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As a Pro Club member, you can establish helpful breeding connections, access troves of nutritional and breed research and confirm your commitment to excellent dogs.

But where do you start? No matter if you’re new to Pro Club, dog breeding or dog competitions, we’ve got the resources that can help you on your journey to create winning moments.

New to Conformation

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Becoming a Professional Handler

After discovering a passion for showing dogs, it is a natural progression to consider exhibiting dogs as a career. Professionally handling dogs may appear effortlessly glamorous in the ring, but the job is hard work and requires specific characteristics.

First, a good professional handler must be dedicated to the sport. In addition to the years of apprenticeship necessary to become a professional handler, the job requires much sacrifice. Professional handlers devote a majority of their time to their current string of dogs being campaigned. This includes exercising, grooming and training them. Add to that the shows and travel, and handlers can expect a lot of long days with little down time.

A professional handler also must possess great integrity in and out of the ring. The dogs under their care hold strong emotional value with their clients and must be treated respectfully. This respect includes giving each dog a fair amount of attention and taking precautions to keep them safe in the kennel and while traveling. Handlers also need to honestly discuss with their clients the merits of their dogs and how long it may take them to earn their championship.

Even with dedication and integrity, a handler is not a top competitor without top resources. Handlers must ensure their clients’ dogs are at their best by providing quality kennels, with consideration to grooming, exercise and the dog’s well-being. A professional handler also should provide safe and comfortable transportation for their dogs, as well as portable exercise and grooming equipment. Top handlers are willing to allocate much of their time and money into establishing these resources.

Although these skills lay the foundation for being a professional handler, no trait assures a profitable career and talent plays a crucial role in a handler’s success.

Published September 2015

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Knowing and Understanding American Kennel Club Rules

With the amount of time and resources devoted to preparing dogs for shows, it can be an owner’s worst nightmare to have their dog removed from the ring before judging even begins. Of the number of reasons to be excused, conflicts of interest may seem the most confusing to newcomers, but with proper understanding, these conflicts can be easily avoided.

As defined by the American Kennel Club (AKC), a conflict of interest exists when a judge is influenced by any relationship or factor other than the merit of the dog. Recognizing a conflict of interest, as defined by the AKC’s “Rules Applying to Dog Shows,” is the first step to preventing one.

  • Handling for a Judge: A handler cannot exhibit for a judge if they have handled that judge’s dog within the last four months. This also applies to a professional handler’s staff.
  • Co-Owning with a Judge: A judge cannot evaluate a dog that they co-own, regardless of who is the primary caretaker.
  • Family Member: No members of a judge’s household, meaning those who live together in a single home, can exhibit at any show where their family member is judging, or at any shows within a 200-mile radius for three days prior to and following the event. They also may only exhibit dogs that they own and are barred from acting as a professional handler.
  • Previous Ownership: A dog owned, boarded or that resided at a judge’s home or kennel cannot be exhibited to that judge for one year. However, breeding to a judge’s sire or vice versa is not a conflict of interest.
  • Personal Conflict: If a judge is a relative or an employer/employee, a conflict of interest exists. A conflict also arises when the judge and owner/handler travel together to shows, including traveling in the same vehicle, parking and setting up together or sharing hotel rooms.

Published September 2015

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What To Look For in a Show’s Premium List

Before every conformation show, the hosting kennel club will release a publication called the premium list. This document will be your resource for all the important information regarding registering for and attending the event. According to the American Kennel Club’s (AKC) Show Manual, all premium lists must include:

  • The show’s dates, exact location and time of opening and closing
  • Whether the show is benched or not, and if so, the hours the dog must be benched
  • The officers of the host club and the club secretary’s contact information
  • The members of the event committee and the show chair’s contact information
  • The name and telephone number of the show veterinarian and whether he or she will be in attendance or on-call
  • The name, address and assignment of each judge
  • The closing date and time for entries, and whether the entries are limited
  • Entry fees
  • A list and description of prizes and trophies
  • Hours and locations of private exercise pens availability
  • Notice of video/televising
  • Additional rules, regulations or restrictions made by the club

