Dog shows: more than just doggie beauty pageants

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Last week I was asked, “What is a dog show, anyway?  Is it just like a beauty pageant for dogs?”

As I pondered the question, I realized the answer is yes … and no.

For the casual exhibitor, a dog show is a place to show off what is often their prized pet. It’s an opportunity to win the coveted points that allow your dog to become a breed champion.

It is a place to socialize with other people who love the breed.  It’s where you can see some of the “big name” dogs and shop for all kinds of dog related things you had no idea you needed.

For the breeder, a dog show is all of the above and more.

Breeders watch the dogs in the ring. They look at the dog’s pedigrees, to see what various lines are producing. Breeders carefully evaluate type, balance and movement and make notes about what they like and don’t like.

A show may be the place where the next stud dog for a litter is selected.  The future of a dog currently owned might be determined by what a respected judge thinks of him and might be the difference between the dog staying in a breeding program or being placed into a pet home.

It can also be a place to network with potential buyers; either other exhibitors or members of the public.

For the Professional Handler, a dog show is where they prove their worth.

The daily care of the dog, the exercise, training and grooming: all culminate in those minutes in the ring. A good handler gets more clients, a bad handler loses them.

Most handlers get bonuses based on the dog’s success in the ring, so the more winning they do, the more they get paid. Shows provide an opportunity to find new clients. They’re also a social outlet to spend time with other handlers and clients .

For Junior Handlers, kids between the ages of 10-18, a show is a place where they are evaluated on their handling skills.

Talented Juniors can earn points that qualify them to participate at Westminster.  Depending on the show, Juniors can win prizes and scholarships and recognition. They can find themselves asked to handle other people’s dogs in the breed ring.

They can even do well enough to convince a professional handler to take them along as an unpaid assistant. Juniors lucky enough to do this find themselves working hard, but as a payoff they get to carefully observe the handler they’re working with, and they receive handling lessons from someone successful in the field.

For the Obedience, Rally-O or Agility handler, a show is where their hard work is rewarded, or not.

Dogs and handlers compete for qualifying scores that lead to titles, as well as for placement ribbons and high-in-trial awards.  Selecting a performance prospect, training the dog and then competing and succeeding with him is a wonderful way to bond with your furry friend. The dogs enjoy themselves as well, as their happily wagging tails attest.

For the general public, a dog show is a bewildering place. There are dogs everywhere!  Dogs in the rings, beside the rings on crates or tables, dogs being rushed from one place to another, dogs in the grooming area in crates or on tables; dogs, dogs dogs!

Some dogs look like the one you have at home, but others, bred true to their breed standard and groomed to perfection, resemble yours so little that you have to ask what the breed is.

Some dogs not yet ready for the ring may have their hair braided, wrapped in colorful bands, or bunched into little paper-wrapped packets.  Others have on snoods – colorful bands that go around their necks and keep the ears from touching the ground.

There are dogs of all shapes and sizes. Tiny Chihuahuas may be crated next to the Irish Wolfhounds, as tall as 34” at the shoulder, or the massive, wrinkled Neopolitan Mastiff, nearly as tall as the Wolfhound and weighing in at an average of 150 pounds.

Hairless breeds such as Chinese Crested, American Hairless Terriers and Xoloitzcuintli (pronounced show-low-eats-queen-tlee), or “Xolo,” may be in the ring next to the corded Komondor or Pulik, the profusely coated Standard Poodle, or the flowing coat of a Golden Retriever.

The show is a place to see many breeds, watch the performances of the obedience dogs and even research and talk to breeders of dogs in which you’re interested.

Dogs shows are many things to many people, but they are seldom boring! In our general area, shows are hosted in Atlanta, Birmingham, Montgomery and Mobile, so if you’re interested, you can find one to attend.

Karlene Turkington, a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, is a lifelong animal lover who has been training dogs for over 20 years. Readers are welcome to send their questions to info@TrainMyK-9.com. Information provided is a basic overview of issues. Specific health or behavioral concerns should be discussed with your veterinarian or qualified animal trainer or behaviorist.

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