Dog Show for Beginners

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This article appeared thanks to my laziness.

I’ve been participating in Dog Shows for a long time… actually for a really long time – more than 30 years. I took part in different shows as a simple dog owner, as a handler, as an organizer and as a part of a ring brigade.

From time to time people asked me «What should we do?»… Eventually, I got tired of telling people every time the same thing and decided that it would be easier to write once and give this material to read to those, who have questions about Dog Shows.

First, I thought to write an article «How to prepare a dog for an International Dog Show», but then remembered that an International Show differs from other Dog Shows only in terms of entry fees, number of participating dogs (however, some Regional Dog Shows can be very big and some International – very small) and a title that you can get there if you are lucky enough. Or you might not get this title…
What about preparation for the Show – it is always the same and a good owner does it for every Show as carefully as for a World Dog Show. Also people that want to take part in big International Dog Shows acquired already some experience in smaller Shows and a question «What to do?» is not an issue for them anymore – they do know «what to do».
So, here is my answer to all people asking a question «What should I do if I decided to take part in a Dog Show?».

1. A desire to participate in a Dog Show arose and you couldn’t suppress it.

Search for the breed standard for your particular dog and read it very carefully, especially the part with disqualifying faults. Then thoroughly examine you dog. If you found some defect or fault, measure the level of your own masochism (will you be happy to lose?) and your readiness for a venture (I saw the World Champion with disqualifying faults but it’s not a rule and don’t hope that this will happen to you). It is possible to take part in the Show with the dog that has disqualifying faults but very likely you will just throw your money away and lose in vain your time, efforts and nerves…

If your desire to participate is really strong – you can think of purchasing a second dog or search for acquaintances that have a proper dog but don’t want to go to Dog Shows. Eventually, to take part in a Show you are not obligatory have to be a dog owner - there are a lot of other participants.

Decide for yourself why you need it. Possible alternatives are:
  • You think that your dog must take part in breeding program and want to get progeny. Non-pedigreed progeny is not an option for you (why get mongrel puppies from a stud dog?). For that purpose you need to get so-called «evaluation for a breeding» that is possible to obtain only on a licensed Dog Show.
  • You need to promote your pet as a stud dog. If you have a male then the more often and more successfully you exhibit him the more probable that owners of the female dogs notice him and choose your «boy» as a «fiancé». Female owners are the ones, who choose, so a female dog will interbreed even if she is not a star whereas even a very honorable male can remain without progeny.
  • You love to win and to show-off and one of the possibilities to satisfy this need is to win with your favorite pet. Of course, nobody likes to lose or almost nobody. However, there are people who don’t have a necessity to gain a price or title or whatsoever or do it in other spheres of life.
  • You have a lack of adrenaline and vivid emotions in your life.
  • You love when people admire you and compliment you.
  • Your really like this breed and want other people to share you enthusiasm. A Dog Show gives you a possibility to popularize the breed as many people, who haven’t still decided what breed they want, come there.
  • You need to get a description of the particular expert.
  • You want to get prices, rosettes (it is so nice to hang them on the wall and then proudly show them to your friends), medals, cups…
  • You love to travel, but your family is not fond of it and a Dog Show will be a great reason to visit different cities, towns and countries.
4. Based on an answer to question «why?» you choose a Dog Show.

Register a dog for a Show. There are several ways to do it (ask the organizer of the Show) but almost always you will need to fill in an entry form, have a pedigree (if you have a very young dog and want to enter classes «baby» or «puppy» you will need a metric («pedigree» for a puppy)) and pay an entry fee. The more time there is before the show the cheaper and the easier the registration will be. That’s why the Dog Shows’ plan is usually made in advance and already in December there is a schedule for the next year and registration is possible.

Look for a handler (via your kennel club, asking you friends, via internet), who ideally has to be a specialist in your concrete breed (or at least showed it once on a Dog Show), or search a training group that prepares for showing a dog in a ring.

Handler is a person, who can teach your dog to show itself and will accompany it in a ring. You can do it yourself but better start with a professional help. During training sessions handler have to teach not only your dog to stand, move and show itself properly but also to teach you to do all the handling. Handlers are normal people, who can catch a flue or just don’t have a possibility to visit a concrete show you want. Plus you can like the process… and save the money.

