Your first time at a dog show is bound to be an exciting experience, whether you’re competing for the first time or only going to watch. It can also feel a bit overwhelming, especially when everyone else seems to know exactly what they’re doing and you’re still learning. Here are a few tips to make your first dog show experience run more smoothly.
1. Look, don’t touch. Proper grooming for a show takes a lot of time and energy, and despite your best intentions, those well-meaning pets and pats could mess up the dog’s presentation. Always ask to pet a dog, and try to time your requests after you know the dog is finished competing. The handlers will thank you for it!
2. Ask questions. If you feel lost or don’t know what’s going on, ask somebody. As a competitor, the best person to ask is a steward, who can usually be found near the ring entrance with a clipboard in their hands. In addition to distributing armbands, gathering classes outside the ring, informing the judge of absentees and having ribbons ready and waiting, a good steward keeps everything running smoothly and competitors informed. However, since stewards have so many responsibilities, try to catch one when he or she isn’t in the middle of something. If you’re just spectating, chances are that there’s another, more experienced spectator near the ring who would be happy to answer your questions.
3. People who look busy usually are. Don’t ask someone who’s waiting to take their dog into the ring what the difference between a championship and a grand championship is. Ringside handlers are focused on their dogs, and many have a pre-show routine they like to stick to. If you want to talk to a particular person, wait to approach them until they’ve finished in the ring and don’t look occupied.
4. A correction isn’t an attack. A handler asking you to step back a few feet doesn’t mean they don’t like you. A steward directing you away from the ring’s entrance doesn’t mean you shouldn’t stand ringside and watch. Another dog may need some space, or you may inadvertently be blocking the entrance to the ring. Simply apologize and try to be more aware of where you position yourself.
5. Cash only. While some vendors now have tablet card readers that let you use your credit card to buy those treats or breed gear you can’t live without, you’ll still find that you need to carry some cash with you. Parking is usually a cash-only deal, and many food vendors still prefer paper to plastic. If you typically use cards, think of it this way: Sticking with cash can keep you from spending more than you want to.
6. Dress nicely. Indoor or outdoor, a dog show is no place for cutoff jeans and tank tops. Even if you’re just spectating, you should dress for the occasion. Slacks and skirts (of the proper length) are always appropriate, and always wear shoes that go with the venue as well as the outfit (high heels are not the best footwear for an outdoor show on grass!).
7. Spectators, leave your dogs at home. If you’re not competing at the show or taking the Canine Good Citizen test, go without your dog. Some shows, usually due to a lack of space, restrict the presence of unentered dogs. If you plan on taking your unentered dog to a show, check the show’s premium list to make sure you won’t be asked to leave. Premium lists are publications from the show superintendent or secretary that list the show’s club, judges, date, location, classes offered and more, including the entry fees and forms. You can find out who the superintendent of a show is through AKC’s events calendar, and while it may take a little digging, you can find many premium lists online through the superintendent’s or club’s website.