A Conversation with Rob Berton and Todd Bowers | Local Vocal | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

A Conversation with Rob Berton and Todd Bowers

Rob Berton and Todd Bowers breed Yorkshire Terriers as well as exhibit the dogs at regional and national competitions. Chip, their latest star, is just 2 years old and rated among the top five Yorkies in country.

What do you look for in a new litter like you have now to determine potential show dogs?

Rob: The bite -- if the bite is undershot or overshot you can't show it. And the coat color's got to be blue. It looks black but it's more blue, like the inside of a gun barrel.
These dogs don't win shows on looks alone, right?
Todd: Travis, the one on the table there. Absolutely hates to show.
Rob: But his structure is to die for.
Todd: To die for. And he will go in the ring
Rob: "I'll do it once -- don't ask me to do it again."
Todd: That's Travis's attitude.
If Rob's in the ring with the dogs, what's your role, Todd?
Todd: I'm what they call the "kennel boy." His job is to get the dogs ready for the show, but I get all the equipment. I pack the car, making sure we have everything. We take exercise pens and mats, because god forbid they can't touch the ground. We take tables for all the dogs. We take all the grooming equipment. We take certain towels that go with dogs. The list goes on and on. Plus their water. They have to have our tap water because you can't just give them strange water or that will give them diarrhea.
Do you offer a stud service?
Rob: Chip's available.
Todd: But I'm very particular. People send us their pedigree, which lists five or six generations. And of course we have his.
And the dogs actually breed, you know, traditionally?
Todd: It depends. Mostly we try to do natural breeding, but we do artificial as well. Next year, we're going to take him up to Cleveland and have his sperm frozen and use him later on down the line.
Is that common?
Rob: Sure -- they're using dogs that died 20 years ago.
What products are you grooming the dogs with?
Rob: We use a dog shampoo. Well, we use certain other products, but I'm not going to tell you because it's competition, OK?
You mean it's proprietary?
Rob: Not the shampoo, but there's products I'll put on after -- before I'm going into the ring -- to make them look shiny or stand out a little better.
So at the shows do you transfer the products to generic-looking bottles?
Rob: Oh yeah, this.
That's just a clear plastic spray bottle.
Rob: Sometimes it's very tough. You have two dogs that are very close in competition. Normally with our friends we do share information.
Todd: Especially if we find a new product that works better we tend to share it -- eventually.
Can the competition get ugly?
Todd: Some people play dirty. They'll do things to purposely distract your dog, like throw food or a stuffed toy near them to try to make your dog turn. Or they'll run their dog close to your dog's rear to distract him.
At shows are there certain temperaments of people that show certain dogs? You're rolling your eyes, Todd.
Todd: Well, I was just thinking of the poodle people.
Rob: Let's not get the poodle people angry!
What are the poodle people like?
Todd: Well, it's a joke, if you cross a poodle person at a show --
Rob: They'll never forget it. And they think us Yorkie people are, I forget the word they use.
Todd: "Fanatic." Except they are too with-the-scissoring all the time.
Rob: They think we're more fanatic, because we're fanatical about coat, shininess, every hair has to be in a certain place.
Some of the other breeds must be relatively low maintenance
Rob: Like a beagle: They wash it, throw it in a crate and go to the dog show.
What do you think of the mockumentary Best in Show?
Todd: Most of us who have seen it laughed because it was so realistic. If you could see us at a show, it's pretty funny. We're in a very competitive environment and much more tense. You're around your friends who you're also competing with so you almost have to be like a Gemini with a split personality. You keep smiling at them, hoping they lose.

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