Janet Rahn knew she had a championship-caliber dog the moment she watched him jump from Faith Ott’s car nearly three years ago.
Jango has certainly lived up to the hype.
The 2 1/2-year-old Spanish water dog picked up top honors for his breed in October at the American Kennel Club show in Somerset, N.J., and in December at the AKC/Eukanuba National Championship in Orlando, Fla. Next week, Jango and his owners will look to complete the triple crown by picking up best of breed honors at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show in New York.
“I said to Faith, ‘That’s our champion,’” Rahn said. “There’s only been two dogs that have come along and take my breath away, and he did when he stepped out of that car.”
Jango is one of three Spanish water dogs the business partners and close friends have competing at Westminster in New York next week, along with 3-year-old Sancho and 1-year-old Maya.
The three are all Top 10-ranked Spanish water dogs in the U.S. — Jango being the top ranked — and three of just 10 Spanish water dogs admitted to Westminster in 2016, the first time the breed has been invited to the prestigious dog show. Jango is a celebrity in his own right, with more than 22,000 fans on his official Facebook page.
Their dogs will also compete in the herding dog group in New York next week, one of the toughest groups in the dog show and one that includes the top-ranked dog in the country, a German shepherd named Rumor, Rahn said. Their goal is to have Jango be one of the top 10 herding dogs in the country by year’s end.
Ott and Rahn’s Dog Gone Sensational, a kennel, day care and dog-grooming facility tucked into a nondescript strip mall on S.C. 170 in Ridgeland, serves as the three dogs’ training ground.
Ott, of Fripp Island, discovered Spanish water dogs while searching for a new dog to join her family after the death of one of her Bouvier des flandres dogs several years ago. She had two parameters — the dogs needed to like water and not shed much.
Once she found Spanish water dogs, she waited nearly two years on a waitlist for the rare breed before bringing home Sancho from Boston in October 2012. She met Rahn soon after, looking for help correcting some behavioral problems.
“Because I spoiled him too much,” Ott joked.
Rahn, of Ridgeland, has operated kennels and day cares locally for nearly 30 years, including Pet Paradise on Hilton Head Island. An expert behaviorist and handler, Rahn has appeared on the “The Late Show with David Letterman” and toured nationally with the Purina Performance Team.
Ott already was thinking of showing Sancho when she met Rahn, and the two quickly developed a plan to ready him for the dog show circuit.
About a year later, Ott received a message from the national breed group that changed everything. A family in Chicago could no longer take care of Jango, its Spanish water dog. They needed someone to take him in and pay the amount the family paid a Michigan breeder for Jango.
Ott and a few other owners interviewed with the group’s president to take in Jango, but Ott was the one picked. The dog’s jump out of the family’s car after he was brought home from Chicago was the tell-tale sign Jango had the physical attributes and attitude to be a winner, Rahn said.
Rahn, who served as Jango’s handler during his early competitions, said he also has a love for competing that some of their own dogs don’t have.
“Jango loves the ring, loves to perform,” Rahn said. “Sancho tolerates it. Jango loves the clapping.”
Normally, Sancho lives with Ott, while Maya and Jango stay with Rahn on her farm in Ridgeland, along with several other dogs the two own.
“The kids mostly stay with me,” Rahn cracked.
But as Jango began racking up awards, he was sent to Ohio to live with his handler, Nina Fetter, so they could prepare for last year’s competitions and Westminster — leaving a temporary Jango-sized hole in their hearts.
Although Rahn and Ott are serious about competing, it doesn’t stop them from showering the dogs with love as much as they can.
“They should absolutely be your pet first,” Rahn said.
After ceding duties with Jango to Fetter, Rahn has stepped in to be Maya’s handler. One-year-old Maya was born at a kennel in Slovakia, one of a few dogs Ott and Rahn have reached into Europe to find.
Maya is the lone dog in her category, so she’ll move on to the next round — where she could end up facing Sancho in Westminster’s open competition, Ott said. Rahn, ever the competitor, said she’s in it to win it with Maya if her dogs face off.
“Dogs are what you emulate to them,” she said. “If you’re fearful, they’re going to be fearful. If you’re strong and confident, they’re going to be strong and confident.”
Another close friend serves as Sancho’s handler. Ott spectates nervously from afar — in Orlando, she stood about 20 feet from the show floor.
“Nervous doesn’t come close to what she is,” Rahn said.
The two opened Dog Gone Sensational about a year ago, after struggling to find a trusted dog groomer. The indoor space also gives them room to train the dogs as well as a full range of dog services. Typically, they’re joined by about a dozen other dogs each day, mostly from clients in Sun City Hilton Head and Callawassie Island.
“We needed a place for our dogs, so we just said we’d do it ourselves,” Ott said.
Jango will finally return to the Lowcountry after Westminster, but his return will be short. After a trip to Tallahassee, Fla., for a competition, Rahn and Ott are taking him to London, where Jango will be the first American-bred and shown dog at Crufts, one of the largest competitions in the world.
“We’re blessed to have these dogs,” Ott said. “They’re great.”
To see Jango in action, tune in to the Westminster Dog Show from 8 to 11 p.m. Monday on CNBC.