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Best in Show

Hempfield Junior Pursues Her Passion for Showing Dogs

Passion can be defined as “a strong and barely controllable emotion.” Some people are passionate about sports, while others are passionate about music and the arts. However, one Hempfield Area student is passionate about something much more fluffy: dog shows.

Bel Ackerman is a junior at Hempfield Area Senior High School, and when she is not at school, she spends her time training dogs and traveling around the country to attend dog shows. Her interest in showing dogs sparked from her mother’s paralleling passion. “My mom bred German Shepherds, and that was a key factor in it. That’s the breed I still show today.” 

Showing dogs is not just a hobby, but a commitment. When asked about the layout of a typical show, Ackerman said, “Typically, they start super early in the morning.” With an eight o’clock start, dog shows can then last for several hours because “they start from the youngest dogs to the oldest dogs.” There is also a lot of traveling involved since there are not any local events. “Just two months ago, I was in North Carolina for the Senior Show,” which is a “national, once a year event,” Ackerman explains. She dedicates her time, money, and hard work to attend these events and show her pride for her pups. 

While Ackerman’s specific breed of interest is German Shepherds, she handles a variety of  dogs. “I handle ‘professionally’ for people, so I’m paid to handle their dogs in the ring,” She never knows which breed she’ll exactly be assigned. Ackerman herself owns an eight month old puppy who she is training and raising to show as well as “a titled male” when he is four years of age. 

Ackerman further explained that “dogs have an IGP title which is a three-phase sport that they have to pass in order to show in this class.” IGP is short for International Gebrauchshund Pruefung previously known as IPO or Schutzhund. The three phases that Ackerman mentioned include tracking, obedience and protection. IGP was originally designed as a breed test for the German Shepherd, but it has grown into a popular sport, as well as continuing to function as a breed test for many reputable German Shepherd breeders. “Dog shows are typically conformation events, which means that dogs are judged on their anatomical structure and how they best conform to the breed structure,” says Ackerman. The dogs are then placed based on which is best conforming to the written breed standard. 

Anatomy is not the only factor in which the dogs are judged on. Owners and breeders must train their dogs in order for the dog to behave well in the ring. “A lot of time, judges will put a dog farther back than they deserve based on their structure because of lack of ring training.” No one wants to see an unruly dog in the ring. Ackerman comments that “It’s respectful to have a dog that presents itself well because it knows what it needs to do.” 

All of her hard work and dedication has given Ackerman a sense of pride in this sport. When asked about her proudest accomplishment, she answered, “My personal biggest achievement is with my male, Stoven. I got his IGP 1 which I worked really hard for because he’s not a super easy dog to do that with.” She also was lucky enough for her first litter to be born under her kennel name in March of 2023. This litter is where her puppy came from, and said puppy “got 3 out of eleven” at the national North Carolina show that she attended. 

Ackerman has been showing dogs since 2017 and plans to show them in her future.  It is a defining factor for where she is going to college, and her future plans which will most certainly include man’s best friends.

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About the Contributor
Amara Bittner
Amara Bittner, Contributor

Born in Greensburg, Pennsylvania, Amara Bittner is a junior attending Hempfield Area Senior High School. She has been a part of the district her whole life and embraces her Spartan Pride by writing for The Royal and being active in Interact Club, Spanish Club, and Mathletes. Amara works part-time as a hostess at Olives & Peppers and plans to become a server at the restaurant when she turns eighteen. She has also been a member of Susan Yadamec Dance Co. since she was two years old and takes classes in jazz, hip-hop, stretch, contemporary, and tap. When Amara is not at work or in the dance studio, she is spending time with her friends, volunteering at the local food bank, and traveling to many beaches and tropical countries. One of her favorite pastimes is listening to music, specifically R&B and rap. Amara also enjoys quality time with her two younger brothers, her cat, Munch, and her dog, Pig. In her future, she hopes to attend college and settle down in a big city near the beach.