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Total Dog – UKC Philosophy, Training, Nutrition & Competition

Written by Jay
BsC (Hons) Animal Behaviour & Welfare graduate with a passion for advocating for misunderstood animals.
Published on
Monday 13 July 2020
Last updated on
Tuesday 9 May 2023
total dog
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Total Dog is not just a competition, but a whole philosophy coined by the United Kennel Club. To be crowned as the winner of a Total Dog show, your dog must not only look the part but perform just as well.

Agility, weight pulling, and obedience rallies are just a few of the avenues in which your dog can truly shine. While this philosophy may sound intense, the UKC actually prides itself on hosting family-oriented and more laid-back events.

total dog competition
Total Dog is not just a competition!

Total Dog Philosophy

UKC dogs aren’t just pretty – they also excel in physical and mental performance. The UKC, a kennel club, promotes the philosophy that dogs should achieve success in multiple venues, not just one. This philosophy translates into an award known as the “Total Dog.” In order for a dog to win a Total Dog award, they must win a conformation and performance competition at the same event.

UKC performance competitions include agility, weight pulling, and obedience. For example, a dog should display the appropriate gait for its breed whilst in the show ring, and then use their excellent conformation to excel in a lure coursing race. A sound and well-bred dog should easily be able to transition from the show ring to a physical performance event. Overall, this dog should have the looks and structure to represent a well-bred specimen, while also having the ability and intelligence to perform athletically. This is the Total Dog philosophy.

The two largest, annual Total Dog competitions are held at Premier and Gateway Nationals. To become a Total Dog Qualifier at these shows, a dog must place in a conformation event one day, and then place in a performance event the following day. Those qualifiers are then invited into the Total Dog ring to compete for Total Dog Best In Show. Premier and Gateway also offer Altered Total Dog Best in Show.

Total Dog Competition

The two largest Total Dog competitions are held at the Gateway Nationals and Premier. To qualify as a Total Dog, your dog must place in a conformation event and a performance event. The qualifiers are then invited to compete for the title of Total Dog Best In Show.

How to Enter

In order to enter a UKC show, you must be registered with the UKC in some way. You may be permanently registered with the UKC, have a Temporary Listing (TL) Number, or a Limited Privilege (LP) Listing Number. If your dog is already AKC registered, you can complete a form and pay a fee for them to be UKC registered as well.

A Temporary Listing number is issued to owners who do not have time to register their pets before a show. This allows you to show your dog in UKC shows until they are officially registered. You may apply for a Temporary Listing number online. Registering online incurs a fee of $20 and assigns you with the number automatically via e-mail.

Not all dogs qualify for Total Dog competitions. The Performance Listing (PL) Program allows mixed breed dogs, dogs of an unknown pedigree, breeds not recognized by the UKC, and purebred dogs with UKC breed standard disqualifications, to contend in some events. PL dogs may enter UKC events and be used for Junior Showmanship classes, but do not qualify for confirmation events. This makes them exempt from a Total Dog qualification.


UKC Total Dog events are divided into two: conformation, and performance. You must enter one of each to qualify.

The conformation events are different from those of other registries. Because the UKC focuses primarily on family-oriented events, you may not employ a professional handler to show your dog in the ring. This makes the UKC conformation ring more beginner-friendly, and more attention is placed on the dog themselves rather than the handler and display. Confirmation is an event open to purebred dogs. It evaluates the dog’s appearance and structure as it holds up to the breed standard. The UKC also offers classes that are open to “altered” purebred dogs.

There are several performance classes that would allow a dog to qualify as a Total Dog. These include the weight pull, drag racing, dock jumping, lure coursing, nose work, rally obedience, and agility classes. Placing in any one of these classes means that your dog qualifies for the Total Dog award.

Award Requirements

To qualify as a Total Dog, your dog must fulfill two requirements. First, your dog needs to place in a conformation event. Next, your dog must place in a performance event the following day. If your dog places in both competitions, they will be invited to compete for the title of Total Dog Best In Show.

Total Dog Training

In order to be successful in a dog show, your dog not only needs to be a correct representation of their breed, but they also need to enjoy their work. Part of what makes a superb show dog is your showmanship. The best way to enhance your bond and showmanship is through positive reinforcement techniques. This applies to all areas of training, from conformation to obedience.

Training Your Dog for Conformation

There are three crucial behaviors that your show dog needs to learn before competing in a conformation show. They must be able to exhibit a good gait, stack well, and be examined without incident.