If you have a choice then, in my opinion, group training is better. First of all, your dog will get accustomed to showing itself surrounded by other dogs (as on a Dog Show you also won’t be alone). Secondly, you can meet other beginners and as in some cartoon was said – «it is easier to be afraid together».

7. Before the Dog Show (not earlier then a year before and not later that a month before) the dog must be vaccinated. First, you cannot enter the Show without vaccination record in your veterinary passport. In the second place, you don’t want your dog to get any infection on a Show and after a deserved victory to spend a lot of time and money to heal your pet. Infections are almost inevitable on a Dog Show as there will be a lot of dogs (it is rare today when in a Show participate less then 400 dogs of different breeds).
8. Find a groomer, who is specialized on your particular breed (or at least on your breed group). Groomer is a person who will prepare hair (or skin) of your dog. There is no breed that doesn’t have to be prepared for a Show. Even naked dogs need to be cleaned, oiled etc. But as most of the breeds have hair groomers’ help is necessary.

Generally speaking, groomer is a hairdresser for a dog. He or her will not only prepare your pet for a Show but will also give many useful advices. Maybe after some time you will be able to do all the preparation yourself, especially if you have a naked or smooth-haired dog. However, many longhaired breeds (like Malamutes, Huskies, Collies) are pretty easy to groom. But like with handler better start with a professional help of a good groomer. Bad coiffure can make even the most beautiful dog ugly. It is also important to trip nails in advance (things happen on a Show and you don’t want you dog to limp) as well as to clean eyes and ears.

A dog has to be clean on a Dog Show because expert touches hundreds of dogs and don’t have an opportunity to wash them each time (at best he/her rubs hands with a napkin). So what do you think which dog a judge will like better – a clean, properly groomed with a good odor or the one that stinks and leaves grease after touching? There are some breeds (especially wire-haired) that are not recommended to be bathed before the Show as their hair can become too soft. But even these dogs need to be washed 3 or 4 days in advance. Besides, there are today so many dog cosmetics’ tools that even the softest coat can be turned into the roughest. Even smooth-haired dogs need some coat grooming…
9. Also you will need to buy a slip lead. This is a thing that you use in a ring instead of a collar and a leash. A handler will tell you about the traditions of showing you breed and what particular slip lead you need. Or you can examine carefully photos from Dog Shows. A slip lead can match you dogs’ coat color or your (or handlers’) costume/dress. Maybe your handler has his/her favorite slip lead then you won’t need to buy it for the first Show. But in future you will need your own.

A slip lead must be strong and safe (it’s not good catching your dog in a ring) with a good holder and your hand must feel comfortable holding it. You can buy a slip lead in any pet shop, sometimes in a kennel club or directly on a Dog Show. Better to do it in advance as you need to get used to it, try it on your dog or even understand that this slip lead is not for you, put it in a box with other doggy stuff (sure enough you have a lot of it) and buy another one.

If you have friends - dog owners you can borrow the slip lead from them (also in advance). Every handler has a lot of slip leads that were collected in years and the thing not good for one person can satisfy another one (for the first time at least). Later if you decide to participate in Shows you will buy your own (and not the one).

If a handler shows your dog you can dress in whatever you want (though in a cocktail dress or in robe you might look strange). If you decided to show the dog yourself you need to think about a costume. You need to feel comfortable and a dog must look affective against your background. Ideally, dress what you decided, take your dog, put it on a slip lead, go to the mirror and see how your dog looks standing with you.

Some breeds (decorative, toy) women can show in skirts (of course not mini! that is you can put on a mini but I don’t think you want to make other people laugh). In general a dog doesn’t look good against the background of naked legs. Men are also not recommended to go in the ring in shorts. Besides, you have to move a lot in the ring and with a small dog to squat or even knee – probably it won’t be easy in a mini. When you choose shoes remember that you will run for a long time and spend a lot (sometimes the hole day) on foot.

