Elena and Mac win first place in national dog show

Mercer Island High School student attends Scottish Deerhound competition in West Virginia.

Mercer Island is home to a dog show champion.

Elena Lill and her dog, Mac, trekked to Wheeling, West Virginia, to bring home a win, taking first place in the Scottish Deerhound National Specialty dog show. The event took place from May 8-13.

There were many competitions throughout the event, but Lill said the final days were the most important. Mac won third place for conformation and first in the junior handling competition.

Mac is a Scottish Deerhound who is almost three years old. Lill, 16, is an incoming senior at Mercer Island High School who said she’s had Mac for almost three years, and ever since they’ve had him, he’s been a good boy.

“I love being with Mac. He’s a really sweet dog. He’ll come up to you and put his head in your arms,” Lill said. “He doesn’t bark a lot, he has a really nice temperament. When you come home, he’ll welcome you.”

When Lill and her mother first got Mac, she said they knew nothing about dog shows. A few of his siblings were bought to compete in dog shows, but when they bought Mac, she said they just wanted a pet. She said they chose a Scottish Deerhound because they have good temperaments, but eventually, they said, “Why not,” and competed in a dog show.

Lill said at first, dog shows stressed Mac, but now he’s warmed up to them, and when it’s show time, he follows Lill’s lead.

“He has two different moods,” Lill said. “He has the play mode when he licks us, but when he gets into the ring, he can sense when I snap into ‘we need to get this done,’ and he snaps into that [mode] too.”

Lill said Mac’s favorite person is her mom. So although dog shows aren’t his favorite thing, Mac knows when it’s time to get the job done, and he’s motivated by the praise he expects from his favorite person afterward. Mac isn’t motivated by food like most dogs, Lill said. Instead, he’s motivated by people’s energy.

Before the junior handlers competition, Lill said she was very nervous. When she gets into the ring, she’s never sure how Mac feels about the competition, so she was trying to give off positive vibes toward Mac. She said she would tell him things like, “We can do this. Let’s go, Mac.” She said she usually tries to listen to loud music in her earbuds to distract herself from the nerves, but this time it wasn’t possible, so she and Mac walked around to get out their energy.

The competition is not based on the dog. Lill said it’s more about how well the handler can control and present their dog.

The junior handlers competition starts off with the judges lining the dogs up by their size, biggest to smallest, which Lill said Mac is usually the first in line because he is the largest. Then the judge has the handler, and the dog runs around the ring. Lill said the handler has to match their dog’s pace, stop them, and then show off their posture.

“The judge calls you up individually, first to look at the dog’s posture,” Lill said. “So you have to set them up in a precise manner by putting their front legs and hind legs parallel with each other so that the dog is set out and you can see the full length of it. It looks really beautiful, actually.”

From there, Lill said the judge checks the dog’s teeth, they walk up and down again, and then they stack the dog’s legs, which is where you make the dog’s legs parallel to each other without touching their legs. Each handler does this routine, and then the judge picks a winner.

“The judge points at whoever wins. He points one, two, and three, and he pointed at me first,” Lill said. “It was a pretty awesome feeling. I definitely wasn’t expecting it. My spirits were lifted.”

The win felt rewarding, like there was a payoff for the work she had been doing over the last three years, Lill said.

After this win, Lill said she wants to continue doing more competitions with Mac and learn how to show him better.

“It was something that I took on to try something new, take on a challenge,” Lill said. “And it became something we love doing.”