In This Chapter
- Enhancing your dog’s natural ability with obedience
- Earning the Canine Good Citizen certificate
- Introducing agility and therapy training
- Turning your Chihuahua into a trickster
- Reviewing the ins and outs of showing your Chihuahua
Do you want to show the world your wonderful Chihuahua? Would you like to partner with your dog to bring a little light into someone else’s life? Does competition bring out the best in you? If so, this chapter contains plenty of ideas to help you and your Chihuahua find sports and hobbies you can participate in together.
Some Chihuahua owners enjoy making the most of their dogs’ intelligence and dexterity by participating in dog sports like obedience and agility. Others like to show off their dogs’ beauty in the wondrous world of dog shows. Chihuahuas can also earn Canine Good Citizen Certificates and serve as therapy dogs. In this chapter, I tell you about some activities you and your Chihuahua can participate in as partners — activities that will benefit your Chihuahua and make her a better companion. I also give you a short course in trick training, for fun and functionality.
Sporting events for dogs may occur indoors or outside in all kinds of weather. Be aware that your Chihuahua won’t be allowed to wear a sweater during competition. Your Chi won’t do her best when she’s chilled, so plan to attend dog events during the warm months unless the trials take place indoors.
If your dog is a Chihuahua mix or a purebred without papers, she can still participate in every event in this chapter with the exception of dog shows. The AKC (see Chapter Ten Web Sites Where Chihuahua Lovers Gather) will grant an Indefinite Listing Privilege to spayed/neutered, unregistered, purebred dogs to allow them to compete in obedience and agility. The UKC also welcomes spayed/neutered, unregistered, purebreds and mixed breeds. And three out of four organizations that sponsor agility events welcome mixed breeds, too. Therapy dogs, Canine Good Citizens, and temperament-tested dogs may be any breed or mix.
Beginning Obedience Training
I like to call obedience companion dog training, because it teaches the dog how to be a happy and responsive partner and the owner how to train, understand, and enjoy the dog. During classes, your Chi discovers how to work with you despite distractions like strangers and other dogs. The happy result is enhanced companionship. Some simply call it teamwork. Whatever you call it, obedience training provides a great background for any other activity you may want to do with your dog.
If an obedience instructor suggests a training method or correction that doesn’t feel right to you, don’t do it. It’s your dog, and you have the final say in her training.
Years ago, common knowledge said that dogs shouldn’t attend obedience school until they’re at least 6 months old. Back then, obedience exercises (such as the long sit; see Figure 12-1) were just tools people practiced on the training field once a week and for a few minutes a day at home. Today, obedience schools are modernized. Contemporary classes concentrate on practical training, and upto-date instructors tell their students how to incorporate the training into everyday life. Modern instructors also emphasize positive reinforcement rather than punishment so younger dogs learn without becoming stressed. We also know that 4 months is an ideal age to enter your Chi into a novice class (although dogs profit from the training at any age).
Reviewing obedience basics
In a novice obedience class, a Chihuahua learns how to – Heel (walk in the traditional position by your left side) on and off lead
– Sit when you stop
– Go down on command
– Stand quietly while a friendly stranger pets her
– Come when called
– Remain in both the “Sit” and “Down” positions amid distractions from other dogs
Best of all, provided that the training is positive and upbeat (don’Tip stick around if it isn’t), your Chi gains considerable confidence from the classes.
Dog clubs and private instructors offer obedience classes. They’re advertised in the Yellow Pages or the newspaper. Your veterinarian may also have info about nearby classes, and some pet supply stores offer them right inside the stores.
Although the ultimate goal of obedience is a happy partnership with your dog, obedience also is one of the more popular dog sports. If your Chihuahua enjoys the training, you can turn obedience into a hobby and enter trials. When she qualifies for her novice title, she officially becomes Manchita, CD (in other words, the title becomes part of her registered name — Manchita, for instance). The CD stands for — you guessed it — Companion Dog.
In addition to the CD, the American Kennel Club (AKC) obedience titles include the CDX (Companion Dog Excellent), the UD (Utility Dog), the UDX (Utility Dog Excellent), and the OTCH (Obedience Trial Champion). The United Kennel Club (UKC) also offers a series of obedience titles.
Jumping into advanced competition
The fun doesn’t have to end after your Chihuahua earns her Companion Dog title. She can accomplish plenty of challenging exercises in advanced competition. Among them are retrieving a small dumbbell, jumping various hurdles, discriminating between your scent and a stranger’s, and responding to hand signals rather than verbal commands. Are you worried about your Chi making it over the jumps? If she has a sound body, she won’t have a problem. Your Chihuahua gets measured before she enters the ring and the jumps are set at the right height for her size.