While certain information must be included, most kennel clubs offer the following The AKC also recommends that show premiums include the following information:

  • The name of the hosting kennel club
  • The show’s refund policy
  • Whether the show is indoor or outdoor
  • A list of suggested hotels with directions to and from the event center
  • Overnight and reserve parking information
  • Information about possible social activities for exhibitors
  • Admissions and parking fees
  • Available on-site amenities
  • Site map
  • Available grooming facilities
  • Generator restrictions

Published September 2015

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Demonstrating Good Sportsmanship in the Ring

Good sportsmanship is crucial to the sport of showing dogs. In fact, the American Kennel Club (AKC) developed a Code of Sportsmanship. Based on integrity, fairness and respect, these are the principles that keep the sport thriving. By adhering to the AKC’s Code of Sportsmanship and following these guidelines, you can strive to be the best sport you can be both in and out of the ring.

  • Show respect. Not only should you hold yourself in high esteem, but also the judges and your fellow exhibitors. Lead by example, treating others as you would yourself.
  • Be courteous and fair. It is important to both win and lose with grace. Although it is sometimes difficult to do so, requiring much courage and maturity, your actions will pay off in the long run regarding others’ impressions of you.
  • Take constructive criticism. Every dog show is a learning opportunity. Learn to accept constructive feedback from mentors, judges and other breeders, owners or handlers. It can only help you and your dog get better.
  • Offer support for others. Cheer on your fellow exhibitors just as they would for you. Be welcoming and encouraging to other newcomers to engage in camaraderie.
  • It’s all about the dogs. Without them, the sport of conformation wouldn’t exist. The welfare of your dogs should be your most primary concern. 

Published January 2015

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Dressing for Success in the Ring

Although your dog is in the spotlight, as a handler, you need to complete the picture. Handlers are the backdrop to which their dogs shine. Follow these guidelines of dog show dressing etiquette to look polished and professional.

  • Consider the dress code of the sport. Many professional handlers have a “uniform” consisting of a classic suit or Sunday best. Make sure your clothes properly cover your body to impress and gain the respect of judges, fellow exhibitors, potential clients and the public. Keep your hair pulled out of your face and your shoes shined. Err on the side of class.
  • Gentlemen should dress in proper menswear. Suits always are a safe option. Tailored, pressed dress shirts are a must. Add some flair with a fun patterned tie or bow tie and colorful socks. Or mix it up with a sport coat with slacks. Just be sure the two pair well together and don’t appear sloppy. Sweaters under jackets are acceptable in cold weather, as are polo-style shirts or short-sleeve button-up shirts with slacks in warm weather.
  • Ladies have a wider variety of dressing options, from tailored suits to dresses to pant suits. Separates, such as skirts, pants, blouses and sweaters, also are possibilities. Regardless of your preference, be sure everything has a proper fit. Stray away from clothes that are too tight, short, low or loose.
  • Keep it simple. Be wary of bright colors or flashy patterns. These will only steer the attention toward you instead of your dog.
  • Consider the dogs you show. If you present large, fast-gaiting dogs, such as Sporting breeds, your clothes should allow you to move freely around the ring. Should you show small Toys or Terriers, make sure your clothes allow you to bend over and pick up your dog without exposing excessive skin.
  • Coordinate your colors. If the colors of your clothes match your dog, the dog will blend in rather than stand out. Choose a color that compliments your dog without being overly flamboyant.
  • Make it fun. It’s important to find a middle ground between fading into the background and standing out. Your clothes should be a reflection of your personality, just as long as it doesn’t detract from the real star of the show — your dog!

Published January 2015

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Tips for Beginner Handlers

Competitive and graceful, poised and precise, handlers aim to exhibit their dogs to their potential in the approximate two minutes of individual attention they have in front of a judge in the ring. Gaiting, stacking and the judge’s examination help identify champions. Handlers who excel have showmanship finesse and a knack for making it fun for dogs. Follow these tips to polish your handling skills.

