FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
ABOUT CONFORMATION SHOWING
By Georgia Hymmen
Daynakin Great Danes
Why show my dog?
There are many possible reasons:
- The breeder has requested it as a condition of sale
- To start a breeding program
- To enjoy the social aspect of meeting with other people who have a similar interest
- To gain knowledge from breeders with decades of Great Dane experience
What is the purpose of dog shows?
- Originally dog shows, much like livestock shows, were established to evaluate breeding stock and improve the overall quality of the animals
- Today dog shows are the only way to “qualify” the quality of breeding animals
How does my dog get his Championship?
- To earn an American Kennel Club (AKC) championship a dog must accumulate 15 points
- Points are determined by the number of dogs entered of the breed and gender. The more dogs, the more points.
- Among the 15 points earned, a dog must have two major wins. Major wins are 3, 4, or 5 points. The most points a dog can win at any one show is 5.
- To get points, a dog must first win his or her class. Then, all the first place winners of the same gender compete.
- The dog judged best of its gender in its breed is awarded points
- Understanding the point system is very confusing. More information can be found at the AKC site, akc.org and also infodog.com
How expensive are dog shows?
- As with any sport or activity, there are costs involved.
- How much a show costs will be dependent on your individual show plan
- Some of the costs to consider are:
- Entry fees—generally shows are two days; however there can be circuits of three or more days.
- Travel to and from the shows, including meals and lodging.
- Training classes—although every dog should attend training classes whether they are shown or not.
- Handling fees if you are hiring a handler
How frequently are dog shows held?
- If one wanted, they could go to shows year-round. The only restriction would be how far you want to travel
- To find out what shows are in the area you live, visit the AKC site. There is an option to sort shows by date and state
How many shows will my dog need to go to?
- This is one of the most frequently-asked questions, and one that every handler wishes they had a crystal ball to answer. There are many variables; the status of the dog (age, training, conditioning and presentation), the level of the current competition, and of course the opinions of judges.
- Generally puppies start in the 6-9 month old class to expose them to the routines of showing early and make sure they become properly trained.
- Based on the performance of the puppy, a plan can then be worked out. If all is a “go” (the puppy is acting appropriately for his age) then one would only need to enter once a month or so, waiting until the puppy is mature for further serious competition.
- If a puppy starts winning, it is very important to “keep them out there”. I firmly believe a dog has a window of opportunity and it must be taken advantage of.
- If there are no training issues to work out, one can wait until the dog is fully mature to compete. However, many people prefer to “keep their feet wet” and will continue to show.
How do I find out about dog shows?
- The AKC site and infodog.com are the best places to find out about shows.
- Your breeder or handler may also have a method such as an email list or Facebook page to keep you advised of shows
What would my responsibility be?
- The owner’s responsibility is to properly train and socialize the puppy
- The dog must be maintained in excellent body weight and coat condition, keep the nails trimmed and the teeth cleaned
- The owners would have a financial responsibility. This includes entry fees and training classes
- Any other fees should be discussed with your breeder or handler (if you will not be showing the dog yourself)
What do I have to do to get my dog ready for the show ring?
- The puppy needs to be used to being examined thoroughly and having their mouth examined
- Boy puppies need to be comfortable having their testicles felt
- The “well-dressed” Dane in the show ring is groomed
- Typically grooming involves trimming extra hair and removing whiskers
How much participation is required on my part?
- Depending on whether an owner is or is not going to show their own dog, they may be as involved or uninvolved as they want
- Some owners go to every show
- Others come to some and send the dog with the handler or breeder to others
- And some people never go to a show themselves, just always sending the dog
How long do I have to show my dog?
- The goal is to obtain your dog’s championship, so dogs are usually shown until they have accumulated 15 points
- Once mature, trained, in good condition and presented well, a dog should generally finish within a show season, a calendar year or less
- However, there are a great many variables such as current competition, number of shows attended and entries.
- If it becomes evident after a sufficient amount of time a dog is not destined to complete his or her championship, most breeders and handlers will discuss this with the owners. Most feel there is little virtue in taking three years and spending many thousands to complete a dog’s title.
Do I personally have to handle my dog in the show ring?
- That is entirely up to the owner. As with any sport, there is a learning curve, and the owner with a serious desire to learn how to handle certainly can do it.
- However, initially the breeder may want the owner to use a handler or have the breeder show the dog.
- The combination of an untrained puppy and untrained owner in the show ring can be a very frustrating experience for both.
This article may be shared or reproduced as long as nothing is added or omitted and provided credit is given to the author. Thank you to Alison White for her assistance in editing.
Show Puppy Protocol
By Georgia Hymmen - Daynakin Great Danes LLC
In the course of handling my own dogs and those of others in the conformation show ring, I’ve found there are certain things people can do while their puppy is young to help him or her become show-trained AND comfortable in the ring.
If the new exhibitor has purchased their puppy from a breeder who themselves exhibit, they will likely get guidance from that breeder. While everyone knows different lines can physically develop at different rates, the same holds true for mental development. The long-term breeder will know how their dogs grow both mentally and physically and be able to assist in the shaping of the show puppy. They also will be familiar with different stages their puppies mentally go through. For example, they might know their bitches go through a bit of a temperament change prior to their first season, becoming shy when before they were stable.
