How to Show Your Own Dog: A Good Book Can Be A Great Guide

Good Books on How to Show Your Own Dog

Like a good dog that wins in good competition under a good judge, a good dog book is a treasure. My library includes many “go-to” favorites, including The DogShow by William F. Stifel, The International Encyclopedia of Dogs by Anne Rogers Clark and Andrew H. Brace, Best in Show by Bo Bengtson, Born to Win, Breed to Succeed by Patricia Craige Trotter, Encyclopedia of K-9 Terminology by Edward M. Gilbert and Patricia H. Gilbert, Solving the Mysteries of Breed Type by Richard Beauchamp, The Forsyth Guide to Successful Dog Showing by Robert and Jane Forsyth, and The Nicholas Guide to Dog Judging by Anna Katherine Nicholas.

My well-worn copies have guided me faithfully throughout my journey as a breeder and exhibitor of purebred dogs, and each remains a trusted source of information today. I heartily recommend these books to anyone who wants to learn how to show their own dog to best advantage.

Another little-known work that sits on my shelves was a great guide when I was a fledgling fancier. How to Show Your Own Dog by Virginia Tuck Nichols, published by T.F.H. Publications, Inc. Ltd., is unabashedly devoted to the newbie. Its discovery in a B. Dalton Bookseller provided a welcoming introduction to a new and exciting world that seemed so overwhelming at the time. (The $9.95 price was a smart investment.) With a chapter titled, “You Don’t Need a Professional Handler,” the message of this 278-page tome cannot be misconstrued. The book’s dedication page even reads: “This book is written solely for the novice.” How’s that for showing support for the rookie exhibitor?

As a dog-crazy novice, with no connections in the dog show community, this dog book became a reliable source of instruction and inspiration. How to Show Your Own Dog delivered on its promise, with the AKC Rules and Regulations and an Extract from the By-Laws reprinted with permission alongside color photos of owner-handled dogs in the winner’s circle. Although the inclusion of the AKC documents may seem quaint (or unnecessary) in the digital age, their publication in print provided incentive as well as clear answers to specific questions that every newcomer has: How do I register my dog with AKC? What’s a premium list? How do I enter my dog in a show? There’s even a sample of the “Official American Kennel Club Entry Form” with detailed instructions for filling it out. This was particularly helpful when a blank entry form could cause a panic attack!

As a dog-crazy novice, with no connections in the dog show community, this dog book became a reliable source of instruction and inspiration.

In her “how to” book for novices, Ms. Tuck Nichols asks, “Who are the people who show dogs? Are they lunatics or fanatics?” (Some questions are as relevant today as they were when the book was first published for “dog crazy” people in 1969.) “They say you don’t have to be crazy to enjoy shows, but it certainly helps.” The author also cautions, “…the day may come when you will wonder why you ever decided to go in for something involving so much hard work and headaches but so much sheer enjoyment!” Perhaps it is precisely because the highs are preceded by so many lows that showing dogs is worth all the effort. After all, where would the joy be in winning if it only came easily—and often?

The revised and enlarged edition of How to Show Your Own Dog acknowledges there are many reasons why people who like dogs might consider getting involved in dog shows. “First, we have the serious dog breeder,” the author affirms. This assertion recognizes the obvious: Purebred dogs are bred for purpose. They’re not simply bred to satisfy consumer demand, as is the case with designer “doodles” and indiscriminate “rescues.” Readers are reminded that although any dog can look good in the backyard or on the daybed, when evaluated by a judge with a deep understanding of a breed’s Standard, only the best of the best will exceed expectations.

To the serious breeder, showing is important for another reason,” claims the book’s author who was herself a breeder, exhibitor, and judge of English Setters. “It gives him a chance to let other breeders and fanciers see what he has accomplished.” Despite the lady’s use of masculine pronouns here, the author’s point is not lost on today’s discerning exhibitors. For although winning is always the ultimate prize, it’s also peer recognition that every serious breeder and exhibitor desires. Wins are most certainly fleeting, but respect has always been earned—and will always be accompanied by its fair share of blood, sweat, and tears.

Good Books on How to Show Your Own Dog
Good dog books are essential reading for dog show exhibitors.

Ms. Tuck Nichols recognizes the physical aspect of showing dogs when she writes, “The dog game affords plenty of action but is not so strenuous as, let us say, skiing or tennis.” Today’s exhibitors might beg to differ. Dog show exhibitors may not need the energy of Alberto Tomba or the endurance of Serena Williams, but showing even a single dog at every event in a 10-day cluster of shows can require the stamina of a marathon runner and the agility of a point guard. Add performance events to the mix, and showing dogs today can be anything but a relaxing pastime. (If dog shows weren’t so strenuous, there’d be no reason for stretch fabric and sneakers.)

In How to Show Your Own Dog, Ms. Tuck Nichols encourages “hobby” exhibitors to show their dogs for the experience as much as for the competition. She ponders, “What better hobby than one which offers you some traveling, some outdoor activity, and a great deal of pleasure and good fellowship while also keeping you fairly active and very much interested?” Certainly, one of the benefits of showing dogs for the pleasure of it is sharing the day with those who choose to spend their time doing the same things that you like to do. On any given weekend, at locations across the country, exhibitors get to spend time with their dogs in the company of like-minded people. The benefits of (re)connecting with others this way cannot be overstated, and the relationships made can last a lifetime.

Black and white photo of people having a lunch at a dog show
The following caption appears with this photo in How to Show Your Own Dog: “This is a typical [c. 1969] group of dog show enthusiasts during the lunch hour at an outdoor show. Each family has brought along their own picnic basket—they find a suitable spot and enjoy lunch together. This is one of those rare moments at a show when everyone has time to compare notes on raising puppies, the latest developments in canine medicine, show careers and future shows.”
Ms. Tuck Nichols acknowledges in her book that some exhibitors are exhibitionists at heart. “If you like to be in the public eye, here is your chance,” she encourages. “But I’ll tell you something. One of two things will happen: either you’ll fall in love with the sport and become serious about it and a part of it; or you’ll look elsewhere for that spotlight, for without a genuine love for and interest in dogs and the dog game you can’t last…” Getting started in dogs is one thing, but staying the course (indeed, finding your direction) is another thing altogether.

Thankfully, the resources necessary to achieve success in dogs have always been in place. They are the breeders who care enough to produce dogs according to the Breed Standards and who entrust them to the care of enthusiastic newcomers. They are the mentors who answer the phone in the middle of the night and who share words of wisdom that have only been gained through years of triumph and heartache. They are the competitors who appear so unbeatable that they challenge others to work harder and smarter until they are finally beaten. And they are the dog writers who offer instruction and anecdotes that encourage exhibitors to master the basics while dreaming big.

How to Show Your Own Dog remains an important volume in my library not because it was revolutionary at the time or a bestseller. It’s a favorite simply because it was discovered by a “green as grass” novice with nothing but a love for dogs and a strong desire to get started. It’s a reminder that learning “how” to show dogs is just the beginning.

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  • Dan Sayers covers the sport of dogs with a particular interest in purebred dog history and breed preservation. His articles feature notable icons of the past as well as individuals who work tirelessly to promote purebred dogs today. A self-taught artist, Dan’s work is represented in collections worldwide and his illustrations appear in the award-winning Encyclopedia of K-9 Terminology by Ed and Pat Gilbert. Since 1981, Dan has been an exhibitor of several Sporting and Hound breeds. He’s bred Irish Water Spaniels under the Quiet Storm prefix and judged Sweepstakes at the parent club’s National Specialty twice. Dan is a member of the Irish Water Spaniel Club of America and the Morris and Essex Kennel Club.

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