How to Get Started in Dog Shows
Follow these six steps from researching a breed, picking the right puppy and finding a great mentor to start you on your path to show dog success.
Anne H. Bowes
Dog showing is one of the few sports that I know of where amateurs and professionals compete head-to-head. Except in a very few instances, you will always be showing your dog in direct competition with dogs shown by handlers who make their livelihood from this sport. It’s a difficult task whatever level of experience you have, but it’s especially tough when you’re first starting out in dog shows. The better the quality of your dog and the more your dog loves to show, the more successful you will be in the dog show ring.
If you want to show a dog, your first step is to get a puppy that is an excellent representative of its breed and has a "show” dog personality – an outgoing and energetic demeanor that draws attention. The following 6 steps will start you on the right path to dog show success.
1. Learn all about the dog breed standard
First, choose a dog breed that you want to show. Next, you must acquire a thorough understanding of the standard for that breed. The dog breed standard is an attempt on the part of experienced dog breeders to describe the most important aspects of type and quality of the breed. Read your dog breed’s standard over and over until you have it practically memorized. Most dog breed clubs publish educational materials with added comments from experienced dog breeders and exhibitors in an effort to explain the standard. If your breed club offers seminars for dog show judges or breeders, plan to attend. These seminars will give you the opportunity to talk with breeders and to examine good examples of your breed.
2. Do your homework on Champion dogs
Purchase and sign up for as many newsletters and handbooks on your dog breed as possible. Hopefully, your dog breed club publishes such resources, which contain photos and pedigrees of Champion dogs. On the Internet, visit and research the websites of as many dog breeders as possible. Study photos and pedigrees of the dogs that most closely represent the picture in your mind of the ideal example of your dog breed as described in the breed standard. Eventually, you should start to find similarities in the pedigrees of the dogs whose photos appeal to you.
3. Visit dog shows
Go to as many specialty dog shows for the breed you have chosen as possible. Specialties are dog shows that feature only one dog breed, and are usually judged by experienced breeders. The national breed club holds the national specialty. This show attracts the top dog breeders and dogs from all over the United States and from other countries, as well. At these events, talk with successful breeders to learn their ideas about breeding and selling show puppies.
4. Visit show dog breeders
Narrow your choice of dog breeders down to two or three. If possible, visit the homes and kennels of these dog breeders so you can meet them and their dogs in a relaxed setting. This will give you time to ask the breeders questions about your dog breed and their particular breeding program. The breeder will be able to get to know you, too.
Look for dogs that are not only beautiful and meet your criteria for what the breed should look like, but also have stable temperaments that are correct for their breed. Keep in mind that overly shy dogs do not usually fare well in the conformation ring.
5.Choose a puppy
After studying your dog breed, refine your choice of breeders down to just one. Discuss with this dog breeder exactly what you are looking for. Mention the dogs of theirs that you have seen and why you like them. Be patient and spend whatever time and money it takes to get a quality dog with the attributes you are seeking.
With most breeds, it’s best to get a show puppy that’s between 5 and 6 months old so you can more accurately evaluate conformation, coat, dentition and that all-important show attitude. However, in some dog breeds, top-quality puppies exhibit features that are more obvious at a younger age; this all depends on the breed you are working with.
It’s often easier to buy a male puppy of higher quality than it is to buy a high-quality female, particularly if you are relatively new to the dog breed. It’s also usually easier to win with a male because most breeders want to keep and show the females, and therefore the competition in females is usually much keener. An outstanding male will afford you an opportunity to demonstrate your seriousness about the sport to breeders, who then may be more willing to part with a good female for you in the future.
6. Find a dog show mentor
When you are starting out in the sport of dogs, it’s extremely helpful to have a show dog mentor. This person should have at least 20 years of show dog experience, and be a successful breeder, owner-handler or both. Your mentor may or may not be the person from whom you have purchased your show puppy, but he should be objective about your abilities and the quality of the dog you hope to show.
Ideally, you will find a show dog mentor you can visit frequently and who may even travel with you to dog shows. The American Kennel Club and the United Kennel Club recognize the importance of mentors and can provide you with a list of experienced dog show handlers and breeders in your area who are interested in helping newcomers.
I still remember the excitement I felt when I got my first show puppy so long ago. I was eager to start learning about my new sport, but just having a beautifully bred puppy in my life was thrilling. After 40 years of exhibiting my dogs, I still get excited about showing a new puppy. Enjoy your puppy and realize that it’s the product of years of planning and hard work. Your new puppy is also your ticket to the best sport in the world.
Anne H. Bowes has been an owner-breeder-handler of Pembroke Welsh Corgis since 1968. She is an AKC judge for four breeds and Junior Showmanship, and was awarded AKC Herding Group Breeder of the Year in 2007.
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