THE owners of this year’s Crufts champion say her secret is…. happiness.
Jilly, a three-year-old petit basset griffon vendeen belonging to Gavin and Sara Robertson, won best in show as well as best in breed and best hound at the show in Birmingham.
The Benson couple were thrilled after spending weeks preparing the dog that is a family pet for their children, Erin, three, and Oliver, six.
Mr Robertson, 39, said: “It was very emotional and it hasn’t totally sunk in yet that she has won the best dog show in the world.
“We have both been doing this since we were children so to reach the top is a dream and it means more to us because we bred her ourselves.
“We go to Crufts every year and winning is something you aspire to but it’s not something you expect to happen.”
Two years ago, Jilly won reserve best in show as well as best in breed and best hound at Crufts and last year she won seven other best in show titles.
Mr Robertson said: “It’s very unusual to do so well and a lot of people had tipped her so that added to the pressure and the buzz.The ring was absolutely packed because people wanted to come and watch her.
“To get her to stay still is a bit of a nightmare but she was so well-behaved considering there was a lot going on in.
“She is very correct for the breed and very close to the breed standard but I think what gives her the X factor is her show-off attitude. She really stands out because she is such a happy dog.
“She’s always on the go. She goes on walks, runs around and picks up things she shouldn’t and plays with the kids’ toys. Most of the time her coat is all messed up.”
The Robertsons, who run Avalon kennels and cattery in Old Icknield Way, Benson, took Jilly on daily four-and-a-half mile walks to get her into top condition for the show.
Dogs are judged on overall health and condition, coat, character, temperament, movement and how closely they match the Kennel Club breed standard.
Mr Robertson said: “We just wanted to give it our very best shot so we left no stone unturned — we did everything we possibly could.I got a bit paranoid about walking her so I power-walked her around Henley or Wallingford if the weather was bad.
“We don’t do any training at home, we let her be a dog because if you overdo it she won’t perform at the show but I think the exercise really made the difference. Two of the three judges made a comment about how hard her muscles were and it’s that which makes the difference.”
The couple, who met at a dog show in Blackpool, say Jilly has enjoyed her new-found fame, which included an appearance on the Alan Titchmarsh Show on Tuesday.
Mr Robertson said: “She loves the attention, she always has done, and seems to be taking it all in her stride.”
Jilly, who beat 20,000 dogs to claim the title, will now be retired to breed but the Robertsons believe they have another possible champion in her seven-month-old half-sister Mini.
Mr Robertson said: “Winning again next year is not going to happen but as a breeder you are always trying to produce another good dog.
“Since the war, only three people have won it twice but we will go to Crufts anyway because it’s our hobby.”
Mrs Robertson, 39, added: “We have made some great friends and it’s extremely sociable for us. After Jilly won there were grown men in tears.”