Nikki is young — not yet 2 years old — but she might just be a winner.
The Rottweiler belongs to Gainesville resident Lori Gach-Hester, and the pair will be competing at the 140th annual Westminster Kennel Club All Breed Dog Show in New York City next week.
Gach-Hester has exhibited and trained Rottweilers since 1979, when she first moved to Georgia. She won in 1983, but hasn’t had a dog in the game for several years.
Gach-Hester said only quality, nice-looking, “top-notch” dogs go to the Westminster show, and she believes Nikki has “as good a chance as anybody.”
“I haven’t had a dog that I felt was good enough to go the last few years,” she said. “But now I do.”
Typically, show dogs are a bit older than Nikki, who turns 2 in April. But Gach-Hester said she’s a good representative of her breed.
Nikki won “Best of Opposite Sex” at the Eukanuba Working Dog Show in Orlando in December. Gach-Hester said there were nearly 4,000 dogs in the entire show.
Getting a dog “show-ready” takes years of work.
Gach-Hester waited three years for Nikki to be born, finally getting the puppy at just 8 weeks old.
She started working with her immediately.
“We’d put her up on a table and move her little legs around and make it really fun,” she said. “But we start right away with these little ones.”
The dogs have to be comfortable being handled and must be able to stand still as a stranger examines them.
“They have to let a stranger go in their mouth to look at their teeth,” Gach-Hester said. “Rottweilers sometimes have missing teeth, so judges are very particular about the mouth.”
Show dogs are also trained to “bait,” or follow a treat or piece of food while walking on a leash.
“The ears have to come forward and show some expression,” Gach-Hester said. “We train them to do all that stuff.”
Gach-Hester leaves Saturday for New York City to give Nikki a couple of days to relax after the flight.
Nikki will participate in the Breed competition first. If she wins best Rottweiler, she will go on to the Groups competition, competing against the best of all the working dog breeds. Winners of each group advance to the Best in Show.
Groups and Best in Show will be held at Madison Square Garden and televised live from 8-11 p.m. Monday on CNBC and re-aired Tuesday on USA Network.
Gach-Hester said she hopes Nikki will win.
“It costs a fortune to do all this,” she said. “The special food, the training, flying them and all that stuff is very expensive. But when you can take a little, teeny puppy like that and say, ‘I’m pretty sure this is going to be a top-notch dog,’ you train it perfectly and then you win, it’s really rewarding.”