Doing Some Homework

While it’s true that some show dogs seem to possess star quality from the day they’re born, many purebred dogs require some training to prepare them for their claim to fame. You’ll also need some personal prep work before making your show debut. It helps to learn about the breed standard, the show rules and the best way to handle your dog in the ring. 


A successful show dog and a loyal home companion exude confidence around people, other dogs, new surroundings, and odd sounds. Whether the show takes place in a noisy exhibition hall or at an odd-smelling grassy field, your dog should take the conditions in stride.

To give him a boost in the show-off department, give your dog a hefty supply of experiences before he puts his paws in the ring. Early socialization helps make the conformation world a positive one for you and your dog.

What age should you begin socializing your show pup? Experienced, successful breeders introduce new sights, sounds, and people to their puppies when they are six weeks old, and continue the process until adulthood.

       Tip: Puppy kindergarten classes in a controlled environment help teach puppies how to get along with other dogs.

Crate Training

Dog shows often involve some downtime. Training your dog to relax, or even nap, inside a crate or exercise pen, comes in handy at shows. For convenience, many clubs designate areas of the show for crates or exercise pens.

       Tip: To train your dog to enjoy remaining inside his crate at a show, spend a few weeks crate training him at home. Don’t expect him to like staying in a crate at a show without advance training him.

Leash Training

Your dog will need basic leash training before entering the show ring. The judge evaluates the dog’s movement and how it meets the breed standard. Show dogs must walk or gait at a moderate speed alongside their handlers. If a dog pulls at the leash, it’s near impossible to judge its movement and probably won’t win any ribbons.

Know the Breed Standard

Before getting serious about showing your dog, it’s a good idea to read the breed standard for your breed. This written description of the ideal representative of your breed will help you evaluate your dog’s attributes and how close she comes to perfection.

The standard describes general appearance, size, proportion, substance; head; neck, topline, body; forequarters; hindquarters; coat; color and markings; gait; and temperament. These characteristics allow the breed to perform its original function.

Remember: Breed type consists of the qualities that define each breed and separate it from other dog breeds. Outlined in the standard, it’s the basis of judging.

       Tip: Pay special attention to the breed standard’s disqualifications and faults and make sure that your dog is free of disqualifications.

Warning: A dog with a disqualification is excused from the show ring and ineligible to earn any points toward a championship.

Remember: A fault is undesirable, but it does not prohibit a dog from showing. Some breed standards penalize faults more than other breeds.

Ask a Breed Evaluator

If you purchased your dog from a Breeder of Merit, who actively exhibits, ask your breeder to evaluate your dog or explain terms in the breed standard.

Find a Mentor

Hopefully, your breeder will act as your mentor and help you learn the ropes of dog showing. If not, try to make friends with notable people in your breed, or in other breeds. Enlist their help in giving you handling tips and sharing the latest info on behavior, care, health and training your breed.

Remember: Someday novices will come to you for help, so graciously return the favor and give back to your breed.

Learning the Rules

It’s the exhibitor’s responsibility to know the dog show rules. Check out AKC’s Rules Applying to Dog Shows online and the latest revisions.

       Warning: Dogs with staples or bandages may not be shown. It is the discretion of the judge whether to allow a dog with stitches to exhibit. 

       Warning: Blind, deaf, neutered or spayed dogs, or a male which does not have two normal testicles located in the scrotum, may not compete at a show.

       Remember: Neutered dogs and spayed bitches may enter the Stud Dog or Brood Bitch classes.

       Remember: Neutered dogs and spayed bitches may compete in Veterans Classes at independent Specialties and at all-breed shows that do not hold competitive classes beyond Best of Breed.

Show Equipment

You’ll need some equipment for dog showing:

  • Breed-specific grooming tools
  • Grooming table
  • Sturdy travel crate
  • Exercise pen (or use your travel crate)
  • Show collar and show lead

Your dog will also need a show collar and show lead. What kind should you get? Ask five handlers what kind of collar and leash you should use in the show ring and you’ll receive five different answers. To give you some idea what to buy, look at what the handlers use in the ring, or ask your breeder or mentor.

Go shopping at a dog show vendor’s booth and you’ll find different types of show collars and leads. You may need to buy several different sized collars before your puppy grows into adulthood.

Warning: Don’t buy a collar that’s too big for your dog as it may slip off her neck.

       Tip: Choose a collar that blends with the color of your dog.

The show lead should fit comfortably in your hand, strong enough to guide your dog, and include a secure snap. Consider buying an extra one in case the first breaks or gets lost.

To Bait or Not to Bait

Bait, or small, tasty food treats given to your dog at the right time, provides positive training. Bait helps keeps her attention on you and lets her know she’s done what you’ve asked her to do. Small toys you can easily take in out of your pocket, verbal praise and petting may work well for dogs that don’t respond to food rewards.

Use cooked or dried food your dog likes and can quickly chew and swallow. Avoid crunchy treats, as these take too long for dogs to eat.

       Warning: If your dog gets too excited when you give her a treat, don’t stop using food. Instead, train her to accept the food calmly.

Tip: Store bait in a deep pocket on the right side of your clothing, rather than inside a hanging bait bag. Avoid using any bait bag, as it is too cumbersome. When handlers gait their dogs, the food flies out of the pouches and the bag covers are clumsy to open.

Handling Class

Showing a dog may look easy, but you’ll need to teach your dog a few techniques for the ring. Handling classes can prepare you and your dog to look top notch.

In the ring, dogs need to stand for the judge’s examination, gait at the correct speed for their breed in a counter-clockwise direction, gait out and back in a straight line, pay attention to the handler, and most importantly, love what they’re doing.

When a dog can “free bait,” or stack on her own without the handler physically maneuvering her into a show pose, she’ll attract the judge’s attention.

Training for the ring is supposed to be fun. After all, this is a show and when it comes to judging, the dog’s attitude is everything. Conformation dogs must enjoy the routine and the conditions inside the ring, including the judge’s approach, the other dogs, and the spectators.

Good handling classes use positive training techniques with praise, encouragement, and reward—never punishment. Positive training requires patience and small steps to teach your puppy what you want her to do, but the effort is worth it.

Tip: Observe a handling class without your dog before signing up for one. It’s the best way to see if you like the instructor’s techniques and if the lessons are easy to understand.

Join a Club

National breed clubs, or parent clubs, connect members in the U.S. who all share a love for the same breed. Belonging to the National Club provides member support and information on the latest care and health developments. Local breed clubs hold meetings and dog events.

Dog Shows 101

Breed Shows

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