Choosing an obedience instructor
Shopping around is a good idea when it comes to obedience — not for a bargain but for the best school for you and your Chihuahua. Your Chi needs an instructor who has experience with dogs of all sizes — especially tiny ones.
Believe it or not, you’ll recognize a first-rate teacher even though you don’t know much about dog training yet. How? By your powers of observation. Watch a session or two of each beginner class offered in your area before signing up for one. Top-notch teachers have several attributes in common. Look for the following traits:
– Good instructors are safety conscious. They demand that all dogs be vaccinated (see Chapter Visiting the Vet). They don’t crowd too many students into too small a space, and they provide a training area with sufficient traction and no hidden obstructions.
– Good instructors are masters of positive motivation. They show their students how to use praise, petting, and toys to encourage correct responses.
– Good instructors are flexible. They adapt their methods to fit their students’ needs.
– Good instructors are approachable, friendly, and helpful. They have upbeat attitudes.
– Good instructors are creative. They vary the drills by initiating group games so handlers and dogs have a good time while performing the necessary repetitions.
– Good instructors are attentive to all their students. They work well with handlers and dogs of all sizes, shapes, ages, and genders, and they aren’t prejudiced against any breed or mix.
– Good instructors have lesson plans. They discuss training goals and explain how to work each new command into everyday life. Their classes are never chaotic.
– Good instructors keep the class moving. They don’t allow one student to monopolize the lesson.
– Good instructors respect their students and have empathy. They’re aware that everyone in the class has feelings — including the dogs.
One of the really cool things you discover in obedience and agility school is that dogs, because they’re closer to the ground, see things differently than humans do. When a student’s dog seems leery about something, a good instructor will tell the student to get down and look at it from the pet’s perspective. Try it sometime.
Figure 12-1: Maxie and Ginny demonstrate an obedience exercise called the long sit.
Passing the Good Citizen and Temperament Tests
According to the AKC, “A Canine Good Citizen is a dog that makes its owner happy without making someone else unhappy.” That means Canine Good Citizens behave at home, are good neighbors, and are polite in public.
The Canine Good Citizen (CGC) test is pass-fail and noncompetitive. It evaluates practical training, not your dog’s formal obedience. Your Chi is tested on how she behaves during everyday situations like being touched by a friendly stranger, walking on a crowded street, meeting another dog while out for a stroll, and coming when called. She also gets graded on her reaction to distractions and her attitude when you’re out of sight (she shouldn’t show separation anxiety). In addition, she must obey simple commands such as “Sit” and “Down” (see Chapter Establishing Good Behavior and Manners
), but not with the precision of a competitive obedience dog.
All CGC tests are performed on lead. If your Chi passes a ten-part test, she earns a certificate proclaiming her a Canine Good Citizen.
Why go for the CGC honor? While preparing for the CGC test, owners find out how to train their dogs, and their dogs become better companions. Many dog clubs and private obedience schools offer short courses in CGC training, and some of them give the test as their graduation exercise. In addition, the AKC offers free info to help people train for the test. For CGC training material and information on how to find a test site near you, contact the AKC through e-mail at email@example.com or call Customer Service at 919-233-9767.
The American Temperament Test Society (ATTS) also offers a tenpart test and rewards dogs that pass with a Temperament Tested, or TT, Certificate. The test takes no special training but requires a well-socialized dog with self-confidence and a reliable disposition. During a walk that simulates several situations, your Chi encounters friendly, neutral, and threatening scenarios and is evaluated on her reactions. The ATTS provides free information about the test. To discover more, go to www.atts.org
or call 317-288-4403.
One of these honors isn’t better than the other; they’re just different and give you something to do with your dog. Of course, breeders use the titles to prove how smart, reliable, trainable, and beautiful their breeding stocks are.
Owners of dogs that earn CGC and TT certificates or belong to therapy dog clubs traditionally use the letters after their dogs’ names — as in Manchita, CGC, TT, TDI, for instance. These titles don’t become an official part of the dog’s registered name, however.
Getting Active in Agility
How much fun can you handle? If you’re thinking “a whole lot,” agility may be the sport for you and your dog. Thousands of dog owners swear that agility is the most fun you can have with a dog.
At agility trials, dogs are timed as they navigate a course that resembles a colorful playground. They soar over hurdles, weave through poles, stride across balance beams, sprint up A-frames, play seesaw, and crawl through tunnels. Meanwhile, their handlers point out the next obstacle in the path (dogs must take obstacles in the correct order) and direct them through the course. Audiences at agility trials are always encouraging, but when the crowd sees a Chihuahua, the applause always amplifies!