What is Gaiting?

Gaiting is essentially how your dog moves. Your dog should move at a good speed and in a proper position without pulling on the lead. All show dogs are judged at a trotting gait. A trot is a rhythmic two-beat gait in which the feet at diagonally opposite ends of the body strike the ground together.

How do I Improve my Dog’s Gait?

Properly gaiting a show dog is not always an easy task. You are not just walking your dog, rather, you are asking them to move at a certain speed, in a specific place, and to carry themselves in the correct position. You also don’t want your dog to be distracted easily by smells or other people.

Begin with treats in one hand and a clicker in the other, with your dog off-leash. Show your dog that you have treats, and then begin to walk away. If your dog follows, give them a click and a treat, always with their head facing forward. Unlike heeling, you don’t want your dog to be constantly looking up to you – the judge will be looking for your dog’s head profile. Once they understand what the reward is for, you may add the lead and continue. If your dog pulls ahead of you, correct them with a verbal command and go back to where you began.

Once your dog learns to move with you without pulling, you can begin to add more requirements. Only ask for small pieces of new behavior at a time. This is important because asking for too much will cause confusion and frustration. You should always strive to use positive techniques, and never aversive punishments.

What is Stacking?

Stacking is how your dog stands in position in comparison to the written breed standard. There are two types of stacking: hand stacking and free stacking. A free stacking dog will find the correct position on their own. The owner typically only touches their dog to reposition a foot or two. Hand stacking, on the other hand, involves you physically moving the dog into the desired position. During a show, your dog will need to be stacked a few times. Once upon entering the ring, once for examination by the judge, and once for the final line-up with the other competitors.

stacking in total dog
There are two types of stacking: hand stacking and free stacking.

How do I Hand Stack my Dog?

With hand stacking, you should use a treat that your dog can nibble on. Position your dog so that they are standing sideways and in front of you. With the treat held in your hand, allow your dog to take small pieces as you physically position their body with your other hand. Always begin with the front feet in the correct position; this way, you only have to reposition the rear feet. To position the rear feet, move them by the hocks, never by the feet.

The next step is asking your dog to hold this position. Stack them, and then give the stay command, pulling the treat away for a moment. If your dog holds the position, reward them with praise and more food. As you repeat this training, increase the amount of time that you ask your dog to stay still for. Once your dog is comfortable holding the position, continue the training without a treat at their mouth, and reward them after the stay command instead.

Why do Judges Examine Show Dogs?

The judge will physically examine a dog in order to compare them to the breed standard. A judge will use their hands to inspect your dog’s body. They will look for the overall proportions, eye color, ear shape and position, head shape, bite position, tail position, leg stance, coat texture, and coat color during the exam. This allows the judge to make a more well-informed conclusion about your dog’s conformation.

How do I Prepare my Dog for Examination?

Most social dogs don’t mind handling from a judge. However, it’s still important to make sure that your pet is comfortable with the process. Getting your dog used to this will not only help them to feel more comfortable with the show ring, but also helps to ensure the safety of the judge too – a nervous, unhandled dog could bite others and cause injury.

Get them used to examinations early on. This includes examining their teeth, being picked up, and having any body part touched. First, you should familiarise yourself with your pet’s body language. You need to know what indicators your dog will give you if they feel uncomfortable. As you progress through this training, never go beyond your dog’s threshold. If they show you clear signs of stress or anxiety (e.g. yawning, lip licking, whale eye), back up to the previous step.

It’s also important that you always pair touching with a high-value treat, especially if the area you’re aiming for is going to be uncomfortable for your dog. Always go at your pet’s pace. Violating this pace will only cause your dog to distrust handling in the future, and may progress to more extreme measures to get you to stop in the future.

Obedience Training

All show classes require some level of obedience training. At a minimum, your dog needs to know how to stay, come and walk correctly on a lead in the ring.

Clicker training is key for obedience lessons. To do this, you need an area that is free from distractions, a high-value reward, and a clear idea of the commands you wish to teach to your dog. Most importantly, you need to have realistic expectations for your dog. Don’t demand too much work from them, or expect them to understand what you are asking of them right away. Try to limit your training sessions to 15 minutes at a time.

Stay Command

Stay is a difficult command to teach. This is because many dogs hate staying still! However, with short, engaging training sessions, this exercise can be learned and is very useful for the show ring. You will need your dog to stay during the judge’s examination. Other events will require good staying skills from your dog, like the obedience class or agility class.