  • Watch handlers in the ring, especially those showing your breed. Frequent dog shows and watch them on TV to get ideas to try to make your dog stand out.
  • Start with the right collar and lead for training and in the ring. Martingale leads are comfortable and enable a dog to hold the head high when gaiting and stacking. Use nylon leads for puppies up to 8 months old. Match the collar and lead with what is appropriate for the breed.
  • If you are working with a puppy, enroll in basic obedience or beginning handling class under instructors with professional experience. Start out showing in puppy classes and work up the ranks together.
  • Train with a friend who can examine your dog similar to how a judge would. This will help the dog get comfortable being examined.
  • Practice stacking and baiting in front of a mirror, so you can see your dog as a judge will see the dog.
  • Use dog treats or kibble as bait and frequently praise your dog. This helps make training and showing fun.
  • Showmanship gets easier with practice. As your relationship with your dog grows, the dog will work harder to please you. Always remember to keep if fun for both you and your dog. 

Published January 2015

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A Winter Checklist for Kennels

Winter care for dogs in kennels involves taking practical steps to ensure their safety and comfort. Here are tips to help you get through.

  • Be sure kennels are dry and draft-free. Like people, dogs are susceptible to hypothermia, frostbite and illness if kept too long in the cold or a constant draft.
  • Dogs should have a place to sleep that is comfortable and elevated off the ground. A fiberglass sleeping pallet with bedding material, such as fleece, thick carpet pads, blankets and dog beds, provides comfort.
  • Hay and wood shavings are good bedding materials, but avoid using cedar or pine shavings as they may contain harmful chemicals. Shavings should be changed weekly.
  • Add door flaps to dog houses to help hold back wind and weather.
  • Kennel runs should be kept free of snow and ice.
  • Maintain your kennel at a constant temperature between 60 and 65 degrees Fahrenheit when possible.
  • Be sure to stock extra dog food so you are ready for severe snowstorms.
  • Beware of antifreeze. Dogs are attracted to the sweet taste of ethylene glycol in antifreeze, but it is toxic. If a dog licks antifreeze, prompt veterinary treatment is essential.
  • Regularly check an outside dog’s footpads. Constant exposure to moisture caused by rain, snow or mud can irritate a dog’s footpads, causing skin damage and infection from bacteria or fungi. If a dog has cracked or bleeding paws, consult your veterinarian.
  • Throughout winter, keep an eye out for cuts, abrasions, debris in eyes and pad injuries.
  • Make sure dogs’ vaccinations are current. The stress of severe cold is even greater for dogs in poor health.

Published December 2014

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Cold Weather Nutrition

Did you know dogs need 7 percent more calories for every 10 degrees the temperature drops below the moderate temperatures of spring and fall? In fact, the caloric needs of an active dog in winter could double. Feeding a quality canine diet year-round is recommended. Poor quality dog food is not a per-calorie savings.

In winter, it helps to allow dogs to gain a small amount of weight for insulation and energy reserves; however, it still is important to maintain dogs in ideal body condition, defined as ribs palpable without excess fat covering. Dogs should have ample water in winter because of the metabolic changes that take place and to help process extra food. Also be sure to keep dogs’ water from freezing.

Published December 2014

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Providing Canine Comfort in Winter

Cold weather can affect dogs’ energy and immune system, making them prone to disease and injury. Winterizing kennels helps to reduce disease and the risks of hypothermia, a dangerous drop in body temperature, and frostbite, the freezing of tissues caused by exposure to very low temperatures.

Both heated and unheated kennels should have adequate insulation. Dogs’ doors should be closed at night, particularly when it is cold and windy. Good ventilation, without excessive cross drafts, will help keep air fresh. Additionally, air should be exhausted from the ceiling to the floor to prevent warm air near the ceiling from being pulled out. Vents should be opened whenever the outside temperature is warmer than the inside temperature.