11. The day before the Show gather everything you think you might need (on the day of the Show you might be nervous and forget something). So things you need for the Dog Show:
  • Documents: veterinary certificate, copy of the pedigree (just in case), payment receipt; 
  • For a dog: slip lead, bowl for water, bottle with water (especially if you visit the Show in other city or country as uncommon water can provoke indigestion more often than uncommon meal), treats, toys, box or cage, grooming stuff (better even take clippers, scissors etc. – who knows what might happen!). If your dog is very small (puppy or baby), better take a meal with you. Adult dog eats two times a day so food in not obligatory. 
  • For yourself: you can take nothing but it is not very comfortable to stand the hole day so I would recommend you to take a folding chair (unless the Show is indoors - there might be place to sit), umbrella both from rain and sun (if the Show is outdoors). It is not necessary to take food or drinks because usually you can buy all that on a Dog Show. 
  • For cleaning after your dog: take some napkins and bags or toilet paper; for yourself - wet napkins. I also take iodine, bandage, plaster, hydrogen peroxide because a dog can occasionally injure itself, another dog can attack it etc…
  • Other things you personally take when you travel or go somewhere. 
12. Invite somebody with you. For your first Dog Show better take somebody close but not more than two as your first Show can turn into a disaster and you don’t need too many friends to see it. However, one pair of hands will be very helpful for the first time (maybe later you can manage alone or you get many dog shows’ acquaintances that will be happy to help), because someone will have to stay with your belongings when you are in a ring (unfortunately theft on a Show is not rare) or walking with your dog. Eventually, you need to go to the toilet and going there with a dog and all the stuff is not comfortable. Also, in case you win you will have somebody to celebrate with and somebody to congratulate you.

It is not a good idea to take a child with you because, first of all, you won’t have time to watch your kid (and dogs can be dangerous) and, secondly, children usually get really upset in case of a loss. Later on, when you will feel yourself at home on a Dog Show you can take a kid with you. He or her may like it so much that will want to participate in the Show. There are special competitions, like «child and a dog», «junior handler» etc.
With some breeds you can use so-called «double-handling» when one person is in the ring with a dog and another tries to draw the dogs’ attention by calling, playing with its’ favorite toy or making some noises. About these methods ask your handler. But I wouldn’t recommend you to use this technique: first, not all experts like this; second, person near the ring disturbs others (imagine when in a ring are 10-15 dogs and the same number of helpers around it – screaming, running and making noises…); third, help of another person is not always available (if the dog got used to show in «double-handling» it will be a problem). Eventually, a dog will react to some noise without any preparation but showing without it needs training. However, for your first Dog Show take a toy or something your dog craves for, just in case…

A Dog Show schedule you have to find out in advance. Come to the Show a little bit earlier the time your breed starts showing. It is better without any hurry to park your car, register, find your ring, place your things, prepare your dog and wait a little than instead run, be nervous that your bus didn’t come in time or you cannot find a place for parking, that the line for registration it too long, search in panic your ring and be late. Dogs late for the show won’t be judged and money are not refundable… Though very rare, there are Shows where all rings start exactly as it is said in a schedule. However, sometimes there can be even an hour or two-hour delay.

14. The first thing you need to do when you arrive to the Dog Show – find a table with a name Registration on Veterinary Control. Usually it is near the entrance, but can also be placed in the middle of the hall or in the most beautiful tent (if the Show is outdoors). You show to people sitting there your dogs’ veterinary passport and receipt that confirms your entry fee payment. If everything is fine with these documents they will give you a number (usually it’s a sticker, but better take with you a safety pin or a badge with your breed; besides, it’s not so easy to remove the glue from your clothes). This number must be put on handlers’ clothes before going in a ring. Normally it is attached to hand, breast, pocket, some (young and extravagant) put it on a hip or leg – there is no rule for this. The only important thing is to attach number so that expert will see it properly when you show your dog.

Also a catalog will be given to you where you will find all the information concerning this Dog Show: all the rules, in what ring what breed is going to be, judges list, time schedule, list of competitions etc. Moreover, in catalog there are all participants of the Show so you can see your future competitors in advance. If you are interested in other dogs you will find the time and place where you can see them. Sometimes at registration table they give you «participants’ package» with small souvenirs from sponsors of the show, food testers and commercial materials.

On the territory of the Dog Show always keep your dog on a leash and big breeds – in a muzzle. For a dogfight both participants will be disqualified and I don’t think that you spend money and time for training and preparation just to fight and go back home. Besides, hardly a normal dog owner wants his/her dog to attack or cause harm to anyone. You need to remember that in a Dog Show there will be a lot of strange dogs, people, children and very nervous atmosphere that dogs also feel (especially if you are nervous).

Nobody can make you put a muzzle on your dog (if your pet is not used to it, never wore it or refuses actively to put it on – better not to do it as it can increase existing stress), but it would be better and easier for everybody if your dog has it on. Even if you have a very trained and well-mannered dog it’s not a good idea to it for walk on the territory of a Dog Show. You can do it before of after (if you still have forces left).

