As a passionate Dog Show Mentor for owner handlers, I am often asked about the keys to success in the sport of purebred dogs. Although AKC talks a lot about its Code of Sportsmanship, this is a set of values that are set upon the exhibitor rather than crafted by each exhibitor based on their own beliefs. While I would personally change AKC’s title from “Sportsmanship” to “SportsOneship,” that topic will be an article for another time.
There are undoubtedly many factors that can influence your performance. Still, one set of principles that I always recommend to support your best “SportsOne” self is developing your own list of core values. It’s easy to be swept away by the values of others who whisper in your ear. When you are clear on your own values, you can stand more firmly upon them while you move forward, always with the Next Right Step.
Developing a set of core values for yourself as an owner handler guides you to how you will show up in the competitive dog show world. The four core values that will keep you on the path to success are Excellence, Community, Kindness, and Respect. They are not merely arbitrary guidelines. Rather, they help create a roadmap to success that can help you achieve your goals in the ring. Here’s how.
Excellence is the first core value of importance, and it is closely tied to the concept of commitment. When you are committed to Excellence, everything you do aims to enhance your performance and create a winning outcome in the ring. You pay attention to details and determine which strategies will generate the effect you’re looking for, whether it’s your first point or Best in Show. In fact, as a roadmap, it can take you from your first point to Best in Show!
When you care about Excellence, you care about being the best you can be, and you also care about your dog when no one is looking. You understand the importance of how your dog looks when he’s under the judge in the ring and that he should be the perfect specimen of himself under the most critical eye. The Core Value of Excellence applies to both your dog and yourself.
Aspiring to Excellence is knowing where the bar is and being interested enough to learn what you must do to achieve and raise it. Then, you’ll be at the top of your game, and you’ll be the one to beat. You become a leader. Leaders are winners, and winners are leaders.
The core value of Community is being supported and surrounded by like-minded owner handlers to learn more about dogs and dog shows, and even more about life. We all sometimes operate under adverse conditions. Some owner handlers believe themselves to be underdogs; sometimes, they are at a disadvantage to the competition. However, this can be a self-fulfilling prophecy when unchecked. A supportive community can make a difference in the outcome simply by fostering a belief in oneself and one’s peers.
A Community that purposefully and intentionally creates connections lasts far longer than the minutes and hours members meet in person, online, or on social media.
It has become increasingly evident that the positive relationships forged through an intentional community are more supportive and longer-lasting than ones that are not. A safe, confidential group of owner handlers who are like-minded and dedicated to a common cause (the preservation of showing purebred dogs) creates a lasting bond far more meaningful than those who bond over their wounds and woes. Therefore, the Community must be intentionally positive and forward-thinking to be effective in finding success in the competitive venture of showing dogs.
How Does Community Improve Your Win Rate?
Being part of a Community improves win rates by supporting each other at shows, sharing a version of Monday Morning Mentoring Moments and Brags, attending worthy webinars together, listening and asking questions, sharing stories about judges and other exhibitors, and staying positive together when one member has a rough time. Sharing time with your Fav Five, your chosen “board of directors” dog show friends and mentors who are positive and forward-thinking, elevates your mindset a little at a time. Finally, you are proud to be part of a community of owner handlers dedicated to Excellence.
Even more than all this, the owner handler Community has the opportunity to bring positivity to the rest of the dog show Community and share their learning—one person at a time. We may see changes very slowly; little by little, you expand your friends, trust people outside this Community, and make new, lasting, and positive relationships within the dog show world and beyond. You become a leader. Winners are leaders, and leaders are winners.
Kindness is a necessary core value because we can’t have a valuable community without being kind to each other. Kindness is a choice. In a competitive setting, simple Kindness can be unexpected and powerful.
At a dog show, it may be as simple as complimenting another owner or professional handler on their dog, their technique, gentle hands, blue ribbon, purple ribbon, or Best in Show rosette. It may be holding someone else’s dog even when it’s inconvenient. It may be offering grooming advice to someone who is obviously struggling. I’ll give you an example. The day my father died, I was
getting ready to go in the ring at my National Specialty. A fellow exhibitor didn’t know what was happening but observed my sadness. She didn’t ask a lot of questions; she just offered to go for a short walk. We didn’t talk much. That act of Kindness has turned from an introduction to a deep friendship.
How Does Kindness Improve Your Win Rate?
Offering Kindness reveals our inner power to be vulnerable and visit our vulnerability onto others. It shows our confidence in ourselves, which oozes out into the larger Community. Kindness is a leadership quality, and leaders are winners, and winners are leaders.
Respect as a core value means respect for others and respect for ourselves. At dog shows, respect for others may mean keeping your set-up clean and reflecting respect for yourself when you keep your area spotless. It may mean leaving plenty of room in front of you and behind you for other dogs, being mindful of the judge, and being respectful in and outside the ring. That means no talking trash online, in or outside the ring. It means when the judge hands you your 4th place ribbon and says thank you for showing, you respond by saying thank you as well. Never raise your voice or make faces. Just don’t.
Pull your shoulders back and down, breathe, put on your Superhero outfit, and figure out what you have to do to get the win you want. I would say, “the win your dog deserves,” but maybe he did get the win he deserves, and you want him to be better than he is.
How Does Respect Improve Your Win Rate?
As you’re more and more respectful, you’ll realize how much you can do to win more in the ring. As you respect the judge’s decision, you will dive deeper to see how your dog meets the Breed Standard and stacks up next to the competition.
As you’re more and more respectful to your competition, you’ll realize how your respectful demeanor reflects back to that competition, and they become more respectful to you. You are modeling positive behaviors that others naturally mimic, and you become a leader. And leaders are winners, and winners are leaders.
One More for Fun!
Ultimately, any quality handler knows that to achieve Excellence, Community, Kindness, and Respect, you have to remember to have fun with your dog! Without fun with your dog, there is no joy in your perseverance, pursuit of Excellence, or in the Community.
How does having fun with your dog in the ring improve your win rate? When you have fun with your dog, it all comes together. When you stop worrying about all the externals and focus on your dog, how much you love him and how great he is, your belief filters down to him, and the two of you become captivating. Your dog charms you and the judge and ringside. Most of all, go have fun with your dog.