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Published September 11, 2010, 11:08 AM

Rise of a Champion

In the beginning he was just Harley, a cute and curious German Shepherd puppy.

By: Dana Kazel, Living North

In the beginning he was just Harley, a cute and curious German Shepherd puppy. He was a clever and industrious little fellow, the only one of eight puppies who figured out how to climb over his fenced pen and up the stairs. And when it came time for his owners to sell the pure-bred puppies, he was the only one who didn’t go.

Nobody wanted Harley.

Fast-forward six years. Champion von Dinehart Midnight Harley is now a muchhonored dog show winner. As the name suggests, he’s achieved Champion status in the United States. He’s also well on his way to similar honors in Canada.

Harley’s rise to success seems to be a mixture of beginner’s luck and meeting the right people at the right time. It started before he was

born. Owner Sandy Dinehart of Hermantown was looking for a hobby. About

the same time, her husband Nick was designing and building kennels for Steve and Kay Bloom, who bred and showed German Shepherds. The Dineharts fell in love with and adopted a puppy named Katie. They bred Katie

just once, producing eight puppies, one of which was Harley.

“We didn’t really plan on keeping any of the puppies,” recalled Sandy. “We showed the litter to all the experts and none of them saw anything special in any of the puppies.”

Ultimately, the Dineharts decided to keep Harley as a pet. It wasn’t until a little after his first birthday when – at the urging of the same couple who’d bred Katie – the Dineharts entered Harley in his first show. In a contest in which dogs are judged for potential, Harley placed second.

Thus began Harley’s – and the Dineharts’ – adventures in the world of dog shows. To be sure, it wasn’t always easy. “We didn’t know what we were doing, didn’t know all the things to do to make him behave in the ring,” said Sandy. But with the guidance of the Blooms, with whom they’d become close friends, the Dineharts learned what was expected of them and Harley, both in and out of the ring.

Meanwhile, one of the top handlers in the country, Kelly Salava, took notice of the black Shepherd with brown markings and offered to help. Over the next year, Harley participated in – and won – three major competitions, earning enough points to achieve Champion status.

For practice, the Dineharts and Harley follow a nightly ritual of training and grooming. Other than that, however, Harley lives the life of a pretty typical dog.

“He is a sweetheart,” said Sandy. “He is very gentle. He loves to go out and play frisbee and go for walks.”

One of four German Shepherds owned by the Dineharts, Harley is the only one they show.

“We’re just a normal family,” said Sandy. ”Our dogs are all pets. They all live in the house with us. They sleep in the bedrooms. Harley may think he’s a show dog, but he’s treated just the same as everybody else.”

As a show draws near, however, Harley does get some special treatment.

“When we take him to Pooch Paradise to visit his buddy Heather, he knows it’s show time,” laughed Sandy. “If the suitcase comes out, he figures it’s show time, so we try not to schedule it too far out because then he’s at the door constantly wanting to go. He loves to travel. He loves to go to hotels. He loves to be groomed. He just walks in and hops in the tub.”

So what’s next? Sandy figures Harley’s in his final year of showing, and he’s poised to finish on a high note.

“He’s doing really well this year. He’s been in eight shows and won seven times.” said Sandy. “He’s probably in the best shape he’s ever been in. Everyone knows who Harley is. He kind of just floats around the ring.”

In October, they’ll bring him to the National Show in Utah where the best German Shepherds compete against each other. “He’s been at Nationals before but hasn’t won anything,” said Sandy. “We’re keeping our fingers crossed because this could possibly be his year.”

After that, Sandy plans to breed Harley in hopes of producing another Champion.

“You never know when you pick out an 8-week-old puppy what you’re going to get,” said Sandy. “This could be a once in a life time thing. We wouldn’t have been into it if the Blooms hadn’t told us what a gorgeous dog we had.”