The command is best taught whilst your dog is in a sitting or laying down position. After giving the first command, put your palm out in front of you and give the “stay” command. Wait a few seconds, and then press the clicker and give a reward. Repeat this, but next time, take a step back before clicking and rewarding. Gradually increase the duration and distance of the stay command over your training sessions. If our dog gets confused and breaks the stay, do not punish them or shout at them. Simply not clicking and giving the reward is enough.

Come Command

Learning to come when called is one of the most vital skills your dog should learn. Teaching recall is challenging, however, as dogs can be easily distracted. Each time we ask our dogs to come to us, we ask them to ignore everything else around them. Having reliable recall is important for Total Dog competitions. If your dog escapes, whether it be out of fear or them being distracted, you must be able to call your dog back to you. Not only is this paramount for your own dog’s safety, but it helps to protect other dogs at the event too. Aggressive dogs should never be taken to a Total Dog show, but on the occasion that one is attending, you do not want your dog to approach them without you there to supervise them.

Begin your recall training in a low-distraction environment. First, show your dog a treat, and praise them as they come towards you, rewarding them once you are satisfied. After a few repetitions of this, add the verbal cue as your dog comes towards you. Make sure to only use the cue when you are sure that your dog is coming to you, and not something else. Over time, you can up the ante by asking your dog to come to you before showing them a treat. When you and your dog are confident, begin to use this command outside in an enclosed space. If your dog escapes the ring you should be able to call them back quickly.

Diet and Nutrition for Total Dog Competitions

Abiding by the Total Dog philosophy means that your dog needs to look and perform great. For this, they need the best diet. The most important thing to bear in mind when feeding your dog is to ensure that their diet is complete and balanced. Start by carefully reading the food package labels. A healthy adult dog needs to get at least 10 percent of their daily calories from protein. A further 5.5 percent needs to come from fats. Their diet should also contain up to 50 percent carbohydrates and 2.5 to 4.5 percent fiber.

Many pet food manufacturers follow regulations set by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO). The AAFCO establishes the minimum amount of nutrients needed for a complete and balanced diet. The AAFCO statement on the product should address what life stage the food is best for.

Total Dog – FAQs

Have any questions about the Total Dog philosphy, or need a recap on how to enter a show? Our Frequently Asked Questions section will have the answers you need.

What is the Total Dog Competition?

The Total Dog competition is a UKC event that involves conformation and performance competitions. In order to qualify for the Total Dog Best In Show event, a dog must place in both a conformation event and a performance event such as agility or drag racing. The principle of this competition is to reward dogs that not only adhere to the breed standard, but excel in other avenues as well.

How to Train your Dog for Total Dog?

Because Total Dog requires confirmation and performance, you must train your dog in obedience. Your pet must be able to stack, walk with a proper gait, and be examined by a judge. This portion of the competition will involve obedience commands such as “stay.” Depending on the type of performance event you choose, you will also need to train your dog to compete in other ways. For example, if you choose to enter your dog into an agility competition, it is expected that your dog has experience on an agility course.

train your dog for total dog
You must train your dog in obedience to prepare for Total Dog!

How to Enter your Dog in the Total Dog Competition?

To enter the Total Dog competition you need to be registered with the UKC. You can register as a permanent member. If you do not have time to register you can apply for a Temporary Listing number online. You will receive your number via e-mail. You must be assigned your number by the closing date and in time to enter the licensed classes. No exceptions are made, and entries for ineligible dogs are returned to the applicant.

Owners can submit entry applications online. Once you submit your application, you should receive a receipt of your entry within three business days. Online pre-entry is not available until the advertised entry date arrives. However, a Premium List is made available before the entry date. The Premium List is simply a list of the events to be held over the course of the competition.

Mailed entries are also accepted. If you choose to send your entry in the mail you must include the fees. Mailed entries without fees included are rejected. The correct address for mail entries is listed on the Premier and Gateway Nationals pages. Your entry can also be delivered by hand or faxed. To deliver your entry by hand, you need to attend the United Kennel Club office.

When is the Total Dog Competition Held?

Two annual Total Dog competitions are held at the Gateway Nationals and Premier. The UKC Premier competitions are held in June each year. The UKC Gateway Nationals are held in October each year. For both venues, the event hours are from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m unless otherwise stated in the judging program.

Total Dog competitions can be thoroughly enjoyable for both the owner and dog. If you wish to involve yourself in these, make sure you fit all the requirements and your dog is up to par in training standards.

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