Spotlight on the Show Ring : Make Every Second Count

In the dog show world, the show ring is where the magic happens. By stepping into the show ring, you are physically stepping onto a stage. All of the focus is directed towards you, your dog, and your fellow exhibitors. Work with your dog to make every second count so that he shines in the spotlight. Step into your Stellar Presentation!*

Always assume the attention is on you—because it is, whether from the judge or from other exhibitors. You have a limited amount of time to impress the judges. As such, don’t wait for them to give you the cue to be “on.” It should be automatic every time you step into the ring. I am not condoning that you should keep your dog “turned on” the entire time you’re in the ring when there’s a big entry or in the Group. That’s not the point here. The point is, choose those moments. Anticipate those moments in time when the judge will be looking at your dog, and make the most of them.

“Should I wave at the judge if they’re not paying attention to my dog?”

I was recently asked, “If a judge is not paying attention to my dog, should I wave at them to get their attention?” In response, I encouraged the handler to take a more subtle approach. “In a 175 dog entry, there are moments in time when a judge may be gazing into the distance, waiting for an entry to start moving or make the turn or get the dog up to optimum speed for correct foot timing. Peripheral vision is an amazingly accurate human ability. Don’t assume that because the judge’s head is turned, you’re not being seen. You’d be surprised what we judges see out of the back of our heads! Absolutely consider yourself to be in the spotlight!” I coached her: “When you are actually presenting your dog, it’s eye catching. As you step into the ring, and for the duration that you are in the ring, be ready so that when the judge’s gaze moves to your dog, he looks like a rock star.”

Choose those moments. Anticipate those moments in time when the judge will be looking at your dog, and make the most of them

Yes, most exhibitors have experienced at some point or another when the judge’s attention was elsewhere, or they had a delayed observation of your dog. Another exhibitor asked, “Should I stop and look at a judge if he isn’t watching?” I responded that there is no need to bring attention to the pause; the judge will turn to you when ready. This kind of intimidating tactic serves to detract from your beautiful dog, and it only brings attention to your own temperament. Attempting to embarrass the judge for ostensibly not watching your dog doesn’t win a judge’s attention or respect. It is never appropriate to try to embarrass anyone, for that matter. Keep in mind that all of your actions in the ring are potentially being recorded by someone. What might that result be from both perspectives!? No matter how you see the situation, others may see your actions as unsportsmanlike. You and your dog are figuratively and literally on stage at all times.

What advantages can you gain when your dog’s performance is on point, even if it is not your turn? If you can get your competition to look at your dog, that will give you an additional advantage. Keep in mind that your dog is on display for judges, spectators, judges as spectators, potential puppy buyers, potential breeding partners, and/or other collaborations.

Other than your one-on-one time, think of all the time that you are actually in the ring. What a lost opportunity for those who only turn on when they are being judged. The moments before and after your individual exam are potential times to impress the judge, and to create a deceptively casual presentation—or not. Once you are ready for the individual, your dog has a mere 30-40 seconds to impress the judge on the exam, then the down and back, and possibly once around.

A Comparison of Two Rings: The Olympic Ring and the Dog Show Ring

You know how I’m always talking about the 2.4 minutes allotted to each dog in the ring? Well, Team USA Olympian, Simone Biles’ floor routine is less than 90 seconds, and for her vault, she has a 25-meter runway to run at full speed to generate force to launch herself into the air and land on a mat that is one meter wide. Talk about fast competition. She has seconds in which to propel herself into the air to flawlessly execute twists and flips—the more combined, the better to impress the judges.

Let’s draw a comparison of two performances: Competing on the Olympic stage for the gymnastics floor routine versus exhibiting in the dog show ring.

The Olympian:

  • Equipment: Chalk, wraps, tape;
  • Mental preparation: Cues, visualizing, and good luck rituals;
  • Appearance (women): Leotard, make-up, hair;
  • Body Movement: Precise, down to how she points her fingers and extends her toes;
  • Start and Stop Points: Strategically placed for each sequence;
  • Flow: Checks in with coach, steps onto the platform and signals to the judges, performs, and signals once again before stepping off the platform. Even once she has finished, she knows that she is still in the spotlight, and marches off the floor ready to prep for her next event.

The Dog Show Handler:

  • Equipment: Lead, bait,
    grooming supplies;
  • Mental Preparation: Cues, visualizing, and good luck rituals;
  • Appearance: Suit, make-up, hair; groomed dog;
  • Body Movement of the Dog: Precise presentation from nose to tail;
  • Start and Stop Points: Strategically placed to best show the dog;
  • Flow: Checks in with team, steps in the ring and awaits the signal from the judge, performs, returns to the line—but stays “on.” Even once she is finished, she knows that she is still in the spotlight.

When we look at these performances, what similarities do you notice in the two routines? What are these competitors doing before, during, and after their events? Warming up, prepping, visualizing, drills, then a check-in with the coach. They step into the spotlight and make eye contact with their judges. They check in with their coaches, right? Now, you all have a coach (me) and you have the option of using my expertise as you’d like before your runs. But let’s return to our examination of two ring arenas.

In the Ring = In the Spotlight = You Are “On!”

Focus on Your Performance

Focus on your dog and the rest will come. Know where you are going and focus for every second. The seconds tick away during your limited time in the ring. Use every moment to ACE your performance!

In any competitive venue, there’s much to learn and much to overcome on the journey to the top. Develop a routine that sets you up to step in the ring and maximize your dog’s presentation under
the spotlight.

  • Mindset! Change your nervous energy into an attitude of
    positive anticipation.
  • Is your dog excited? Help him switch into a positive state of anticipation, ready to perform.
  • Step in the ring. Turn ON!
  • Be ready to perform, as requested.
  • Your dog is focused on you and is
    on exhibition.
  • Even after your turn, as you stand in the line-up, you are still on.
  • Bottom line: In the Ring = In the Spotlight = You Are “On!”

Do you have a ritual before entering the show ring? A martial artist bows before stepping onto the map. A gymnast raises her arms before mounting the apparatus. Maybe you have a token such as a lodestone in your pocket. I’ve seen people touch their necklace, to the ground and focus themselves. I particularly like the idea of a pearl necklace with its dual symbolism of new beginnings along with the concept of strength and grit; just as the gem itself was made from a piece of sand, layer upon layer.

What an exciting opportunity… your dog is in the limelight to shine! Your dog is in the spotlight, presenting the breed standard to its best—pure potential on display.

How Do You “Turn On?”

Think about the perfect stack, run, and pivot. Map out your moves and consult with your coach to back up your decisions or perhaps to challenge you. Ultimately, you rise to the top—or not. When you see the competition give a perfect performance, do you say, “Wow, I can top that!” And do you feel the drive to push harder?

Like the top handlers, if you want a great performance on the big world stage, you must actively focus on your presentation and on your dog’s performance. Watch the quality-handled dogs whose handlers seem to be casually waiting for the judges when they enter the ring. They are actually presenting their dogs in an informal way before and after they are called forward to formally present. They are always “on.”

Don’t expect to passively walk in and win. Instead, rise to the occasion. What an exciting opportunity… your dog is in the limelight to shine! Your dog is in the spotlight, presenting the breed standard to its best—pure potential on display. Use every precious moment to deliver that
stellar performance!

Spotlight on the Show Ring: Make Every Second Count

Featured Photo Courtesy of Terri Hirsch Photography.

  • 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 Filed 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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