As a Charlotte dog trainer in overall obedience, the dog showing world is a completely different realm of the dog industry than anything I had ever experienced. I decided to try my hand at a UKC show in Hickory, NC with my German Shepherd puppy Alces to learn a new dimension of dog training -what it takes to show a dog competitively in confirmation. I had found out about this show only a week in advance, I knew nothing about dog showing or what to expect, so I first set out to learn from an experienced handler, Kristin Block, a few days before the show.
There was so much to learn in just two hours! She first taught me how to put on the lead the proper way, ensuring it makes a P shape, if put on incorrectly it does not snap and release like it should, which then does not allow you to have full control of the dog’s head.
Next, we went over how to stack a dog; each dog is stacked differently depending on its breed. You secure the dog at the elbow, pick it straight up and then turn in the toes, setting it straight down. For the back legs, you must grab at the knee and always go under the dog, if you reach over the back of the dog when stacking his back legs that is considered improper and most people will think you don’t know what you’re doing. So don’t be one of those people! We went over the difference between Golden Retrievers and German Shepherds as I work with Season’s Gold on a regular basis and would like to know how to not only stack my breed of choice, but another one that I work with. A Golden Retriever is stacked by putting the front paw directly under its shoulder each aligned together, while the back legs are aligned together making sure they are perpendicular to the ground. German Shepherds are stacked with their front feet aligned together and the back you need the back right pulled ahead making it slanted and the back left should be pulled back making a perpendicular line with the floor. This shows off their back line, and confirmation. Depending on how you stack the dog can either make a not so good looking dog amazing, or a really good looking dog awful, so it is key to know how to stack the dog properly to your advantage. If you are showing another breed than these two I highly recommend watching some videos on how to stack your dog properly!
We then went over what to expect in the ring at the dog show. I was instructed on the sequence in which things are done, which depends on how many dogs are in the ring and what the judge wants.
When you take off running you must bunch up the lead in your hand so that it isn’t out for the judge to see or drag on the ground. I first had to get the run down; my mentor said I ran like a fairy, I guess I had too much pep in my step. You never want to just take off into a run with your dog, you must ease into it or else the dog looks choppy or is running when it should be jogging. So you must take 3 strides with an extended walk and then go into your jog, it makes a smoother transition for your dog and keeps them under control. You must run with a purpose and also run with your hips not your feet. Don’t be afraid to pick out your biggest mirror and practice over and over – this is what I did when I got home for a few days leading up to the show.
A down and back will be asked of you from the judge once your dog has been stacked and has been checked for its confirmation, bite and overall look. You lead the dog down the diagonal line in the show ring turn to the right, make sure you look the judge in the eye, straighten out the dog and then run back stopping just in front of the judge. You don’t want to stop too far away where they doesn’t have enough time to judge the dog’s gate or close enough where they cannot evaluate the dog without enough room. After the down and back the judge will tell you to go to the end of the line, so you run the outer lines in the ring to the end of the line, making sure you have plenty of room between the dogs to ensure they don’t get distracted by the other dogs.
On the day of the show; I registered my puppy into the puppy match and then got my area set up. I had until lunchtime to observe and watch other handlers before it was my time to go. Luckily, I knew a couple of people there and we practiced everything again in an empty room. I walked around and started asking strangers about their dogs and what they did with their dogs. My mentor was there and she also introduced me to AKC judges and experienced show people that I was lucky to make some new connections with. The highlight of this time before the class was I had one judge ask if he could handle my dog because he was so pleased with him. I’ve never experienced someone getting so excited to play and meet with my dog, it was very rewarding to watch.
Walking around with Alces I had several people come up to me asking where I got him from and they said he was very well behaved for such a young puppy. They observed his very hyper playful state and then were amazed with how we could just shut it off and go into a down stay. That’s where my obedience training background really made us shine and stand out that day! I even had some people ask me what class I would be showing him in so they could come watch us. Finally they had called for the Puppy Match which we were in; it was a class of six months and under, all breeds, male and female. I walked in with confidence and began stacking Alces. After all twelve puppies were in the ring the judge went down the line. By that time Alces was getting tired of holding this new awkward position for a very long time so he began to fidget. She checked him over and then asked for the down and back, after a quick once over she then asked me to run around to the back. One by one the puppies got judged and we waited around patiently. I was surprised with how I wasn’t nervous or intimidated as I thought I would be, with trying to remember everything I had learned a week prior at the same time it gave me no time to even think about everyone watching me or if I messed up.
The judge announced the Champion of the class – a Beagle, but then she came up to me and said I loved your puppy he gets Reserved Champion. I smiled and thanked her. I was proud of both of us, neither of us knowing what we were doing and having never experienced any of this I thought it was a great accomplishment. Trust me when I say you will be seeing more of me in the ring with Alces!