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INTERVIEW | Viking & Melanie: The journey to BIS Crufts 2024

Viking and his owner Melanie triumphed over more than 19,000 dogs from around the world, earning thunderous applause in the arena of Birmingham. They showcased an incredible symbiosis and understanding between dog and owner, proving that victory in such a prestigious competition requires much more than just flawless exterior. Let's interview the new champions!

BEST IN SHOW Crufts 2024

Australian shepherd

Ch Brighttouch Drift The Line Through Dialynne (Imp Rus)

Mrs M, Mr J & Mrs K Raymond, Shaw & Kirtley

Melanie, first of all our biggest congratulations on this once in a lifetime win. When did you actually realize what happened?

Well, I could recite the commentator's words word for word in my head when trying to visualize actually winning Best in Show, but to hear it out loud, 'And Best in Show at Crufts 2024 is... THE AUSTRALIAN SHEPHERD,' well, nothing prepares you for the flood of emotions as Judge Ann Ingram points in your direction. It is better than you could ever imagine. It was the best moment of my life and a memory I will cherish forever.

Tell us about the famous trophy! Google says you get a replica, is it true?

Well, sadly, you don't get to take it home, nor do you get a replica. I believe you used to get a trophy, but it wasn't a replica. I'm actually kicking myself because I was so scared Viking would butt swipe it off the podium that I literally touched it with one finger. So I have no idea how heavy it actually is.

You are already the third generation in your family of breeders. Can you briefly describe your background?

My grandma Marion started the kennel. She was a kennel maid at the age of 13 and a budding dog groomer. She used to do house calls with a set of hand shears, grooming the neighbors' dogs.

Our Affix didn't come along until much later, made up from her first two children's names, Dianna and Marilynne (Dia-lynne). Thank God she didn't name one Maria.

She had three children, two girls, and a son, Derrick, who was the youngest. Dianna, my Mother, was the only doggy one and followed in Grandma's footsteps, successfully showing the now well-established beagles along with Tibetan Terriers and Miniature Schnauzers.

I didn't start showing the dogs as young as perhaps many who have been brought up into a dog family. I had a love for horses. It wasn't until I was in my late teens that I started to show dogs, starting with Risepark Miniature Schnauzers, of which my mother showed too. I had a natural talent for grooming and got great enjoyment out of presenting the dogs. I had my fair share of success with the Schnauzers as well as the Tibetan Terriers, and of course, the family breed beagles. However, I did want to be successful in my own right and fell in love with the Aussies and never looked back.

We heard you chose Viking based on a photo on Facebook! What is the whole story?

I had just finished a very successful year showing AM CH UK CH ASCA CH Wyndstar’s Magic Marker AKA Mark. He came to me a few weeks before Crufts 2019, and we took BOB at Crufts at our very first show together. It just went on from there; he ended up Top Dog All Breeds 2019, winner of the Eukanuba finals in 2020, and BOB G2 Crufts 2020.

Mark was retired after Crufts, so I decided I would like a puppy to have a bit of fun with, and fun we have had. This was the beginning of lockdown. I then did what I told people not to do: I was scrolling Facebook one very boring day in lockdown when I came across a post with several pictures of a striking blue merle puppy aged around five or six months, free stacking himself with a snowy backdrop.

It was love at first sight. I can't recall the wording of the post other than he was available to the right home. I instantly contacted Larisa Koslova, his breeder, asking if he was still available, which he was, and would she send me some videos, which she did. A few months later, he arrived. I can't thank Larisa enough for trusting in me and believing in what I believed was a very special puppy.

What was funny was I scrolled through all his pictures. She, unlike me, has a very organized FB profile, and there was one of him as a baby stacked on the table, and I saw I had loved the picture and commented. So, I believe he was always fated to come to me, or she couldn't stand any more begging messages.

What is the most important to look at when choosing a puppy?

That's an interesting question. I look at Aussies differently than I would beagles because I'm looking more for a show dog and less future breeding stock. Do I stick with the same breeder? No. I have had some amazing dogs from many breeders. Does this make me disloyal? No. I think it's a testament to all the great breeders out there.

Of course, the fundamentals are always the same in the sense of a healthy, well-reared puppy. I do look at pedigrees because over time you can see traits from ancestors, some you want, some you want to avoid.

Firstly, I look for balance. The Aussie, like the beagle, is a moderate breed, so we don't want to see sweeping hindquarters or necks like giraffes, nor do we want to see low and long, which is becoming a big problem in the breed today.

