Northern Ireland judge Michael McCartney returns to Crufts to help sniff out world’s top dog

A Co Down man has said he is “delighted” to be back judging the world’s top dogs at Crufts for the first time in two years.

ichael McCartney, from Lisburn is manager of the Northern Ireland team who are currently in Birmingham competing in the prestigious canine competition. He also judges in the obedience and agility categories.

Michael (66) is joined by his wife Kate, also a judge, and their son Crawford (24) who is competing in the show with his border collie Denny.

The popular dog show was on a two-year hiatus due to the coronavirus pandemic but just yesterday the National Exhibition Centre saw tens of thousands of dogs and their handlers arrive to show off their prized pooches.

Owners and pets will see dogs from around the world compete in the agility and obedience competitions over the next three days, as well as the show dogs organised by breed, although only one can be named top dog on Sunday in the ‘Best in Show’ category.

The Northern Ireland team consists of three border collies, three golden retrievers, a black Labrador and a Sheltie cross — all hoping for a rosette.

“We have a really strong team this year, with some really great handlers,” he said.

“What makes a winner at the end of the day, is pairing the right dog with the right person — if the partnership isn’t right you won’t be on to a winner.

“Normally the weak link is the human when there is a mismatch like that,” he added.

“The dog is always the strongest and always wants to do its best but being paired with the wrong handler is usually what lets them down.”

As a show of support for the local team, the Irish Football Association (IFA) have sponsored all the leads and collars for the competition, as well as providing the pampered pooches with their very own Northern Ireland jerseys through the Urban Pup brand.

Both Michael and his wife Kate are obedience and agility judges, with Kate being named one of only two accredited obedience stewards for the show this year.

He said it is a “huge honour for someone this side of the water”.

“Northern Ireland only has one vote in the competition, compared to Wales and Scotland that have two, and the Midlands alone have four votes, so you need to be in the know to get a say and to know what you’re doing, so it’s a benefit to have me and Kate there,” he said.

Due to their unique combined skills, the husband and wife duo are normally flown to dog shows all across the world to judge.

“Not many can do both and so we’d normally be sent to shows in the likes of the Netherlands, all across Europe, Singapore and even Abu Dhabi,” he said.

Michael pointed out that judging is “a passion” of theirs.

“We do this for the love of it and have been doing this for about 37 years now, but we have been involved with dog training for a lot longer,” he said.

The McCartney family have been running Glen Craig Canine Training for the past 35 years from their home in Lisburn, but Michael said his love of dog training started from a young age when he joined the original Belfast Dog Training Club in 1969 at the age of 13.

“The club was where the peace line is now, between the Shankill and the Falls Roads in west Belfast. But when the Troubles broke out, they had to close it,” he said.

“I remember seeing the poster on the wall advertising one of their meetings and I brought my first dog — a collie Labrador cross called Cap — and that was me hooked on dog training, from I was a wee lad.”

Michael’s son, Crawford, has followed in his father’s footsteps.

He first got involved in the young Kennel Club at the age of seven and has been competing in events ever since.

Crawford has represented Ireland at both the European and World Agility Championships in previous years and also for the upcoming 2022 competition.

Michael said that it’s important to start training a dog as a pup.

“From eight to 25 weeks they are like a sponge and will just soak up all that information,” he said. “Dogs just want to please you at the end of the day, and that is what we need to remember in this competition, as long as they get the rewards and positive reinforcement that they are doing a good job, they will do you proud, and we hope that is the case this year.”

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