It’s Showtime

The fun begins once you arrive at the show, take your dog out of the car, and unload the day’s supplies. Next, come staking out your territory, organizing your encampment and checking off a few more tasks on your to-do list.

Setting Up

Find a convenient place to park your belongings. Some kennel clubs designate certain areas for crates and grooming. If not, look for an area away from the traffic patterns of the show. To avoid a parade of exhibitors and dogs walking past your setup, skip the walkway to the restrooms, the food vendors, or the superintendent’s table.

Tip: Try to set up somewhere near your show ring so you don’t have to walk so far to the ring. Check the premium list for information on grooming areas, as some shows offer reserved spots for a small fee.

If your dog requires grooming before going into the ring keep your area neat and tidy and avoid blocking the aisles or access to other exhibitor areas.

Remember: Many dogs focus on their handlers and perform better in the ring if they rest in a crate or exercise pen before showing. The hubbub of new dogs and people over-stimulates a young dog.

Before leaving your dog inside her crate, check the fasteners to make sure the crate is secure. For extra security, some people padlock the crate doors. Leave a bucket or cup of water inside, too.

Getting Oriented

After settling into your personal space, walk your dog around the show grounds so she can feel comfortable with the odd sounds of the public address system, flapping tents, and loud cheers.

Find the doggy exercise area and give her a bathroom break. Locate your ring, the superintendent’s table, and the vendor area in case you forgot to bring something from home.

For puppies and dogs that need to build their confidence around strangers, take a few minutes to stack your dog near a ring and ask a friend or another exhibitor to go over your dog with a quick examination. If there’s room, gait your dog to refresh her memory about the show routine.

Warning: Don’t bring valuable possessions to the show. Consider padlocking your dog’s crate or ask someone to watch your dog if you must leave her alone. Unfortunately personal possessions sometimes disappear from setups.

Locate Your Ring

If your ring is indoors, find the entrance and see if it has matting. Are the dogs inside the ring slipping on the mats? If so, consider stacking your dog at a slight angle so her feet can grip the mat ridges.

Tip: The mats are for the dogs to gait on, not the exhibitors.

If you’re showing outdoors, check if the ground is level. If not, make a mental note to avoid gaiting or stacking your dog over any holes when you enter the ring. Look for any tent poles or ropes and remember to avoid tripping over them while gaiting your dog.

       Warning: In warm weather keep your dog cool and comfortable with adequate shade and plenty of drinking water. All dogs and especially flat-faced breeds can quickly overheat when the temperature rises.

Watch the Judge

Read the judging schedule to determine if the judge in the ring with another breed is the same person who will judge your breed. If so, observe his ring procedures so you’ll know what to expect when your turn comes.

Note the following:

  • Where do the dogs line up for the judge’s first look?
  • Where does the judge want the dogs set up for examination?
  • What gaiting pattern is he using? A triangle? Up and back?
  • Does the judge glance back at the dogs in the lineup or only focus on the dog he examines?

Warning: Keep track of the time. While it’s beneficial to walk around and observe the dogs and visit with people, don’t get so distracted that you’re late to the ring.  

Remember: Save some time to visit the bathroom before ring time.

Checking in

About an hour before your appointed judging time, check in with the ring steward. Look at the catalog to make sure your dog’s registration number is correct and she is entered in the right class. If it’s not correct, notify the ring steward and the superintendent before you leave the show.

Look at the entries in the catalog to find out the number of dogs entered in each class. It’s helpful to know before you go into the ring.

Pick Up Your Armband

Ask the ring steward for your armband by pointing to your dog’s name in the catalog, but do not identify your dog by name. This number is the only way the judge will identify you before and during the competition.

Since the ring steward juggles getting dogs in and out of the ring and responding to the judge’s requests for ribbons, you may have to wait a few minutes.

       Tip: Before putting on your armband, tear a notch in each side of the paper, as the notches help hold your armband in place without sliding down your arm. Use more than one rubber band (in case one breaks—it happens!) to secure the armband. Slide it up and over your left arm and on top of your clothing. If you’re wearing short sleeves, make sure the armband is clearly visible and doesn’t slide under the sleeve.

Warm Up     

Some dogs perform better with a little warm up; others do not. After going to a few shows, you’ll learn what works best with your dog.

Keep your warm up short and sweet without wearing out your dog. Perhaps take your dog to a less crowded area near your ring and gait her for a few paces and stack or free-bait her once or twice.

Remember: Take jingling keys and loose change out of your pockets before entering the ring.

Ring Etiquette

Once in the ring, follow the ring steward and judge’s directions. Gracefully accept whatever placements the judge makes.

Congratulate the winner and praise your dog when you leave the ring, regardless if you win or lose.

Show Ribbons and Rosettes

Winners receive ribbons or rosettes.

       AKC mandates specific colors for point show wins:

  • First – Blue
  • Second – Red
  • Third – Yellow
  • Fourth – White
  • Winners – Purple
  • Reserve Winners – Purple and white
  • Best of Winners – Blue and white
  • Best of Breed or Variety – Purple and gold
  • Best of Opposite Sex – Red and white
  • Select – Light blue and white
  • Best in Show – Traditionally red, white, and blue, but any color combination is acceptable.
  • Reserve Best in Show – Any color or color combination.

Take Your Picture

Winners can pose for a photo with the judge if they wish, but you’ll need to pay the photographer for services.

Dog Shows 101

To Champion and Beyond

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