However, sometimes the new person simply doesn’t know where to start, and suddenly at six months of age the puppy is dumped into his or her first show—and it’s not a pleasant experience for either the puppy or the handler.
In getting a show puppy ready for a show career, the first thing to remember is it’s never too early to start! And, sooner is better than later; as the puppy gets older, you both lose out on some important developmental stages, and the fact the puppy is just getting bigger and therefore harder to handle. The next is you can never over-socialize your puppy; the more people, dogs, places, things and noises they are exposed to at a young age, the better. Adaptability training is also very important to prevent the dreaded “mommy-itits” which is the bane of every professional handler! One other important point is the more you do with your puppy earlier on, the more you will get out of your dog during adulthood.
Another very important point is “baby steps”. When starting out with the young puppy, many people expect too much, too soon. And they try to put the whole thing together at once instead of teaching pieces and then putting it all together. An example is the new person taking their untrained puppy to a handling class; the instructor is trying to get you to stack your puppy, when the puppy doesn’t know how to hold still, is not used to having his legs handled, and is freaking out about the collar up around the ears. Too much too soon!
Below I will cover a few points I think are very important in starting a puppy out for the ring and hopefully the reader will find helpful. For the purpose of this article, we will assume the puppy is of normal Dane temperament, and the owner is not dealing with any excessively shy or other temperament problems. That’s an article for another day!
Socialization and Adaptation
While all dogs need to be properly socialized and can benefit from adaptation training, the show puppy needs to have it stepped up a notch. This puppy needs to be “bomb proof”. In a show situation there are going to be barking dogs, crates being banged around, loudspeakers blaring and spectators grabbing to pet without asking. There are many great articles on socialization so I am not going to spend a lot of time on it in this article other than to say it should be done. Information on socialization and adaptation can be found on my site at http://www.daynakingreatdanes.com/socialization.html. Additionally, the novice owner may find the book “How to Raise a Puppy You Can Live With” by Rutherford and Neil (Alpine Publishing) very helpful.
Some veterinarians, breeders, and owners have concerns about taking a puppy out and about until the complete set of vaccines are completed. Personally, I feel some very valuable training and socialization time is lost by waiting until the puppy is four months or older prior to any outside socialization. The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior agrees, as do other experts, that the benefits of early socialization far outweigh the risk. I personally do take puppies to outside locations after they have received one vaccination. However, how you manage your puppy must be within your comfort zone and that of your breeder and veterinarian. And the biggie is, if you choose to take your puppy out and about, you must be smart about it. You go places there isn’t a lot of dog traffic—so places like dog parks, box-type pet stores, rest areas and such are no-no’s. A well-run Puppy Kindergarten, a walk in an area not frequented by lots of unknown dogs, a visit in front of a busy store, a trek to a friend’s house—these all help the new puppy learn socialization skills. As the puppy becomes older and receives more vaccinations you can step up the socialization process.
Starting Out the Training Process
In the big picture, the show puppy really doesn’t need to learn much. It’s not like they are aiming for a performance or obedience career. They only need to learn to stand still, be stacked, be examined, bait, and move properly on lead. This particular article is not on HOW to stack your puppy, but what to do to get them ready for that stage.
Two common mistakes I see people making are too long of a training session, and trying to do too much at one time. When you begin to work with your puppy, you should only work with them for a few minutes at a time; it actually can be incorporated into their daily household routine. A couple of short sessions daily are much better than one long marathon class. Remember our giant breed puppies tire easily, so whereas a Sheltie might be just fine with a 45 minute session, a Dane puppy will not. Plus remember the old expression “the body grows the first year, the mind the second year”; it’s so true of many of our Danes!
Another mistake, as mentioned earlier, is expecting too much of the puppy too soon. One must remember you always want to be able to praise the puppy for the proper behavior; not correct it all the time because it’s wiggling about and not doing what you want. If you start with expecting the puppy to hold still for 5 seconds, you might have success and can praise for that. But, if you think the new puppy will hold still for 30 seconds, you are wrong AND you run the risk of negative reinforcement because chances are you have inadvertently praised the dog in some way for moving—which you don’t want it to do.
You also need to make this fun and interesting. I was once told by a well-known all-breed handler that they believed a dog had only so many “stacks” available to you in their lifetime. If you over-train, you might use them up and the result would be a dog that is bored or hates the ring. You need to make this fun for the dog, while still maintaining the control and structure you need for the show ring. Verbal praise, food training, and other rewards should be used to your full advantage when starting your puppy out.
It also will be easier to train your puppy in “pieces” and then put them all together. I’ve found the following seems to work well; you can mix it up the sequence.
