If you're looking for a great way to increase your bond with your pet, meet other dog lovers, and have a greater appreciation for all dog breeds, it's a great idea to get involved with your local clubs and area dog shows. Whether you want to showcase a mixed-breed rescue that is excelling in obedience, you have a dog that needs to focus their energy in a positive direction with a sport or want to get feedback on your breeding line's attributes, dog shows are a great venue for all of these goals.
Working at BaxterBoo.com affords me the luxury of bringing a dog or two to work for modeling, but I was looking for a way to increase the bond I share with my dogs and to understand more about my chosen breed, the Mi-ki. To meet these goals, I decided to join the High Plains Kennel Club, a local chapter of the United Kennel Club, since the UKC recognized the rare Mi-ki breed back in 2016. I registered my dogs with the UKC to be able to participate in their dog shows.
Even if you don't have a purebred dog or your purebred dog doesn't have a pedigree, the UKC and the American Kennel Club offer alternate registration programs that allow your pet to earn titles for sporting activities and for demonstrating good behavior and obedience. (We'll explore these activities in a later blog.)
Conformation dog shows are designed for purebred dogs to evaluate their appearance and structure against the breed standard. Dog breed clubs create breed standards to describe the ideal qualities of a breed's appearance, movement, and temperament that enable the dog to do the job they were made to do.
For instance, I learned a judge will "span" a Border Terrier's ribs to make sure they compress since this breed's job is to be able to fit into small spaces and dens to eradicate rats and other vermin. For the Mi-ki, a toy companion breed, the judge is looking for a good temperament, as well as appearance and movement which enable this friendly dog to do their job of being a healthy, good-natured companion.
Conformation dog shows are also a great way to start out in all of the other dog show events such as obedience and sporting events, and this is how we decided to dip our toe into the dog show world and try it out. The United Kennel Club is also unique in the fact that they do not allow the use of professional handlers for showing, so any dog owner can excel -- even a beginner like me!
Once you've decided which dog show event you'd like to participate in and have registered your dog with the club, you can begin to prepare for the show. For us, that meant going to a confirmation preparation class. Look for conformation classes that are offered at your local dog training venues or through your local clubs.
Fortunately for me and Brighton, my 7-month old Mi-ki puppy, Alan Krenek, the president of the High Plains Kennel Club and UKC judge teaches conformation classes at a reasonable rate, has lots of experience, and lots of patience!
At show conformation class, Brighton and I learned about the different patterns a judge may ask us to walk in the show ring. I learned which show leads work best for different types of dogs and how to carry the show lead. We learned how to help our dogs to stand in the position that is most flattering to show off their attributes. This is called "stacking."
Smaller breeds are stacked on a table so it is easier for a judge to evaluate their features. We learned how to properly lift our dogs and place them on the table in a way that helps their spine and legs align straight. In many breeds, the Mi-ki included, judges are looking for a nice level topline (a straight back.) Getting your pup's legs in the proper spot and getting your dog to stand and hold the position was a great skill to achieve. Then we were taught how to show the dog's bite. In UKC shows, the handler shows the bite, and the judge doesn't touch the muzzle.
Once the table exam is finished, we were then taught how to dismount our dogs. Apparently, turning away from the judge to set your dog down is best with the theory that your dog will look best after they start moving rather than being placed on the ground.
We also learned about etiquette for how we treat other dogs and handlers in the ring. Whoever has the lead dog (usually the biggest and fastest) needs to look back and address the other handlers asking if they're ready to go around the ring. It's also important to make sure the dogs aren't crowding each other in the ring.
The dog conformation class made a huge difference for me and Brighton. It got her used to being around different types of dogs and accustomed to what a judge might be like. It also helped me to prepare for what I might expect at a dog show so hopefully, I wouldn't be as nervous either.
Every breed has a preferred show dog style. For the show ring, it's usually best to enlist the help of a professional who is familiar with your breed. This will help your dog truly shine!
Fortunately for Mi-ki puppies, they don't require anything fancy grooming wise until they are a year old, so we were able to just do a bit of trimming and washing. Since she's a cream and white dog, the biggest concern is keeping her clean.
In UKC shows, we're not supposed to use powders or fancy styling products like hairspray. Water may be applied to help control static. You may groom your dog all you want before the show starts, but brushes and combs aren't allowed in the ring.
Grooming supplies, a grooming table, crates, bedding, and food and water dishes are a must. It's also important to have treats to keep your dog interested and a treat pouch to keep them in. Most judges allow the handler to use treats (also called bait) with their dog in the show ring.
Don't forget your poop bags, and always dispose of dog waste in the outdoor receptacles if odor-proof ones aren't available indoors.
Since Brighton is a puppy, she would sometimes sniff all over the dirt floor of the ring. She'd also get silly and start biting her show lead. The veteran handlers suggested I put a tiny dab of Vicks Vaporub under her nose to mask the scents, and Tabasco sauce on the leash to make it less appealing.
We did try the Vicks but forgot the hot sauce. Fortunately, she didn't need it too much.
Next... Brighton's Big Day Part 2: Getting yourself ready to be a dog show handler!