Inside shelter may be necessary if temperatures become extremely cold. Even the most airtight doghouse will not keep a dog warm when subzero temperatures prevail. You should also keep a dog’s coat dry in this type of weather, as a wet coat drains body heat.

Outdoor doghouses should be located where there is good drainage and raised a few inches off the ground to help keep out moisture. The elevated area should be shielded with boards to prevent wind from gusting under the doghouse. A canvas flap could be placed over the door of a doghouse, and an inside partition can be used to help keep direct wind off dogs.

Build a doghouse designed with an entry through a hallway to a second door into the sleeping area to help keep dogs warm. With a cover on the outside door, this type of doghouse goes a long way in keeping drafts off a dog. It also helps to conserve heat.

Adequate heat and proper sanitation are important too. It’s best to maintain a constant temperature around 60 to 65 degrees Fahrenheit. Good sanitation should be practiced year-round, but a hose may be impractical in winter due to freezing water lines. Instead, a scraper or shovel may be used to remove waste from concrete runs. Waste should be picked up daily.

The bottom line is to use common sense in caring for dogs in winter. Though you can’t change the weather, you can be sure your dogs are healthy and comfortable.

Published December 2014

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Cold Weather Care of Dogs

Along with proper nutrition, several factors will help ensure the health and performance of dogs during the winter. Dogs of all ages should be in good body condition prior to and during winter months to withstand colder temperatures.

Feeding a nutritionally complete and balanced diet is essential to maintain a dog during the cold weather. This will help ensure the dog is getting the nutrition necessary for developing and maintaining the coat and muscles and providing energy for heat. On average, dogs require about 7.5 percent more food for each 10-degree Fahrenheit degree drop in temperature. Dogs also should have fresh water available at all times. Adding warm water to dry food helps ensure the dog’s water intake is sufficient.

Adequate insulation is necessary in both heated and unheated kennels in almost every climate. Good ventilation, without excessive cross drafts, is desirable. During the winter, air should be exhausted from the ceiling to the floor to prevent warm air near the ceiling from being pulled out. In unheated kennels, vents should be opened any time the outside temperature is warmer than the inside of the kennel. Bedding, such as wood chips or straw, though not recommended for young puppies that may be sensitive to the inhalation of dust and pieces of plant material, should be supplied, especially for short-haired breeds.

Sometimes a dog may accidentally be exposed to a long period of extreme cold and may suffer frostbite. Frostbite in dogs occurs most frequently on the ears, tail, scrotum and feet. Signs of frostbite are:

  • Flushed and reddened tissues
  • White or grayish tissues
  • Evidence of shock
  • Scaliness of skin
  • Possible sloughing of surface tissue

If your dog suffers from frostbite, prompt veterinary treatment is needed. If this is not possible, the affected area should be warmed rapidly by immersing in warm water or by using warm moist towels that are changed frequently. As soon as the affected tissues become flushed, discontinue warming. Gently dry the affected tissues, lightly bandage with a clean, dry nonadhering bandage. Protect the dog from further exposure to cold. 

Published August 2014

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Preparing Dogs for Travel

For dogs that are being campaigned, traveling is a part of everyday life. Common sense and preparation are the key points to keeping a dog healthy on the road.

Several risks accompany travel by car or trailer. Temperature, stress, change in diet, and water all pose potential health problems. Adhere to a strict feeding schedule. Try training your dog to travel well by feeding him or her in a traveling kennel a few weeks in advance of being on the road. This will get the dog used to eating at a certain time in a certain place and prevents any additional stress.

Dogs should be housed in a kennel large enough for the dog to sit, stand, lay and turn around comfortably without his or her head touching the top of the crate. The travel kennel should be sturdy and leak-proof, have a secure closure, have no sharp corners, and not allow the dog’s body parts to stick through. Stop every few hours at a rest area, if possible, to give your dog a break and exercise him or her.

You know your dog better than anyone. Be sure your dog is in good health and fit to travel before setting out on the road. 

