Whether you deliberately bought a show-quality dog or if you simply bought a pedigree dog that you liked the look of but that is showing signs of star quality, you might be considering exhibiting them in Kennel Club breed shows.
Breed shows are designed to identify and reward the best examples of each individual pedigree dog breed, and to drive breed improvement in terms of health and temperament. In the UK, The Kennel Club is the umbrella organisation that runs and manages pedigree dog shows, which means that your dog must be a Kennel Club registered pedigree to be eligible to enter the ring.
Pedigree dog showing is formally structured into local and area heats, which run throughout the year and serve as part of the selection process for entry at more high-profile events such as Crufts.
If your dog performs well at local shows, they will move up through the rankings to higher-level competition, and if your dog has what it takes and acquits themselves well in the ring, they might stand a chance of taking home a big prize, and all of the fame that comes with it.
Entering formal dog shows is something that you might do just to see how far your dog can go, and because you enjoy the process – but if you intend to breed from your dog or put them to stud, demand for the subsequent puppies is enhanced by a track record of show wins too.
Whatever the reason behind your desire to show your dog and whatever you are hoping to achieve by doing so, having a dog that is a good example of their breed is just the beginning – your dog’s temperament and performance in the ring (known as ring craft) are just as important.
Getting to grips with dog shows in terms of the formal requirements for showing and knowing how to show your dog off in their best light is a steep learning curve for first-timers, and one that never really stops.
If you aren’t sure how to give your dog the best chance of success or if you aren’t confident enough to exhibit your dog in the ring – or if you’re unable to do so for any reason – you might be considering hiring a professional show dog handler to exhibit your dog in your place.
We’ll cover some of the pros and cons of hiring a professional to show your dog in the ring to help you to make the right decision.
The person who handles and exhibits any dog in the ring at a Kennel Club show has to be a named person whose details are supplied with the show entry, but it doesn’t have to be the owner of the dog themselves.
You can ask someone else to handle and exhibit your dog for you – either as a favour or for a fee – within the remit of The Kennel Club’s rules, but this has to be planned beforehand – you can’t just ask someone else to take your dog into the ring on the day.
A professional show dog handler should have a proven track record of success in the ring – and be able to show your dog in their best light. Often, professional handlers work with specific dog breeds only, choosing breeds that they know and understand, as well as those for which they have an in-depth specialist knowledge of the breed standard and appropriate ring craft.
Show dog handlers know what is expected of them in the ring, and what the judges are looking for – and they work to ensure that they fulfil the letter and spirit of these requirements, and show your dog off in the best possible light for the judges.
This will involve achieving the right stances, movement and gait, keeping the dog alert, engaged and interested, and ensuring that they are obedient and follow instructions. It is unusual for a professional handler to only work with the dog in the ring itself – they also need to get to know the dog, earn their respect, and spend the time practicing and working with the dog to get their performance on point.
They may also give advice and input into preparing your dog for the show in terms of their presentation and grooming, and how to handle and manage them before the class begins so that they are at their best.
An alternative to hiring someone to show your dog in the ring is to hire a professional show ring trainer to work with you and your dog before shows, to teach you all of the tricks and skills you need to pull off a good performance on the day.
This is a special type of dog training and owner training that is designed to teach you how to get the best out of your dog, learn what the judges look for, and improve the standard of your own performance and that of your dog too.
Professional show ring dog handlers can be found working in most high-level dog shows, although this is less common among UK dog owners than it is among dog owners from the USA.
The point of hiring a professional handler is to show your dog at their best and give them the best chance of placing well – but handlers with a proven track record are in great demand, and the level of experience and time commitment involved in preparing a dog for the ring and taking part in shows all over the country can mean this it comes at a high price.
Additionally, while you will probably pick up some tips and tricks from the handler that works with your dog, if you want to improve your own show craft, a show ring trainer might be a better fit.
If you are physically unable to show your own dog, if you have a real show-quality star that might stand a chance of taking home a major prize with the right handler or if you breed and show dogs professionally, hiring a professional handler might be the right choice.