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German Shepherd puppy standing stacked outdoors in the park.
©Happy monkey -

As responsible, committed breeder-exhibitors, we consider it a duty to mentor all of our puppy buyers. If any express an interest in showing, we encourage them in every aspect of learning the sport of Conformation. However, it is just as important to help a protégé understand why they might not want to enter their puppy in a dog show so soon.

Explaining Why a Dog Might Not Be Show-Ready

It’s understandable that a proud new owner of just one puppy might want to enter them in shows every weekend. However, we’ve all seen promising puppies that weren’t ready for primetime get dragged to shows, only to lose all interest as they got older, resulting in disappointment all around.

Judges have two-and-a-half minutes to examine and evaluate each dog in their ring. As a judge myself, I can tell you how frustrating it is to see how much potential an out-of-condition dog might have, but know that our job is to evaluate the dog only on that day. And, with entry fees for shows running around $30 or more per day, those few minutes in the ring also make for an expensive weekend of practice, especially when you factor in things like gas, meals, and lodging.

If the puppy buyer is lucky enough to live nearby, you can provide in-person, one-on-one coaching. However, knowing your bloodlines, you can certainly look at videos, gently explaining to the owner the growth spurts and gangly stages, as well as when the puppy is likely to come into their own.

Mentoring Novice Owners With Older Dogs

Consider introducing the owner to the wide array of fun AKC performance events they can enjoy while their puppy is growing up. These events range from Obedience, Agility, and AKC Rally to field events and Lure Coursing. By joining their local kennel club and meeting fellow dog enthusiasts, the owner will be able to socialize, volunteer, and compete in venues where their puppy or adolescent dog won’t be judged on their appearance.

2022 AKC Rally National Champion: OTCH9 HC AGCH MACH5 RACH Norwood Color Me Zayne UDX9 OGM RM3 RAE3 HSAd HSBd HXAd HXBd MXC PDS MJC PJS MFG TQX T2B5 (Border Collie) and handler Kim Berkley. 2022 AKC Rally National Championship, held July 8, at the Roberts Centre/Royal Canin Ring in Wilmington, OH.
Photo by Pix 'n Pages

Perhaps the novice owner has quickly mastered the intricacies of your breed’s grooming and loves attending handling class. In that case, consider offering them a mature, finished dog of yours to show and to learn on while their puppy is growing up. Many of us have a few adult dogs at home that loved the excitement of going to shows and having attention lavished on them, but have now been retired to the couch or a kennel run while we work with the next generation.

Such an arrangement gives the new exhibitor an opportunity to get in the show ring while providing one of your adult dogs with lots of extra, one-on-one attention. Definitely win-win. We probably all remember the generous breeder-mentor who gave us our start and shared the wealth. Paying it forward never goes out of style.

Sharing the Knowledge

It’s not unusual to see new faces ringside, full of hope and expectation. We must all be cheerleaders for our sport, making some time to offer advice and encouragement. Recently, I judged a specialty and was happy to explain to a new exhibitor that she should hold the lead in her left hand, rather than in both, and slide it higher up the dog’s neck. The dog immediately moved better, and the exhibitor looked visibly relieved, even managing a smile. I urged her to find handling classes.

German Spitz sitting on a grooming table at a dog show.
©Mariana -

I was happy to see that other, experienced people in the breed were introducing themselves to her, as her puppy’s breeder evidently lives overseas. She seemed to accept my explanation of why her young dog was not competitive that day. I’m glad she went home with more than a pretty yellow ribbon. Good advice and perhaps a few new friends made the experience less intimidating.

New exhibitors, like promising puppies, need nurturing. As breeders, we must be proactive. Make that call, send that text or email, and don’t let novices flounder. Even if the dog is not one that you bred, consider taking a newcomer under your wing at the next show.

Related article: How Do I Get My Puppy Started in Dog Shows?
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