Advice for New Dog Show Exhibitors

Most dog show enthusiasts advise that beginners observe, learn and find a mentor, know their breed in and out, be patient and have fun.

On the Dogs in Review Facebook page, Dogs in Review magazine asked this question to experienced exhibitors: If you could give one piece of advice to a newbie in conformation, what would it be? Most dog show enthusiasts advise that beginners observe, learn and find a mentor, know their breed in and out, be patient and have fun.

Below are some of the exhibitors’ responses from the Dogs in Review magazine Facebook wall.


Watch and Learn

Kathy At K-Run Beagles: Look at the quality and accomplishments of the breeders who have been in it 10 years or 40 years. You may be surprised! Breed to the standard and don’t get hung up on the flavor of the month or the “ribbon winners.” My best mentoring has come from long-time breeders and professional handlers that are not in my breed. Most importantly, never become kennel blind! Be able to pick your own dogs apart and have an ultimate goal in your breeding program.

Bob Banks: I would tell a very new person to study the owners and professionals that are winning in your given breed first. Also you have to watch other breeds and handlers, too. When you watch the people that are doing the most winning, there is a reason. Study where they place their hands, how they stack each breed, what speed they move their dogs, etc. Try to copy the way the best in the sport show your breed. I also would like to see the new people coming into the sport not worry about who is in the ring with you, but keep working and watching your own charge. At first your wins will be few, but as you get better, the wins will come more often. Before you know it, you’ll be able to compete against anyone at any time.  Good luck! This is a wonderful sport, but no one starts at the top — it takes time and hard work.

Ferris Beashau: Get a mentor and quickly find out who knows what they are talking about and who thinks they know everything but don’t.

Bronwyn Bresnahan: Develop a strong relationship with the breeder who you bought the dog from — a mentor like that is invaluable. Join a local club, and don’t be afraid to ask questions. At your first show, have fun with your best friend win or lose, and then splurge for a photo!

Suzie Rose: Spend vast amounts of time observing other handlers in your breed. See what responses the dogs have to the handler’s each move. Then spend much more time seeing what works for you and your dog. Conformation classes are great. Study your breed standard!
Darci Brown: Listen to those that have earned the right to speak; learning is a never-ending quest. Have respect for your dogs, judges, and fellow breeders and competitors. Be honest with yourself and honest about your dogs.

Jocelyne Roy Phillips: Watch your ring before your class. Make sure you know the judge’s preferences and procedures in the ring. Go in with the dog you love and come out with the same dog you still love no matter what happens. It takes a while before someone can really show a dog to its best advantage, so be patient and watch the pros. When you can show your dog as well as the professional handlers, then you’ll see that it doesn’t make any difference whether you’re an owner-handler or a pro. Judges are normally fair and will reward the best dog in the ring.

Know Your Breed

Neil Trilokekar: Have fun and remember to attempt to understand your breed’s conformation as it relates to the function it was meant to perform.

Stephanie Cottrell of OshoZen Show Dogs: Study your breed thoroughly. Study those successfully presenting your breed in the ring. Film them and film yourself, and then compare. Attend classes if you can to socialize your dog and yourself to ring manners and procedures. And most of all, believe in your dog and yourself each time you walk into a ring. Don’t forget to breathe deeply and smile — it all goes right down the lead to your dog.

Bonnie Smith: Memorize the standard for your breed and remember that you’re advancing the breed for the generations to follow. Leave a healthy, happy bloodline behind for others to build on as your legacy.

Amber Anslow Gates: Find a breeder that has continued to produce typey dogs in your breed, someone that upholds the code of ethics of the Parent Club. Ask questions, research, watch, learn the history of the breed, and learn about the health issues and what tests can be done to minimize it. Be ethical and moral.

Cookie Nanni: Get a real thick skin and listen, read and ask all the dumb questions you can. Most of all, study your pedigrees; they will tell you most of what you need to know. Find out all the dogs in your chosen bloodlines and what made them good, great or weak.

Nancy Downing: Read your breed standard. Pick it apart line by line and compare it to a dog. Do this with an unbiased eye and an experienced dog person to help you. It doesn’t have to be someone in your own breed, but they have to know how to interpret a standard.

Debi Decker: Learn your breed standard from beginning to end. Observe your breed in the ring, and see if you can pick out the points that the standard outlines and apply it to your own dog. We all start with our first dog, and without educating ourselves, we generally start with a poor one. But if you love showing, you will learn what is correct for your breed and what you find appealing about your breed, and you will find a good breeder who produces dogs that meet the standard. Good luck out there!


Be Patient

Jessica MacMillan: Good dogs, no matter who they are owned or shown by, can and do win as long as you take the time to understand your breed, learn to condition, and train and handle appropriately.

Carol Donnelly: Be patient! You almost never win right out of the gate, but every time you compete or observe is an amazing learning experience.

Patrick S-Jeannie Clary: It’s not if you lose, it’s when you lose. That’s how you learn. Instead of complaining, remember presentation, conditioning and total belief in your dog no matter what anyone says. It’s hard work and the love of sport, and when you do win, it’s fantastic.

Pam Mandeville: At your first show, one of two things is going to happen: You’re going to win or you’re going to not win. No one is going to fire you, flunk you or hurt you, and your dog will be the same great buddy after you’re out of the ring as before you walked in the ring. So try to relax, get through the first show, and then do what all good dog people do every time: work on doing it better next time.


Have Fun!

Danita Slatton: My advice is to have fun! Too many exhibitors, handlers and judges have taken the fun out of a really fun sport! Smile, relax and have a great time!

Annie Fitt: Keep it fun for human and dog. The most common mistake made by novices is to do the March of Death (show the dog too often and too seriously). By the time the team is ready to win, the dog has lost its taste for the ring and “hates showing.” What they really hate is the stress put on their relationship with their owner-handler.

Linda Pincheck: Have fun! If you are not having fun, it becomes a chore to show. Don’t let the first people you meet be rude and drive you away. Smile and let them go their way. There are nice people out there … there’s just no guarantee that they will be the first people you meet.

Betsy Copeland: This is a sport — your actions do not decide the fate of the world for good or bad. As a side note, courtesy will get you further than rudeness, whether it’s to your fellow exhibitors, spectators, judges or stewards.



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