Maddie, a 4-year-old Gordon setter, is back home in Midcoast Maine with her owner, Nikki Maounis, after winning Best in Breed at the 143rd Westminster Dog Show earlier this month.

Maounis, who is director of the Camden Public Library, has been showing dogs since the mid-1970s. She has owned and bred nine generations of Gordon setters, a sporting dog breed that was started many hundreds of years ago by the Duke of Gordon in Scotland. The breed was introduced in the United States by Daniel Webster.

While Maounis has attended the Westminster show many times, 2016 was the first time she entered a dog in it. That dog was Maddie's mother Sally, who that year won the Gordon setter Best in Breed title.

The younger Maddie has won many titles on her way to the Westminster show, and is the top show dog of her breed in the United States and Canada, Maounis said.

In 2018, Maddie won Best in Breed at the Gordon Setter National Specialty Show in Tucson, Ariz, and in August won the Gordon Setter Club of Canada 19th National Specialty Show. According to the American Kennel Club, “a class win at the national can be a high point of a dog person’s year, and a Best of Breed … win can be the crowning glory of a long history in the breed.”

Maddie's formal name, Bran Linn Amulet, is her registered AKC name with titles, and how she is identified at the Westminster show. “She's a grand champion bronze,” Maounis said, “which refers to how many Gordon setters she's defeated in her career. Bran Linn is her kennel name, and Amulet is her specific name.”

Maounis, who co-owns Maddie with Candice Bell and Jerold Bell, a veterinarian who practices in Connecticut, emphasizes that a dog show is more than a beauty show. The primary purpose of the shows is to bring together the dogs that best conform to physical and performance standards, and to judge the best of the best, to maintain the breed over the centuries.

In the show ring, dogs are judged on how they conform to the breed standard, she said. It's the way they are physically put together, and how well they can do the job they were originally bred to do, which are based on genetics, she said. Their condition, which must be “tip-top” and care are of near-equal importance.

She compared the breeding of dogs to that of race horses, where genetics are also directly linked to the ability to perform.

Maddie “is a pretty typical representative of the breed,” Maounis said. “Gordon setters are sporting dogs, so they're high-energy. They need a lot of time outside and they love to be outside,” she said. Rather than the more familiar "point" of a hunting dog, they “set,” which is “a crouch, almost”, she said, which the dogs continue to do “through literally hundreds of years and hundreds of generations.”

The long, flowing hair of the Gordon setter is encouraged for show dogs, according to Maounis. She said the great majority of Gordons have straight or nearly straight hair, which is almost like human hair to the touch. To achieve the best effect for the show ring, general care involves a weekly bath, very careful combing-out the dog's coat, keeping the hair clean and blow drying, she said.

“It's really quite lovely and contributes to that beautiful presence in the show ring. Which really shows up nicely at a show like Westminster,.” she said.

While Maounis has decades of experience showing dogs, she feels there is nothing like Westminster.

“ As a show, it's the one,” she said. “They really play that up, it's really dramatic. The brilliant lighting for the television cameras, the colors, the flowers, the green carpet. It's a beautiful place to be. It's like the Kentucky Derby of dog shows. It means that much to people who show dogs.”

On top of all the breeding and beauty, there's more to what makes Maddie the best.

“There's a little sort of something extra, something special, and that is that attitude,” Maounis said.

“Maddie in particular loves the attention. She loves to be in the show ring. She loves the clapping. Some dogs do. They hear it and you can just tell they are really into it.”­

­The relationship between Maddie and her handler, Will Alexander, is intrinsic to what happens in the show ring. To prepare for Westminster, Maddie lived with Alexander, away from her home in Maine, for a year and a half.

"It's part of the game. If you have a dog of that quality, you just accept it that they're going to be gone for a year, possibly two, while they're doing this. And then they'll be back," Maounis said.

Alexander, who was the handler for "Miss P," a beagle who won Best in Show at Westminster in 2015, "is a very well known and respected dog show handler," Maounis said. While Maddie lived with Alexander in Ontario, Canada, "he was getting her out to shows nearly every weekend."

“A really good dog and a good handler are a team, and you can see that, and the judges can see it as well,” she said. "It's not unlike a jockey who knows exactly when they can call on the horse to get a little something extra."

Maounis described how Maddie – “I'm out here and I know that you think I'm beautiful, and I'm with you” – and Alexander – “You've got it, and give it to me” work together to make it happen in the show ring.

“When they are in sync, it's really poetry in motion to watch. It's beautiful,” she said.

While perfectly poised and trained in the show ring, in front of lights and television cameras, and a stadium full of people, Maddie knows just how to be an affectionate family dog now that she's home again.

“Of course, it was as if she was never gone. She remembered everything. And it was like, oh, yeah, I'm good. And, she's a dog again," Maounis said.