Many owners do agility training with their dogs just for fun, but plenty of titles await you if competition is your thing. Your Chi could add so many titles to her name that it would take two breaths just to say it!
Few people want to landscape their yards with agility equipment (at least not at first), so most agility enthusiasts attend a private instructor’s classes or join an agility club. Besides having the attributes that a good obedience instructor possesses (see “Choosing an obedience instructor” earlier in this chapter), a good agility teacher also
– Provides sturdy obstacles with neither rough edges nor a hint of a wobble
– Goes slow and keeps the obstacles low, making sure every dog and handler in the class has a firm foundation
– Provides new challenges by building on that foundation
Smart handlers know the rules of the game before they play. Rulebooks for obedience and agility are available through the organizations that sanction these events. Four major (and some smaller) organizations offer agility. For more information and to find a teacher/club near you, ask your veterinarian for a recommendation, get info at your pet supply store, or check your phone book for local all-breed dog clubs.
Therapy Dogs: Delighting the Elderly and the Infirm
A couple decades ago, the scientific community found that interacting with friendly animals is therapeutic for people. Since then, polite pets have been welcomed at nursing homes and other institutions of healthcare.
Well-socialized Chihuahuas make top-notch therapy dogs because they’re world-class lap-sitters. Lap-sitting is one of the most important tasks of a therapy dog. But becoming qualified to perform pet therapy isn’t easy. This special service calls for a pet that keeps her cool in an institutional setting.
Therapy dogs must have dependable dispositions and impeccable manners. Although a Chi’s main assignment is lap-sitting, she still needs plenty of confidence to remain relaxed in an institution. After all, she’ll be sitting on strange laps amid the distractions of hospital equipment (like wheelchairs and walkers), institutional odors, crowds, and noise.
Serving the hearing impaired
Chihuahuas can and do help the hearing impaired through hearing dog programs. After a training regimen where she learns to alert her handler to the doorbell, telephone, alarm clock, smoke alarm, oven timer, or baby crying, the dog is paired with a deaf person. The two practice obedience commands together, and the owner is taught how to care for the dog. They then go home together and the dog serves as the person’s ears. Because they’re so small that they fit anywhere and so smart that they easily take to the training, Chihuahuas are popular hearing dogs.
Hundreds of clubs across the United States are dedicated to petassisted therapy. These groups prepare their members through classes and tests. At least two national organizations — the Delta Society (www.deltasociety.org
; 425-679-5500) and Therapy Dogs International (www.tdi-dog.org
; 732-340-0728) — have local clubs or certified instructors in many cities. These resources are eager to help owners prepare their pets for therapy work. Your local dog club also may have a volunteer program.
The test used most frequently to certify dogs for therapy work is the AKC’s Canine Good Citizen Test (see the section “Passing the Good Citizen and Temperament Tests”). Some organizations modify the test to include institutional equipment. A health certificate from your veterinarian may also be mandatory (see Chapter Visiting the Vet
Requirements vary among organizations and institutions, but the rewards remain the same: Bored eyes light up and tired faces break into smiles at the sight of your Chihuahua. And the warm feeling remains with you and those you help for hours. But don’t take my word for it. Give it a try!
How to Teach Your Dog a Trick or Two
Close your eyes and visualize your Chihuahua greeting people with a paw shake, waving hello and goodbye, asking for a cookie (or better make that a taco?), even dancing on her hind legs while you whistle. Does that image make you smile? Good. Chihuahuas love showing off, and it will surprise you how fast your Chi will learn tricks when you start teaching her. So what are you waiting for? Put some treats in your pocket and call your Chi. In this section, I teach enough tricks to tickle your family and friends.
The tricks in this section build on each other, so you should start with the first one and move on only after your Chihuahua can reliably perform the trick.
The benefits of trick training
Chihuahuas like learning tricks. After all, during training, they have what they want most — your full attention, plus praise and treats. A Chi thinks trick training was created just to make her feel special, but you reap rewards, too. Besides giving you a chance to have fun and impress your friends, teaching tricks enhances your Chi’s vocabulary, encourages closer bonding, and leads to better behavior.
Another advantage to trick training is that it makes your Chi an impressive ambassador for her breed. Many people believe tiny dogs are brainless and lack character, but a Chi that waves and barks on command changes their thinking in a hurry.
Besides, after a shy Chi learns how to pull off a trick or two, she’ll have something other than fear to focus on in social situations. And making people laugh improves her confidence.
Pushing your dog’s performance buttons
When it comes to motivation, the happier your Chi is about learning a new move, the faster she’ll perfect it. So, if you’re a good motivator, your dog can be a terrific trickster in no time.
