Breckenridge resident to represent Summit County at Westminster dog show

Melissa Olson and her Bernese mountain dog Nora.
Courtesy Melissa Olson

BRECKENRIDGE — Area dog lovers will have a little extra incentive to tune into the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show next week, when residents will have a fellow local representing Summit County in the competition.

The show has been operating for more than 140 years in New York City since its inception in 1877 and is largely considered one of the nation’s biggest and most prestigious shows, with more than 3,000 dogs competing.

This year, county canine enthusiasts will have a dog in the fight, so to speak, thanks to Breckenridge resident Melissa Olson and her dog Nora.

“I’m really trying not to make it anything more than just another dog show,” Olson said about her and Nora’s invitation to participate. “But it is a really big show. I’m just so excited for the opportunity to get to take her. It’s a big deal, especially to get to handle her myself. It’s just such an honor to be able to go.”

Nora, a 6 1/2-year-old Bernese mountain dog, is Olson’s first show dog. She got Nora as a puppy from Christine Mann, a professional breeder from Boulder who later suggested that Olson begin showing her.

“I thought this was so weird at first,” Olson said. “It was one of those things where I never planned on doing this. I just wanted to get a well-bred dog from a responsible breeder that would live long and live well. … I ended up getting a second dog from her, and as I was picking up the puppy, she saw Nora and said, ‘Oh my gosh, we should probably be showing her.’

“I didn’t know what that meant really, but she told me that Nora closely followed their breeding standards. She’s got a wonderful temperament, she’s put together really well — things they look for in breeding. … The breeder was going to show her, but we found out quickly that Nora didn’t want anybody to show her except me.”

According to Olson, owner-handled dogs are in the minority at shows, with most owners opting for a professional to step in and assist. But Olson and Nora have proved quite the team over the past few years. Since Nora first stepped into the spotlight in 2016, she’s won multiple Bernese Mountain Dog Club of America Versatility Dog Awards and achieved her silver Grand Champion title from the American Kennel Club — a designation given to dogs that have accumulated enough points through placing at shows.

Melissa Olson, right, and her dog Nora during a competition last year.
Courtesy Melissa Olson

The Westminster show certainly represents a step up in the level of competition. Every dog competing, including all 30 Bernese mountain dogs, holds the champion title already. Olson said the dogs are first judged against their respective breeds — a process based on “breed standards” including general appearance, size, proportions, temperament and more.

“A lot of people aren’t really sure what dog shows are for,” Olson said. “It really doesn’t have a lot to do with training. They’re looking at the whole package and comparing it to breed standards. Sometimes the dog that’s not behaving will be the best dog, and a good judge will see that.”

Still, Olson continued to say that there is a lot of skill and training that goes into it, particularly in getting a dog comfortable being touched by strangers, showing their teeth, sitting still or gating at the appropriate speed.

Only one dog in each breed is selected as Best of Breed and continues in the competition, moving on to compete in group competitions. Each breed falls into one of seven groups: sporting, hound, terrier, toy, nonsporting, herding and working — like Nora. The seven winners from the group stage then get their chance to compete for Best in Show.

Melissa Olson and her Bernese mountain dog Nora are set to compete in the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show in New York next week.
Courtesy Melissa Olson

Despite the stiff competition, Olson is optimistic Nora will be able to stand out.

“I think we have as good a chance as anybody,” Olson said. “There’s some really nice dogs that are coming, and a lot of them have professional handlers. But if Nora is feeling good and not too worn out (Olson and Nora start a three-day road trip to New York on Thursday), she’s got a good chance of being recognized. … But really we’re going to have fun. It’s not often you get a dog worthy of showing in a big show like this.”

Win or lose, Olson said Nora will return a happy camper to her life in Summit County.

“Nora is my pet, and she’s a beloved family member before anything else,” Olson said. “She’s just a normal Colorado dog that loves the snow, hiking, treats and laying on the couch.”

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

As a Summit Daily News reader, you make our work possible.

Summit Daily is embarking on a multiyear project to digitize its archives going back to 1989 and make them available to the public in partnership with the Colorado Historic Newspapers Collection. The full project is expected to cost about $165,000. All donations made in 2023 will go directly toward this project.

Every contribution, no matter the size, will make a difference.