Showing a dog can be a lot of fun for both, you and your dog. The decision to show your dog comes with a commitment that includes both work and expense.
There are going to a few wins, a lot of losses, questions left unanswered and judges you will feel are biased against you. Because this happens to anybody, you must put all your focus on things you can control. Showing dogs should remain a pleasure, not a source of anxiety.
Here are some tips to help you get your dog to the winner's circle.
1. Assess Your Dog Objectively
Take some time to objectively size up your dog. What are your dog's weaknesses? Dogs are judged on specific criteria–very specific criteria. Standards of your breed are set out and can be found easily on the AKC website; print the breed standard and check each one against your dog. This information can help you in your preparation. Obviously, some flaws can't be changed, and may even be disqualifying. Hopefully, this is something you already knew when you purchased your dog.
Minor flaws, on the other hand, can be alleviated or at least concealed by grooming or handling. This information can help you when picking out your handler or groomer for the show. It can, also, give you a realistic idea of your chances. Don't be discouraged if your dog has a few imperfections. Remember, your dog just has to have fewer than the competition.
2. Invest In a High-Quality Diet
Nutrition is an often overlooked item in the preparation for a show, but it matters. Of course, a dog owner will always want the best health for a dog. However, much of how dog performances and shows depend on the adequate diet. Does your dog have a few pounds to lose? Or a bit on the slim side? These issues should be part of the ongoing preparation that you do one year to six months prior to the show date. The label should obviously say certified complete and balanced.
Supplements for dogs have limited value. In general, supplements should be avoided because the industry is not well regulated. Plenty of consumer studies have shown that the buyer's dog doesn't even get what is contained in the bottle half the time. However, a supplement of essential fatty acids, (i.e. fish oil) has some value in getting your dog a healthy looking coat. Look for a supplement that has a lot number and a verification by a third-party agency that the bottle contains what it says to contain.
3. Get Your Vet To Check Your Dog
Make sure your dog is up to date on all visits and shots. Before going to a show where your dog will likely be in contact with many dogs from many different countries, a trip to the vet will make sure after you return you will continue to have a sound dog. Core shots like DHPP (distemper shot) and rabies are a given, but bordetella and influenza sometimes can be overlooked. The latter two shots are especially important anytime your dog is in contact with a group of dogs.
Most dog shows do require proof of vaccinations before allowing a dog to show. Try to make this visit for 6 months or so before the show date. As well as getting shots updated, this is a good time to take care of problems like anal sac inflammations, and ear infections. Your vet can, also, give you a good idea on food and supplements.
At the highest level of conformation shows, particular care and focus should be had over the dog's skin and coat.
4. Socialize Your Dog a Lot
Your dog needs to be okay with being around other people and dogs. Socialization of your dog should have been started as a puppy, but if your dog hasn't had much opportunity to be around crowds or other dogs now is the time to start taking your dog out and about. Your aim here is to socialize so that your dog doesn't become overstimulated and lose its focus.
Walk your dog in places where there are lots of other people walking dogs. Your dog should be able to easily walk on the lead without being overstimulated by the sight and smell of other dogs. Classes with your dog can be especially helpful. Anything that simulates the conditions of the show ring will make it easier for the dog on D-day.
5. Pick The Right Handler
The decision of who will handle the dog in the ring must be made early on. The cost of a handler may be one that you don't want to incur or maybe you want the experience of showing your dog yourself as many owners do. An exceptional dog–a winning dog–too often comes home with nothing because of a human's poor handling. An inexperienced handler should get training with the dog. Group training sessions should be started as early as possible. These sessions can even be started when a dog is still a puppy.
If employing a handler, the best way to find one is by checking with your local club or breeder. Who is looking for clients? Take time to go see your prospective handler in action. It is always a good idea to attend as many dog shows as possible so nothing seems too new.
Look at the handlers of dogs in your breed. What do you see in the winning ones? Take the names of a few handlers and interview the best one or two. Does the chemistry between you and handler work? How does the handler look with your dog?
Once you decide on the handler get all the terms of the contract in writing. The last thing you want is misunderstandings over money ruining the event for everyone. If you hire a handler, let the handler do the job. It is hard to entrust your dog into someone else's hands, but that is what you hired this person to do.
6. Start Training Seriously
Training your dog starts the moment you bring a dog home as a puppy. This kind of obedience training which includes basic commands for showing in a ring is a special kind of training that not every dog owner necessarily does.
The two things your dog needs to learn to do are:
- how to stand, and
- how to walk for the ring.
