The Eight Most Frequent (and Easily Fixed) Errors I See in the Ring

disappointed man being upset because of doing an error

At every show I judge, I encounter exhibitors who make easily avoidable errors in my ring. The first easily fixed error is to fail to follow the judges’ instructions. You may not be a great trainer or trimmer, but you can follow directions. In one particular assignment, in a class of five, I had five who did not follow my instructions on where to gait their dog.

When you follow instructions, it makes you look like you really do want to win. Be a rock star and set up where the judge has asked you to or watch those ahead of you so that you have an idea. When I judge, I start by gaiting the dogs one at a time around to get the essence of what I have in that class and to see each dog from the side. In almost every breed I judge, in at least one class, the second person in line will start gaiting with the first, instantly forgetting the “one-at-a-time” request even though they’ve nodded in acknowledgement of that procedure. It’s an amateur error, easy to fix. Listen. Clarify. Execute.

When you follow instructions, it makes you look like you really do want to win.



The second easy fix is to go straight down and back. And go to where the judge tells you. In this assignment, I had three days of judging 175 dogs each day and needed to be efficient. I can usually see what I need to see, especially in the Toys and Terriers, within a few strides, and so, I shorten the distance I ask the exhibitors to go down and back by pointing out a spot, such as the ring number. So, I might say, “To the three please.” If you don’t know what that means, it’s easy to clarify. Four of every five exhibitors could not manage this simple way to impress me and make sure I see the dog coming and going.

At one point I said to an exhibitor, “Would you please do that again. I’m standing here looking at the corner, and you started over there and ended up over here. You know what I saw? Nothing. Not a thing.” She was shocked. I guess she thought I should have walked five long strides to my left and then 10 long steps to the right in order to see what she was showing me, but it’s the exhibitor’s job to make sure I see their dog. Period. My job is to look at what you show me.



What’s another easy fix? The third is to make sure your dog has clean teeth. There is truly nothing worse than walking up to a dog and having to step back because the breath is so bad it knocks you back. A daily brushing with dog toothpaste or other numerous options will help you make a great first impression when the judge comes up. If the teeth aren’t clean, owner or pro, you’re not doing your job. Now this doesn’t mean that I don’t point to those dogs, it just means you’re going to have to overcome any subliminal negativity attached to a nasty mouth.



Teach your dog to stand-stay. It’s not hard. You can do it in your living room. If you don’t know how, watch one of the numerous videos on YouTube.



Know your Breed Standard. If you can read enough to fill out an entry form, you can read your Standard. If your dog has a full dentition requirement, first of all, KNOW IT! Now practice it every single day.



Teach your dog to walk on a lead! Go to Obedience class if you have to.



Don’t make excuses. If your dog isn’t used to grass and you find yourself unexpectedly at a show with grass, for heaven’s sake, at least practice at the show site before you get in the ring. Don’t tell the judge your dog has never been on grass before. That just says to the judge that you’re unprepared and you never let your dog’s feet touch the ground. Train them on all surfaces, and if need be on a breed such as a Maltese or Shih Tzu, go bathe it afterwards. Stop with the excuses. Even my Junior with a Yorkie didn’t make excuses for her dog. She did a creditable job with brushing the coat, and I merely remarked by complimenting her on a great job and commiserating on what drop coat breeds are like to show outdoors.

Here’s another example from the Juniors’ ring. I was telling a class of Juniors that they needed to indicate to me where their dog should be examined; the table, ramp or ground. The young precocious girl with the Whippet asked me, “What if it can be examined on more than one location?” I thought I would die, she was so cute and smart, but I merely said, “Excellent question. Tell me where, and I’ll tell you where I want you to set up.” Her response was priceless and so astute. Sometimes I wish my adult exhibitors were as much so.



Finally, for easy fixes, don’t whine! Don’t ask the judge why they don’t like your dog. Don’t put on a nasty face, letting the judge know you’re a poor sport and haven’t compared your dog to the Standard. Get a friend or family member to video you. I’ll bet your six-year-old could do it.

This may seem a bit harsh, but these and other reasons are why the professionals beat the owners so many times. I hope this bit of tongue-in-cheek humor will enliven your presentation with your dog.

I know every exhibitor is capable of fixing the errors described above, and I know that every judge is waiting to be impressed by beautiful dogs and how they are presented—free of easily-fixed errors.

  • Ms. Lee Whittier has been involved in the sport of purebred dogs for over three decades. Her involvement began as an owner, exhibitor and, subsequently, a breeder of Rottweilers. She has owned Akitas, Bullmastiffs, and a Sussex Spaniel. She currently owns, breeds, and exhibits Tibetan Terriers. Ms. Whittier began judging in 2000, and then took a hiatus for several years to work for the American Kennel Club as an Executive Field Representative in the Pacific Northwest. She returned to judging in 2011, and currently judges the Working, Terrier, Toy, and Non-Sporting Groups, eleven Hound Breeds, six Sporting Breeds, Bouvier des Flandres, and Best in Show. Ms. Whittier has judged dog shows around the world, from the United States to Asia, at shows large and small; all of great importance to each and every exhibitor. Some of the larger shows are Westminster Kennel Club, Kennel Club of Philadelphia, Del Valle, Great Western Terrier Association, Northern California Terrier Association, Hatboro, Malibu Kennel Club, and the Kennel Club of Palm Springs. Ms. Lee Whittier is a standing member of Dog Fanciers of Oregon, the American Rottweiler Club, and the Tibetan Terrier Club of America. She is Show Chair for Vancouver Kennel Club and the Terrier Association of Oregon’s January show with Rose City Classic. As an active member in numerous clubs, she has worked in the capacity of Show Chair, President, Vice-President, Secretary, Board Member, and Constitution & By-Laws Revision Committee Member. In addition to judging, Ms. Whittier developed the Dog Show Mentor program, exclusively for owner handlers. This is an online program where owner handlers of all stages and levels learn to develop an individual, strategic approach to showing dogs. She also travels to speak to owner handlers all over the world. She currently lives in Vancouver, Washington, with her husband, Wayne, and their three Tibetan Terriers. Her other interests include gardening and hiking with the dogs.

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