A Spectator’s Guide to Dog Shows

If you have ever wanted to go to a dog show, please read the following article and join us at the following events:
May 27 and 28 at 8:00 at the Spokane County Fairgrounds
May 29 at 10:40 and May 30 at 8:00 at the Kootanai County Fair Grounds

By: Sandee Elliot

You see in your local paper that a dog show is coming to town next weekend. Your family is looking for a purebred dog so you think it might be a fun outing and will give you a chance to check out some breeds you are interested in. However, you have heard that dog show people are stuck up and shows are nothing more than beauty pageants for dogs. So let me give you some pointers on going to a show and enjoying it.

Let me first talk about some of the myths you have heard.

Show people are stuck up-

Most exhibitors are passionate about their breed and welcome newcomers as a way to continue the breed. Your first encounter with an exhibitor can go in a couple of different directions and it is all in the way you approach them and your timing. Exhibitors have a window of time while the breed is being judged when they are very busy. They may be waiting for a class or have several dogs to juggle. They may be putting the finishing touches on their dog, or maybe doing a quick training session before they go in. If they look busy please wait until the breed judging is done and they look a little less rushed before asking questions or asking to pet the dogs. If you really want to have a good conversation with a breeder that may take a little more time wait until judging is over with and take a walk out to the RV spots. Many exhibitors stay on grounds in motorhomes and have time to devote to a conversation after they are done showing. Some of the best conversations I have had with people interested in my breed have been back at the motorhome.

If you ask to pet a dog ringside (especially one that requires a lot of grooming) you may be told no. It is not that their dog is too good for you to touch, it is that they have just spent hours grooming the dog and it is just about to go in the ring to be judged. Every hair is in place and it took a lot of effort to get it there. What may seem like a simple scratch behind the ear can take a lot of time to repair for the exhibitor. Ladies imagine you are going to your prom and your hair is perfect, would you let someone touch it before you left the house?

Remember that anything you do to that dog will live with them for the rest of their lives. Your dog at home may love it when little Tommy sits on him or tugs on his ear (chances are he is just patient and really doesn’t like it) but that does not mean that all dogs like that. If I saw your child being inappropriate with another dog I would probably tell Tommy no when you ask if he can pet my dog. Dogs can develop a fear from one incident and I am the one that has to go home and deal with that fear for the rest of her life. I also want my dog to be confident in the ring, not looking over her shoulder at what just made her nervous. Not to mention that some kids have interesting things all over their fingers, I went into the ring once and later noticed a clump of grape jelly on my dog’s shoulder from the child that was petting her as we were going in.

Diseases can be spread at shows. While all exhibitors agree that it is a risk we take when entering a show some take extra precautions to lessen the chance they will bring something home. Your hands have probably touched several dogs, and since most dogs will sniff or lick your hand you can imagine the amounts of diseases left behind on your hands.

Dog show people are crazy-

Well isn’t that the truth! So are football fans, Little League parents, and people who race lawn mowers! Purebred dog fanciers are just a bunch of competitive, opinionated, passionate, self-educated hobbyists with a common interest! No matter the sport, club or hobby a person is involved in a little bit of crazy is bound to come out! Dog shows are no different, you just have to find the level of crazy you fit into.

Now that we have talked about myths let’s talk about etiquette;

Ask before you touch any dog. Not all dogs want to, or can be touched for a number of reasons. You would not go up to just any dog in the park so keep the same rules in mind at a show.
Don’t bring Pookie with you to a show. Dogs that are not entered are not allowed in the showroom and you will be asked to put the dog back in your car. If it is a hot day you will then have to leave for the dog’s safety and miss the whole show. Not to mention maybe Pookie doesn’t like other dogs or crowds. If you are spending all of your time trying to keep Pookie under control you will not have time to enjoy the show.

Don’t give treats to exhibitors dogs unless you ask, and even if you do ask chances are you will be told no. Dogs can have a multitude of allergies and the exhibitor has no way of knowing what is in that treat. Or their dog may be a barracuda when they take a treat and the exhibitor is saving your hand. Quite possibly the biggest reason you will be told no is that PETA and other animal rights organizations have been caught poisoning dogs at shows and most exhibitors will be very cautious if a stranger offers their dog a treat.