Stacking your dog either on the ground or on a table is going to take patience. It is key to presenting your dog in the most favorable light for the judge. Know how your breed is supposed to stand, and position your dog accordingly. Control your dog's head and practice showing the bite. Your dog should let you position it and show the bite without fuss or movement.
Practice walking your dog, too. The gait should be a slow walk, and then a trot. Use a six-foot lead and a training collar. Walk with a loose lead, and practice first just going down and back.
It is best if you and your dog attend classes as part of the training. This kind of group training will get your dog used to the show environment of other dogs and other people and will make sure a lot of time isn't wasted trying to reinvent the wheel. A call to a local club can put you on to some classes in your area. If you have to drive a bit to get to a group class, it will be worth your while. There are numerous books and videos on training a dog for show, but nothing beats the real thing for learning.
7. Do Paperwork and Homework
The paperwork required for the show you are entering will be online. It is important to comply with all the paperwork for entry in the show on time. You will need to have AKC registration information, the shot record, and an entry fee. Make sure you fill out these forms completely and correctly.
Read over the rules of the show. Know your time and location. Do you know who will be judging? What can you find out about the judge(s)? Some judges have reputations known by all in the breed community for being sticklers on certain things. These items should be put on your preparation list.
8. Hire a Top Groomer
If you don't have a handler, you are going to need to hire a groomer especially if you have a dog with anything but the shortest coat. Some dogs have very complicated grooming needs. Get a groomer that has experience with your breed. Will the groomer be available on the show date? Will you need the groomer to attend? The groomer should not only clean and cut the coat, but also should trim the nails and clean the teeth.
The groomer should be hired and start working on your dog at least 3 months prior to the show. Your dog needs to be used to the groomer, and you get to see improvements in the look of your dog right away. The groomer may have ideas for enhancing the look and feel of your dog's coat. Flaws on a dog will be noticed by an astute judge, but a smallish head can be a bit concealed by a good grooming job. Again, let the groomer do everything under the rules of the show to make your dog the most perfect specimen it can be.
9. Know The Venue
Scout out the venue of the show if possible; and take your dog to the venue if possible. You need to know the ins and outs to avoid any last-minute surprises:
- What special problems will the place present for you and your dog?
- Is it outdoors or indoors? Does it slope?
- What surface will you be on?
- Will parking be an issue?
Take note of the terrain especially if outdoors. All these factors can make a slight bit of difference and could throw you and thus, your dog, off the game. If the show is outdoors and the terrain sloping or rough in spots, plan to wear appropriate shoes.
If the venue is inside, how spacious is it? Will this be a comfortable venue or is it squeeze city? The more you know in advance of the date the more confident you will be on the actual date.
10. Polish The Training Further
Training should be an ongoing thing for you and your dog up to the day of the show. Polish your training by having a knowledgeable third party watch as you gait and stack your dog. This is the time to find those small imperfections that may be the difference between a first and second place.
Have someone take a video of you and your dog while practicing. Now (as tough as it is) look at yourself and your dog. At this point in the process, you and your dog should be functioning as a team. The mechanics should be nearly automatic, and now the spirit of competition should sparkle. Take an honest look at the video. Do you see a team that sparkles? If not, why not? Plan on making those corrections that bring out the best in you and your dog working together as a team.
11. Pack All Supplies You May Need
Mundane as it is, packing for the big day must be done. If you are wondering what to bring at a dog show, important items to remember are:
- the bait you will use for your dog in the ring,
- your paperwork,
- all the grooming supplies,
- a first aid kit,
- your lead,
- a water bowl and extra water,
- a comfortable dog bed,
- a soothing blanket,
- high-quality dog food (not the time to experiment!),
- a gazillion of poop bags, and
- some cash.
It is a nice idea if someone can be enlisted with the job of keeping all the stuff together. If that kind of help is available, take it. It is perfectly okay to have a spouse or friend assist in some of the running or toting or packing.
12. Accumulate Confidence
Your healthy, trained and prepared team of dog, handler, groomer, owner and maybe fans are packed and off. Try to limit the number of people. It is an exciting time, and it will be fun, but your dog should not have too much extra stimulation. Everyone on the team must be confident. Jitters may be natural, but these kinds of feelings can be easily picked up by the star.
When you reach the venue, settle your dog in his cage or stall. Know your time and wait. Yes, you will want to touch up the coat here and there, but now is not the time for too much. Don't feed your dog just yet, and gauge how much time you have. Waiting can be tough for both you and your dog. Don't let it contribute to nerves.
Relax and enjoy! After months and months of hard work and preparation, the time has come. Get in that ring, and show it all off. –A winner!