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For however long we will be managing without dog shows, it’s vitally important that we remain engaged in our sport. Not only will it keep our own dogs ready to compete when the time comes, but it will do wonders for our morale, reminding us we are not alone in this situation. Here are some suggestions to keep you motivated while we patiently wait for shows to restart.

Prepping the puppies

Just because we can’t attend a handling class doesn’t mean we can overlook our puppies’ socialization and early exposure to dog show routine. Pack your van with a crate, grooming table, and pop-up tent, and drive to a quiet park or field. Once you’ve unloaded, groom your puppy as you would at a show. Don’t forget to wear a mask to desensitize him to that addition to our “new normal.” Stack him on the ground and do your customary gaiting patterns. Bring along a masked family member to play the judge and go over the puppy. Disguise the judge in a hat, sunglasses or fake beard to replicate typical dog show situations. Depending upon where outdoor shows are held in your area, you might look for sod or packed earth to practice on, as well as grass.

If you have a dog show friend who can come to the park with some dogs (keeping an appropriate distance) to distract your puppy, all the better. If they have children, have them come along and make some noise, maybe toss a Frisbee or fly a kite. Dogs are creatures of habit, and exposing them to the ritual of traveling to and competing in a mock dog show will benefit them greatly.

At home, practice working with your puppy on rubber matting (available at places like Lowe’s) and concrete so he’s accustomed to all those surfaces. Use a long mirror so you can judge his hard and free stacks, and make adjustments as needed.

Doing this dog show practice a few times a week will keep both your heads in the game as we all wait for shows to begin.

Teaching old dogs new tricks

In the usual rush of whelping and raising litters, attending dog events on weekends, juggling job and family during the week, sometimes our retired dogs don’t get the one-on-one attention they deserve.  They’re easy-going, not asking for much, so it’s easy to let them snooze on the couch or in a kennel run. With more free time now, why not challenge them with some agility or obedience? You can order weave poles online, or even improvise with stuff around the house. Tunnels can also be ordered. These are activities that can be easily enjoyed in the backyard. They require little investment other than time, and will put a new spring in your senior’s step. Great fun and distraction for you, too, during these stressful times!

More time for mentoring

During this unexpected downtime, you can give back to the sport by coaching a promising novice. At shows, mentoring happens on the fly… at your set up or ringside. If you have a protégé whom you see at shows, or perhaps an owner of one of your dogs who is new to the sport, now, you have the luxury of chatting on FaceTime regularly, to answer her questions on grooming or breeding without distractions. It is a great bonding and learning experience.

Online teaching

With club meetings having been curtailed, consider giving an online seminar to your regional breed club. These can be informal and are always educational. If you have a coated breed, discussing structure and movement using a few clipped-down dogs is hugely informative. Do it in your backyard with a family member holding the camera or smartphone while you present.

If you have access to photo albums of important old dogs in your breed, or even old breed magazines, sharing them with newer people provides a wonderful educational opportunity. Lots of dog people these days are posting vintage photos of great judges, breeders, and dogs on Facebook.

Thinking about judging?

If you’ve toyed with the idea of applying to judge, but keep putting it off because there’s never time to pull together all the paperwork, could that be your next quarantine project? All the relevant forms can be downloaded from the AKC website, but you’ll need to go through your records for dates and names of litters bred and champions finished over the years. If you’re ready to take the plunge but kept procrastinating, put this downtime to good use.

Staying connected

While we’re all in pause mode, there are lots of valuable ways you can work with your own dogs and advance your conformation community. Let’s stay positive and use our energy in the most productive way possible. 

Related article: Unspoken Etiquette: Navigating Dog Show Culture
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