What’s the key to effective motivation? Praise. But praising your Chi works only when your tone is sincere and maybe a little silly — okay, mighty silly with some dogs. Praising your pet in a drab monotone won’t turn her on. It will sound similar to elevator music.
How can you make the praise so powerful that your Chi wants more? Give it with gusto. Give your Chi a big smile when you say, “Good girl!” If she’s a little lethargic, accentuate your praise with a little applause. Use joyful words that come naturally to you, and say them in an excited voice every time she willingly gives a trick a try. Don’t become boring by using the same praise words and treats every time. You can surprise her with new words. “Way to go, girl!” “All Right!” “Yes, Yes!” Scratch her back. Give her a taste of cheese, a sliver of hot dog, a bite of burger, or toss her a toy.
Read your Chihuahua’s reactions to rewards. Your praise should make her eager to continue the lesson. Don’t make it so shrill that it scares her or so invigorating that it distracts her.
Soon, you’ll discover which phrases inspire your Chi to try harder, which treats she finds most tempting, and whether she’d rather chase a squeaky toy or have a back rub. In other words, you’ll identify your Chi’s buttons. Pushing them makes her happy, and when she’s happy, she’s willing to try the trick again.
Putting her in the mood
Because treats are an important part of trick training, try to train when your Chihuahua is hungry — before, not after, her meals. Before beginning a training session, take her outdoors and give her an opportunity to relieve herself. When you get back inside, let her watch you prepare and pocket some treats. When you have her undivided attention, start with something she knows. Have her Sit for a tidbit (see Chapter Establishing Good Behavior and Manners
). That sets the tone and puts her in a cooperative mood to learn her first trick.
Don’t try trick training until your Chi can sit on command. Sitting is a prerequisite to most tricks.
Using praise and treats wisely
When teaching tricks, use praise and treats/toys to motivate your Chi, and don’t bark out “No!” when she makes a wrong move. When she does something right, reward her. When she does something wrong or does nothing at all, don’t reward her. It’s as simple as that. Neither force nor punishment should ever be involved.
Reward every correct move, no matter how tiny or tentative, when your dog is learning something new.
Shaking Hands or Gimme Five
Just follow these simple steps:
1. Kneel down to your Chihuahua’s level after telling her to Sit and say the cue word you choose.
Be creative. It doesn’t matter what verbal cue you use as long as you use the same one every time.
2. Pick up one of her forelegs, lift it from underneath, and gently release it.
Praise her as soon as you drop her leg, and give her a tiny treat.
3. Repeat the process five times and then try it again later or tomorrow.
4. After she’s comfortable with you picking up her leg, gently move it up and down before releasing it.
The big breakthrough comes one day when your Chi lifts her leg as soon as you say the cue word. When she does, let her know how happy you are!
Gradually wean her away from expecting a treat every time, but always tell her what a good girl she is. And even after she performs reliably for praise, surprise her with a treat occasionally. After she has this trick down pat, you can have family and friends practice it with her (but not more than five tries at a time).
Figure 12-2: Glad to meet you, Manchita!
Waving hi and bye
When your Chihuahua is able to shake hands as easily as a state senator, you can start teaching her how to Wave. Use these simple steps:
1. Use your cue words and ask your Chi to shake hands (see the previous section).
2. Just as she lifts her paw, pull your hand away while repeating your cue words in a happy voice.
Most dogs wave their paws in the air in an effort to make contact with their humans’ hands.
3. The instant your Chi waves even a little, say “Wave” and give her a treat.
Keep at it, making her wave just a bit longer each time before she gets her reward. When she starts to master the wave (see Figure 12-3 for an example of a master waver), you can eliminate asking for the handshake by going directly from Sit to Wave. Finally, you can wean her off the treat by giving it only once every few times. But continue praising her for every wave.
It’s also fun to hold your Chihuahua at chest level in both hands and ask her to wave at someone. You can teach this trick the same way, except that you need a helper. Hold your Chi while your helper walks up; he or she should ask her to shake hands and then pull the hand away to elicit a wave. Some Chis will wave with both front legs when in their owners’ arms.
Figure 12-3: This well-trained Chi waves at a friend.
Use the command Wave rather than the more obvious “Hi” or “Bye” because it’s more versatile. You can cue your Chihuahua to wave hi and wave bye, and you can personalize the trick by telling her to “Wave to Aunt Amelia,” for instance.
Speak and Shhhh
Time to get silly! Here’s your chance to teach your Chi how to speak with the following steps:
1. Start by showing your Chihuahua her favorite treat.
Wiggle it right in front of her but don’t let her take it.
