After the teasing, brushing and drying, Vincent looks like he’s wearing a gorilla suit.
The Russians bred these terriers from giant schnauzer, Rottweiler, Newfoundland and other stock for military and law-enforcement purposes. The AKC bullet-points them: “Powerful. Intelligent. Calm.”
Clute knows better.
“These dogs are bred to hurt people,” he says. “They can be really tough. Strong-willed. Sometimes they just downright want to hurt people.”
Vincent seems friendly enough. After his grooming he jumps his forepaws on Clute’s shoulders and looks him directly in the eye.
Clute slips on his suit jacket, affixes his handler number — 11 — around his bicep with a rubber band and brings Victor to his big moment.
It’s Victor’s first show — at just eight months old, he’s only been allowed to compete at this level since June — and the point is more to acclimate him to the ring than to take home a ribbon. Maybe by the time the St. Louis nationals come around in a couple weeks, Clute says, he could start winning.
He walks Victor to the ring with the gait of a ballroom dancer: shoulders square, spine erect, the dog’s bare testicles peeking out from the fur like a couple of small black eggs in a nest.
Today in Ring 9 he’s up against Ricky, a prizewinning Russian terrier whose owner, Sarah Gaunt, is one of the few in attendance this weekend. Most made the trip with trainers and professional handlers like Clute. Gaunt keeps her terriers in Signal Mountain, Tenn. and shows them all year long.
Gaunt, who works for the National Football League’s front office, invites a spectator to feel how solid Ricky is. The dog is built like a bear. Part of his daily exercise regimen, she says, is a four-mile run that helps him keep an even temperament.
“He’s our middle linebacker,” she says. “If this dog does not run three miles a day….” She shakes her head slowly as she trails off.
Victor, Ricky and two other dogs enter the competition ring; one by one they make their paces around it — handlers have to run to keep up with these big dogs — and submit to Judge Cindy Stansell for up-close inspection. Ricky takes Best of Breed; Victor comes in third.
Dogs at the show are broken down into seven categories, Stansell explains afterwards: herding dogs such as shepherds, collies, sheepdogs and corgis; hounds from Afghans to whippets; non-sporting bulldogs and Dalmatians; sporting dogs such as spaniels, retrievers and pointers; working dogs like boxers, pinschers, danes, schnauzers and the black Russian terrier. There are separate categories for terriers and toy dogs, too.
Stansell says she looks beyond the dictates of the breed — though the dog’s physical structure is an essential attribute — to muscle tone and disposition. Grooming, she says, plays a large factor.
“It’s not just the muscle tone,” she says. “It’s the hairdo too.”