- Exploring what a dog show is all about
- Understanding how dog show preparations differ from pet grooming
- Discovering what grooming needs to happen at the show
Grooming a dog for a dog show is a little like grooming your pet — but just a little. You have to know how to groom your dog as a pet, but then you must go one step further and groom him for inspection by a judge who’s well-versed in the standards for your dog’s breed. Part of that standard is his coat. So in this chapter, I give you the scoop on grooming and how it pertains to the show ring.
Brushing Up on Dog Show Basics
– All-breed shows are just as the name implies — all breeds compete in the show. If your dog does well and wins Best of Breed, he goes on to compete against other dogs of different breeds in a group setting and then on to the Best-in-Show setting. All-breed shows are usually sanctioned by a national or international kennel club, such as the American Kennel Club (AKC) or the United Kennel Club (UKC).
– A specialty show is for one particular breed — meaning your dog competes only against dogs of the same breed. Specialty shows are usually put on by a breed club and may be regional or national in scope.
You can find your dog’s breed standard online at the AKC Web site (www.akc.org), or you can check out the various breed club Web sites.
– Be registered with the American Kennel Club with a full (not limited) registration.
– Have parents who either have or were working toward conformation titles. This requirement establishes that your dog is from show lines.
– Come from a breeder who thinks your dog is show quality and knows you’re going to show him.
– Conform to the individual breed standard with no disqualifications and few flaws.
– Be intact — not neutered or spayed. You may be surprised that you have to have an intact dog, but AKC rules require that the dog be breeding stock, so dog shows are not simply beauty pageants.
– Be six months or older.
– Be trained to stack and to gait properly around the ring.
Earning a championship title
The two reasons for showing dogs are to obtain championship points and to campaign a dog who has already earned champion status (that is, show the dog off as a champion and let him
or her compete against other champions). Dogs must obtain 15 championship points to earn a championship title. When campaigning a champion, breeders are showing their dog against other dogs who are champions; the more a dog wins, the closer he or she gets to being a top-ranked dog. (AKC and the breed clubs keep track of who’s ahead.) But the situation gets much more complicated than that.
Dogs who are not yet champions must win best dog of their sex — that is, either Winners Dog or Winners Bitch of their particular breed. If they win over all other untitled dogs in their breed, they earn points. The number of points awarded depends on the breed, the region of the country, and the number of dogs competing at a given show. If the dog wins over a small number of dogs, for example, the award is considered a minor and earns the dog one or two points. The maximum number of minor points that can apply toward a dog’s championship title is nine points. If a dog wins against many other dogs, the award is considered a major. A major win is worth three, four, or five points. Any dog that wins points goes up against the champions for the Best of Breed competition.
When your dog goes up against other dogs in the ring, you can win various ribbons. In the competition for dogs who aren’t yet champions, your dog can win a fourth-place through first-place ribbon. The dogs who win first place go on to the Winners Dog and Winners Bitch competitions. A dog who’s runner-up to the Winners Dog or Winners Bitch wins Reserve Winners Dog or Reserve Winners Bitch.
The Winners Dog and Winners Bitch go into the Best of Breed Competition. The dog can win Best of Breed, Best of Winners, or Best of Opposite Sex. (Best of Opposite Sex is the best dog who’s the sex opposite that of the Best of Breed winner. So if a male wins Best of Breed, the very best female dog will be picked as Best of Opposite Sex, and vice versa.) The Best of Breed advances to the Group competition, where the dog can win Best of Group. In turn, the dogs who win Best of Group advance to the Best in Show competition.
After a dog earns a championship, a CH is placed in front of his or her AKC name, such as CH Skywarrior’s Mishka Ice Dragon. But that isn’t the end of the road. After a dog achieves championship status, he or she can enter competitions only for Best of Breed or for any higher competitions, such as Best in Group and Best in Show. But those kinds of shows are where the fun begins, because competition advances a whole other level.
Showing dogs can be a costly endeavor not only in terms of show fees but also in terms of time, fuel, food, and lodging expenses. People caught up with the show bug often pay thousands of dollars each year to earn champion status for their dogs and then campaign them afterward. If you live in an area where shows are infrequent, you may have to travel great distances to earn majors.
