A woman prepping her Husky for the National Dog Show.

National Dog Show: The Secret to Getting Dogs Ribbon Ready

Millions of people make it an annual tradition to tune into The National Dog Show Presented by Purina® following the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. If you’re like us, you’ve watched and wondered, “What does it take to get those dogs camera-ready for the biggest competition of their lives?”

Here’s a behind-the-scenes look at what you won’t see when the competition hits your screen next Thursday.

Every Athlete Needs a Good Intro Song

Dog shows have a reputation for being, well, a little stuffy. As goofy as dogs are, handlers and judges tend to look a little stone-faced for a sport centered around creatures who routinely lick their butts. Some of the lighter-hearted moments you miss watching from home are the dog’s theme songs. That’s right, we said theme songs.

Much like what your favorite sports team gets pumped up to as they burst onto the court, dogs like to be introduced with their own hype music. In past years, breed groups have entered the show floor to appropriately-themed music. Picture hearing “Old Town Road” for members of the herding group or, you guessed it, “Hound Dog” for members of the hound group.

Potty Predicaments

Dog shows come in one of two varieties: benched or unbenched. A bench refers to a partitioned area where the dogs are kept between presentations. Most shows are considered unbenched, meaning that once a dog enters the show, they are not confined to a bench area and are free to go in and out of the building. Benched shows require dogs to stay on the bench between judging, meaning that there aren’t many chances to go outside for a potty break. So, what do handlers do? They bring the potty to the dogs. Yes, that’s right, handlers set up designated porta-potty spaces inside the building so they can clean up after their pups.

Will Work for Treats

Every dog owner knows that a dog’s attention span can be very – SQUIRREL! Well, you get the point. Even the best-trained dog can use a bit of bribery to stay focused once they are in the show ring. And what better way to bribe a dog than with their favorite treats! Handlers give their pups everything from fajita chicken and liver to filet mignon to keep their eye on the prize (literally).

Why Do Show Dogs Have Such Long Names?

Have you ever noticed that the dogs in competition have crazy names like Captain Iron Man von Fancypants? Maybe not exactly like that, but all show dogs seem to have long and bizarre names. Well, there’s actually a reason for that! Those long names are tied to a dog’s pedigree; basically, they reflect the dog’s lineage and the breeder’s name. Breeders will often have fun with it and come up with something unusual that will catch eyes at a dog show. Otherwise, dogs go by their “call” names when they are at home. So, you might be disappointed to find out that Captain Iron Man von Fancypant’s “call” name is just Charlie.

No Soup for You

Judges are looking at more than just a dog’s good looks – every dog needs the proper stance and swagger to have a shot at scoring a ribbon. So, what’s the secret to getting a show dog to strike a perfect supermodel pose? Soup cans! While some handlers practice with blocks, soup cans are ideal for training puppies to stand on and train their muscles.

Not-So Natural Blonde

It’s no secret that some dogs’ luxurious locks would make any hairdresser jealous. While every handler has their own secret to keeping their dogs picture-perfect, some have blabbed the stranger ways they keep their pups primped and pampered. Dog handler Sharon Rives revealed, “One handler told me you should put dryer sheets on a wavy coat. Others say you should wash your dog’s coat in Dawn dish soap if you want it to be straight.” Another tool of the trade to really bring out that white fur? Hair chalk.

Handlers Get Judged Too!

If you’ve looked into being a part of the American Kennel Club’s Registered Handler Program, you won’t be shocked to find out that your car will be inspected before you ever step foot (or paw!) into the ring. The Registered Handler Program has strict guidelines on maintaining safe facilities to kennel and transport dogs. Just to be safe, handlers keep fire extinguishers, water tanks, and backup generators to make sure the dogs have everything they might need.

The Quickest Way to Be Disqualified

While most dogs at the National Dog Show appear to be pretty chill, not every dog is comfortable in the spotlight. When competing, the number one rule is that any dog demonstrating aggressive behavior (showing teeth, rolling eyes, etc.) will be quickly excused from the show. This keeps every human and dog safe from harm during the competition.

It’s Called Fashion, Look It Up

One secret to handler fashion: leave the statements pieces to the dogs. National Dog Show co-host John O’Hurley recalled a particularly eye-catching moment where a handler wore an outfit that “almost stopped the show.” So, what was it? A sleeveless jumpsuit that showed off her extensive tattoos. While stylish, it contrasted the unspoken rule that handler outfits serve as a backdrop so that the dogs can be the ones to stand out. How about we just keep our eyes on the ones who aren’t wearing clothes (yes, we mean the dogs)?

Hitting the Gym

As the top dog athletes in the country, show dogs spend a lot of time making sure that their bodies are in perfect condition. But, of course, a backyard game of fetch can only get you so far, so what’s a dog gotta do to get a picturesque physique? Many are hitting the treadmill or the pool to train their muscles, just like your favorite football or basketball players. Practicing on the treadmill also helps the dogs learn the right kind of trot or gait when walking in front of the judges. Some dogs are even treated to trips to a massage therapist or chiropractor.

When Perfect Isn’t Enough

Since these dogs are considered the best of the best, what happens if they’re all, well, perfect? “It could be something that catches my eye, maybe just the condition of the dog, the ears, or movement,” says AKC-licensed judge Christine Erickson. But, ultimately, doesn’t this mean that they’re all winners? You be the judge. Tune into The National Dog Show Presented by Purina® at Noon in all time zones immediately following the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.