2. Get her all wound up by teasing her with the treat.
3. As she prances around, say “Speak” excitedly, over and over.
The object is to get her to make a sound (any sound).
4. When she makes a sound (even if it’s a wimpy squeak), give her the treat and plenty of praise.
After she eats the treat, try again. Stop after five tries no matter how much fun she’s having.
It won’t be long before your Chi makes the connection and barks as loud as she can when you say Speak and show her the treat. That’s a good start. Continue using the treat until you have to say Speak only once. Gradually wean her off the treat.
The real fun begins when you get creative. “Speak to Me.” “If you want a cookie, Speak.” “Speak to Aunt Amelia!” “Speak Spanish!”
Some Chihuahuas anticipate this trick and begin barking before you can say the cue word. Every time your Chi tries that, tell her “Shhhh” and don’t give her the cue (or the treat) until she quiets down. Have her stay quiet for several seconds. After repeating this process, she’ll learn that Shhhh means hush — an extra bonus trick that can really come in handy if your dog is a problem barker (see Chapter Keeping Your Place as Head of Household
Dancing the tango
Chihuahuas make marvelous dancers, with moves that are the envy of larger breeds. To teach your Chi the tango (or the waltz, jitterbug, two-step, or mambo), turn on your favorite tune or hum a few notes. Hold a treat several inches above her head and say “Let’s dance!” The object is to get her to walk a few steps on her hind legs, so move the treat forward slightly after she rears up.
When she realizes what you want, it still may take several weeks until her leg and back muscles are developed enough to let her dance on her hind legs for several seconds. As soon as she can balance on her hind legs rather well, start moving the treat in a circle above her head to teach her to turn. Soon, she’ll be pirouetting in either direction!
What do you do with a dancing dog? Join in, of course! As your Chihuahua swings and sways on her hind legs, start moving to the music along with her. Having a partner encourages her to make up steps of her own. She may soon add hops, skips, and jumps to her dancing repertoire.
Touring the Dog Show Circuit
If you want to see more than a hundred breeds of gorgeous dogs gathered in one place, treat yourself to a dog show. Besides seeing beautifully groomed and trained representatives of all your favorite breeds, you become acquainted with rare breeds that few people ever get to see. Agility and obedience trials often are held in the same venues as dog shows, too. Dog shows are fun regardless of whether or not you understand the judging procedure, but a little knowledge will make your first experience more rewarding. In this section, I tell you about the basics of dog judging so you understand what the exhibitors and judges are doing. Then I give you the upside and the downside of the “dog game,” and I help you get started in the dog show game if you want to become a player.
Dogs not entered in competition aren’t allowed at dog shows, so leave your Chi at home when you go to a show just to check it out. Rather than a dog, put a notebook on your lap and jot down your impressions of why certain dogs won. Later, if you get into the dog game, dig out that notebook and read what you wrote. Your first impressions may help your handling.
To be eligible to show in conformation, your Chihuahua must be
– At least 6 months old
– AKC registered with full registration (see Chapter Choosing Your Ideal Chihuahua) or registered with the club sponsoring the event
– Unaltered (spayed or neutered dogs aren’t eligible to show)
When exhibitors compete at dog shows, they say they’re showing their dogs in breed or conformation.
How dogs are judged and other show basics
Dogs don their finest fur when competing at a dog show, and with so many gorgeous creatures to choose from, your first reaction may be to pity the poor judge. But a dog show judge has help in the form of guidelines, called the breed standard
(see the Chihuahua standard in Chapter What’s Behind That Unique Chihuahua Look?
). The standard describes an ideal specimen of the breed. The judge’s job is to select as the winner the dog that most closely conforms to this written description of physical perfection.
In other words, no matter how many dogs compete in the show ring, the winner should be the dog that most closely resembles the ideal dog described in its breed standard. Second place goes to the next closest dog, and so on.
When watching a show, you see dogs of the same breed judged together early in the day. But later, you see the winning dogs of each breed competing against each other. That’s when novices really get confused. After all, how can a judge choose between an animated Chihuahua and an elegant Pekingese? Well, the judge isn’t really comparing the Chihuahua to the Pekingese. Instead, he or she is comparing how close the Chihuahua matches its breed standard with how close the Peke matches its standard.
The following sections explain the order of the dog show classes, how the elimination contest works, and what it takes to get that coveted Champion title for your Chihuahua.
When you arrive at a dog show, buy a show catalog right away. Then you can match each dog’s catalog number with its handler’Technical Stuff armband number, thus finding out who’s who.