Published August 2014

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Warm Weather Care of Dogs

As temperatures soar, dogs become more vulnerable to heat stress. When body temperature rises, a dog’s circulatory and respiratory systems can become overtaxed to the point that permanent damage may occur if certain precautions are not taken.

Never leave a dog confined in a van, truck, RV, or any other poorly ventilated enclosure during warm weather. For example, if the temperature outside is 78 degrees Fahrenheit, a closed vehicle parked in the shade will reach 90 degrees in five minutes and 110 degrees in 25 minutes.

Avoid excessive exercise of dogs during hot days or warm, humid nights. The best time to exercise dogs is either early in the morning or late in the evening.

Providing small amounts of fresh, cool water throughout the day will help lower a dog’s body temperature during periods of extreme heat. Be sure to frequently change the water. It also is not unusual for a dog’s food consumption to decrease during this time. As a general rule, dogs need about 7.5 percent fewer calories with each 10-degree rise in ambient temperature.

Ensure the kennel is comfortable for dogs during the hot summer months. The kennel should be well-insulated and provide ample ventilation. A ceiling exhaust fan should supplement ventilation provided by windows and doors. Make sure the kennel runs are shaded.

If a dog shows signs of heat stroke, immerse the dog in cool water to help lower the dog’s body temperature. If water is not available, apply ice packs to the head and neck, moving the dog to a cool place right away. A gentle breeze or fan also can help. With any form of heat stress, prompt veterinary attention is critical to avoid potential complications.

Published August 2014

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Achieving Success in the Show Ring

Fundamental elements, such as having a dog with quality breed type, in good condition and presently expertly, are crucial to winning with a Special in the ring. The handler must show expertise, experience, perseverance, and tenacity to do the job well.

Although mistakes in presentation, poor training, lack of condition, and minor coat and grooming errors might be forgiven in a Puppy or Open class, this is not the case in the Best of Breed class, as it is the Masters class comprised of dogs pre-certified to possess more than adequate merit and quality.

Before stepping into the competitive atmosphere of the Best of Breed ring, consider that the competition should be an objective, unbiased assessment of the dog’s potential by a qualified judge. The criteria for setting realistic goals should be commensurate with the conditions required for success. Expert resources, such as an experienced, credible mentor or a professional handler familiar with campaigning Specials, are essential.

The fundamental element is having a dog with above-average breed type coupled with stamina, mental and emotional stability, an attention-craving attitude and the extraordinary aura of an all-star. A dog also should enjoy grooming and travel. The abilities to thrive within the constraints of life on the road and a willingness to partner with a handler are important.

A successful show campaign requires expertise and experience to make decisions based on the dog’s welfare. The beginning of a show campaign with a young Special requires getting multiple opinions. It is a time-proven fact that success is predicated on fundamental basics and the strength and depth of the winning components combined with perseverance and tenacity. 

Published May 2014

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Having Fun on the Show Circuit

Stress can upset even the most polished show dog. Understanding a dog’s psyche is half the challenge, and forming a strong bond with your dog is crucial to getting him or her to please you.

By bonding with your dog, he or she will be much more likely to want to please you. If stressful conditions, such as heat or inclement weather, set in while on the show circuit, your dog will be more likely to perform. It’s important to make your dog feel special, which promotes confidence and reduces nervous, clingy behavior in the show ring.

Comfort on the road is important in helping to reduce stress. While traveling, stop every few hours to exercise your dog. When set up at a show, you should frequently place your dog in a portable exercise pen and take time to walk your dog. Water and nutrition also play a role in helping to reduce stress. Dogs should have water 24 hours a day to help keep them properly hydrated. Nutrition is important for a healthy coat and muscle tone. 

To help reduce stress, it is important for a dog to be properly prepared for competition. Make sure your dog is in optimal mental and physical condition. Most importantly, don’t forget to make dog shows fun for your dog.

Published May 2014

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Time Management and Presentation in the Show Ring

Multiple elements contribute to an effective show ring presentation. Time is the most important. Meanwhile, handlers should exhibit proper body language and ring space management skills to properly show a dog. How a handler presents a dog is crucial to a successful show career.

