From Ugly Duckling to Elegant Grande Dam

The year was 1980, and I was single and living in a very small apartment in Raleigh, North Carolina. My live-in companions were two neutered male dogs, Mac, a Maltese, and Apache, an Old English Sheepdog. Apache was beginning to show signs of his age, and I was considering what breed of dog would take his place as a formidable-looking but trustworthy and gentle companion.

After extensive reading and visiting with a breeder, I decided to locate a Bouvier bitch to purchase. Having worked as kennel manager for a very successful Old English Sheepdog kennel in the early 1970's, I was familiar with the conformation dog show world. In my search for a puppy, I explained to the Bouvier breeders with whom I spoke that, while I wasn't looking for a show dog, I, of course, would be interested in showing her if the puppy grew into an outstanding specimen of the breed.

I finally found a litter with a bitch puppy available and agreed to purchase her sight unseen. After all, conformation wasn't an essential criterion. I wanted a Bouvier primarily for companionship.

I brought Piper home at eight weeks of age, and she was the cutest little thing. I couldn't wait to take her on walks in the woods. These early walks were hysterical. Piper was the stereotypical, roly-poly puppy who bumbled over even the most ordinary obstacles on the walking trails, like downed trees, that Mac, the Maltese, sailed over with ease.


Like many new Bouvier owners, I fretted about Piper's ears standing and constantly fiddled with taping and racking. And as she grew, the ears stood, probably as I have since observed, coincidental to my manipulations. To my eye Piper was developing into a very handsome Bouvier.

By this time I was married. My husband, David, and I decided that Piper definitely was an outstanding specimen of the breed and should grace the show ring. While we were waiting to go in the ring for Piper's first match, I decided to practice looking at her bite. I was horrified. Her perfect scissors bite had vanished. Yikes! When did that happen? She certainly couldn't be a show dog now but since she was the only Bouvier exhibiting that day, we collected the Best of Breed Puppy ribbon and then hung up the show lead.

Some time shortly thereafter, I again ventured to look in Piper's mouth and, lo and behold, her perfect scissors bite was back. Well, her ears were still standing and she still looked quite handsome to me, so out came the show lead and we entered her in her first show.


Piper at 8 months old

Early that Saturday morning, we packed up our family of three dogs and off we went in our white Ford Mustang. Just as we turned into the show grounds, I glanced at Piper sitting in the back seat. EGads! One of her ears was pulling in toward the middle of her head. When had that happened? She was the only puppy in the puppy class, so she and I trotted in, collected a blue ribbon, and drove home. Piper's show career again was put on hold. After several days of anxious watching, the ear had righted itself. 


With our renewed confidence, Piper's show career was resurrected. A trip to northeastern Ohio to visit with my folks coincided with dog shows. We decided, of course, to enter. Piper and I, full of confidence, strode into the ring. The next thing I knew, Piper, who I had never observed to pace before, forgot how to trot. Holy cow! I couldn't get her to break a pace and was mortified. I collected her Puppy class blue ribbon, since she was alone in the class, and informed my husband that never again was I going into the ring. I could handle the sudden change in bite and the falling ear, but this was too much.

David, to keep me company, had been attending handling classes with his Standard Poodle who had come to him when she was retired from the show circuit. David knew this handling thing was a piece of cake (I didn't bother explaining the difference between a conformation-trained Poodle and a think-for-yourself Bouvier) and confidently agreed to show Piper himself from now on.

That summer we vacationed at my parents' summer place in Quechee, Vermont. We were there in July, which coincided with the New England summer dog show circuit. It just so happened that a very experienced and knowledgeable Bouvier breeder, Bill Hayes, was on the circuit with Piper's litter sister. David's debut with Piper was less than brilliant, but Bill gave me encouragement and a complete grooming lesson. I was confident that my handler would improve.

Truly looking for some expert input about my bitch, all during the New England circuit I waited until the judges were through with their assignments and respectfully asked them about my puppy. Their uniform comment was that she was still young. I smiled and thanked the judges. Once we were well away from ringside I fumed, "Where in the standard does it say points off for being young?"

Piper at 13 months of age

That September we entered the Labor Day shows near our home in Raleigh. Piper was now thirteen months old, she and David had some ring experience, and I had been adding to my show grooming skills. I felt pretty good when David and Piper entered the ring. Things were beginning to come together. When Piper was third our of four in the ring that day, I was more than a little disappointed.

Before leaving the show grounds, we took some snapshots of Piper. We couldnít hold her responsible for the judging. When the photos came back from the developer, I was shocked, absolutely dumbstruck, with how Piper looked. Obviously you didnít need a kennel to be "kennel blind". I loved Piper, I looked at her every day, and I was seeing something in my mindís eye that didnít match reality at all.


We had learned perhaps the most valuable lesson of conformation showing. We waited for Piper to grow up, taking lots of pictures along the way. And when she was ready for the show ring, she earned her conformation championship.

In time we bred a number of litters. My handler improved, I became more experienced, and we finished many homebred Bouviers. But one lesson I never forgot was the inevitable filter through which we eye our dogs no matter how hard we try to be objective. The more impartial camera became a great asset, and the photos taken after serious grooming sessions were very helpful in guiding the final grooming touches before a show.

I greatly treasure the series of pictures that followed Piper's development. Looking back, it is still hard to believe they are all of the same creature. These pictures became an intricate part of educating puppy buyers and Bouvier novices. When anyone came to look at our dogs, whether considering a puppy from one of our litters or just researching the breed, we made sure they saw the series of of Piperís photographs as a very dramatic illustration of how much a puppy can change.

Piper at 10 years old

Piper grew up to be the foundation bitch of Daelgardes (Da for David, el for Ellen, and gardes the French for guard) Bouviers in every sense She produced wonderful companions, and many went on to earn titles in both conformation and performance events. To this day her genetic contribution continues through her offspring Most important of all, she was our first teacher about the intricacies and mystery of the journey of a Bouvier from early puppyhood through to the end of life. To us, no other Bouvier could ever be so special. 

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