Movement is very important; to see a puppy trot everywhere tells you its parts are in the right place, and temperament is essential. It's no good having the perfect puppy if it jumps out of its skin at a leaf blowing past. If you can get all these, then the rest is up to how you rear them, which is of the utmost importance.

I am sure there is a lot of work behind Viking's amazing performance. Is it you alone, or are there any helpers?

Well, it's all me in the sense of show training, grooming, and showing, but I can't take all the credit for the conditioning because my husband will exercise him if I cannot. I also take him to a lady who does McTimoney once a month, which he absolutely loves.

The audience was thrilled with you. What is the secret tip to shine?

Passion. I don't have any secret tips; I work hard at what I do, and I believe in my dogs. I do believe that it's the whole package. I don't think even Viking would shine like he does if I showed him in a pair of jeans and trainers

Not only Viking was shining. We are absolutely blown away by your outfit! How did you choose a suit to compete in for BIS?

Well, actually, this suit does have a story. It was my very first St. John's purchase from eBay. It was from the UK eBay site, and I paid £100 for it. This was when only a very select few people in the UK actually knew what St. John's was; most thought it was a charity shop. I have around 20 now; they're addictive.

This particular suit I wore a lot with Mark, and it held a lot of special memories, so it was always going to be my Crufts BIS suit. I just prayed I would fit in it if the time ever came. I also showed Viking on Austin's lead, so I had all my boys in the ring with me that evening.

Even though everything seemed perfect, is there anything you would have done differently?

NOPE. The day was the most special day ever; I wouldn't have changed a thing, other than actually picking up that massive trophy and leaving a huge red lipstick mark on it lol.

We saw you let him eat the thrown treat. Is it something you practice always? Have you experienced any problems with judges/handlers about that?

Actually, it came about by accident. I have watched handlers in the USA do it at the end of an individual examination and thought, done right, it's very impressive.

I was having his critique written at the end of a class the latter end of last year and just threw some bait, and he pulled off this amazing free stack. So I practiced it a little at home. I only use it when he does his down and back on an individual examination or if he's been shortlisted and I have the space to do so. I would never do it if it was to put any other exhibits off; it's one of the reasons I let him eat what I've thrown. It also makes him focus more on the reward knowing he's going to get to eat it.

I actually had it done to me at the WDS where the exhibitor that was behind me was throwing the bait for his dog. He was throwing it so far it was landing at my feet. I had to laugh because firstly his dog wasn't taking a blind bit of notice of the treats at all, and secondly, I was running short of bait so I picked it up and used it myself.

On a serious note, that is not acceptable behavior in my eyes. Get the best out of your dog by all means but not at the expense of other exhibitors. Luckily for me, Viking is so in tune with me he didn't even notice a sausage banquet was only inches away.

How do you feel about the number of dogs shown in one day? Do you prefer to enter the whole pack or focus on one?

It all depends on the show. For normal shows, I take a few. If it's a big show like WDS or USA, I would just take the one I hope to win with. I like to present all my dogs in top condition, and that is not always possible if you have too many to campaign at once.

Besides winning Crufts, Viking also won the UK Top dog all breeds and World Winner 23‘. What are your future show plans? Will you let him shine the most or keep him home?

Hmm, this is a very difficult question. Of course, I don't believe you can ever top Crufts; some may argue Westminster or WDS, but for me, it's Crufts. However, he's a young dog, and I love showing him.

He will never set foot in the UK show ring again, but I'm not ruling out taking him to a few special overseas shows. Yes, it's always a gamble, but then if it wasn't, we wouldn't keep doing it.

We certainly have a few fans of the breed out there who would consider a mating or puppy after Viking. Is this even still possible, or is he booked for life now?

We have never been breeders in beagles where we have kept dogs solely for ourselves. I think we have exceptional animals throughout the world of dogs because people share bloodlines. I also believe we should encourage new young breeders. So, I would never turn someone away if I believed they had a well-bred bitch that Viking would suit, and if they are trying to do the right thing, then they deserve a chance.

We really appreciate you giving us the interview! Finally, can you tell us how do you feel about Crufts 2025?

Well, it won't be as stressful as this Crufts, that's for sure. I love Crufts, not just because that green carpet is so magical, but also because it brings my friends and family from all over the world together. It's the fastest four days of my life, but it's always the best four days of the year. And it's now also where my dreams actually came true.


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