Time management is important because a handler must consider how much time to allow for table or ground stacking and for coat brushing. You should know your dog’s time and patience limitations so that he or she doesn’t break the stack before the judge can assess the dog. A common mistake handlers make is misjudging the time and having a dog ready too early.

Body language is nonverbal communication that sends a powerful message to the receiver. A handler’s body carriage and demeanor are indicators of one’s level of confidence and ability. Deliberate moves, an open body frame, quiet hands, and eye contact are signals of an able competitor. A slight hesitation before executing the requested pattern followed by brief eye contact and then a slight pause before returning to the judge communicates that the moment belongs to you and your dog.

Finally, ring space management also is essential to successful showing. Judges sometimes look back at previously examined dogs to decide which ones will make the cut. A skilled handler has the option of placing him or herself out of viewing range so that a dog may rest and not be seen in an unattractive stance or seizing the opportunity to showcase a dog that has a lot of energy. This is accomplished by standing within the judge’s view from across the ring and placing the dog in a natural stance, but this should only be done if there is adequate ring space. A handler should always keep a dog away from the pattern of a gaiting dog.

For professionals and owner-handlers alike, working on a show ring strategy and presentation to minimize mistakes and emphasize a dog’s positive features will provide a distinct advantage. A judge commonly has approximately two minutes per dog in the ring to choose a winner. A handler can have an edge by knowing the dog’s strengths and taking time to practice for perfection.

Published May 2014

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How to Campaign a Special

Campaigning a Special, or showing a champion over an extended period of time, involves a great deal of time and money. After determining a dog is fit for a national campaign, it is important to take the necessary steps to promote the dog. Proper conditioning, grooming and nutrition are key to keeping your dog in tiptop shape for a campaign.

Once committed to a Specials career, begin by setting a goal. Whether it’s to become the top-ranked dog in the breed, group or all-breed, a solid objective gives an owner or handler and the dog a purpose on the campaign trail. Once a goal is set, strategize the best way to achieve it. Carefully choose the shows you attend. Be sure to mix up the shows, judges and entry numbers in order to earn maximum points. Devising an effective advertising plan is another essential part of campaigning a Special because it helps to make others aware of your dog’s career.

While traveling, a dog’s routine should be kept as consistent as possible to help ensure success. Opt to feed the same dog food on the road as at home, and choose a complete and balanced formula that offers optimal nutrition to support the dog’s energy needs. Exercise the dog three to five times a week depending on the breed and his or her athletic ability. Finally, don’t forget to give your dog a breather from time to time. Taking a break from shows every once in a while can help invigorate a campaign.

Although campaigning a Special is hard work, it can be very rewarding. When you and your dog achieve or exceed your goal, the long hours become worth it. 

Published January 2014

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How to Condition Show Dogs

Dogs must be fit for conformation competition. Trainers should start exercise programs slowly and build up gradually based on an individual dog’s age, breed and physical condition. Gradually introducing dogs to exercise gives their musculoskeletal systems time to adapt properly.

Warming up and stretching muscles is a requisite before vigorous exercise. As the muscles warm up, blood flow increases to muscles, joints, tendons, and ligaments, helping to reduce muscle or ligament tearing. Throughout exercise, trainers should monitor dogs for signs of injuries. Even the choice of where dogs work is important. For example, running or biking with dogs on pavement may be stressful on their joints or makes it possible for their pads to get scraped.

Proper hydration also is important. During exercise, muscle activity is the main internal heat producer. Twenty to 30 percent of the energy expended by the muscles is used for work, and 70 to 80 percent is released as heat, which increases body temperature. Careful observation is required during workouts, and scheduling workouts in the coolest part of the day is best during warm weather. Dogs should have access to water prior to and after exercising, especially during hot seasons.

