If you own a pedigree dog that is eligible to be entered in breed competitions and you want to give it a whirl, this can be very exciting for the first timer! Notwithstanding small fun and local shows that any dog can enter, dog breed showing is often thought of as a serious business, with many high profile breeders taking the opportunity to show their dogs and gain accolades that will ultimately prove profitable for their breed lines. For the uninitiated or hobbyist first timer, just knowing where to start can be a challenge, but dog shows at every level should be first and foremost fun for both dog and owner, and it is important that you look forward to showing and actively enjoy the whole process.
If you are keen to join the ranks of the dog-showing hobbyist, here are our tips for preparing for your first formal breed show.
Make sure you don’t fall at the first hurdle by checking out first and foremost that your dog is eligible to compete in breed shows. To enter formal breed shows that are affiliated with The Kennel Club or breed specific organisations, your dog must be a pedigree with the appropriate pedigree papers, be registered to be shown, and have a reasonable chance of holding their own against other dogs of the same type.
Before you attend your first show as a competitor, it is strongly advised to go to at least one dog show of the type you are considering entering as a spectator, to get a feel for the environment, what happens and how it all goes. Often you will not be permitted to take non-competing dogs along to breed shows, but if you find that this is permitted, taking your own dog along to get used to the sights, sounds and smells before their first go in the ring is a great idea too.
For formal breed shows, you must submit your entries in advance; you cannot just turn up on the day, register and compete. You will need to submit entries, your dog’s papers and confirmation of their eligibility to compete, their vaccination certificates and other paperwork in advance, so make sure that you submit your entries well before the cut off date for the show you wish to enter.
It goes without saying that any dog entering the show ring should be impeccably well trained, obedient and well behaved. Your dog must be calm and trustworthy around other dogs, able to concentrate in the face of a lot of external stimulus, and personable with other people.
When in the ring, your dog will also have to go through as series of moves in order to demonstrate their build, movement and temperament to the judges, so it is important to work on these things too.
Practice walking and running your dog on the lead close to heel, and ensure that your dog shows a steady, balanced gait that demonstrates the way that they move and the correct position of the head and tail. Your dog will also need to learn how to stand still and upright in an alert position that shows off their posture, and sit quietly but alertly for reasonable periods of time while the judging takes place.
Obviously if you are presenting your dog to be judged in a competition, they should be clean, well groomed and properly presented. What form this takes will vary from breed to breed; be sure that you understand what is expected in terms of grooming or clipping to a show standard for your own breed of dog, and that you can achieve this. Your dog should be clean and fresh in the ring as well, so bathing them a few days before the competition is recommended. Bathing too close to the event itself can be counterproductive, as the coat will need some time to settle down after bathing and fall into its natural formation.
Make sure that your dog’s eyes, nose and back end are clean before they enter the ring too!
On the day of the show itself, your dog should be given ample opportunity to go to the toilet and have a walk before their class, but ensure that both you and your dog pace yourselves and your dog does not peak too early. Obviously you will need to give your dog the chance to work off any excess energy, and you should not neglect their normal walk on the day, but make sure that they keep enough energy for the show, and are not falling asleep by the time they are called!
Dog shows often involve a lot of waiting around, so allowing your dog to rest and recharge their batteries when they can is a good idea. Keep your dog hydrated and make sure that they have access to water throughout the day, something that can be easy to forget with everything else that will be going on.
Overheating is a problem for many dogs at breed shows, especially if there are a lot of hot overhead lights and a closed environment. Particularly if your dog is of a brachycephalic breed, very stocky or has a heavy coat, keep a careful eye on their temperature and make sure that your dog is not struggling in the heat.
Dog shows at all levels should be fun and enjoyable for you and your dog; while breed shows can fairly be described as a relatively formal environment, they are nevertheless very welcoming and friendly. Other dog owners, stewards and officials will usually have a friendly smile for you, and be happy to help out newcomers if you explain that it is your first time.
Don’t get too hung up on where you get placed in your first show, and remember to praise your dog and reward them for their hard work. Have fun!