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You might have a dog you’ve dreamed of showing in a Conformation event, but how do you know when they’re ready to compete for the first time?
You can set your dog up for success by getting them used to the noise and busy atmosphere of a show. You can also train and socialize your dog to be comfortable in those environments. While working with your dog, there are some things you can do to prepare them and figure out if your dog is ready to enter the ring.
Try a Beginner Conformation Course
Beginner Conformation Courses are usually held on weeknights and are a great way to familiarize yourself with all things Conformation. These courses are a great way to prepare you and your dog for your first Conformation show, and show you what to look out for, both when preparing and getting in the ring for the first time.
These Conformation courses are typically held by local AKC Clubs, so if you’re not already a part of one, find a club near you to find out more about how to take these courses. You can also look into taking specific courses in the AKC Canine College, which offers online courses for breeders and trainers, as well as judges, groomers, and dog owners.
Take Handling Classes
Even if you have shown a dog before, consider attending handling classes. This will help familiarize your dog with being handled, assessed, and working near other dogs in the ring. An instructor will be able to help you assess your handling and your dog’s movement and whether you both are ready to show. Classes are also an opportunity to build a relationship with a dog trainer or experienced handler. They can help you assess your dog’s needs and readiness, as well as develop an individualized training plan for you.
Train in Public Places
Train your dog in pet-friendly public spaces that are new to them. This will help your dog learn to focus on you while around distractions like people and other animals, as well as learn to walk on a variety of surfaces. Your dog will need to learn these skills before getting started in dog shows.
You can even practice stacking and gating your dog in these new environments. “Showing” in public builds your dog’s confidence and lets you, as the owner, see whether or not their skills need more work before the dog competes.
Enter a 4-6 Month Beginner Puppy Competition
If your dog is still a puppy, another option for preparation is to participate in a 4-6 Month Beginner Puppy Competition. This competition is specifically intended as a stress-free introduction to Conformation events for both you and your puppy. You can familiarize yourself and your dog with the environment of Conformation events while also meetings other exhibitors and socializing your puppy. You can even get points towards a Certificate of Merit title or Puppy of Achievement certificate at these competitions.
Enter a Match Show
Test your dog’s readiness for a dog show by entering them into a match show. Matches are informal practice sessions that are run like a dog show. They provide an opportunity for dogs and people to practice what it will be like to go into the ring for real, imitating the atmosphere and setup of a Conformation show.
Consult With Your Breeder
If it’s your first show, you can talk to your breeder to discuss how well your dog fits the breed standard. The goal of Conformation events is to show dogs that are as close to the breed standard as possible.
So your dog’s breeder may have insight about where your dog fits regarding the breed standard and if it’s a good time for your dog to start showing. This will also help you determine if your dog is a good fit for Conformation.
What to Do if Your Dog Gets Nervous
If your dog gets stressed or overwhelmed at shows or show-like environments, allow them time to calm down. Taking them outside for a short walk can help. Some dogs do best when they spend their time out of the ring and get some rest, while others do better when given the chance to watch what’s going on, walk around the show, and take in the sights. Figure out what’s best for your dog and take that approach. As long as you’re not interfering with any competing dogs and handlers or getting ready to go in the ring yourself, this can help your dog become familiar with the environment.
Dog shows are busy and crowded environments that can be overstimulating. When walking your dog, make sure they stay close to you. Keep your dog on a short, six-foot leash at all times (unless you are competing in a sport with an off-leash component). Don’t allow your dog to approach other dogs or people while at the show without explicitly being invited to do so. And if you’re waiting to go into the ring, grooming your dog, or walking them, make sure to give others space.
Not Ready for a Show? No Problem
If you find that your dog is too stressed or distracted when in public places with other dogs, they may not be ready for a Conformation show. And that’s okay! There are still plenty of ways to work towards your goal of competing together.
A great way to get ready for shows is to continue taking handling classes. Consider signing up for basic obedience classes, or try a sport like AKC Rally, Obedience, Agility, or AKC Scent Work. Participating in these dog sports can help you and your dog learn new skills or polish existing ones, as well as gain confidence in and out of the ring.