Tips for Show Dog Co-Ownership Contract Agreements

Here are a seven key ways to ensure that your purebred dog co-ownership will be rewarding and not turn into a nightmare, as so many do.

By | March 6, 2013

Irish Terrier Conformation

It may take several co-owners to successfully campaign a champion dog. There are a few ways to ensure that your co-ownership doesn't turn into a problem. Irish Terrier photo by Isabelle Francais.

Co-owning a purebred show dog can be a mutually beneficial and enjoyable relationship. It is also possibly one of the more complicated, precarious relationships you can have. Consider these seven key ways to ensure that your purebred dog co-ownership will be rewarding and not turn into a nightmare, as so many do.

1. Prepare to individualize the contract. The perfect contract does not exist, but show dog co-owners should strive to draft each individual agreement to include all the important terms in clear, explicit language, describing the entire agreement of the parties. "One size fits all” just does not work for show dog co-ownership contracts. Drafting an individualized contract is well worth the time it takes.

2. Exchange something of value. Co-ownerships, like all contracts, boil down to the parties exchanging something of value, such as a purebred show dog, for something else of value, such as money. Many things of value can be exchanged for a show dog: future stud fees, puppies back, advancement of one’s kennel name affixed to a top-winning show dog and so forth. Likewise, the purchaser can get not just a great show dog, but also invaluable affiliation with a well-known dog breeder that helps gain introductions and open doors otherwise not available to him or her.

If what you want is not specified in the written agreement, then you have no assured contractual right to it. It might be possible to prove in court that additional terms exist outside the written agreement, but this can be a difficult and expensive process — and not guaranteed to succeed.

3. Cover the basics. Most dog sellers can write a contract that identifies the "basics,” such as price, or number of puppies back. More abstract terms often exist, which parties often omit (accidentally or purposefully) from the written agreement. These might include such issues as whether the seller is expected to serve as the dog handler; and if so, will he be paid (by the co-owner) for this? Will the show dog be advertised heavily? Will co-owners split expenses evenly? Is there a cap to such expenses? When does the co-ownership of the show dog end?

4. Know what to expect. Each party involved should let the other side know exactly what they expect each side to do, and not do. A show dog buyer’s list of wants might include "breeder teaches me grooming and handling” or "we split fees if this dog shows like the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show” or "I can buy you out at any time.” A specials co-owner might expect free breeding rights or half of all income generated by the show dog. Better to find out these things up front and customize the deal (perhaps enhancing the price in exchange for certain items) to provide for a complete listing of, and equitable compensation for, what each side is giving and getting.

5. Prepare for the worst. Likewise, each party should identify their "worst nightmares” and include contractual language to avoid such occurrences. For example, does the buyer expect that permanent possession of the show dog will always be with him or her, even if the seller borrows the dog for a month to attend conformation dog shows?  What if the seller borrows the dog for shows, then decides he likes it so much he is going to keep the show dog indefinitely. If the contract is silent about permanent possession, and this scenario occurs then a lawsuit is brewing, where both sides try to prove their version of what their understanding was about permanent possession.  These battles can be lengthy and expensive. Instead, communicate with your co-owner about what contract terms you need, and what he might need, to avoid these sorts of "worst case scenarios.”

6. Include "remedies" and damages clauses. It is helpful for a contract to include an effective "remedies” clause, to identify what happens if either side breaches the contract. This might include assurance that the breaching party will (a) return/give up possession of the show dog, (b) sign off the AKC registration, and/or (c) pay the other side’s attorneys’ fees plus [name your sum] dollars in "liquidated damages.”

A strong damages clause helps identify what you will get in damages if the other side breaches the agreement. It also outlines the maximum for which you can be held responsible if you are found to have breached the agreement. 

7. See an attorney. Have a frank, open discussion with your prospective co-owner about expectations and concerns before an agreement is made, and draft an agreement tailored to the particular situation with your co-owner. Then, bring your draft to an attorney experienced in show dog contracts, for a last review. This will help you gain assurance that your written co-ownership agreement will achieve your expectations, while protecting you from possible pitfalls.

Show dog co-ownerships can work out well for all parties involved; just make sure each person understands the terms when entering the agreement and that each party will be protected in the future. Co-ownerships, in addition to their potential pitfalls, have many worthwhile benefits.


Lisa Curry practices law in New Jersey and raises and shows West Highland White Terriers and Toy Fox Terriers.


Learn more about campaigning a champion dog:

The Cha-Ching of the Ring
By Caroline Coile, Ph.D.
Behind many great show dogs stand backers who provide the financial support needed to extensive campaigning. Read More>>

Secrets of Show Dog Success: Be Lucky
By Michael and Cathy Dugan
After all of the long-term hard work of finding the right dog and handler, organizing the program and advertising, developing backers and committing most of your own time, you still might not win. Why? Ultimately, it still comes down to "luck.” Read More>>

Secrets of Show Dog Success: Understand the Game
By Michael and Cathy Dugan
For new owners the carnival atmosphere of conformation dog shows can seem unfriendly and hard to penetrate. Read More>>

Let Your Dog Shine in the Show Ring
By Richard G. ("Rick”) Beauchamp
Finesse your dog's faults to win at the next big show. Read More>>


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Bonnie   Rathdrum, Idaho

2/6/2016 11:24:13 AM

The few times I did this, I asked myself first thing: "Can you live without ever seeing this dog

If the answer is no, then don't do it. Unless you are a billionaire and want to contribute tons of money to attorneys.

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Chase   Palm Springs, California

9/30/2014 7:22:15 PM

As much as AKC APPEARS to discourage them, not only do they provide
paprework to record and enforce them, they also make it next to impossible to campaign a Specials dog without one. Until or unless AKC changes how they judge show dogs, ( like changing to the FCI/UKC Euro style of judging by having three judges evaluate a dog with a numerical system that ONLY looks at the dog instead of rewarding a highly paid and popular Handler) people will need co-ownerships just to afford their Handlers and other fees.

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Christian   Santa Rosa Beach, Florida

8/12/2014 2:13:43 PM

I wish I hadn't entered into a co-ownership. I paid a couple thousand dollars for my dog plus the shipping fees from San Francisco, CA. I campaigned him for a year paying all expenses, including airfares. I have used him as stud on one of my own females twice after performing all health tests on him and the female and suddenly I have gotten feedback from the absentee co-owner and her cohorts that I should've received her approval. This was not in the contract. I don't need approval. By the way, I've been in the sport of showing dogs for longer than the co-owner has been alive.

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Janet   Sumner, Washington

6/28/2014 7:59:53 AM

Co-owners are needed when campaigning a dog. It is simply a fact of life. Ads, travel, handling fees....most people cannot afford to do it on their own. Easily 10 or $20,000 for a year.

I have co-owners on my dogs because we are friends and I can keep an older friend "active" in my breed. More gift then
In almost 20 years I have had 2 go bad....certainly not enough to keep me from doing it....just have to "adjust" the contract, just like I have adjusted, over the years, my buyers contract.

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