just very flattering to me because I don't think of myself that way. I love to help new people, mentor people. I was judging last year and I did a Boxer specialty and Junior Handling, and this young lady walks in my ring, and she looked at me, and she was terrified. She had shown to me in Junior Showmanship and then again in the Specialty. I asked her during the regular breed judging... I said, would you please come talk to me after I'm done judging? So she and her grandmother came to me and the grandmother acted a little afraid, like there was something wrong when I asked her to talk. And I said..." Well, I asked her to come talk to me because I'd like to know who's helping you, who is guiding you along this journey in purebred dogs"?
Sioux: And the young lady looked at me and she said... no one. I said... "Okay, and how long have you been doing this"? And I'm thinking ...a couple months???. Two years this young lady had been showing her dog and no one tried to help her. I got a hold of the club president and another young lady that had used to show in Junior Showmanship that had gone on to working for him, whereas now she just shows dogs whenever, she did not make a career out of it. She has another career and I said, "The two of you, I'm assigning you this young lady because she's very interested in doing this and no one's helped her and it's amazing to me because she would still be plugging away at it when nobody's shown any interest".
Laura: But I think Sioux that is just so important and as people who have been in the sport for our lives, that's our job. And we should ALL be doing that. And if you're queen for the day, how are you growing our base? How are you advancing the sport?
Sioux: Exactly. My parents started a kennel club here in Pinehurst, Moore County Kennel Club of North Carolina. We have a Kennel Club meeting tonight. My husband is the president. I'm the secretary. We're trying to give back and get people involved. We have agility as well, which seems to have grown its own following and it's huge. We have two weekends of agility shows a year that are each four day weekends and it is to capacity every time we have a show.
Laura: So I mean that's kind of an interesting observation. Again, coming from your background really entirely in conformation, the rise of some of the, not non-competitive, but the performance events, right? Agility, scent work, all of that sort of thing. How do you see that? Do you see that helping save us? What do you make of that?
Sioux: Well, it's hard to say that it is helping save us because you don't have to have a pure bred dog to do the performance events. So I will give you a little background information that you may not know. That's how my mother got into dogs. She got an Airedale and started in obedience when she was 16.
Laura: That is awesome. And I have said this before, the number of really amazing dog people that get started because they got a dog and took it to obedience. I just think that's awesome.
Sioux: She showed the this Airedale in obedience and that's when she met Annie Clark.
Sioux: Her best friend from the time they were 16 years old
Laura: When I was a kid, I didn't grow up on the east coast. I didn't have your bounty.
New Speaker: I grew up out here on the west coast and when I was a kid, there was "the troika" out here, that's what we called Annie, Janie and Mike. Right? Michelle Billings Ann Rogers Clark and Jane Forsyth -- that was the troika these were the three. These were our idols, these were our gods as little girls growing up in dogs.
Sioux: Oh yeah.
Laura: Because of their knowledge, because of their wisdom, because of their power...realistically. But I look at that, and I think ...you tell me? Who's coming up? Who's our next troika, if you will.
New Speaker: Oh God really? I don't know. We have some really talented ladies out there. Katie Shepherd Bernardin. Angie Lloyd. Laura King. Lori Jordan. And I don't think that it's all about winning. I think it has a lot to do with the person you are, the way you help others and teach others, share your knowledge. Because if we don't share our knowledge, it's going to be lost. And I really don't understand not wanting to share knowledge. I think it helps everybody. I think it helps you to give it away. It helps your self esteem. It helps others that they look up to you -- when they are like... WOW, she talked to me for five minutes. You know, what really baffles me because I just think I'm kind of a regular person and I really hope I never change that. That was the one thing my father always taught me...your no better than anybody else, you're just you, you might be different, but that doesn't make you any better. And to me that was one of the best life lessons I could learn.
Laura: That is awesome. Well, so I could literally sit here and talk to you all day. I thank you from the bottom of my heart and I think that the dog fancy thanks you as well... at least our listeners do.
Sioux: Thank you for having me. I was flattered when you asked me and I don't know if you would be interested, but I do have some recordings.
Sioux: I have a pet connections talk from 2010.
Laura: Oh my gosh. Yes.
Sioux: Then I have Rick Rutledge.
Laura: Yes, yes. Somebody had mentioned some of the stuff that he had done. I just have never run across it. If you would be willing to ship that to me, we would love to include that on our website and offer it as an archive location for people to come in and listen to it. Thank you so much, Sioux, for joining us. I really, really appreciate your time.
Sioux: Well, thank you for having me.
Laura: Okay. Crew. We're all continually striving expert level,
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