Raising a Show Dog

If you’ve ever watched a dog show, you might have thought: "Wouldn’t it be cool if I had a dog who could do that?” The good news is that it’s possible. Not only that, but with diligence and persistence, it is likely.

Poodle in show ringIf you have ever witnessed the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, you have seen dogs compete in the sport of conformation. Conformation shows require that the dog be purebred, and there are important things to know if you think you might want to compete in conformation.

Ann Sullivan is a dog breeder and handler in New Jersey. She has trained handlers and their dogs for more than 20 years. Ann says the most important thing you can do is to educate yourself before purchasing a puppy for show. “Do your homework,” she says. “Go to a couple of dog shows, decide what breed you like, then watch and learn about the breed you are interested in showing.” Keep in mind that a dog who requires a lot of grooming is going to be a tough breed to start with. And certain dogs are not year-round competitors, because of shedding coats or coming into season.

Temperament is most important in choosing a pup, so if you want to show your puppy, select one who is outgoing. It can be very discouraging to train a shy puppy, because you can’t control how long it takes for the puppy to overcome his shyness. A well-socialized puppy is a confident puppy in the ring, and a good breeder will have begun socializing pups at the third or fourth week.

Puppy kindergarten is helpful in socializing a pup and getting him used to having lots of other dogs around him. Teaching a puppy to come, stay and down-stay also may be helpful in conformation. However, Sullivan believes the structure of a more advanced obedience class may detract from conformation training, so it is best to start with conformation training, and then go to obedience later.

A conformation dog must learn how to “stack,” or stand in a pose that best exhibits his body lines. He must also learn to walk on a lead, not to sit or lie down in the ring, and how to move in patterns as directed by the judge. He must also be willing to have a judge’s hands on his head, body and tail for examination, and to have his teeth looked at for the bite.

American Kennel Club conformation sweepstakes matches begin at 3 months of age. In these matches, a mix of breeds is shown in a particular, 3-month age range, broken into groups by gender. Ribbons are earned in the earlier matches. These matches help get the puppy used to the show ring and all of the distractions in and around the ring. From 6 months and up, your puppy can begin earning points in AKC conformation, which can eventually lead to being able to show him in bigger, champion-only shows, such as Westminster.

Conformation involves expenses, from maintaining the right diet, to grooming and travel costs. Conformation shows are held frequently on the East and West coasts, whereas in the Midwest, they are farther apart. You may have to travel a significant distance to get to those dog shows.

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