Most exhibitors enter their dogs in conformation shows for very specific reasons, i.e., to gain experience, earn a major, or receive a placement in the NOHS Group. However, dog shows are much more than places where brightly colored ribbons are distributed and candid photos are eagerly posted on social media.
At the typical dog show, every interaction offers a kind of pop-up classroom where lessons are provided on everything from ring prep and breed-specific handling techniques to the general care of our favorite companion animals. (Most shows even extend an invitation or two to learn how to better deal with people under difficult circumstances.)
Opportunities for growth and learning are available at every dog show, especially for those whose ultimate goal is to stand out from the crowd. When it comes to setting and achieving goals for the owner-handled dog, it pays to pay attention at a dog show.
Follow the Crowd
Few activities are better organized than a dog show. Thanks to the collective know-how of show committees, superintendents, and the AKC, conformation shows make it easy to follow the crowd or find the nation’s top-winning dogs. A quick glance at the judging program makes it easy to find your favorite dog and handler teams, so pull up a chair and join the other exhibitors who’ve gathered ringside to pick up a few handling tips. Remember, ringside classes are always in session.
Hiding in the Crowd
Maybe you’re the type of exhibitor who learns best through quiet contemplation. If group activities overwhelm you to distraction, pick up a show catalog instead. These 10- to 20-dollar paperbacks are like a syllabus for the weekend, providing information on every single dog entered. Start with common kennel names to connect the pedigrees, then compare those family trees with the dogs in the ring. It’s amazing how much can be gleaned while hiding in plain sight.
There’s no denying the kinetic energy that permeates the typical dog show. Wherever people gather by the hundreds with their dogs, crowded conditions can easily overwhelm. However, they can also provide opportunities for growth. Teeming fairgrounds and arenas allow exhibitors a chance to learn how to navigate crowds while keeping their dogs focused and safe from harm. The same is true for crowded rings, so avoid getting flustered by keeping your focus on your dog’s “personal space.”
Getting Away from the Crowd
Sometimes a crowd of people can feel like a crowd of strangers. Even two people can feel like a crowd at times. So, when the noise and excitement of the dog show gets to be too much, grab your dog’s collar and leash and go for a nice long walk. The quiet and solitude can be rejuvenating, and the time away from the competition can be a reminder of what’s really important—the bond that’s shared between dog and handler. Check in with yourself (and your dog) to know when it’s helpful to get away from the crowd.
Above the Crowd
In a real sense, going to a dog show is like going to school. There’s a curriculum (or schedule) to follow, research to be conducted and studying to be done, tests to be taken, and awards to be earned. Championships are like degrees, representing personal milestones as they validate both effort and commitment. They also encourage each “graduate” to seek new goals. Only quitting can prevent the serious student from rising above the crowd.
By “crowdsourcing” information and handling techniques at every dog show, exhibitors can improve performance and the likelihood of achieving personal goals—simply by paying attention.
Featured image courtesy of the American Kennel Club (AKC)