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
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
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.
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