The most important dog show in the country was just judged by this Rocklin man. Who is he?

·4 min read
Westminster Kennel Club

Stepping into the ring of purple and gold is a rare and exciting achievement. Years of training, hard work, unimaginable discipline and obedience, coming to a head in one of the most prestigious shows in the world — for people and dogs alike. And one Northern California resident got to be there to judge the picks of the litter.

The Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show was held from June 18-22, and Rocklin’s Alvin W. Eng was there as the Masters Obedience Championship Judge, assessing the nation’s best dogs in the obedience competition using his good-natured judging style.

“Different people enter dog shows for different reasons,” Eng said. “Some people are very competitive and winning is very important to them, but a lot of other people just want to be up with their dogs, or use the sport as more of a social event. Whatever their reason for being in my brain. I want to make sure that I get a sense of what that is and support that.“

When Eng first walked into a dog show ring, he was a dog trainer, and he was stressed. Eng said the competition is really a performance in front of other people, something he found “nerve-racking.” But he said he enjoyed himself most not just when his dog performed well, but when judges complimented his execution and his relationship with his dog.

Imparting that feeling into competitors is something Eng has carried into his work as a judge, although he says his kindness doesn’t compromise his judging abilities. This firm but nice style is what Eng accredits with him getting the Westminster judgeship.

When Christopher Cornell, a renowned obedience judge in the kennel club world, suddenly passed away three weeks before he was supposed to judge the competition, the Westminster dog show needed to find another judge.

“I like to think that I was asked because it was Chris who was assigned and I had a similar style,” Eng said. “I’m just so honored by the fact that I was asked to replace Chris because he was a judge that I admired, very, very much.”

The obedience competition Eng judges is split into two rounds. The first round assesses high-level skills, including going to a place where a handler points and being able to jump in multiple directions. The second round assesses lower-level skills like retrieval and recall.

While Westminster is invite-only, Eng believes that most “dog people” have learned the fundamentals in obedience just from the act of training your dog at home — most only lacking in the specific formalization required of dog shows.

Training a rowdy dog is exactly what got Eng himself interested in dog shows. Shortly after getting married, Eng and his wife Audrey bought an English Springer Spaniel puppy named Cruiser. Cruiser’s journey to obedience was the beginning of a long journey into dog showmanship for Eng.

Eng needed to compete for at least seven years before becoming a judge. He also needed to take classes and seminars and provide proof he has trained not only his own dogs but that he also has trained others to train their own dogs, along with an apprenticeship (where Eng says most of the information is learned), and finally a quiz.

After all of his hard work, he was finally rewarded with the opportunity to judge at the Westminster Dog Show. And for his efforts, he got an all-expense-paid trip to go judge the show, and a stipend “you wouldn’t be able to make a living from.”

But Eng, a retired engineer, does the sport as a hobby, not for the wealth and the fame.

“I think that the dog is a wonderful, wonderful companion and just one of the best friends that you can ever have is a dog,” Eng said. “But for that dog to be your best friend, to actually enjoy the dog and make sure that it is not a menace to others, you have to train your dog…It’s through competition that you improve the methods used in dog training and be able to learn about the relationship between dogs and their owners.”

Eng said he felt anxious about judging these dogs, training methods, and relationships at the highest level of dog show competition, but ultimately did his best to make sure every handler thought “it was worth their time being in [his] ring.”

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