Showing a dog against other specimens of its own breed is the logical place to start, and it is best to begin in the lower classes where youth and inexperience will be common to most of the competing dogs. It is important that even the newest of exhibitors be aware from the outset that their dog is unlikely to be a Champion. Many owners of companion dogs find themselves being talked into showing their pet by a self-appointed sage who has assured the owner that the dog is a potential winner.
It is not wise to take such advice. If the dog has been bought as a companion, it may have some minor flaw that in no way detracts from its overall appearance and ability to perform the function of much-loved pet, but the flaw might handicap it in the show ring. It is wise to get the breeder's advice as to whether the puppy they sold is likely to have show potential when it matures. If the dog is not well above average quality, it is pointless to pursue on a show career. it is far better to consider the dog a treasured companion and, if the interest in showing is strong, get some experience at dog shows as a spectator and then buy a dog that has possibilities as a winner.
While showing can become an absorbing and enjoyable hobby, there is little point in spending money on competing with an inferior specimen. The vital ingredient of a successful show dog is breed type. The dog must look like its breed - it must walk into the ring and shout "I am a Boxer" or "I am a Poodle." The instant recognition of a particular breed is as much a matter of temperament and "attitude" as it is of the physical requirements of the breed Standard. Other essentials are soundness of mind and body, condition and handling.
HANDLING IN THE RING
In Britain and Europe dog showing remains very much the province of the dedicated amateur. Most breeders still handle their own dogs in the ring and derive much pleasure from so doing. There are few professional handlers who show other people's dogs for a living, although they are noticeably on the increase in some countries.
In the United States, on the other hand, and in Canada to a certain extent, where vast distances are often covered by campaigned show dogs, professional handlers are frequently used and dogs are often boarded with a handler for several months or years at a time, to fit in a busy show schedule.
Certainly professional handlers have an advantage over beginners, since years of experience will have taught them how to present the coat of various breeds, how best to emphasize virtues and disguise faults, and how to gait any dog to create the best impression of typical movement. However, few professional handlers have the time to build up the rapport which many long-serving "amateur" breeder/exhibitors can, and the fact that such people are living with their show dogs twenty-four hours a day means that they get a much closer insight into a dog's personality and what makes it tick.
If an owner chooses to show his or her dog, it should be very clear what he or she hopes to achieve. It is important to always be realistic and know enough about the breed to realize where the dog fails and excels. An owner must also be sufficiently open-minded to see the virtues and faults of competing dogs. Showing dogs as a social activity may seem a good idea, but few people can handle being long term losers. Everyone, if they are honest, wants to win, and for this reason it is important to take the best available dog into the ring in search of that goal.
PREPARING A DOG FOR A SHOW
Any show dog, no matter how outstanding, in terms of the breed Standard, must be shown to its advantage. It should be in peak condition (which comes through an ongoing program of diet, exercise and grooming), well presented (which cannot be achieved simply the day before) and well handled. All show dogs should be trained to allow a strange judge to handle their intimate parts, must move at the optimum pace when required to, and be able to adopt traditional show stance for the breed for an indefinite period of time. To achieve this, much preparation must take place before the show, and few newcomers manage to succeed without help from more experienced competitors.
COMPETINGAROUND THE WORLD
In breed judging in many countries such as the United Kingdom, the United States, Australasia and Canada, classes of the same breed are judged against each other, and at the same time, are assessed against their breed's Standard. Of ten dogs, for instance, competing in the same class, a judge will be expected to place the winning dogs in order - First, Second, Third, etc. This continues until all the dogs of one breed have been judged and a Best of Breed winner is chosen. In the United Kingdom, this will be determined from the Best Dog and Best Bitch. In the United States on the other hand, Best of Breed will be chosen from the Best Dog and Best Bitch of the non-Champions (Winners Dog and Winners Bitch) alongside all the Champions.
In most member countries of the FCI the competition is more complex as it takes place on fundamentally two different levels. Firstly, dogs are judged in isolation against the breed Standard. They are given an individual, written, detailed critique and are then given a Quality Grading. This will be Excellent/First; Very Good/ Second; Good/Third, etc. The actual nomenclature depends on the country in which the dog is judged. Once all the dogs in a particular class have been graded, then only those receiving a First or Excellent grading are called back into the ring. Those with lesser gradings leave the ring with their critiques, never to return again. Once a judge has placed those dogs selected as Excellent in order, he or she is then invited to give further honors, if desired, by attesting that some of the placed dogs are of "Certificate Quality."
This kind of system involves much more work on the part of the judges, the stewards, the kennel clubs and the organizers in general, but it has great advantages. In the first instance every exhibitor gets the judge's actual opinion. This is not the case in the United Kingdom and the United States, for example, where it is highly feasible that a judge might leave a dog out of the placings which, had it been judged under a grading system, would have comfortably achieved an Excellent. Further, if the owner is a newer exhibitor, he or she is told the dog's shortcomings as well as its virtues. This is very educational as these critiques tend to he quite forthright. Newer exhibitors quickly become accustomed to appreciating the dog as it is, faults and all. Because these critiques are a major part of the competition system in Scandinavia, they have contributed largely to the rapid advances made in these countries in both the breeding and judging spheres.
