How to Get Started Showing Dogs
You’ve probably watched the Westminster Dog Show. Maybe you’ve even watched an AKC show or attended a dog show. Well, if you’re interested in getting more involved by showing your dog, you can!
Many dog owners think that it is too tough to get started showing dogs, but there are some easy, straightforward steps you can take to make the process more approachable. While there’s no denying that showing a dog is work, it is extremely rewarding for most owners and their dogs.
Understanding the Purpose and History of Dog Shows
While dog shows are very much about prestige, many spectators don’t fully understand why dog shows came into existence. This is essential to understanding the competitive aspect of dog shows.
Dog shows were developed to compare the quality of a breeder’s stock with other breeders. Dogs that fit the ideal of the breed are considered more valuable and desirable because the people who purchase these dogs know exactly what they’re getting: personality-wise, health-wise, and appearance-wise. This kept unhealthy puppies off the market and gave breeders their reputations. This is why show dogs are ‘unaltered’ (not spayed or neutered).
Kennel clubs developed out of the need for a trustworthy and knowledgeable organization that could fairly judge the quality of a dog compared to its breed. The American Kennel Club and others remain committed to tradition but warmly welcome newcomers.
10 Steps to Help You Begin Competing at Dog Shows
1. Learn as Much as You Can about your Dog’s Breed Standard
We all adore our dogs, especially those that make us fall in love with a breed. But, not all dogs meet the breed standard well enough to compete. Dog shows rank or score dogs based on how closely they meet the criteria for an ideal dog of their breed in personality and appearance. This means if your dog doesn’t look like a model for the breed or doesn’t have a show-stopping personality, he or she may not show well. You can learn more about breeds and breed standards on the AKC website here.
If your beloved dog has a characteristic that strays too far from the breed standard, you may want to find a puppy that can keep your existing dog company and perform well in the shows.
2. Attend Some Local Dog Shows
It just takes one show to realize how exciting dog shows can be. We recommend that you attend some local shows to better understand the process and culture. Try to find some shows for your dog’s breed. Take notes on what you enjoy and then decide if you think you have the competitive personality to bring a dog to the show yourself.
If your dog is ineligible and you’re considering a puppy, the judges at most shows are breeders that can point you in the direction of a reputable breeder.
3. Ask Questions
While you’re attending shows, ask questions to the handlers and other spectators. Ask them about how they got started, what club they’re part of, and any other questions that come to mind. Most owners and handlers are happy to answer your questions. Just make sure you’re not distracting them before their dog hits the ring.
This can help you make friends in your area and help you find a mentor. You can also learn more about whether you want to handle your own dog or hire a professional handler.
4. Evaluate if You Want to Commit to AKC Dog Shows (there are others)
Ultimately, you will need to commit to showing your dog. Most people choose to show at AKC competitions. Almost every region in the United States (and the U.K.) has a local AKC Club. It is important to keep in mind that just because your dog isn’t “show quality” doesn’t mean there’s anything necessarily wrong with your dog.
If you want to compete with a dog that is not purebred, is altered, or has some imperfections, you can always compete in AKC sporting events there are also mixed-breed competitions and agility and other obedience competitions.
5. Register Your Dog and Join a Club
In order to compete in the AKC, your dog must be over 6 months old, be unaltered, be healthy with all necessary shots, and be registered with the AKC. You will then want to find a local club where you will meet your tribe of people who love your breed and competition just as much as you. Don’t be intimidated. Clubs are full of people willing to offer advice and help you.
6. Conformation Training and Socialization
The official term for dog shows is “conformation” because it implies that dogs are judged based on how well they meet or conform to the expectations of their breed. Part of showing off how
well your dog meets his or her breed standard, is their ability to perform in the ring. This means your dog will need to learn to stack and gait like a pro. There are classes for this—you can often find more information through your club on classes or working with a one-on-one trainer.
You should also bring your dog to dog training classes so she or he can interact with other dogs to help build social skills to make competition day run smoother. Showing dogs at dog shows requires a well-socialized dog.
7. Understanding the AKC Advancement System
How a dog goes from Best of Breed to Best in Show can seem complicated, but it’s not as confusing as it may seem at first. We’ve attached a chart to go along with the following to help you better understand the process.
When you enter an AKC show, you first compete in a regular class based on your dog’s sex. This can be “6-9 Month Puppy,” “9-12 Month Puppy,” “12-18 Month Puppy,” or open classes that are for 18 month and older dogs.
If your dog wins the first round, he or she will go on to compete against other class winners (still separated by gender). Two dogs advance from each section: winner and reserve dog.
The winners dogs (male and female) go head to head with the specials (specials are dogs, male and female, who are already champions. Champions compete in the Best of Breed competition.) to win Best of Winners and possibly Best of Breed. The best of breed winner goes on to the groups as well to possibly win titles like Best of Opposite Sex.
From there, the winners of Best in Breed will be judged within his or her group: sporting, hound, working, terrier, toy, non-sporting, or herding. The winner of the group section moves to compete against other groups to possibly win Best in Show.
8. Winning Takes Work: A Show-Worthy Diet and Exercise and Learn to Groom Your Dog
Dogs are what they eat. And beautiful dogs require work. Make sure you invest in a diet that will keep your dog looking his or her best—with healthy teeth, a shiny coat, a healthy weight, and if you have a light-colored breed, won’t stain their muzzle. Many show dogs also have rigorous training and exercise routine to help them keep proper muscle tone.
You will also want to learn how to groom your dog on the morning of the show.
9. Invest the Show Dog Gear You Need
When you’re first starting out, you will want to invest in the essentials, like your grooming products, a tack box, and a show crate. Make sure you have a collar and lead that are new and won’t distract from your dog when being judged. Over time, you will acquire more and more of the supplies you need, and you may even eventually bring multiple dogs to conformation.
10. Compete and Have Fun
After your dog has attended conformation and you know how to groom your pooch, it’s time to compete. Most people new to dog shows get honest feedback and see how well their dog performs. Match shows are informal and let you meet even more people in the conformation community.
Remember to have fun and that your dog is a winner in your heart. Once you spend some time in the ring, don’t hesitate to find a mentor and learn more about your breed and how to handle your dog.