Exercise is needed for physical and mental well-being. Conditioning means not only exercising, but also bathing and working the skin and coat, keeping up to date on vaccinations, staying clean from parasites, and practicing good nutrition. A healthy dog in the ring has that extra spark, and that extra spark wins dog shows. 

Published January 2014

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How to Correct Insecurities in a Show Dog

Raising and training a show dog that confidently enjoys the demands of a conformation career can make for a myriad of learning curves and bumps along the road. Problems such as low self-esteem and lack of purpose need to be corrected early on. Using the buddy system among kennelmates, or “social learning,” can be an effective confidence builder.

When a dog exhibits fearful behavior, owners and handlers sometimes attempt to overcompensate by pampering the dog. This only serves to strengthen and encourage the anxious behavior of the dog. Working through this type of negative experience involves patience. It is important that the dog be allowed to stand on his or her own space and watch what is going on in the ring. Owning his ground while accompanied by a person the dog trusts requires no pampering and cooing.

Another possible insecurity is caused by the inappropriate use of baiting, which can occur when bait becomes a poor replacement for show ring training. Feeding and baiting are separate actions. A handler should be able to recognize the difference between rewarding a dog for a desired behavior and baiting only to distract and restrain.

Bait should be subtly visible only to alert when a judge is evaluating head and expression and then given once the exam is complete. Overuse of food will diminish a dog’s desire to give an intense, focused expression.

Retraining negative learned behavior takes time. It requires a great deal of patience, repetition and often inventive thinking. 

Published January 2014

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How to Socialize Show Dogs

Socialization is fundamental to preparing show dogs for the ring. The right temperament is just as important as the correct conformation. Successful show dogs have a “look-at-me” attitude. Their enthusiasm and outgoing personalities catch attention from judges and show attendees.

Socialization should start early. The longer you wait, the more difficult it becomes. Experts say temperament is set around 18 months of age. After this, it is unlikely a handler can change a dog’s disposition.

Dog shows are ideal to practice socializing dogs. Long before a dog enters the show ring, he should be conditioned to the sights, sounds and happenings at a dog show. Put young dogs in exercise pens so they can watch everything going on. Practice walking around with a young dog to help acquaint him with shows while also teaching him to walk on a lead.

As you continue to socialize puppies, you should get them away from their everyday surroundings. Take young dogs to the front yard, parks and stores, where they will meet unfamiliar people and experience new environments. They should get accustomed to being handled and walking on different surface types.

To introduce a puppy to new dogs, you could take him to a puppy group class that provides a controlled environment and the guidance of a professional trainer. Obedience classes also will add to a puppy’s socialization and help teach distraction-blocking because of the presence of other dogs and people. Exposing puppies to as many experiences as possible in a positive manner will help them to become confident, equipped to handle stress and problem solve as an adult, and more easily trained for future endeavors.

Most importantly, remember to make training and showing enjoyable for you and your dog. By taking the training slow and easy, you will be more likely to achieve positive results. As a handler, you want to do all you can to help your dog look and perform his best.

Published August 2013

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Tips For First-Time Handlers

If you’re new to showing dogs, it can be intimidating. First-time handlers often opt to begin with an adult dog rather than a puppy to help them concentrate on the basics of handling.

Consider enrolling in a handling class to learn about show ring procedures and how to properly position a dog’s lead. Gaiting, the pattern of footsteps in which a dog moves, and stacking, in which a handler poses a dog’s legs and body to showcase excellent conformation, also are taught. Both dogs and handlers can profit from these classes.

First-time handlers who start with a puppy can begin teaching  the  puppy at 6 weeks of age to stand by grabbing his attention with a squeaky toy or bait, such as a piece of liver, chicken or other treat. At 8 weeks of age, you can start working with the puppy with a collar and leash, and when the dog reaches 4 to 6 months of age, you can teach gaiting.

The American Kennel Club offers a 4-to-6 Month Beginner Puppy Competition, which is intended to provide new handlers and their puppies a stress-free and relaxed introduction to dog shows. The competition is a great way to gain experience in the show ring.