Do not go up to dogs that are crated ringside without the exhibitor’s permission. First of all, you don’t know if that dog is friendly, and second, thanks to PETA opening crates at shows you will see the exhibitor border on crazy if they think you are messing with their dog. You would not let a random stranger give your child candy or approach them without your permission so show the same respect to the exhibitor.

Now that you are briefed on what to do and not to do, let’s get to the show! Judging is done throughout the day. Most shows start at 8am with the National Anthem, please show respect to your country and the exhibitors by not trying to pet the dogs or ask questions at this time. If you don’t know where the flag is just turn the direction everyone else is pointing. If you have no particular breed you are looking for then have fun walking around and looking at the different breeds. If you do have a specific breed you are looking for it would be a good idea to contact your local breed club prior to the weekend and ask what time your breed shows. It would be a long day for you if you show up at 8 and the breed you want to watch shows at 1:15.

You have found your breed and sat down. Dogs are coming and going from the ring, they are being set up a certain way and then they run around the ring until the judge points at one or two and everyone else leaves. What is that all about anyway? Dogs are shown in a certain order. You start with the male puppies and go from there. When they are young they are split into age groups. After 18 months there are several different classes they can go into based on where they were born, who bred them, or what color they are.

Each time a new group goes in it is called a class. The judge will place those dogs 1st through 4th in order of the dog that most meets the standard (I’ll get to that later). The first place dogs out of all of those classes will stand by the ring and come back in as a group to be judged in the winner’s class. After all of the male classes are judged each first place dog comes back in the ring and they are judged against each other to decide who is Winner’s Dog. That means that the dog that is chosen is the best male out of all the non-champion dogs entered that day. Winner’s is where dogs earn points towards their AKC Championship. You have to get 15 points to receive your championship and each win gets you points based on how many dogs you defeated.

Bitches (females) will go into the ring next, all divided into classes just as the males were until they pick a Winner’s Bitch.
After Winner’s Dog and Winner’s Bitch are decided they will go back into the ring to compete for Best of Breed. You will see a lot of dogs in the ring that were not in the classes. These dogs have already achieved their championships and are competing to be the Best of Breed.

Best of Breed is awarded to the animal who’s conformation is the closest to the written standard of that breed that day. If that animal is a male then the judge will pick the Best Opposite of Sex from the bitches, meaning that she is the best bitch in the ring. From your Winner’s Dog and Winner’s Bitch one will be chosen as Best of Winner’s meaning that that animal is the best out of all the animals that were shown in the classes earlier. After a dog has earned it’s AKC Championship it can continue to earn points towards it’s Grand Championship.

The dog that won Best of Breed will go into the Group ring later that day. The AKC divides all breeds into one of 7 groups based on size and/or what they were bred to do. Working, Sporting, Non-Sporting, Toy, Herding, Hound, and Terrier. Each Best of Breed dog competes against the others in that group and the winner is the best of that group. Those 7 dogs go on to compete in Best in Show.

How does a single dog make it all the way to Best in Show? Is it how they trot around the ring, the person handling them or how well-groomed they are? Some would say that is how it is when in reality that is not always the case. Each breed is judged to a written standard put forth by the parent club of that breed.

A written standard describes all the pieces of the dog’s structure, coat, temperament, movement, and overall conformity. It is a written outline to describe how dogs of that breed should be put together to function properly. The entire idea behind dog shows is to evaluate the breeding stock that will be producing the next generations of our breeds. Conformation is extremely important in a good breeding program to produce sound puppies. It is not about beauty at all, it is about function.

I am sure that some things will perplex you during your visit. Like the poodle for example. I bet they were one of the first breeds that came to your mind when I talked about conformation being so important. Surely a poodle’s hair has to count for something otherwise they wouldn’t trim them that way right? Did you know that poodles were bred to be water retrievers? Translate Poodle back to German and it means “water dog.” Since that long coat can weigh a swimming dog down they were traditionally cut from their waist down. The coat that was left on the chest of the dog was to keep them afloat. The pom-poms on the ankles and hips protect the dog’s joints, and the hair left on the chest/belly keeps the dog’s organs warm while in the cold water.

Well, there you go. You are ready to go to a dog show now. Remember to ask before petting, leave Pookie home, and stand out of the way or you might just get run over by a Mastiff! Oh, and have fun!