Gedeon was at full speed and in full joy.
The long-legged, rust-colored dog ran through a snow-covered field, chasing an all-terrain vehicle driven by his owner, Natalie Russo of Slingerlands. Gedeon, a handsome representative of the Vizsla breed, took three wide laps in back of Judy Saddlemire’s house and offered a chorus of barks at the end of his exercise.
“They can run every day; they love it,” said Glenville resident Saddlemire, who has raised and trained Gedeon. “I have the property to run them on and we’ll let them run 20 to 30 minutes, depending on the weather and the conditions. Sometimes, I’ve been known to take them out twice. They’re so high-energy.”
Gedeon can be loud and playful. Saddlemire said the 4-year-old is also confident and elegant. Those traits are expected to take center stage Tuesday morning, when Gedeon competes at the Westminster Kennel Club’s 134th annual dog show at Madison Square Garden in New York City.
“He just stands out above and beyond many other dogs,” said Saddlemire. “When I start to talk about this dog, it brings a lump to my throat. This dog, it’s hard not to take your eyes off him.”
Saddlemire knows top stock. She has been raising and training Vizslas for obedience, show and field work for the past 35 years. She also grooms dogs of all breeds for local owners. She has shown three dogs at past Westminster shows.
“I just fell in love with the breed,” Saddlemire said. “They are very easy to live with … they’re clean dogs, they’re short-coated — they do shed, but very minimally. They’re very easy to train, quick to learn and very devoted to their families.”
The breed has possessed those qualities for a long time.
According to the American Kennel Club, Vizsla ancestors were hunters and companions for the Magyar hordes, a tribe that settled in what is now Hungary. Vizslas were favorites of early barons and seen in etchings dating to the 10th century.
Hungarians prized Vizslas for their hunting abilities, and used them for a variety of game, including grouse, quail, rabbits and waterfowl. Nearly extinct by the end of the World Wars, the Vizsla gradually regained popularity. By the 1950s, importers were bringing the dogs to the United States.
Vizslas will bark when strangers approach their homes. They might also complain about potential new friends or admirers.
“Once they get used to the person who’s around, and they see its OK with their owners, then for the most part they’re OK with everything,” Saddlemire said. “The boys tend to be a little bit more devoted to their owners, where the girls can be a little bit more aloof, and not as clingy.”
Saddlemire expects Gedeon to be on his best behavior for the Westminster show, which begins Monday. Vizslas will be judged during the show’s second day.
“Show training consists of a judge judging the dog’s confirmation — that means the body type of the dog,” Saddlemire said. “It means are your shoulder angulations correct, is his rear angulation correct, if the body type is the way it should be according to the AKC [Adirondack Kennel Club] standard.”
Different dogs require different training methods.
“I’ve approached each one of these dogs in a different manner because they all have different temperaments and different attitudes towards things,” said Saddlemire, who owns five Vizslas as housemates and is currently training them. “So you approach things differently with each dog.”
For some dogs, food rewards are appropriate teachers’ aids. In other cases, motivational toys succeed.
In all cases, the dog’s natural personality shows up.
“If you lie down on the couch, they’ll be all over the top with you, laying down with you,” Saddlemire said. “They follow your every move, they’re in tune with the whole household routine. That’s the way they are. They know exactly when their feeding time is, they know when my husband’s coming home from work, they know when it’s time to get up. They sleep with us in the bed — not all five of them, but two of them do. If they were loose in the kitchen right now, they might be jumping on you or just milling around. They always want to be a part of what you’re doing.”
Saddlemire trained Gedeon through his championship as a puppy.
“When a dog is just starting to learn how to show, they don’t start out as champions; they start out as class dogs,” she said. “They’re trying to earn points towards their championship. I trained Gedeon through his earning his points and I put his championship on him.
“For this dog to go to Westminster, it’s a dream come true,” she added. “If he can win, it would be a dream come true.”
Gedeon will try for best of breed, against 33 other Vizslas. If he takes that category, he will be eligible to compete in Tuesday night’s sporting dog category. That section of the show will be broadcast live on cable and satellite television’s USA network, beginning at 8 p.m.
Russo said Gedeon is happy and well-mannered at home. “He’s always looking for something to do,” she said.
Dog and owner are frequently on the run to Glenville, and to Saddlemire’s expansive back yard.
“Rain, snow, sleet, what’s that whole thing for mailmen?” Russo asked. “That’s what we do. It’s the exceptional time if I can’t make it that I don’t . . . but we go there every day and Judy has given us that sort of open invitation.”
New York City and Westminster will be an adventure for Gedeon’s connections.
“I’m very excited,” Russo said. “This is the first time for both of us being there. I’m just so looking forward to it and I’m just so appreciative to Judy that we have this opportunity to do it, and we’re going to be doing it all together.”
In addition to Russo and Saddlemire, Alessandra Folz of Woodstock, Conn., is also on Team Gedeon. Folz will walk with the dog at the Garden, and “show” him to judges and fans.
Eventually, Gedeon will be matched to one of Saddlemire’s female Vizslas. There will be no rush for the next litter.
“We don’t raise Vizslas to sell puppies,” said Saddlemire, whose partner in the breeding part of her Vizsla hobby is Barry Golob of Maryland. “I don’t believe in just having litters of puppies to sell. There are plenty of unwanted dogs in this country that don’t get good enough homes, so if we do want to have a litter of puppies, it’s only because we’re looking for something for our own breeding stock.”
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