Winning or losing — it’s the judge’s call
Your first experience with subjective dog show judging may make you feel a little confused. Most of the better-known sports are judged objectively. During games of baseball, basketball, football, golf, or tennis, you always know the score. But it’s different at dog shows, where winning or losing depends on the judge’s opinion. This concept can be confusing at first, especially when you see a dog get a “Best of” prize one day and not even place in its class the next.
The more you discover about canine conformation and the Chihuahua standard (see Chapter What’s Behind That Unique Chihuahua Look?
), the better you’ll understand how each judge picks his or her winners. One judge may be a stickler for movement. A superior head may sway another. Because judges interpret the standards in their own unique ways, different dogs may win under different judges. And that’s a good thing because it lets many excellent dogs have their days in the sun.
Plus, dogs are judged on the day, or, to be more precise, in a moment of time — something like the way humans judge themselves when they confront their images in the mirror each morning. On Saturday, you may smile and congratulate yourself on looking years younger, but then on Sunday you may appear drawn and weary. Well, dogs have good days and bad days, too, and a judge can only go by what dogs look like during the few moments they’re exhibited. So, if the owners of yesterday’s Best of Breed Chihuahua kept superdog up too late while they celebrated, he may look like sleepydog during the next day’s competition.
An elimination contest
Shows where dogs are judged on their conformation are elimination contests. The process of an elimination contest has many steps, which I list here:
1. To begin with, all the dogs of a single breed (or variety of a breed) compete with others of their sex in one of the regular classes — Puppy, 12-to-18-Month, Novice, Bredby-Exhibitor, American-bred, or Open.
2. First-place winners of the same sex from each of the classes compete against each other for Winners Dog and Winners Bitch.
3. These two winners are awarded points toward their championship (see the section “Becoming a champion” later in this chapter) and return to the ring for Best of Breed (or Variety) competition.
Dogs that are already champions are called Specials, and they also compete for Best of Breed or Variety.
4. Three awards are presented in the final elimination contest at the breed level:
- The top specimen is awarded Best of Breed or Variety.
- The best dog of the opposite sex than the Best of Breed is presented with the Best of Opposite Sex (BOS) ribbon.
- The best of the two class winners is named Best of Winners (BOW).
Sometimes, a class dog (a dog that isn’t a champion yet) goes to the top and takes Best of Breed or Variety, as well as Best of Winners.
5. When Chihuahua judging is complete, all but the Best of Variety winners are finished for the day. The Best of Variety Chihuahuas are now eligible to compete in the Toy group.
The Toy group is where all the Toys that won Best of Breed or Variety compete for group placements.
6. Following a group judging and elimination, only seven dogs — the first-place winners from each group — are left in the show. During the climax, they compete for Best in Show (BIS).
When the show is over, only one undefeated dog remains — but a couple hundred dogs may have earned points toward their championships, and many others thrilled their owners by placing high in their classes.
Only two Toy breeds, the Chihuahua and the English Toy Spaniel, are represented by two varieties in the Toy group. The two Chihuahua varieties are the long coat and smooth coat. Two other Toy breeds, the Manchester Terrier and the Poodle, also come in varieties, but only the Toy Manchester Terrier and the Toy Poodle compete in the Toy group. Their larger counterparts compete in other groups.
For purposes of showing, the American Kennel Club (AKC) divides dogs into seven groups as follows:
- Group 1: Sporting Dogs
- Group 2: Hounds
- Group 3: Working Dogs
- Group 4: Terriers
- Group 5: Toys
- Group 6: Non-Sporting Dogs
- Group 7: Herding Dogs
Becoming a champion
To become an AKC champion on the dog show circuit, your Chihuahua must win 15 points, including points from at least two major wins (majors are shows where three or more points are awarded). The two majors must be awarded by different judges, and at least one of the remaining points must be won under a third judge.
The number of points your Chi may be awarded for going Winners Dog at a show varies. It depends on how many Chihuahuas competed, the schedule of points established by the AKC, and whether your Chi goes on to win Best of Winners, Best of Variety, her Group, or even Best in Show (see the previous section). The most points ever available at a show is five, and the fewest available is one. Your Chi must win points at a minimum of three shows to earn a championship. Five-point majors are few and far between and competition is keen, so most Chihuahuas are shown several times before becoming champions.
When a dog finishes its championship, it’s permanently recorded as a champion of record and is entitled to the word “Champion” before its name. The AKC abbreviation is Ch, as in “Ch Manchita.”
The ups and downs of showing dogs
All hobbies have their good points and bad points. In the sections that follow, I list some of the things, both positive (upside) and negative (downside), you may want to consider before deciding you want to show your dog.
The upside of showing dogs
Here are the many benefits that come with competing in dog shows:
– Competing with your dog is fun and exciting.
