General Dog Show Tips

Long-haired dog being shown

It’s 6 a.m. on a Saturday. A slight breeze carries the hum of generators, while the aroma of bacon frying in a motor home rises into the air. Your sensible crepe-soled loafers are damp from grass covered in dew, and across the large field a mist covers the ground. Your stomach has small butterflies winging their way around your insides, and you can’t wait for the day to begin. Undoubtedly, you’re at a dog show. It’s 8 a.m. and anything is possible. The day has yet to unfold and the sense of anticipation is intoxicating.

The dog world is comprised of a vast diversity of people, having a wide range of educational levels, occupational skills and social backgrounds. There are few places where paths cross in such a variety of purpose and direction. Some people are seeking a social outlet apart from family and the workplace. Others, such as vendors and professional handlers, are in their workplace, and yet another group is driven by a competitive spirit that has attracted them for two reasons — their love of competition and love of dogs. The serious breeder is motivated by his expression of art in dog form and comparing his or her dogs with other breeders. Casual participants are likely drawn by the pride of seeing a beloved family pet in the show ring or perhaps the satisfaction of handling their dog in the ring. Nonetheless, we are all joined in a shared space.

A number of books have been written about the psychology of competition, the winning mindset and how best to avoid the losing syndrome. The content is targeted to aid one in areas of occupational success, athletic goals and single-minded purpose. True enough, in life, there are winners and losers. At times, we have experienced both sides. Technically, dogs and dog shows don’t really fit any of these categories, except that somebody takes home the big prize. The unique element is that we are competing with an object of our passion and, for some, of our making from the whelping box through puppyhood and into the show ring. Given the fact that we possess a wide range of motivations for entering into the world of dogs and competition, the potential for things to go awry does exist.  

The following suggestions may help you achieve the ultimate enjoyment from your hobby:

Set Realistic Goals 

Establish and define your ideal goals, bearing in mind that one’s goals should be commensurate with affordable time, resources, desire and motivation. Setting a goal that is completely out of line with what is realistically attainable will only lead to discouragement and disillusionment. Be honest with yourself and allow others whom you trust also to be honest with you. Positive attitude is the key to attaining what one sets out to achieve and then learning and refining the skills necessary to be successful in whatever the chosen path. Hoping to succeed and expecting to succeed is a complex concoction that can only be blended by the participant after careful consideration of the visualized goals. Develop a competitive mindset by applying positive principles.

Understand What Judges Are Looking For

According to the American Kennel Club rules, a judge is required to judge 25 dogs an hour at an all-breed show. This leaves little room for time-wasting on the part of the exhibitor or the judge. In the course of breed class judging, the judge is looking for the “whole package.”  This is: style, breed-specific quality and merit, correct muscle and coat conditioning, grooming, and presentation. One cannot expect to be competitive for a ribbon placement by making a hundred mistakes and causing the judge to take extra time and effort in order to properly and adequately evaluate the merits of your dog. Learn the skills required to present your dog like a professional: enroll in a handling class and practice with your dog so you limit mistakes in your ring presentation. The old adage of getting out what you are willing to put in is good advice.

Assess Your Own Dog With An Objective Eye  

How does he stack up next to the competition? Is his weight right for his breed, is he groomed and clean? Be prepared, follow directions and allow time to study your judge’s ring procedure before the scheduled time of judging so when your class is called you are mentally and physically ready.

Think Through Co-Ownerships

One of the most common issues in our dog community are co-ownerships that, for multiple reasons, do not seem to work out. Before entering into an agreement with another person, make absolutely certain of the terms and conditions. A contract is written to protect each owner. Few people remember the same conversation and what was actually agreed upon several years later. Also, be aware of possible ownership conflicts. Sometimes club affiliations prevent owners from exhibiting at their shows. If you co-own a dog with a member of a club that has such a clause in their show policy, this pertains to you as well. The dog you co-own with the club member may not be entered and exhibited. Better to know in advance whether your co-owner has any restrictions. If you co-own a dog with one who also is a dog show judge, be aware of the rules pertaining to conflicts. You will not be permitted to show any dog to your judge/co-owner for the length of time of your co-ownership. Even if the dog is older, spayed and long past a show career or breeding age, the conflict still exists. Co-ownerships can and do work out successfully as long as the involved parties enter into the agreement thoughtfully put on paper.

Read Show Premium Lists 

Be sure to take time to read the premium list for the show you have entered. This document is the show manual and information guide that has everything you need to know about the event that weekend: overnight and day of show parking, venue hours for exhibitors on setup day, specific restrictions and conditions of the venue and club giving the show, entry fees, events or services being offered in conjunction with the show, etc. Most, if not all, questions can be answered by reading the show premium list. Show superintendents’ websites have these online if no hard copy is available. Knowing what to expect before you arrive at the show grounds can make life much simpler and certainly less stressful.

Surround Yourself With Positive People

I don’t have to remind you that there are glass half-full and glass half-empty people. The latter bunch seems to carry around a bucket of ice water to douse everyone else’s good time. Distance yourself from the guy who has only negative vibes to throw your way. When you are genuinely happy for a friend’s success, you can expect the reciprocal treatment when you win.   

There are few, if any, short cuts in achieving a worthy goal. Stay focused on what matters and don’t give insignificant nonsense a home in your head. Smile, dream big, load the van, and go to the dog show.  

A professional all-breed handler for 32 years, Susan Vroom of Denton, Texas, and her late husband, Corky Vroom, won hundreds of Bests in Show during their career. Vroom considers among her personal highlights her success as a breeder and winning the 1988 Tibetan Terrier Club of America National Specialty with her homebred AM/MEX/INT CH Ashante’s Too Hip Gotta Go the same year she won Best in Sweepstakes with his son, CH LanLin’s California Cooler. Vroom currently works as an Executive Field Representative for the American Kennel Club. For information, contact Vroom at 940-497-4500 or by e-mail at