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Dog shows can be exciting places for people and dogs. For handlers, it’s helpful to develop specific plans for how to engage your dog between going into the ring. Each dog is unique in terms of what they need to stay occupied at a conformation show. Some dogs are overstimulated at shows and thrive on having private time in their crates. These dogs do best being brought out right before entering the ring. Often, a quick physical and mental warmup is all that’s needed before returning to the privacy of a crate after competing.

Other dogs need to hang with their handler and have the opportunity to experience more of what’s going on. Regardless, your focus should always be making sure your dog’s needs are being met, in and out of the ring. If you find your dog is overly distracted or overwhelmed while waiting to compete, try these tips for keeping your dog occupied while at dog shows.

Create a Routine

Dogs (and some superstitious handlers) thrive on routine. Figure out what’s best for your dog and stick to that as much as possible every time you compete. Try different strategies to figure out what works best for your dog. When you find what works, implement that routine each time you are at a dog show. Make it so your dog is able to depend on that consistency.

357 18" Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever Indy's Calling All Angels From Gb UDX2 PUTD OM2 GN VER RN JH SS19243101 6/3/2020 Teresa Czaplinski
Photo by Pix 'n Pages ©American Kennel Club

Remember to Warm Up

It’s essential to give your dog time to connect or warm up, rather than just taking them directly out of a crate to go into the ring. Warming up your dog’s body is especially important for physically strenuous sports like agility. obedience, and AKC Rally often have a warm-up area. Take advantage of that. Practice a few skills your dog loves and excels at. Mix in some more challenging skills that your dog will need to execute in the ring. Remember while the warm-up area simulates competition, you can use treats and toys here to your advantage.

Consider Active Stretching

You’ll want to consider how to warm up and condition your dog for competition. Active stretching such as spins, bows, and other dog-led exercises are good ways to get your dog’s body warmed up and ready for the ring. Stretching is especially important if your dog has been resting in their crate and may be stiff.

Take a Walk

Sometimes, dogs and handlers just need a break from the stress to reconnect and focus on each other. Keep an eye on the schedule. But, if you know you have time before your next run, take the opportunity to get out of the building. A short potty walk, even around a parking lot, can be enough to give you and your dog a chance to clear your heads and refocus before you compete.

Dog Show Image from 2020 AKC Rally National Championship or 2020 AKC National Obedience Champioship
Photo by Pix 'n Pages ©American Kennel Club

Play Focus Games

Warming up your dog’s mind is just as important as warming up their body. “Watch me” is an easy focus game where you reward your dog every time they look at you. “Charging” is another focus game option, where you charge your dog’s name — the same way you would a clicker. Say their name, treat, say their name, treat, etc.

Work on Tricks

Trick training, while its own recognized discipline, is also a wonderful way to keep your dog occupied at dog shows between ring times. Tricks are a great way to channel physical as well as mental energy your dog might have pent-up at the show without being distracting to other dogs. In a distracting environment, you want to work tricks your dog is already familiar with or practice tricks that you are working on.

Play a Game of Tug

Tug is an especially good game for very high drive dogs to help channel energy when they are hyped up at a dog show. However, tug can also be very distracting and overwhelming to other dogs who are warming up or competing so for this game you’ll want to make sure you are away from other dogs and not near the ring. This is a good game to play while on a walk.

Best in Miscellaneous, Miscellaneous Best of Breed, Winners Dog, and MOPN- -D-1: Barnett's Forever And A Day CM7 CAA DCAT (Everly), Teddy Roosevelt Terrier; Best in Miscellaneous awards at the 2022 AKC National Championship presented by Royal Canin, Orlando, FL.
Stephanie Hayes ©American Kennel Club

Do Some Shopping

Consider hitting up the vendor area if your dog is a pup who likes to explore. If being out and about doesn’t add stress, bring your dog and let them pick a special treat or new toy to help keep occupied or as a reward for a job well done.

Practice Mindfulness

Sometimes what your dog needs to focus, connect, and relax at dog shows is to slow down and have some intentional time with you. Find a quiet corner in the crating area, or just an out of the way corner to sit with, pet, or even massage your dog. It might be what you and your dog need to reconnect and prepare for your next time in the ring.

Related article: Is Your Dog Ready For Their First Show?
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