Toilet issues try to solve before the Dog Show. Take your dog for a good long walk before the ring as it has to perform well and nothing must distract it. Of course, you won’t feel comfortable if you pet does its «thing» in the middle of the ring and nobody knows how will experts react to that. On some Dog Shows you will find toilets specially organized for dogs.

Listen attentively to the ring organizer and watch everything happening there. The ring organizer will call you by number and here it comes – the culminations of the Dog Show – the performance of your dog in the ring! You (or your handler) go with your dog in the ring; expert examines it, writes the description and evaluates your dog (with a mark). Then it compares your dog to other participants of the same breed, sex and class. Four best dogs with marks not lower than «very good» are placed in the ring.

Dogs are compared according to the classes, females and males separately. In a Baby class are chosen Best Baby Female and Best Baby Male, then they are compared to each other and the Best Baby of the Breed is chosen. Same with Puppies, Juniors and Veterans.

Then follow «adult» classes: intermediate, open, working, champion. In every class female and male winner are chosen separately. Then all best females (except for puppies and babies) are compared to each other and the winner becomes the Best Female of the Breed. Same thing with males. Then Best Junior, Best Female, Best Male and Best Veteran (if there is any) are compared and the winner becomes the Best Of the Breed (BOB). All this information you will find in catalog that you get during registration.

18. If your dog get a mark upper than «satisfactory» then everything is fine and, if you liked the process, you can participate in other Dog Shows. However, I saw dogs – champions of almost anything – with few disqualifying faults. The thing is that experts are very different and if one sees your dog as the most ideal and beautiful the other can sees it as a horrible breed member. Besides on experts’ opinion influence many small factors: he or her is just a person who can be in a bad mood, maybe slept badly last night or just prefers particular color or fashion – and your costume doesn’t match his/her taste etc… Of course ideally it shouldn’t happen, but the human factor still plays a big role.

Never argue with an expert! First of all, for this you and your dog can be disqualified, secondly, expert is in any case more professional than you and even if you don’t agree with his/her opinion it doesn’t mean that you’re 100 % right. If it happens that you are right – arguing with an expert still won’t do any good.

If your dog became Best Baby / Puppy / Junior /of Breed you will take part in the «best of the best» competition. They are usually organized after all breeds finished showing in all rings. So it will be about 6-7 p.m. (sometimes 3-5 p.m.) – you will find precise time in catalog.
If your ring was in the morning it will be reasonable to go back home and let your dog and yourself rest a little. If before Best in Show and Best in Group (BIG) rests a couple of hours, better stay on the Show (what if competitions start earlier – it’s not common but can happen). For BIS and BIG you have to prepare your dog even more thoroughly and carefully than for the breed ring as you will compete with Bests of other breeds.

20. Before BIS and BIG are usually organized Competitions. If your breeder proposes you to participate – don’t refuse – this will be another experience for you and your dog. Sometimes you can take part in competition without your breeder (for example, special competitions for national breeds). Besides it is another opportunity to promote your dog, a chance to people to see you once again or for the first time (if they didn’t visit breed rings).

In all competitions can take part only those dogs who were placed in a catalog, signed in this competitions in advance and got the evaluation not lower than «very good». Information about competitions you can get during registration in a Club.

21. After competitions come BIG and BIS.

Best Baby – all dog breeds that got a title Best Baby of the Breed are compared to each other. Four Best Babies of the Show take places from 1 to 4. Usually they are given medals, prices, rosettes etc…

Same thing with Best Puppy / Junior / Veteran. By the way, if your dog became Best Junior and Best of the Breed, you visit Best of the Junior and Best of the Group. When Best Baby, Best Puppy, Best Junior and Best Veteran were chosen start Bests of the Group.

According to FCI all dog breeds are divided into 10 breed groups. Best of the Breed of each group go separately in the ring and are compared to each other. In each group there are places from 1 to 4 (usually they also get prices, rosettes etc…) and the best dog of each group takes part in another competition - Best in Show (BIS). From these 10 best dogs the Best Dog of the Show is chosen.

22. So this is the end of the Dog Show, you participated in it successfully and can go home.

Good luck on a Dog Show!

Author: Milena Kremerman
Translation: Nadezhda Iarovaia

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