Showing Dogs

By Malcolm Weir, DVM, MSc, MPH; Lynn Buzhardt, DVM

Are you a proud pet owner? Is your dog lovable, smart, and obedient? Is she/he also really good-looking? If you want others to know just how great your dog is, perhaps you should consider showing them off!

How do people “show off” their dogs? 

Pet owners show off their dogs at dog shows, which are organized events that provide an ample audience primed for admiring the glory of the canine kingdom. A dog show is an official gathering of dogs and their owners/ handlers in a competitive arena.

Dogs are pampered, pranced, and positioned to best display how well they conform to a Breed Standard. The Breed Standard, dictated by the American Kennel Club (AKC), is a detailed written description of what the perfect dog in a certain breed would look like. It is the “gold standard” that specifies the optimum characteristics for each canine breed, taking into consideration appearance, movement, health, and temperament.

Judges approved by the AKC examine the dogs and “place” them according to how closely each dog compares to the breed’s official standard. In a dog show competition, the pooch that conforms most closely to the Breed Standard receives an award. This type of show attracts owners of purebred dogs, but there are opportunities for owners of mixed breeds to “show off” their dogs, too. Why do people show their dogs?

Although many people show dogs for fun, the real purpose of dog shows is to evaluate quality breeding stock in order to maintain the integrity of the breed. A winning dog has good conformation (appearance and structure), which makes him or her likely to produce high quality purebred puppies. Since the focus is on breeding, neutered or spayed dogs are not allowed to compete in purebred shows, but are allowed in mixed breed events.

What dogs qualify for a dog show? 

Any intact purebred dog at least 6 months old and registered with the AKC is eligible to compete in the show ring. The AKC will also allow non-registered purebred dogs to compete through a program that grants an ILP (Indefinite Listing Privilege) to dogs that appear to be purebred but don’t have the registration papers to prove it.

"Even mixed breed dogs can compete in AKC approved events."

Even mixed breed dogs can compete in AKC approved events. Although not the traditional dog show, competitions focused on agility and obedience are open to dogs that have been registered through the Canine Partners Program. These ability-based events are formatted through The Mixed Breed Dog Clubs of America, which is a national organization that hosts dog shows for mutts. So, not all dog shows are about good looks!

What are mixed breed competitions like? 

Since there are no breed standards for mutts, a mixed breed competition separates dogs into three size groups: small, medium, and large. Males and females compete separately, but both sexes are judged on how well they perform and communicate with their owner.

The biggest difference between purebred and mixed breed shows is that in purebred shows, dogs must be intact since the goal is to continue a lineage of quality dogs. In mixed breed events, dogs must be spayed or neutered. The Mixed Breed Dog Club of America focuses more on responsible pet ownership than breeding.

What’s the best way to get started showing your dog? 

As always, it is best to do your homework before embarking on a new endeavor, especially one that involves your furry friend. Consider these tips to help you get started on the show circuit:

1. Attend a dog show and see what it is all about. Dog owners are usually a friendly group who love to share their experiences with newcomers.

2. Make sure your dog meets the standards. For purebred shows, look at the Kennel Club Breed standards for your dog’s breed and see how he/she measures up. The AKC has a detailed list of characteristics for each recognized registered breed.

3. Take advantage of AKC resources. Many local dog clubs listed on the AKC’s website provide helpful resources. You can attend a Ringcraft class, which focuses on training for a dog show and teaches you how to best present your dog at a competition. Some clubs hold local events that can give you a preliminary taste of the show ring.

4. Join a club. Meeting with people of similar interests will boost your knowledge and can be fun, too. Interacting with other dog owners will be good for you and interacting with other dogs will be good for your dog. There are lots of dogs at shows, so your pooch should be well-acclimated to behaving in a crowd. Many local clubs host regular classes in dog handling. Look at the AKC website for a list of clubs in your area.

5. Enter practice shows. Local clubs may also introduce you to match shows in your area. These are organized, fun shows that allow both the dog and handler to practice and train under more relaxed circumstances. These shows do not award points toward an AKC title, but they are a great way to practice before entering a real show.

6. Consider hiring a handler. If you have a great dog, but not a great deal of time, consider hiring a professional handler to show your dog. These experienced individuals charge for training and showing dogs, so check a fee schedule before making your decision. Additionally, get references on the handler and visit their facility before you entrust your dog’s wellbeing to them.

Dog shows are meant to bring out the best of the breed in purebred shows and to foster healthy dogs in both purebred and mixed breed competitions. Have your dog evaluated by your veterinarian to ensure they are a healthy canine that can endure the rigors of the show ring. Then, go ahead….show off your dog!

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