– You can make new friends with people who have similar interests, and you may be invited to join dog clubs.
– Many obedience schools offer conformation classes where you and your Chihuahua can both make new friends.
– Depending on your goals, it can be a casual or an absorbing avocation.
– Showing dogs is educational. If you go in with an open mind, you’ll discover something new every time you attend a show.
– You get to meet the top Chihuahua breeders.
– Becoming seriously involved means you may become a breeder (at least occasionally).
– Training your Chihuahua for the show ring strengthens your bond.
– Showing involves traveling.
– You get the opportunity to learn from your losses to make you a better competitor.
– Winning feels wonderful!
The downside of showing dogs
Here’s the other side of the coin — the disadvantages of joining the dog show circuit:
– Winning at dog shows means you’ll need a dog with superior conformation.
– Showing dogs is expensive and requires some special equipment.
– The alternative to training and showing your own dog is hiring a professional handler, which is expensive.
– Training your Chihuahua for the show ring is time consuming.
– Showing can be stressful to dogs and their owners.
– Showing involves traveling.
– When you become seriously involved, breeding dogs becomes a probability (at least occasionally).
– The sport can take over your life. Between conformation classes, club meetings, dog shows, and breeding, showing dogs can become all-encompassing.
– Losing feels lousy (until you learn to turn losses into learning experiences).
Getting started in showing
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but no matter how handsome you and your friends think she is, if you didn’t buy your Chihuahua as a potential show dog, chances are she won’t win at dog shows. Some dogs are rare exceptions, of course, but your Chi is probably tops at exactly what you bought her for — companionship.
Eventually, you’ll need another Chi if you want to take up showing, but in the meantime, make your companion Chi your compadre for learning the ropes. Take her to conformation class and discover how to train and handle her in the ring. She’ll love the attention, and you can make your novice mistakes on her. This way, you become a better handler for your next pup — the one you buy with showing in mind.
Take your time purchasing a show-potential Chihuahua. Study the breed standard (see Chapter What’s Behind That Unique Chihuahua Look?) and attend a couple shows. Watching the judging helps you develop an eye for a show-quality dog. Soon, you’ll find out which attributes are more important to you, and which breeders’ dogs are strong in those traits. Then talk to the breeders whose dogs you most admire and check out their available show-potential pups. But don’t expect to get one right away. You may have to put your name on a waiting list and fork over a deposit (money alert!).
The following sections help you dive even deeper into the world of dog showing.
For more information on showing, go to the AKC’s Web site (www.akc.org
). Magazines, such as the AKC Gazette,
also keep you upto-date on dog shows held all over the United States. Many excellent books on showing and how dogs are judged are available.
Preparing for what show dogs do
Assuming your Chihuahua is show quality and has full AKC registration — a requirement for showing — what’s next?
Besides possessing physical beauty and a steady temperament, your Chi must take travel, crowds, noise, and strange dogs in stride. She also must
– Stand still for grooming
– Pose while the judge examines her
– Circle the ring at a smooth trot in a line with her competitors
– Gait solo in the designated pattern
– Keep her cool from the first burst of applause through the hush that settles over the arena just before the judge points to the winner
Yikes! You know what to expect after watching a show or two, but how will your Chi get used to all that? And how will you ever be able to handle her in the show ring? Easy. You take lessons together. Dog clubs and private instructors offer conformation classes where you become familiar with the finer points of handling. At the same time, your dog gets used to stacking (posing) and trotting (gaiting) around other dogs and people. Check the Internet and ask your vet and breeder where quality show training is available.
When you attend conformation classes, you find out when matches take place in your area. Matches are practice dog shows — much like the real thing except they’re informal and no championship points are awarded. Matches are great for honing your handling skills and getting your dog used to the show atmosphere.
Of course, many people hire professional handlers (agents) to show their dogs. If you decide to hire a handler, choose one who has an excellent reputation for taking care of and winning with Toy dogs. Your dog’s breeder may be happy to help you locate and choose a handler.
Where’s the show, and how do I enter?
Your conformation instructor will know where shows are scheduled in your area, but you need some written material when you’re ready to enter. The Events Calendar, a supplement to the AKC Gazette, and a few other dog magazines (sold by subscription and also found in pet shops, bookstores, and newsstands) list upcoming AKC shows. They also include the names and addresses of the show superintendents you need to contact if you want to receive show information.
The superintendents will make your mailbox bulge with premium lists about shows in your area, complete with entry forms, fee information, and closing dates for entries.
If your Chihuahua is ready to show, enter well ahead of the closing date so you aren’t disappointed. Late entries are not accepted.
