Training a Champion Show Dog
Meet Doc’s Crosswinds Brody at San-De Beach in Acadia. Or as his humans simply call him, Brody.
He’s an award-winning Weimaraner. In three years of showing, he’s won such titles as Best of Breed, Best of Opposite Sex, Best of Winners, and Best of his Age Group.
He’s also a total couch potato. But he knows how to turn it on when it’s time to shine. And, that means more than just looking good.
Show Dog Personality Requirements
Being a champion dog takes more than good looks. Show dogs need a strong personality. They can’t be intimidated by the busyness of a dog show. But they also can’t be so headstrong that they’re not paying attention to their handlers and what’s being asked of them.
Show dogs “need to be friendly and outgoing,” says Sandy Baker, Brody’s owner. Both with people and with other dogs. The last thing anyone wants at a dog show is a dog that’s aggressive with other dogs, growls, or lunges.
But you also don’t want your dog to be too friendly either. “Your dogs can’t be sniffing each other’s butts,” Baker says. “They have to just sit there.”
They also can’t be nervous or skittish, Baker adds. Dog shows are often noisy, crowded places. And at some shows, the dogs must be made available for the public to meet.
A show dog that’s nervous around crowds won’t just show poorly. The entire experience could be traumatic, and that’s not something any dog lover wants.
Show Dog Training Basics
Teaching a dog to show off his best qualities on the show floor, while also being tolerant of handling requires a combination of the right temperament and specialized training.
Baker says Brody required extra training to get over his nervousness. During his early days, he would shake while being shown and would struggle to keep his tail pointed.
During a show, judges will open a dog’s mouth and check his teeth. They’ll run their hands over his body and check the genitals to make sure they’re intact. Dogs need to stay still and calm through all this, while maintaining their perfect standing position.
In Brody’s early showing days, Baker spent 15 to 20 minutes with him every day getting him used to being touched.
He needed less training to learn to walk and run, though he had to practice getting used to running by his handler’s side and at her pace. He also needed training to learn to stand and stack correctly. (A dog’s stack is the position he must stand in while being shown.)
Brody’s gait (the way he trots across the show floor) came naturally, Baker says.
A dog’s gait helps highlight the dog’s structure and conformation to the breed’s requirements. For instance, in some breeds, their gait will show off their cheerful disposition, while in others their gait will demonstrate their elegance and pride.
“The faster Brody was, the better he looked, especially when he took longer strides as judges can see more of his body,” says Baker.
Brody spent an hour every week with his show ring handler learning to walk, trot and stand. All in all, Baker says, it took about 30 hours to get Brody show ready.
While some show dog owners (like Baker) use professional trainers for this, it’s not necessary. Most local American Kennel Clubs offer conformation classes, which teach owners and their dogs what’s required to compete (and win) in a dog show.
Conformation classes are typically less expensive than private trainers or handlers, who can charge upwards of $200 per hour for training. And for every time they enter a show with your dog.
Like any dog, a show dog is a companion animal that needs time with his humans, as well as time to play and rest.
When Brody isn’t showing, he likes to relax at home with Baker, hanging out on the couch, playing with his toys or Baker’s other two Weimaraners.