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Showing Your Dog

By: Ed Kane

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Dog showing can be a great family sport. Through the years, a great number of people have participated in the sport – with their pets – who are second, third and fourth generation dog-show families. Dedicated families even build their vacation schedules around showing their dog.

Each member of the family can have some meaningful task in showing: brushing, walking, handling or just applauding their dog while he's in the ring. The kids might show him in the Junior Showmanship category, while Mom or Dad can show him in the regular classes. The outcome of hard training is about two minutes in front of the judge in the ring. What preceeds this moment is a great amount of knowledge, care, time and preparation.

Be aware that there are several different ways you can show your dog. Conformation is the type of show most people are familiar with. This type of show awards the dog that best matches his standard. Obedience shows are to showcase the dog's ability to obey and perform. Agility, field trials and earthdog shows are meant to determine which dog performs the best. This article discusses conformation shows.

Preparing Your Pooch

  • Training. A show dog needs to be trained. Though you may train your dog yourself at home, conformation and handling classes are beneficial for both you and your four-legged friend. The classes also serve to socialize your dog. This gets him accustomed to being around other dogs in conditions similar to what he'll find at shows. Very often, a show dog is the only dog in a household. Therefore at the show, he may be anxious or in awe of a thousand other dogs. Socialization will make showing a better experience for you and your dog.

  • Conditioning. Every show dog – no matter how big or small – needs conditioning. For some dogs, this means a strict exercise regimen; for other dogs, it means regular walks. Some handlers have a treadmill for their dog, ensuring proper regular exercise no matter what the weather might be like outdoors. It's very important that you don't over-exercise your dog. Check with your veterinarian about this.

  • Nutrition. A good diet and the right foods keep him fit and trim and keep his coat shining.

  • Grooming. All show dogs need to be clean – with clean teeth and clean, trimmed toenails. Some breeds only need wiping off with a towel before they enter the ring and other breeds need considerable bathing with a good shampoo, brushing and coat conditioning. Some breeds also need their coat plucked, clipped and shaped. During a three-day period of showing, one dog might need to be groomed only once, while another might need constant attention. It depends on the individual dog and the breed. Generally speaking, most dogs with a significant coat, such as an old English sheepdog, will only go about two days before needing another bath.

    How to Enter

    Once prepared, it's best to enter your dog in the show by contacting the dog-show superintendent at least two and a half weeks prior to the show. These superintendents are listed in the American Kennel Club (AKC) Gazette or can be found online (many have their own Web sites).

    What the Judge Looks For

  • Written Standard. Dog shows began as a way of comparing top dogs and identifying superior breeding stock. Each breed has a written standard describing the ideal specimen of that breed; breeds were developed by man to perform specific duties. As such, a dog's physical characteristics relate form to function.

    The written standard describes the ideal structure for the breed. For example, a greyhound is a sighthound that pursues and brings down game, so he needs to be built for speed. A deep chest, with plenty of room for heart and lungs; a lean, powerful, aerodynamic body; and an unencumbered line of sight are among the traits that allow the performance of their function.

    If a dog is a terrier, he needs a strong spirit and a protective coat to go to the ground to chase vermin. Most standards are very specific about details such as: eye placement, shape and color; ear structure and shape; the proportion of the body (long, square, tall, short), feet and tail – and more.

  • Breed History. Every judge must know the history of a breed and what he was bred to do to best understand how form and function must come together in the show ring. She must also know the standard for each particular breed being judged and apply that to each individual animal. At conformation shows, a dog doesn't get the chance to perform his duties, yet the judge must envision the dog doing so.

    The Judge's Routine

    The judge's routine is fairly straightforward and most judges have the same routine. When a class of dogs first enters the ring, the judge will stand back and look at a dog from a distance to get general impressions about balance, type and movement. Then the judge begins individual examinations by putting her hands on the dog. She usually begins by looking at the eyes, ears and teeth and then proceeds to "go over" the entire dog, nose to tail. By handling a dog in this manner, she checks for bone structure, musculature and conditioning.

    The judge should be comparing what she sees with what she feels. When this exam is complete, she'll ask the handler to move the dog in a pattern that allows her to see the dog from every direction. At the conclusion, the judge will note in her mind how the dog's structure and movement all came together and if the dog can truly perform the functions for which he was bred.

    Three Levels of Judging

    In competition, dogs are judged at three levels: within their breed, by group and, finally, by best in show. At the breed level, dogs of the same breed are examined and, ultimately, one will be named Best of Breed (BoB). That dog advances to the next level – group competition.

    There are seven AKC groups (Sporting, Hound, Working, Terrier, Toy, Non-Sporting and Herding). For example, in the Sporting Group, the BoB Irish setter, English setter, cocker spaniels, pointers and other Sporting breed winners compete against one another. Similarly, in the Hound group, the basset, Afghan hound, whippet and other breed winners compete. At this level, each dog is judged in comparison to their standard, not against the looks of the other dogs. For example, competitors in the Hound group vary from the tallest breed, the Irish wolfhound, to the shortest breed, the miniature dachshund.

    You really can't compare the two, but the judge compares the Irish wolfhound to his ideal and the miniature dachshund to his ideal. The winner is the dog that best exemplifies his standard. The seven group winners advance to the Best in Show competition, where a judge examines the seven dogs in the same method as in the group judging, comparing the dogs to their appropriate standards.

    The Handler's Job

    Through all of this, the handler's role is to present his or her dog in the best light, to show off the dog's strong points and de-emphasize his weaknesses.

    The exceptional show dog will have an element of showmanship to bring out his best qualities. Simply put, it's a "dog show and you've got to show." That said, there are some breeds that aren't, by nature, supposed to be lively, with tail up, prancing about the ring. The Afghan hound or Irish setter might need to prance, while the bloodhound needs his head down, moving more slowly as he would naturally.

    Tips for Showing Your Dog

  • Know your breed well.
  • Know the proper way to show your breed.
  • Train your dog and get him in his best condition.
  • Work hard to be a good groomer.
  • Make it fun. The dogs that are most successful have a good time.
  • Show your dog to the best of your abilities. The best handlers literally disappear in the ring so they're unnoticed.

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