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How to Get Started in Dog Showing

Dog showing, sometimes called “conformation,” may appear glamorous and adorable to a first-timer, but it requires a great deal of preparation for you and your dog. So before embarking on your dog’s new showing career, there are a few things you should know.

What is the purpose of dog shows?

A dog show is a competition which reviews a dog’s physical and mental characteristics and compares them with the breed standards. At these competitions, trained judges evaluate the dog’s conformation to determine their ability to produce picture-perfect purebred puppies. Dogs that fit most closely with the breed standards will receive the top awards.

Getting started in dog showing

Although some people may prefer to enter a show without any training, it is highly recommended that everyone hoping to show dogs do their research. Many experienced dog showers recommend that beginners attend a dog show as a spectator first. While attending a show, inquire at the club table or tent about conformation handling. Many groups sponsor classes, which provide helpful information and tips on breed handling and show training.

Before showing your dog, be sure to review your dog’s breed standards, which detail the specific characteristics that will be judged at any competition.

Who can participate?

In order to compete in a dog show, dogs must be from an AKC-registered breed. Before competing, all dogs must register and be six months or older on the day of the show. There are currently more than 150 breeds registered, all of which are classified by specific groups:

  • Terrier
  • Toy
  • Working
  • Sporting
  • Non-Sporting
  • Herding
  • Hound

Since conformation is an indication of a dog’s ability to produce purebred puppies, mixed breeds and spayed or neutered purebreds are not eligible to compete.

Commands to know before your first show

Judges expect excellence from all dogs competing. To ensure that your dog is ready for the show, practice the basic obedience commands.

  • Come
  • Sit
  • Stay
  • Down

Click here to find out the seven commands every dog should know.

After these commands have been mastered, practice walking your dog on a leash. At the shows, all dogs must show that they are fully capable of walking calmly and politely on a leash.

Benched and unbenched

When most people think of dog shows, they immediately think of the show ring. In the show ring, dogs will exhibit their skills and be reviewed by a group of trained judges. But when dogs are out of the show ring, there may or may not be a designated spot for them to go to for the remainder of the show.

If a dog show is “benched,” a dog will be assigned to a specific spot where they will stay throughout the show anytime they are not in the ring. While at this spot, the dogs will be on display for any judges or other competitors to look at.

“Unbenched” shows mean that there are no designated spaces for the dogs when they are not in the ring. This also means that setup space is first come, first served. Getting to the show early to stake out your spot is key. This is especially important when the weather turns foul since most, if not all, setup spots will be outside.

What to pack for your show

There is nothing worse than arriving at a show only to realize that something important was left behind. As you’re packing for your show, be sure to remember to bring:

  • A canopy in case shaded areas are hard to come by
  • An exercise pen
  • Grooming supplies
  • Tables and chairs
  • Basic pet supplies (e.g., bowls, collars, leashes, bait, first aid kit)
  • Food and drinks
  • Basic human supplies (e.g., sunscreen, extra clothes)

Finding support in the dog show community

Getting started in dog showing can be a daunting task, especially for those who are not familiar with the competition. To ease into dog showing or to learn more about your dog, consider joining one of the many dog clubs available for people in the dog showing community. Dog clubs go beyond dog shows, and they all welcome new members who wish to learn more about breed handling or dog showing.

Be sure to see if any of the clubs in your area offer match shows. While these shows do not earn any points to a title, they are an excellent way for both dog and handler to practice the skills you’ll use in the real deal.

The information in this blog has been developed with our veterinarian and is designed to help educate pet parents. If you have questions or concerns about your pet's health or nutrition, please talk with your veterinarian.

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