Sydney Hickman and her Great Dane, Bugs.

Sydney Hickman and her Great Dane, Bugs.

Northwest High School sophomore Sydney Hickman has seen the lights of New York City, and she hopes to be back soon, along with Bugs, her purebred Great Dane.

Hickman, 15, the daughter of Adam and Ashley Mendes Hickman, participated in the Westminster Kennel Club Junior Showmanship competition, held early this month at Madison Square Garden. Her dog, Bugs, was one of more than 3,000 dogs who competed during Westminster Week.

Although Bugs made the first cut for Great Danes and received a participation ribbon in the Junior Championship show, he received “no love from the judges,” Hickman said.

Hickman, who has been showing dogs since she was 10 or 11, learned the art of training dogs from her father, who competed in area competitions when she was younger. She also has taken dog handling classes from a trainer in Kentucky.

She said the key to being successful at dog shows is the relationship between the dog and its handler.

“If he (Bugs) didn’t trust me, he would not do half of the things that I ask him to. Most dogs will not let judges examine their teeth unless they really trust their handler,” Hickman said.

In order to compete at Westminster, Hickman and Bugs had to place in seven smaller shows.

“I usually go to Purina Farms (in Gray Summit), which has a lot of shows,” she said. “I pretty much live there during the summer.”

The two also competed at shows in Illinois, Kentucky and Indiana, doing well enough to quality for Westminster, Hickman said.

She said her family drove 12 hours with Bugs to New York for the show, and then she flew home so she wouldn’t miss more than three days from school. Meanwhile, Bugs traveled back by car with a friend.

Hickman said she enjoyed her stay in the New York, but it wasn’t easy.

“It was a lot of work trying to take my dog places in New York City,” she said. “It was difficult with such a big dog.”

Bugs, who is 2 years old, stands 36 inches tall and weighs 175 pounds, so he drew a lot of attention, Hickman said.

“Going through the (hotel) lobby took like an hour and a half because we had mobs of people trying to get pictures with him and pet him, because he’s such a big dog and you don’t often see that in New York.”

She said Bugs didn’t mind though.

“He’s a ham. He loves the attention.”

Bugs official name is GCH CH Triplecrest Easter Parade. “The letters in front are the titles he has, and the rest is his show name,” Hickman said. “You register with a show name, and then they also have a call name.”

Hickman said she trains with Bugs for 30 minutes at least three times a week.

“I usually don’t have time (for other activities) with the training and with taking care of the dogs,” she said.

Bugs is not Hickman’s only pet. Her family has a total of 10 dogs; seven are Great Danes, and three are beagles.

“My parents are divorced, so I have five at my dad’s house and five at my mom’s, so they all have their own space. And they all sleep on the bed.”

Hickman said she hopes to take Bugs back to Westminster next year, but she has a lot of work to do before then.

“Hopefully by next year, he’ll look a lot better,” she said.

Hickman said she is drawn to dog training “because it’s not something you see many people at school doing. It’s just kind of fun to have my own thing, and I’ve just always loved it. It’s just kind of part of me at this point.”

Surprisingly, Hickman’s long-term career plans aren’t related to animals, but that doesn’t mean she plans to leave her passion behind.

“I plan to go to medical school to be a surgeon, but I will always show dogs,” she said.