When a puppy is 4 to 6 months old, it is a good idea to enroll in a puppy socialization class, followed by an obedience class to introduce basic commands. The age to begin classes varies by breed. A well-socialized puppy may be ready to start sooner in an obedience class. Eventually, a puppy will be completely trained and ready for a dog show.

Introduce your dog gradually to dog shows. Start out slowly, such as attending a couple shows a month. This is more likely to produce a happy, well-adjusted show dog. Most importantly, don’t give up on handling your dog in the show ring. The time and energy spent on practicing will be well worth it once you get your first win.

Published August 2013

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Grooming Tips

Besides having healthy, shiny skin and coats, show dogs must be properly groomed. Learning to groom show dogs starts with being able to envision a perfect example of the breed. A groomer should accentuate a dog’s positive attributes without overdoing it. Time, practice and patience are necessary to become a successful groomer.

To help understand the way a breed should look, a groomer should study the breed standard. Balance and proportion are important, and the coat should be groomed to enhance the dog’s best qualities.

Most breeds should often be bathed and completely dry before show grooming begins. Maintaining a show dog requires regular clipping of nails to promote a correct, steady gait and cleaning ears to remove wax and kill bacteria.Groomers also should clean around a dog’s eyes to remove buildup and tear stains and keep the dog’s teeth clean.

How well a dog is groomed is an important part of his success in the show ring. Very subtle changes can have a great impact on the overall look of the dog. For example, there is an art to maintaining a stripped coat in hard-coated breeds. A groomer evenly removes grown-out stubble from a terrier’s coat to set his pattern without damaging the hair shaft. This process builds texture and density of the wiry coat, a desirable trait in most terriers. For smooth-coated breeds, groomers brush the dog’s coat in a way that enhances his profile, and for long- or drop-coated breeds, groomers use techniques such as clipping, scissoring and trimming to manually shape the dog’s coat.

After the grooming is completed, the groomer should place the dog on the ground and watch him move to see if any improvements need to be made. The groomer should see a quality example of the breed. The grooming should accentuate the individual dog’s attributes and downplay faults.  

If you’re willing to devote the time and energy necessary to become a groomer, seek a mentor in your breed to learn tricks and techniques of the trade. Many handlers began their careers by training as an assistant with a professional handler. An apprenticeship will help you learn from the best of the best.

Published August 2013

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Intro to Showing Dogs

Are you interested in learning about dog shows?Perhaps you have seen a dog show on TV or you have a beautiful purebred dog and wonder what it would be like to enter a show. Though there is much to learn, it is thrilling to win with a dog you have trained and handled.

Learning the basics about dog shows starts with understanding how dogs are judged and how shows operate. Judges compare dogs to the official standard for the breed, evaluating a dog’s conformation, overall appearance, movement and structure. The American Kennel Club (AKC) and United Kennel Club (UKC) are among several registries that sanction dog shows. There are all-breed dog shows and specialty shows in which dogs of the same of breed compete for top honors.

The caliber of dog that you show has much to do with how successful you will be. Find an expert to help you learn the characteristics that are important for your breed. Study the breed standard and watch your breed being judged at shows. Socialization is crucial for potential show dogs. By 1 year of age, a dog should be trained and ready for shows (although puppies can show at six months). Along with learning how to train a dog, you need to learn how to groom your breed, maintain a dog in proper body condition and the importance of proper nutrition.  

Handling a dog takes practice. If you’re just starting out, you should enroll in a handling class. These are offered through kennel clubs, private kennels and some 4-H Clubs. If you are between 9 and 18 years old, you may participate in the AKC Junior Showmanship program in which handlers are judged on how they present a dog. If you are older, a mentor can help guide your education. The more you learn, the more likely you are to impress judges during the roughly 2 ½ minutes they spend evaluating each dog.    

Conformation dog shows require hard work and dedication to do well. Along the way, you will meet people like yourself who love dogs. You also will enjoy the rewarding experience of bonding with your dog and achieving success in the show ring.

Published August 2013

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