Westminster Dog Show Gets French Bulldog 'Watson' Off The Couch

The Westminster Dog Show is a "Bucket List" item for Debra Mattingly. A full-time swim and fitness center manager, she never expected to have dreams of gaiting a dog under bright lights in front of thousands of spectators, and possibly even millions of television viewers. But on the other end of her leash is a 27.5 pound French bulldog with a certain charisma, who keeps winning, and winning, and winning.

The Westminster Dog Show may be the pinnacle of all that's golden in the world of AKC registered champions. But Mattingly admits to stumbling upon it by accident. She and her husband owned two mixed breed dogs, but they wanted a Frenchie. They contacted breeders Robert Smith and Stephen Miller, Péché Mignon French Bulldogs, in Indiana.

watson portrait
Portrait of Watson [Image via Debra Mattingly]Enter: Champion Péché Mignon Elementary My Dear, with the implicit call name of "Watson."

Then a year old, the dog hadn't worked out at his first home. This was really nobody's fault, Mattingly explained.

"He was living with Labradors and ducks. Watson didn't want to run outside with Labradors and ducks. He just wanted to stay on the couch. So he was left alone a lot."
This laid-back demeanor is not unusual for Frenchies, who are even described by the AKC site as "lap warmers." The breed has a long history with Westminster Kennel Club.
"The first specialty club was the French Bulldog Club of America, and Fanciers gave it a specialty show in the ballroom of the Waldorf-Astoria in New York City in 1898. (It was) the first specialty show to be held in such deluxe quarters, receiving serious press coverage, French bulldogs were thrust into vogue, reaching a peak in 1913 with an entry of 100 at the Westminster Kennel Club."
Breeder Stephen Miller explains the Frenchie temperament:
"Frenchies see themselves as equals to us and sometimes superior. As "owners" we really become their servants. In the Frenchie world, their comfort is paramount. A dog bed is OK, the couch is better, the throw pillow on top of the couch is best."
Mattingly said that being ethical breeders, Smith and Miller took charge of rehoming Watson. "They keep track of every single dog they've ever bred."

So many ribbons, so little time on the couch. [Image via Debra Mattingly]With his big, broad head, warm fawn color, and characteristic rolling "polar bear" gait, the breeders said that by AKC standards, Watson is a pretty good specimen.
"Watson is a nice blend of American and European type taking the best of both worlds to make one incredible Frenchie. He possesses a stout build with heavy bone, massive head, beautiful square front, lovely topline, and exquisite movement. He has a wonderful laid-back personality and never meets a stranger."
Since Watson already had his championship, the breeders encouraged Mattingly to try showing him. Mattingly said others had different opinions about that.
"People said, 'Well, you can't just show a dog. There's a certain way you're supposed to do it.' And I thought, 'Well, I'm just gonna do it anyway!'"
That was the beginning of a long road with all-consuming weekends, road trips, hotel stays, and then back to work on Monday mornings.
"If I knew then what I know now, I wouldn't try it."
She said at first her goal was to be in the country's top twenty best French bulldogs. She had no idea how to show a dog, but she and Watson went for it.
"We just went out there and watched what everybody else was doing and we just copied them."
It paid off. Watson is ranked No. 1 in the national owner-handler category. Among all French bulldogs, he ranked No. 8 for 2015. His breeders explain that this success was despite having a late start.
"He didn't start his show career until over a year old but quickly finished his Championship title in 3 weekends, including some really big wins, and then got his Grand Championship title in short order with several Best of Breed wins."
A People's Choice Award-Winning Team [Image via Debra Mattingly]With all the attention and accolades, social butterfly Watson is having a great time. His breeder Stephen Miller explains that Mattingly's choice of adapting her lifestyle to suit the dog was not unusual for Frenchie owners.
"I find it very interesting and endearing how folks who get puppies from me make changes to their lives to better suit the dog. They plan vacations to places that are dog friendly, they anguish over finding toys their dog will like, they worry that their Frenchie gets mad at them. I have one puppy owner that swears their dog turns it back on them and Ignores them when she gets angry."
Mattingly said that once she realized her goal of Top Twenty was surpassed, she decided to just keep going.
"I was trying to slow down, but he just keeps winning, so it's hard."
She decided to next shoot for what she calls, "The Kentucky Derby of Dog Shows": Westminster.
"You may have noticed that I'm a little bit goal oriented."
The French bulldog falls into the Nonsporting group. In order to compete in the group, Watson will need to defeat all the other French bulldogs in the breed ring. He will compete in the breed competition on Monday, February 15. Mattingly said that from this point, it's all gravy.
"We're happy just to be included."
Then again, Watson may have other ideas.

Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show airs Monday, February 16, 2015 – CNBC Live 8-11 PM ET and Tuesday, February 17, 2015 – USA Network Live 8-11 PM ET.

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[Image of Watson via Debra Mattingly. Used with permission.]