In any country, Championship titles can only be won against competition in the same breed, whether this is achieved through Certificates or a points system, although in the United States final points may be achieved via success at Group level. In breed judging it is imperative that the judge's major consideration he rewarding the best specimen in the breed, by virtue of its correct type, measured against the breed Standard, and its physical and mental soundness.
It is important that judges and owners appreciate that different breeds have different temperaments, and in some breeds what is actually typical temperament for the breed may not coincide with what is generally perceived as an ideal "show" temperament. A real extrovert character with relentless showmanship may be extremely eye-catching to both ringside and judge, but at all times a major consideration must be whether a dog exhibits temperament that is typical for its breed.
Once a dog has won Best of Breed it will progress through to its respective Group where it will be competing against other Best of Breed winners of basically similar type.
Variety judging of this nature is a far less exact form of judging than standard breed judging, because the comparisons necessary are not direct. In other words, the Best of Breed Beagle will be assessed against the Beagle breed Standard while the Best of Breed Whippet will be judged against its Standard. Whichever comes closest to its breed ideal should, in theory, win. When judging a single breed, the judge is comparing each dog against the same breed Standard. In variety judging, however, it is impossible to compare like with like. Each dog is evaluated against its own particular breed Standard, and then compared with the other breeds in competition. The judge's results will be based on the closeness of each breed to its own Standards. Once group winners have been established, they all then compete for the ultimate accolade of Best in Show, and again variety judging takes place.
It is a sad fact of life, and perhaps a poor reflection on the knowledge of some judges, that certain breeds tend to score over others, simply because they are perceived to be "better Group dogs," in other words they have more "glamor" or "showiness" than others. in theory any breed should be capable of winning top honors, provided its closeness to its own breed Standard is much higher than that of any of its competitors.
The American Kennel Club has encouraged the development of the utilitarian side of purebred Sporting, Hound, Working, Terrier and Herding breeds by sponsoring field trials, hunting tests and working trials. For those dogs that pass the trials and tests, accreditation is provided indicating that these beautiful hunting and working breeds are not only structurally and mentally attuned for work, but can indeed perform the work for which each breed was developed. The AKC sanctions such events as Beagle trials, lure coursing for Sighthounds, earthdog tests for Terriers and Dachshunds, all sorts of Obedience classes, working certificates for Retrievers and herding tests for Herding breeds. There is strong support in the fancy for Agility tests that attract all breeds. Many Sporting breeds such as the German Shorthaired Pointer, Brittany and Viszla, boast dual Champions in the field and on the bench. The Canadian Kennel Club and the Kennel Club in the United Kingdom also sponsor working trials and tests for Sporting and Working breeds. The Kennel Club sponsors Working, Field, Agility, Bloodhound and Obedience trials. in fact gun dogs and Border Collies in the United Kingdom must earn three Champion Certificates to become a Show Champion plus earn and maintain a working qualification to become a full Champion.
Tests and trials for both hunting and Working breeds have been held in most west European and Scandinavian countries since the early 1900s. They are usually run by kennel clubs in FCI countries. These clubs train and educate judges for the different breed trials and tests. In many FCI countries it is necessary to have a test or trial result if a Working or hunting breed is to qualify as a Show Champion. It is also necessary in these countries that Conformation awards be earned for a dog to attain a Trial or Working Champion title.
Internationally, judges for field events can be Conformation judges or they may only be licensed or approved for trial judging. Tests and trials are judged on performance of the dogs alone and not on Conformation, although ideally the best-constructed dog should have the most stamina and ability to do its job well. Judges look for courage, a good nose, and intelligence when judging these trial events.
LOWER LEVELS OF SHOWS
While Champions can only be created at Championship shows, in various countries there are lower levels of shows which are utilized to the full by exhibitors who wish to gain experience for themselves, their dogs, or who simply do not feel it is advisable to compete against the very uppermost level of competition. These shows can take various forms. Some are very much lower-key versions of the Championship events. Others are considerably less formal events, sometimes with entries being taken on the day, as in the case of the British exemption show. These shows are usually held in aid of a charity and are frequently held in conjunction with a village fair or country show. Apart from a handful of pedigree classes, there are invariably novelty classes which include such titles as "Dog with the waggiest tail" or "Dog most like its owner." Often non-pedigree dogs will be found competing in such classes, and while they may be considered a little beneath the dignity of more seasoned exhibitors, these classes can prove excellent training grounds for young stock before their show careers start in earnest.
Whatever type of dog show an exhibitor enters, it is essential that he or she should keep the whole business in perspective. Pearls of wisdom to be remembered include: "There is always another show and always another judge," and "The dog you take home with you is the same dog you brought that morning."