A few years ago I did a blog post on dog shows, so with the Westminster Show just around the corner I thought I would do another post.
Contrary to what a lot of people think Conformation Dog Shows are not a beauty pageant for dogs. These events are to present to a judge dogs who represent their breed as breeding stock capable of producing quality pure bred puppies.
The history of dog shows dates back to the mid 1800’s. The cream of the crop of dog shows and my favorite is the Westminster Show held at Madison Square Garden in New York.
The First Annual New York Bench Show of Dogs, given under the auspices of the Westminster Kennel Club, was staged in 1877 at Gilmore’s Garden (the forerunner of Madison Square Garden) in New York City, drawing an entry of 1,201 dogs. (WestminsterKennelClub.org)
This year will mark the 140th year of for the Westminster Dog Show, February 15-16th. It is the second-longest continuously held sporting event in the United States behind only the Kentucky Derby and is the largest all breed show. You can read more on the history of the show here and here. The Westminster show is one of the few that are televised so you can watch from the comfort of your home; I know I’ll be watching. So why don’t you make some popcorn and sit back and watch the show and see if you can pick the winners. You can find more information on the upcoming Westminster Dog Show here
The very first thing to do prior to entering the ring is make sure you know the basics of showing a dog, how to stack, move and the different patterns a judge may ask you to do. You can do this by attending conformation classes where an instructor will take you through step by step with your dog to teach you how to present a dog to the judge. If you don’t have classes near you reach out to your breeder for suggestions.
If your dog requires grooming you must complete this prior to entering the ring. My breed requires very little grooming so I usually will just wet my dogs down a day or two before the show and towel them off to remove the dust, clip nails, clean ears, check teeth and we are ready to go.
Then you must select the show collar and lead that suits your need, I use different collars and leads depending on the dog I am showing and what works best for them. For some I may use a serpentine choke with a short show lead and for others I may use a nylon choke collar with a longer lead but I try to make sure what ever I use it matches as closely to the color of my dog as possible. Why use a color that matches your dog? You want the whole focus on your dog so you don’t want to have anything that would be distracting to the judge, this also incudes your wardrobe. You should blend in to the background not your dog.
Now as the exhibitor or also known as the handler you are ready to present your dog to the judge.
The role of the Judge is to examine the dogs and place them in accordance to how close each dog compares with their mental image of the “perfect” dog as described in the breed’s official standard.
These standards describe the characteristics that allow the breed to perform the function for which it was originated and include qualifications for structure, coat, temperament and movement.
These official written standards are maintained by each breed’s national club and published in AKC’s The Complete Dog Book, you can also find them here for each breed.
The entry is broken down into different classes so when it is your turn you will walk in the ring with the other exhibitors for your class if there are any and stack your dog, always keeping your dog on your left between you and the judge. Stacking is setting your dogs legs and body in a particular position that best shows their structure and angles. This first part usually happens very quickly and then the judge typically has everyone go around the ring once together and return to where you started and stack your dog for exam.
The Judge will examine or “go over” each dog with their hands to see if the teeth are correct, muscles, bones and coat texture match the standard. They examine each dog in profile for general balance, substance and overall conformation. It is important that your dog has been properly socialized and trained so they are comfortable with someone touching them in this manner. An extremely shy or aggressive dog can be excused from the ring.
Then the Judge will ask you to move your dog, typically in a down and back watching the dog move away and toward them and then around so they can watch the dogs side gait to see how all of those features fit together in action. The judge is watching to see if the dog looks capable of doing the job/function it was originated/bred to do. For example in my breed if a dog does not have good reach and drive they may not be able to cover ground efficiently to retrieve birds.
The Judge spends approximately two minutes on each dog going over them, moving them down and back and then around. So you have to be on your toes and pay attention.
Once the Judge has gone over each dog he/she will have the whole group move around the ring again and at this point they usually make their picks. Not everyone can be a winner but then there is always another show.
Click here to watch the video of the Chesapeake’s at Westminster in 2015 judged by Mrs. Dyane Baldwin. This will give you a full picture of what goes on in the ring. Enjoy!