It was a breezy Friday afternoon when a celebrity graced Marist College with her presence.
She started her day in Lowell Thomas School of Communication, got work done in the office, and then made her way outside to enjoy the patio. Her light blond hair moved with the wind as she sniffed out what was going on over at Dyson. When she walked through the hallways, students turned their heads; almost as if they couldn’t resist her star power.
No, this wasn’t a musician, pro athlete, or even a TikTok star. It was Willow, a one-and-a-half-year-old French Bulldog who is destined for glory.
Monica Schott has worked as an administrative assistant in the Marist School of Communications & the Arts for eight years, but when she’s not on campus, she’s surrounded by her five dogs.
Beside Willow, there’s Odin, 3; Charlotte, 7; Maksim, 11, who are all French Bulldogs; and Luna, a six-year-old Whippet.
According to Schott, Willow has two modes; home and show.
“At home, Willow lets out her wild side,” said Schott. “Whether she’s playing with her siblings or following her family around, she always makes herself heard by roughing up dogs double her size or doing her trademarked ‘Frenchie Scream.’”
“Her quirk is that she’s a little package, but she likes to scream when she wants to go with you,” Schott continued. “So when I leave in the morning, she starts screaming. If you don’t know what she looks like, you think this monster dog will come out of the house, and it’s this little 20-pound dog that comes out, and it’s hysterical.”
When she’s in show mode, she’s a pro. Like LeBron James or Serena Williams, she knows exactly when to turn it on and put out her best effort.
“She was really easy to train,” said Schott. “I have my breeder to thank for that because she started her at a very young age.”
One of the first steps that must be taken when training a dog for a show is lead training. Ensuring the dog is comfortable on the lead is essential to its success. Schott explains how there is a walking lead and a show lead, the latter usually being a very tiny, fine chain. Putting the lead on them while they are still puppies and allowing them to walk around with it helps them feel comfortable wearing it moving forward.
After that, it is imperative to teach them to walk on the left-hand side – the side they show on – and, for Frenchies and similar breeds, get them confident standing on tables.
“They have to learn to stand on a table, and that’s very, very scary for some puppies,” said Schott.
Training consists of working on these aspects multiple times a day for a few minutes at a time, and then “you cross your fingers that they retain it all and that they behave in the ring,” according to Schott.
Luckily for Willow, show is in her blood.
Willow’s father is Winston, a three-year-old French Bulldog of tremendous stature. At the 2022 Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, the crowning competition for dog shows, Winston took home “Reserve Best in Show.” In addition, Winston, who shows under the illustrious title of “GCHP CH Fox Canyon’s I Won the War at Goldshield CGC CGCA CGCU TKN,” is the number one all-breed dog in the country, a first for French Bulldogs, and has over 60 career victories, making him the winningest in breed history.
Similar to horse racing, the most high-profile dogs attract high-profile attention. Winston is in part owned by Los Angeles Chargers defensive lineman Morgan Fox, as well as Alexandra Vorbeck, Alexandra Germia, Felicia Cashin, Perry Payson, and Sandy Fox. Schott is the primary owner of Willow, but she is also part-owned by Payson — a professional handler — and Hilary Branscum, who are also Willow’s breeders.
While Willow, whose show name is “Goldshield’s All That Glitters is Gold of Mystik,” is likely to follow in her father’s four-legged footsteps, Schott maintains that “First, she’s my pet before anything else, and then she’s a show dog; we just do that on the side.”
In 2015, the American Kennel Club (AKC) started its Beginner Puppy Competition, allowing dogs between four and six months to get their start in the ring. The AKC describes it as a “relaxed, stress-free way to make your debut in the dog show world.” And Schott, who’s been showing dogs on and off since the 90s, thinks it’s a great addition.
When it came time for Willow to make her debut in the ring, she wasn’t in the least bit nervous.
“She’s so easy to show,” said Schott. “You know when they’re meant to be a show dog. They just have it.”
To qualify for Westminster – the Super Bowl of dog shows – a dog needs 15 points and two major wins.
Last weekend, Willow competed at the Finger Lakes Kennel Club and took a big step toward Westminster. She won best in her class, best of opposite sex, winner’s bitch (proper terminology for a female dog), and best of winners, earning her four points and a major. Willow now has all 15 points and needs just one more major victory.
“I mean, yeah, the wins are great, and I’ll brag about her and her father, but mostly this is about you and your dog and having fun with your pet,” said Schott.
Dog shows have allowed Schott to discover a supportive community of breeders, showers, and enthusiasts that, just like any other sport, brings out the best and worst in people.
“What I’ve learned about myself is that I have the confidence to get in the ring [and show next to] a professional handler,” said Schott.
For those interested in trying to show dogs, Schott heavily encourages people to do their research and go see the spectacle themselves. Most importantly, she stresses the importance of finding a responsible and ethical preservation breeder who confirms breeding standards when trying to find a dog.
“Go to akc.org and read all about it to understand what the show is about. And don’t be afraid to go to a show and talk to people,” said Schott. “I do it because of the love of the breed and to preserve it and to make it better, not to make money.”
Edited by Ricardo Martinez and Luke Sassa
Photos provided by Monica Schott