Speaking dog show lingo
Every sport has its unique terminology, and dog showing is no exception. When studying the breed standard (see Chapter What’s Behind That Unique Chihuahua Look?
) or evaluating dogs with other fanciers, certain words always come up. Knowing and understanding these terms early in the game is a good idea. The following sections present many common terms that float around whenever dog showing is the topic du jour.
Type is what sets one breed of dog apart from every other breed. The concept of breed type is easiest to understand if you remember that each breed has only one correct type. It’s type that makes you instantly recognize the features that combine to make up a Chihuahua. Type enables people to differentiate your dog from a Papillon, Miniature Pinscher, or any other breed.
And in the show ring, the most typey dog is the one that comes closest to matching the characteristics described in its breed standard.
Soundness is the ability to function well, and it includes physical and behavioral characteristics such as a correct skeleton, proper musculature, and a stable temperament. Also, no handicaps, temporary or permanent, should inhibit the dog from using these attributes. A dog that’s deaf, blind, lame, overly aggressive, missing a testicle, or painfully shy is unsound. If a sound dog steps on a smoldering cigarette and limps because her burned pad hurts, she’s temporarily unsound and can’t be shown. But as soon as she heals enough to move normally, she becomes sound again.
Not all faults in a dog are considered unsound. For example, your Chi’s ears may be on the small side (the standard specifies large) yet function just fine. Because having smallish ears doesn’t interfere with her ability to hear, the characteristic doesn’t make her unsound. However, small ears are uncharacteristic of the Chi breed, so she lacks type.
Balance means that all parts of the dog fit each other without exaggeration of any single part. The size of the head corresponds with the size of the body, and height, width, and weight are proportionate. If people look at your Chihuahua and say, “My, what long legs she has,” or “Doesn’t she have a big head for her size?” chances are she lacks balance.
Don’t fret over balance too soon. Puppies often go through stages when they’re temporarily out of proportion, another word for balance. When your Chi is young, her head may look too big for her body. She may have a well-developed front and a wimpy rear, or she may seem to be walking downhill because her back legs grew faster than her front legs. However, by the time she matures into a good show dog, all her parts must be balanced.
When it comes to condition, the ball is in your court. You can’Tip control whether your Chihuahua matures typey or balanced, but her condition depends on you. A Chi is in condition
when she carries the right amount of weight for her size (see Chapter What’s Behind That Unique Chihuahua Look?
) and has an immaculate coat with a healthy sheen, good muscle tone, clean ears, and clear eyes (see Chapter Grooming the Body Beautiful
Manchita’s showy story
Show breeders sell their top-quality puppies as show potential pups. That means the pups appear to have all the attributes necessary to become champions. But potential is only potential. As a dog matures, things may change. That’s what happened to my Manchita, a show-potential puppy that I got when she was going on 4 months old. At 6 months, she still looked mighty fine, so we entered a show. She won the Puppy class and then beat the other class winners for Winners Bitch. That day, Manchita was awarded her first (and last) championship points. During the next few weeks, her bite changed big time, and she matured with a wry mouth and the habit of letting the tip of her tongue dangle. So much for showing!
Manchita’s breeders guaranteed her for show potential, as many top breeders do. When her mouth went wry, the breeders were prepared to trade for a different pup and place Manchita in a pet home. But we wanted to keep her (and the timing wasn’t right for raising a second pup), so we never asked them to honor the guarantee.
Style and showmanship
Style and showmanship are similar terms with respect to the show ring, but they’re not quite identical. Stylish is the dog-show term used to describe a dog that carries itself elegantly and with pride; a good showman indicates a dog with a pleasantly bold attitude that performs well during the judging.
If your Chihuahua has showmanship and style, she shows off her breed characteristics, making the most of her typeness. Judges recognize a dog like that easily. She steps out with pride — neck arched, head up, aspect bold, happy, and eager — yet remains under control. A good showman that lacks style, however, may still be appealing because of her saucy, outgoing manner, but she’ll never fool a knowledgeable judge.
At a dog show, style often separates the superior from the good and the winners from the losers — especially when all other points are nearly equal. Style or elegance is a quality you can’t give your Chi. She was either born with it or wasn’t. She may be typey, sound, well balanced, and in fine condition, yet still lack style. That doesn’Tip mean she won’t win, because a correct dog — especially one with showmanship — wins her share of champion points. However, what it does mean is that when competing against an equally correct dog that’s also stylish, your Chi will come in second.
Unlike style, which you can’t instill into a dog through training, you can help your Chi grow into the best showman she can be:
Follow this advice and you’ll elicit your dog’s best attitude.
by Jacqueline O’Neil