Going to the show is more that just showing up. Your dog needs to be trained to gait, stand, and stack, and the best way to develop these skills is to take a conformation class at a professional trainer’s facility or to have a breeder or handler teach you how to handle the dog. Here’s what those three skills entail:
– Gaiting: This is the way your dog moves beside you. In most cases, the correct gait is a trot (see Figure 18-1), but occasionally, certain breed standards require a different gait.
– Standing: Standing a dog is just as it sounds — getting a dog to stand in one place.
– Stacking: Stacking a dog is a type of pose that has the dog stand straight with his legs positioned so that he looks solid. A well-stacked dog stands straight with all four paws facing straight ahead, positioned directly under the shoulders, and a body that looks more or less square. Good handlers can stack their dogs (literally manipulating the dog into position) to minimize the dogs’ respective flaws (too long or short of a back, cow hocks, or whatever).
Some show people like to trim whiskers. I don’t, because I think they’re an important part of the dog, and besides, they’re very sensitive. Trimming whiskers is more of an option than anything, and most standards don’t call for it. The point of trimming the whiskers is creating the type of look that the show person wants to convey. For example, trimming whiskers (or not) can soften or harden the look of the dog, depending on the shape of the head. In a small
or long-muzzled dog, clipping the whiskers emphasizes the shape and makes it look smaller. So if your dog happens to have a nose that’s a bit snippy (where the muzzle is pointed or weak), trimming the whiskers overemphasizes that point, which isn’t desirable. However, on a dog whose muzzle is blocky, trimming the whiskers can make it look a little less rough.
Use scissors to trim whiskers, but be careful — one slip can send your dog to the emergency vet.
In the weeks leading up to the show
Although grooming can’t fix a real fault, good, focused grooming well in advance can, on occasion, diminish a flaw to the point to where it isn’t quite as noticeable. This tactic is helpful when showing, because dogs don’t spend much time in front of a judge in the ring to begin with, and if your dog truly is a good specimen with the exception of that one flaw, the judge may decide the flaw really isn’t that important, if you’ve done everything you can to minimize it.
The night before the big event
That means crating him when it’s bedtime and walking him on a leash when outside.
One change to the dressed-up ensemble is that you have to have really good shoes for running about and moving. That means no high heels and no dress shoes. Sneakers or shoes with good support and good tread are a must.
People usually bring two outfits to the show: One comfortable outfit to groom in and one outfit to show in. If you’re worried you won’t be able to find a place to change, simply wear your showing outfit and bring a groomer’s apron to keep most of the hair off you.
The morning of the show
- Bait pouch
- Battery-operated portable fans (for summertime or warmer environs)
- Bed and blankets for the dog in wintertime
- Combs and brushes
- Coverings like snoods to keep hair from dragging
- Crate for your dog
- Cut-up liver, meats, cheeses, or compressed meat rolls in tiny portions
- Dog food
- Electric clippers
- Folding grooming table
- Grooming apron
- Leave-in coat conditioners and bodifiers
- Mat (for shows on dirt)
- No-rinse shampoo (blue groomer’s soap)
- Paper towels
- Pet bowls (for food and water)
- Plastic bags for trash and wrapping up dirty towels
- Plastic basin (for keeping chalk off floors or for using no-rinse shampoo)
- Poop cleanup bags or scoops
- Rugged tack box (for all the stuff you’re hauling around)
- Show slip-collar and leash (preferably close to your dog’s color) or show martingale (standard show collars and leads that are available online and through catalog supply retailers)
- Spray bottles with water and other coat products
- Toenail trimmers or grinders
- Traveling dryer
- Water jugs (with water), as most show sites don’t have a good and easy access to water
- Washcloths and towels
- X-pens or exercise pens
Most people don’t think about etiquette when it comes to their dogs, but good manners really are a necessity. Rude dog owners have made bad impressions, so much so that many hotel people don’t want to play host to any traveling pets. That’s a shame, because so many conscientious pet owners are out there. I’m sure you’re one of them!
But (lest you forget) here are some tips for taking your dog out in public:
Without a doubt, you’ll think of other things to add to this list as you gain more show experience. The main thing to remember is that you want to keep your dog looking good and feeling healthy and comfortable — cool in the summer and warm in the winter. Depending on how far you travel to shows, you want to have enough gear to handle any grooming that you need to do while on the road.
Putting on the Finishing Touches at the Show
Touching up before entering the ring
Although you may be ready to carry a whole bunch of spray bottles full of bodi-fier and conditioners and a comb and brush with you while you wait, resist the temptation. Don’t do it, unless you have a friend handy to help you. After all, where are you going to put the stuff when the ring steward calls your dog’s number? If you have to bring something, take along a comb that you can slip in your pocket or on your armband before you head into the ring.
