Spring is right around the corner, and for many of us that means show season is here! Are you getting ready to show your dog? How do you decide when your dog is ready? What shows to enter? How many shows in a row do you enter? All of these can greatly affect your performance and ultimately, how much you enjoy showing your dog. So here are a few things to think about before filling out that entry form.
Are you regularly having qualifying performances in your own training space? I can’t tell you how many times I have had trainers tell me they will just enter and see how their dog does at an obedience show. They are not qualifying when I give them a run thru in the building, but are hopeful that it will get better at a show. IT. WILL. NOT. I have yet to see someone at a trial who’s dog ran off on the figure 8, broke the group stays, or couldn’t get their dog to set up to an exercise come out of the ring happy. If you cannot qualify in your normal training space, it is not going to get better at a show.
A side note here, no fooling yourself! If you are in your training class and your dog breaks the stay when someone else goes in with a cookie to reward their dog, you do not have stays. That is an NQ, note that, don’t just put your dog back and go back to visiting with your class mates, that mattered and gave you excellent information on your trial readiness.
Have you taught your dog to work for an extended period of time with only the reinforcement you can bring in the ring, you? If you are rewarding every exercise, and have not worked up to a whole heeling pattern, (or two!) between reinforcements, your dog is going to be one surprised dog in the ring! NO fair! Part of getting your dog ready to show is to teach them to work toward reifnorcements, and it is not helpful to you or them to try and trick them through a performance. You will not have cookies on you in the ring, train your dog that this is fine, even desirable! I love my intervals, they are my favorite, and that is why I have an on line course in them, as well as include them in every session of both my in person classes and my on line mentoring class. They are that important!
Have you taken your dog to new places and matches and shown them how fun they are? Number one job as a trainer is to socialize your dog to the environments it will show in. You want your dog to go into a new show site and have many experiences with going new places and having it work out well for them. This can be different for different dogs. If your dog is scared of people, you will have to work hard to make sure the dog learns that in this new place, people equal good things and nothing scary happens.
Same with if your dog worries about dogs, noises, new flooring and the list goes on. Some dogs take more time here than others, but all dogs need this exposure.
Do you know the rules of the game? Read your rule book! Is it a NQ in Novice if your dog takes 6 steps toward you after the judge has examined it? What it in Utility if you turn to the article pile, after telling the judge your dog will be sent after a sit, and see your dog standing? If you return to your dog on stays and before the judge says exercised finished your dog moves out of position? You are playing a game here, so know the rules to help you and your dog have the best show experience possible.
Have you decided on what judges to show under? Different judges have different styles of judging that can affect a dog, either positively or negatively. If a judge moves very fast in toward a dog on a SFE, some dogs will be fine with that, and others will get scared. Some judges follow very closely on the heeling pattern. A friendly dog may like that, or be distracted; a worried dog could get scared. Ask your friends and instructor and pick a judge that will show your dog to its best advantage.
Are you O.K. with an NQ? OTCH dogs NQ, world class handlers NQ. If an NQ is going to ruin your day, week or year, reconsider showing. There are no guarantees, it is what makes showing dogs fun for me. I like the challenge of going in and testing my training in a show, but NQ’s are part of that. If you can look at an NQ as good information on what your next training session will be, then you are in the right frame of mind to show.
When you are ready to show with your dog, you should feel confident, and that will make the show experience so much more enjoyable for you both. Go there and show off your awesome dog and all the good training you have been doing together. Win, lose or draw, if you have that attitude and are prepared to show, you will be happy to show again!