Not all of the judging at a dog show takes place in the ring. As a breeder-exhibitor, your demeanor and interactions with others will be judged from the moment you set foot on the showgrounds. Stewards, the superintendent and AKC field staff, the show committee, the media, fellow exhibitors, and, perhaps most importantly, the public, will assess and remember how you speak to them. Here is where courtesy, patience, and good sportsmanship count, as much as expert grooming of your prized exhibit.
Spectators attending a show are in awe of the exquisite dogs, the sparkling trophies, and the distinguished-looking judges. They walk through the grooming area, see everyone diligently brushing and blow-drying, and honestly don’t know when it’s okay to approach an exhibitor and ask if they can touch your dog or take a photo. This is the time to point to a stack of business cards on your grooming table and an open photo album they can flip through. Tell them what time your breed will be judged and in what ring. If they make it back to your grooming setup for a later chat, great. If they don’t, they now have your contact information to follow up with a phone call or email about puppy availability.
Hundreds of thousands of dollars change hands in the dog game, yet it’s amazing how many longtime participants still tear out the back page of the catalog to scribble down their name and number when an interested party approaches them. Would you feel confident dealing with a lawyer or accountant who scribbled down his name and number on a slip of scrap paper? Not likely. Yet, you are potentially selling someone a puppy with a much higher price tag than the cost of doing a tax return. That calls for a professional image and great PR.
Do what you can to stand out at a show, whether you are a club member or not. Make the most of your day. Does the club offer a “Meet the Breeds” display or a parade of purebreds in the ring during the lunch break? Volunteer to participate. It’s a great showcase, not only for your breed but also for your kennel, as it distinguishes you from your many peers. An ad in the show catalog achieves the same thing. Just as people buy a souvenir program or T-shirt at a concert, they tend to think of a catalog in the same way: a memento of their day. Be sure your ad can be found in that “book of memories.” It’s a nominal investment that can pay big dividends.
You entered your well-bred dog at the show to impress the judge and take home points, a breed win, or a group placement. But remember that you want to impress the public, as well, which includes potential puppy buyers, reporters from the local newspaper and TV station, and busloads of students and schoolteachers on a class field trip. They don’t give two hoots about your breed standard, but they will remember the kind breeder with the beautiful dogs who spoke knowledgeably about dog shows and made time for them to take a picture with a perfectly groomed champion.
Allan Reznik has been an Afghan Hound fancier since the early 1970s and also owns and exhibits Tibetan Spaniels. He is an award-winning journalist and broadcaster, who has served as editor-in-chief of several national dog publications. He appears regularly on radio and TV discussing all aspects of responsible animal ownership. Reznik is an AKC permit judge of Afghan Hounds, Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, and Tibetan Spaniels.