The ADBA show ring should be welcoming to all exhibitors no matter what level of experience or expertise.
I want to share a few tips that I have learned over the years that will make you more competitive showing your dogs in the ADBSI show ring. I will try to explain, the judge’s state of mind and what he will be looking for in the dogs that he will be placing in the ribbons. I am not saying that by using these methods you will take a Best of Show trophy with a dog that does not conform well to the ADBA standard. However, by starting out with an average or above average conformation dog, these tips could positively influence the outcome of the show in your favor.
Tip #1: Know your dog.
Know his strengths and limitations. A good handler, by knowing the dog he is showing, can focus a judge’s short exam to show off the dog’s strengths. In talking to the judge, never, never point out the dogs faults. I once had an exhibitor make a point of showing me the dog’s bad bite, and then discussing it with me as the judge. It is up to the judge to determine the dog’s limitations, so keep quiet. I will discuss a little bit more about how to direct a judge attention to what you want him to see, later in this article.
Tip # 2: Do your homework.
As a kid in school, you were never going to bring home the “A” grade unless you did your homework on a daily basis. The same is true in the show ring. First, a show dog needs to be socialized on the lead. He needs to be able to walk at a trot on a loose lead with his head up. Many times, this does not happen in the show ring, because of the high energy and distractions at the show venue, but it will never happen in the ring if you cannot get your dog to do this in your backyard. There are many methods that handlers use to give their dog some ring training. Use of bait as a reward is great to begin training, but remember bait in not allowed in the show ring. The reason why is that bait is very distracting for the other dogs in the ring. (Getting another handler’s dog to fire off or react in the ring by one way or another, is one of the ‘dirty little tricks’ that I spoke about in the first part of this article)
Your training sessions should be short and always end on a fun note. I have had a dog fall flat in the show ring, something that is referred to as ‘ring sour’ because of over training, too much travel or too many times in the show ring with little fun or rest. The dog’s attitude or ring presence is being looked at critically by the judge as one of the more important traits considered today. They want a dog on his toes, confident, in control of his space but NOT out of control, lunging about so he cannot be judged easily. For a dog to give you this in the ring, he needs to be well socialized with a sound temperament. The sound temperament he is born with, but the socialization is his owner’s responsibility. Get the dog out to fun shows and public parks. Have him around and handled by friends and strangers alike, all before his six month birthday if at all possible. Get him comfortable on a collar and leash, comfortable with his crate, riding in a car, being brushed, bathed and nails trimmed in a calm submissive manner. If he will allow all the prep work before a show with little energy spent resisting, he will have more stamina at the big dog show weekend.
Tip # 3 Conditioning a mature dog:
Very few good dogs brought directly from your backyard to the show ring will stand a chance at the Best of Show trophy without some conditioning exercise. The dog needs to be slowly brought down to his show weight with exercise and quality nutrition. As a reminder, the conformation standard describes the presentation of an adult dog as that of a lean, exercised animal showing a hint of rib and backbone with no hip showing and with muscles firm and defined. Many fanciers have their own special recipe when it comes to an exercise regiment and every dog is different in what they love to do, so I am not going to go into conditioning in much detail except to say, that it needs to be done over a considerable length of time (for most dogs 4 to 5 weeks). It is the exceptional dog that can be pulled together with a couple of weeks of work, so start early.
The exercise routine needs to be spaced with rest days, rubdowns and lots of bonding time with the dog. When I am conditioning a dog for the show ring, I am also conditioning his coat and getting his nails short so his feet will appear tight No less than four weeks before the show, I go over the dog’s coat with a pumice stone that I get at the local restaurant supply house. By working the coat over, in the direction of the coat growth, I can remove most of the dry dead hair, so new coat growth can begin. If your dog is an outside dog, this is essential to loosen that winter coat and get the short, glossy coat to appear. Hand rubbing the dog’s muscles and coat after it’s exercise period will distribute your oils to the dogs coat to help condition it. I never bathe a dog until the day before the show, as over bathing can dry out a coat. I am always so pleased and surprised at the natural gloss and radiance of my dog’s coat on show day after the five weeks of hand rubbing and massage following his workouts.
Whatever type of exercise that you decide to do with your dog, vary his routine to keep it interesting. Some days I like a little mill work, other days a long walk pulling uphill in the mountains and then other days a moderate jog in a walking harness for three miles down to the bike path. Start slowly and pay attention to your dogs pads for wear and tear especially on concrete and asphalt surfaces. Whatever you do, do it safely for yourself and your dog. It should never tear your dog down, but bring out the muscle tone and build up his health and enthusiasm for life.
Tip # 4: Conditioning a puppy:
You shouldn’t really be conditioning a puppy besides providing an opportunity for walking on a leash just to socialize him and to leash train. Also, playing in your backyard with a game of fetch or tug of war with a rope etc. Puppies close to a year of age, that are physically mature, can be taught to run a mill, but this type of conditioning needs to be just a few minutes a day for fun only! I personally never put a lot of pressure on puppies, as they will grow up soon enough. My Dad would always say that you will have a better adult dog, if you let them have their puppyhood! The standard states that dogs in the puppy classes should be that of a well nourished puppy showing no ribs, backbone or hips. On the other extreme, the puppy should NOT be so overweight that they have rolls of fat either. It is still better to be a pound too heavy then an ounce too light.