With everything going on at a show, it’s easy to get distracted and forget to watch the time. Showing up late to your ring is bad news — the judge may not even let you show your dog if you’re late, and it’s doubtful you’ll win, so be early just to be safe. You may have to wait for your turn, but being early and prepared is always better than being late.
Chalking it up
Chalking is a bit of a controversial topic.
Chalking is the addition of a substance like chalk, talcum powder, or cornstarch to a dog’s legs to make the fur look whiter. Chalking adds body to the leg hairs, and in breeds where a larger-boned appearance is preferred, chalking can actually help you make your dog’s legs look bigger. But when you groom your dog for a show, nothing that makes the dog’s fur whiter or fuller than normal is supposed to be left over.
Chalking technically is against American Kennel Club rules, but the truth is, show people do it all the time, and nobody talks much about it. Of course, if your dog is walking around in a powdery cloud like the Peanuts character Pigpen, the judge may not be so understanding — your dog can be dismissed from the ring and disqualified. If you get caught chalking and are disqualified, don’t blame me. Just, ahem, chalk it up to the fact that there are rules and then there are rules. And if you get a judge who goes by the letter of the law, then yeah, you’re in deep trouble.
But like anything, you can chalk in a way that improves the appearance of your dog’s legs but still removes most of the residue (the following steps tell you how). If you chalk your dog and do it right, not much of the powder will be left over in the fur. (Your dog won’t walk in a cloud of white when you do.) The point is to get rid of as much of the substance as possible but still keep the look. Technically, you’ve brushed nearly all of the powder out. But there’s still going to be some left in the coat; that can’t be helped.
1. Rub a product that’s a little sticky all over the dog’s legs, front and back.
2. Apply the chalk powder (cornstarch or chalk) through your dog’s legs, back and front.
3. Use a small slicker brush to brush the coat upward against the lay of the hair.
Because your dog has sticky stuff on his legs (with the chalk, of course), getting them dirty becomes easier. If you can, wait until you’re at the show site before chalking your dog if you choose to do so.
Handling your dog in the show ring
The big moment has arrived. You’ve managed to keep your dog’s coat clean and presentable, and you’ve found your way to the proper place in line for the show. The following sequence of events is what you can expect to take place next as you show your dog:
Now isn’t really the time to adjust anything on your dog. Some show people may take a quick brush, but other than that, you pretty much have to leave your dog’s coat be. The ring is not a grooming place.
Buying stuff at the dog show
One of the fun things about going to a dog show is visiting the vendors. Depending on the show, the vendors’ booths may be many or few. You can often see and touch grooming equipment and other items at a dog show and buy things you normally wouldn’t get at your pet supply store.
Dog shows are great for finding odd and different grooming items, such as special scissors (or shears) or things like snoods — devices that keep a dogs’ hair from dragging. Because your dog is present at the show, you can often try these items on your dog to see whether they’re
really going to work.
Although you can find interesting and unusual items at a dog show, they can have extravagant or even out-of-reach prices, or they may be on sale as part of a show special. The best bargains usually happen on the last day of the show — if there are going to be any sales.
When you look for grooming supplies (like shampoo and conditioner), look for them in bulk, and look for items you can’t just order from a catalog. Sometimes a dealer has an item on hand that you can otherwise order for less from the catalog. You can decide whether such items are something you want or need right away or whether you can wait until later to order. If the price at the show is close to the mail-order price, you may have to factor in how much shipping would cost or whether being able to immediately buy the items at the show is worthwhile.
If you decide to go shopping, try to do so only after you’ve shown your dog. That way, you won’t get your dog dirty before entering the ring.
You may get away with running a comb through your dog’s coat before you begin walking, but be careful. Often, grooming in the ring can annoy the judge, and you really don’t want to do anything to annoy the judge.
Be sure to stop your dog in front of the judge and stack her again before taking her around the ring and back into the lineup. When you return to the lineup, keep your dog stacked and looking good, but don’t fuss too much (if at all) with combing (see Figure 18-2).
If the judge doesn’t choose the winners at this point in the competition, he or she may ask to look at two or three dogs again or may ask for the handlers to gait their dogs again. At large shows, the group may be split up, and the judge may choose several from each group to compete for placement.