Dog shows are, fundamentally, a competition. And as with any competitive endeavor, participants compete (in theory) on a level playing field. But one thing that owner handlers soon learn is that dog shows are not exactly “fair” competitions, and an exhibitor’s choice of breed can be a strong indicator of potential success. After all, showing a breed that is largely presented by professionals can be overwhelming, and the odds of achieving victory—even in the classes—can be deflating. The same can be said for exhibitors of low entry breeds, where the lack of competition in the Breed ring can lead to a lack of enthusiasm and an inability to develop the necessary skills to compete at a higher level. Exhibitors of AKC recognized breeds with low entries can find themselves in the ring with even less competition than do exhibitors of the Miscellaneous and FSS breeds.
Thankfully, all is not lost. The good news for owner handlers of the low entry breeds is that in addition to being competitive events, dog shows also offer exhibitors a chance to achieve goals that have little to do with the actual competition. For the savvy exhibitor, small entries can provide big results in surprising ways.
The One and Only
Finding yourself in the ring as a single entry can be both a disappointment and a relief. Although no breed points are on offer, the lack of competition allows the exhibitor a chance to relax while demonstrating the hard work that has been practiced at home and in class. Chances are the judge is likewise relaxed and willing to take a few moments to engage you and your dog a bit more. Feel free to talk with your dog in those moments, encouraging a fun performance while making the memory a good one for you and your dog. Who knows? The two of you might even impress the judge enough to get noticed the next time in a crowded ring.
Introduce the Introvert
Not everyone who shows dogs is a “people person.” In fact, many dog show exhibitors are happiest spending time with their animal companions, and interact with people only when absolutley necessary. For the introverted exhibitor, dog shows can provide a “safe space” where human interaction is mitigated by the presence of a trusted canine companion. In the company of an owner-handled dog, the show ring can seem like nirvana. And when your dog is the only entry in its breed, the experience is simply the two of you visiting with a judge who probably traveled a long way to meet you. Allow the moment to reveal a quiet confidence that you didn’t know you possessed.
Low Entries/High Expectations
Of course, owner handlers of a low entry breed get more ring-time than do exhibitors of the more popular breeds. For every Australian Shepherd or Boxer that makes it into the Group ring, there are dozens more that are resting back at the set-up with their handlers, hoping for a better outcome tomorrow. For exhibitors who find themselves in the Group ring by default, the opportunity to grow—if not win—abounds. Just being in the ring with yesterday’s Best in Show winner (or last year’s Westminster winner) provides an unparalleled chance to watch and learn from the best. (Just imagine yourself on the field with Tom Brady or on the mat with Simone Biles!) Being in close proximity to the sport’s best is an experience without equal. So, use your dog’s low entry status to expect more from yourself by “rubbing shoulders” with the greats.
Low entries certainly provide challenges for the AKC and show-giving clubs, as well as for exhibitors, but they also provide opportunities for personal growth and breed awareness that are unmatched in the sport. As an exhibitor of a low entry breed, take the time to educate other fanciers about your breed by presenting your dog in a manner that gets everyone’s attention. Eventually, you and your dog will get noticed by virtue of your dedicated efforts and your dog’s breed-specific qualities. It’s your job to level the playing field… nobody’s going to do it for you. So, take advantage of your circumstances. Measure progress in increments that are unique to you and your dog. The “big win” will surely come, but it will follow many, many smaller victories.