Show Dog Owner Resource Center
If you already own a show dog or want to get into the sport of dog conformation, use this resource center to learn all you need to know.
April 25, 2013
Before deciding to show a dog, make sure you understand conformation dog shows. Photo by Isabelle Francais.
If you already own a show dog or want to get into the sport of dog conformation, use this resource center to learn all you need to know. Before deciding to show a dog, make sure you understand conformation dog shows. First travel to a few dog shows and meet people to get acquainted with the sport. (Find one near you by using the Dogs In Review magazine Conformation Dog Show Calendar.) Know that this is the right activity for you and your current or future dog. You may instead decide to try agility, obedience or another activity with your dog.
Finding a Show Dog
The first step to showing purebred dogs at conformation dog shows is to find a puppy with potential. Research what dog breed or breeds you want to show, and then research the breed standards and the types and styles that area available in that breed.
Join the national breed club, and talk with show dog breeders who will sell you an intact puppy (spayed and neutered puppies cannot compete in conformation dog shows). You can also look up the top dogs in the breeds you are researching to see which kennels you may want to purchase from. If you can’t afford to own a show dog on your own, meet people who may be interested in co-owning a dog with you. Once you find a great show puppy with great potential, choose a name and register it with the AKC.
Showing a Show Dog
Whether you own your dog by yourself or are a part of a co-ownership, you will need to have the sufficient funds to campaign your dog or find financial backers who will help with costs. Either learn how to owner-handle your dog or hire a professional handler to take your dog to conformation dog shows in order to work toward a Champion or Grand Champion title. A professional handler may know which AKC judges are better or worse to enter under and will most likely be able to travel to more conformation dog shows than you ever could.
Either you or your professional handler will need to train your new puppy to stack (stand in a still pose that will show off its conformation to the dog show judges). The puppy will also need to attend crowded events with a lot of other dogs, so it must learn to behave well around others. If the puppy is shy and just doesn’t like dog shows, you may need to find another puppy that will do better in the conformation ring.
Once your show dog is ready to compete, make sure that he is in top condition, meaning that there are no health concerns and that it exercises and has excellent nutrition. Overweight dogs with an unhealthy coat will not become champions! Your professional handler will also be able to groom your show dog so that it looks its best while not breaking any AKC rules. (Grooming that will "fool” judges into believing your show dog’s conformation is better than it is, is against the rules.) Read more about grooming and how it's changed over the years in the:
Your dog may end up going against the top dogs of the country, so be prepared for disappointments. Learn what it takes to be successful in showing dogs and be thick-skinned when it comes to your dog.
Breeding Show Dogs
If your dogs do well in the conformation ring, you may want to become a show dog breeder. Most show dog breeders aren’t large operations – the breeders may produce one or two litters a year. Breeding show dogs will not make you money. In fact, it may be just the opposite. Find a mentor and make sure you will be producing the best dogs of your breed. The role of purebred dog breeders is to produce healthy dogs with good temperaments – it is never to make money.
If you learn all you can about breeding the best dogs, and you have the means to do so, give it a try. If you start your own kennel, choose a kennel name carefully, as the kennel name will be visible in the show dog’s names for as long as you breed.
AKC Junior Showmanship allows for young adults from ages 9 to 18 to develop dog handling skills, to learn about good sportsmanship and to learn about purebred dogs and conformation dog shows. Junior Handlers are the future of the sport, and the AKC encourages young people to become responsible dog owners and learn about purebred dogs. Participants are divided into two classes: Novice and Open classes. Juniors in the Novice class have won fewer than three first-place awards in a Novice class at a show. Once the competitor has won three or more first-place awards, he or she can move on to the Open class. The classes may also be divided further into age groups: Junior (9 to 11 years old), Intermediate (12 to 14 years old) and Senior (15 to 18 years old).
Unlike regular adult competition, Junior Showmanship is judged on the junior’s ability to handle their show dogs. The presentation is judged – not the dog. Handling, professional dress, personal conduct and grooming is important in Junior Showmanship competition. While the dog is not judged, it still must be an AKC-registered purebred dog that is eligible to compete in conformation dog shows, and the competitor must own the dog (the dog can also be owned by a family member).
Tips for New Exhibitors
On the Dogs in Review Facebook page, Dogs in Review magazine asked this question to experienced exhibitors: If you could give one piece of advice to a newbie in conformation, what would it be? Here are some of their responses:
Bob Banks: I would tell a very new person to study the owners and professionals that are winning in your given breed first. Also you have to watch other breeds and handlers, too. When you watch the people that are doing the most winning, there is a reason. Study where they place their hands, how they stack each breed, what speed they move their dogs, etc. Try to copy the way the best in the sport show your breed. I also would like to see the new people coming into the sport not worry about who is in the ring with you, but keep working and watching your own charge. At first your wins will be few, but as you get better, the wins will come more often. Before you know it, you'll be able to compete against anyone at any time. Good luck! This is a wonderful sport, but no one starts at the top — it takes time and hard work.
Debi Decker: Learn your breed standard from beginning to end. Observe your breed in the ring, and see if you can pick out the points that the standard outlines and apply it to your own dog. We all start with our first dog, and without educating ourselves, we generally start with a poor one. But if you love showing, you will learn what is correct for your breed and what you find appealing about your breed, and you will find a good breeder who produces dogs that meet the standard. Good luck out there!
Carol Donnelly: Be patient! You almost never win right out of the gate, but every time you compete or observe is an amazing learning experience.
Danita Slatton: My advice is to have fun! Too many exhibitors, handlers and judges have taken the fun out of a really fun sport! Smile, relax and have a great time!
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