- Collar Work: We’ve all seen puppies in the ring gagging, pulling and choking because they are not used to having the collar snugged up around their ears. Not a pretty picture. My first recommendation is using a nylon slip collar and avoiding a chain one on young puppies. Next is to make sure the collar fits properly. A show collar is generally going to fit tighter than a “walking” collar; when the collar is snugged up by the ears, there really should be very little slack. During the course of the day (and supervised, of course!) have the puppy wear the show collar. Prior to letting him go about his day, snug the collar up into the show position, and secure it with tape (and tape the collar to the collar, not to the dog!). As the puppy wanders around, from time to time take hold on the collar, exert gentle upward pressure as you would when holding a dog in a stack and at the same time, hold a piece of food nose level. Apply pressure only for a few seconds, giving the food, and release followed by verbal praise. (I always have a release word so the puppy knows it’s done, “OK” works just fine.)
- Holding Still: This is the first part of the stacking process and can be started as soon as the puppy is comfortable with the collar up around the neck. Again, as the puppy is wandering around, gently take hold of the collar, exert upward pressure and hold the food nose level (a bit away from the face) and have him hold still for a few seconds. Once he has held still, release and praise. Timing is crucial—do not wait until the puppy moves to release them! You want to catch that moment just before they are about to move so you can reward the standing behavior you want. Never give food if the puppy moves; that would be rewarding behavior you do not want. When you are doing this, pay attention to where both your body and your food hand are. Do not use your body to support or hold the puppy in place; you are only teaching the puppy that is how it should be and it’s not. Be careful with what you are doing with the food hand; food training works because you are luring the puppy into the position you want, then rewarding by giving the food. However, if your hand is in the wrong position, you will get the wrong reaction from the puppy. A hand held up too high may result in a sit. For stands, the food should always be nose level. I always find it helpful to give a command, and then a release word. This will help the puppy know WHAT is expected and WHEN he is released.
- Beginning Exam: A show puppy has to be comfortable with a stranger going over all parts of his or her body. The most difficult areas are the mouth (showing the bite) and in males, the testicles. With the mouth exam, one can start by getting the puppy used to having the sides of its face (muzzle) rubbed and played with. If your puppy is “hanging out” with you on the couch, use that opportunity to lift the lips, count the teeth and examine the inside of the mouth. You can also hold the puppy by the collar, offer a small piece of food, and immediately check the teeth. I usually begin with just looking at the front teeth first, then progressing to the side teeth. This exercise should be done beginning the day you get the puppy and as many times in a day as you can. The same holds true for the body exam; take every opportunity to examine all parts of your dog’s body as many times as you can. You can make it a part of the “praise” processes—a quick rub on the rear quarters can be used as a quick pet. When the puppy is comfortable with you doing an exam, have other people he knows do it. Then, move on to strangers doing an exam. A side note; if you have a puppy that is very resistant of a mouth exam, first determine there is no medial problem such as a sore tooth.
- Putting It All Together: Before you try to put the pieces together for the stack, make sure you have a basic idea of how to stack a dog properly. Review videos, watch dog shows, have people show you on a trained dog and then you try it. While stacking can look easy, it actually can be quite difficult, especially with an untrained dog and person. Incorrect collar position and improper placement of legs can teach the puppy bad habits which can be very hard to undo. Common mistakes I see are people pulling the collar from the position by the ears to down by the neck when they reach for the rear to stack. This is putting backward tension on the neck, which tells the dog to move backward. If not corrected, that dog will learn to either move or rack back when the collar is in that position. The other problem I see is people are satisfied when the dog moves a rear leg when the handler touches it; and the handler never realizes the dog is kicking the leg out to the side and not straight back. Soon that becomes the norm and it’s a very hard habit to fix. When you do to stack a dog:
- Collar in the proper position, up by the ears.
- Holding collar in right hand, use left hand to stack left front leg; grasping at the elbow. Never grasp below the elbow.
- Switch hands, hold collar with left hand, stack right front leg with right hand.
- Switch hands, hold collars with right hand and stack rear. You can go under the dogs body and grasp in the area of the stifle joint, or you can reach (if you are tall!) just under below the hocks. Never grab above the hocks, you will hit the tendon and that will be like clipping you behind the ankle.
- Moving On Leash: Chances are, you’ve already leash-trained your dog, so it’s pretty simple to progress from there. Making sure the collar is in the proper position, hold the leash only in your left hand, and give the puppy your command for moving. I do not recommend “heel” for the simple fact if you choose to go on to formal obedience training that will be confusing. (The “heel” is a position; where the dog is when we gait them in the conformation ring is different from where we have them in the obedience ring.) One thing I feel is very helpful is to teach the dog the “turn” command. Too many people end up having to pull their dogs around when they do the down or back pattern; simply teaching them the turn command is very helpful. While things like holding the leash when moving are cute as puppy, they are not as adults and should be discouraged.
In closing, very beginning ring training should be low-keyed but structured, and done in as positive manner as possible. Show the dog what you want them to do, have them do it, and praise. Slowly build up on the amount of time you have the puppy hold still, and move forward gradually. And remember, if whatever you are trying isn’t working, try something else!
© Georgia Hymmen 2014
Permission granted to reprint as long as credit is given to the author and printed in its entirety
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Show Collars & Leads
I find this type of collar very useful to use with puppies who are being taped. The snap can be attached to the live or dead ring, and make it easy to put on and take off. Please contact me for order information.