The Novice Guide to Dog Shows (Or, How to Not Be Rude.)

I remember my first dog show.

I had no idea what I was supposed to do.  Frankly, I don’t even remember how I heard about it.  Needless to say, I was floored.  Looking back, I wish I read some sort of novice guide to dog shows, because I cringe when I think about the early years.

Over 2000 dogs attended that year.  Fourteen rings showed off dogs of every size and variety.  I asked everyone I saw if I could pet their dog.  Most let me, a few didn’t because the dog was about to enter the ring.

The American Kennel Club licenses hundreds of clubs to put on thousands of events every year.  Dog shows provide the public with a great venue to meet breeders and learn about purebred dogs.  The AKC also allows mixed-bred dogs to compete in many all-breed sports, including agility and obedience.

As a consummate observer, I’ve put together these rules to help families looking for their first well-bred purebred attend and enjoy a dog show.

Pre-Planning For Your First Show

The first part–and probably the hardest–is finding a dog show to attend.  While most metropolitan areas have dozens of shows a year, some places don’t support many shows.

Companies, called “superintendents,” manage the logistics of dog shows.  These businesses rent out all the equipment a club needs to hold a show.  They provide tables, chairs, and fences to go around the rings.  They also collect the list of dogs entered in the show, and print the program and catalog.

In my area, MB-F superintends most shows, and lists most shows in the United States on their website.  The American Kennel Club Events Calendar also lists every show.  Find a show in your area on a date your family can attend.

Reading the Program

The “program” lists the time each breed will be judged.  If your family already knows which breed to watch, find the ring time.  I don’t know how many times I arrived at a show at 10, and my favorite breed judged at 8 and left for the day.

Looking at this sample judging program, the second page starts a list of breeds, rings, and times.  Find your breed, and show up at the given ring at the correct time, and everyone will be there.  Alternately, if you already spoke with a breeder, you could ask if they will be in attendance and to meet them.

If only a few dogs entered (under 5), don’t be surprised if they don’t show up, or if their handler is too busy to talk to you. Often low-entry breeds are handled by a professional handler instead of the owner or breeder of the dog.

What to Bring

Really you don’t need a ton of supplies if your family is attending a dog show without any dogs.  Absolutely do NOT bring your own dog with you.  Most shows do not allow unentered dogs on the grounds.

  • Chairs!  Most attendees have camp chairs.
  • Money.  Dog shows have vendors.  Vendors have cool stuff, especially if you have a dog at home, or are attached to your breed.  Also, most places charge for parking and you need to pay to get in.
  • Pen & Paper.  If you meet the breeder of your dreams, write down their contact info.
  • Money.  I know I mentioned this once, but dog shows really do have cool stuff.
  • Umbrella.  If the show is outdoors, Murphy’s Law practically forces it to rain.
  • Stroller or Wagon.  Keep the littles in a wagon or stroller, or leave them at home.  While show dogs are notoriously well-behaved, they are still dogs and all are capable of injuring a child accidentally.

Where To Go

Arrive at the show about a hour before your breed shows.  If you don’t have a specific breed in mind, arrive as early as you can.  Most shows start at 8 or 9 a.m. and the bulk of the breeds are judged by noon.  You don’t want to miss everything but the poodles.

When you pay to get in, there will be someone available to provide you with a printed program.  Get one, and check out what breeds and events your family wants to watch.

Once you’re in, find the ring that you want to watch.  Many shows take up more space than one hall can handle, and have rings in multiple halls or buildings.  Fairgrounds, especially, have rings in several different buildings.  The program outlines which building each breed is judged in.

You can leave your camp chairs next to the ring.  It’s rare that a chair gets stolen–at dog shows, everyone knows everyone.  Set up your chairs away from the entrance to the ring, so that the exhibitors can get in and out easily.

Enjoy the Vendors

Check out all the vendors, especially if you have a dog at home.  The vendors have tons of toys, chews, bones, and treats at rock-bottom prices.  They also have cute dog beds, crates, and bowls.  Most shows also have vendors with breed-specific gifts, like T-shirts, license plates, and wall art.

Return to Your Ring

While your breed is judging, chat with those around you.  They come and go quickly, since they need to move dogs in and out of the ring, but most exhibitors are super friendly and will explain how the judging works.  Let them know that your family wants to add a new puppy or dog, and they’ll let you know who has puppies, who’s going to have puppies, and even will hook you up with rescue groups.

Try to stay calm and quiet, and don’t do anything silly like shaking out an umbrella or standing up suddenly, especially when dogs are near you.  Don’t shout, and most clapping is “golf clapping.”

While ringside, nearby dogs might decide to sit in your lap, and will ask for attention.  Most exhibitors will let you know if it’s OK to pet their dogs, but make sure to ask.  Some breeds spend hours in grooming, and a misplaced hand can ruin a lot of hard work.  Once the dogs are done in the ring, most exhibitors love to let others pet their dogs.

Watch your stroller or wagon, if you brought one.  Male dogs will very often pee on them.  Dogs will naturally mark on things when around other male dogs.  Most of the dogs at dog shows aren’t spayed or neutered, so they can’t help themselves.

After The Dog Show

In the week following the show, reach out to breeders or rescues that you talked with at the show.  Most exhibitors spend the whole weekend at the show, but during the week have downtime to talk to puppy buyers.

Not all breeders use Facebook or e-mail regularly.  Many breeders live in rural areas with slow Internet, or aren’t experienced with computers.  If you e-mail and don’t receive a response, try calling after a week or so.

Things to Not Discuss

You know how you should never discuss religion or politics?  Dog exhibitors also have some topics that make them hot under the collar.

  • Mixing purebreds.  Don’t discuss “cockadoodles” or other mixed-bred or designer breeds.  Almost everyone at dog shows thinks the practice is unacceptable.  Breeders are also very wary of people pretending to be pet owners but looking for breeding stock to use in a for-profit operation.
  • Spaying & Neutering, specifically if you are strongly against it.  While most breeders are comfortable with dogs that aren’t spayed or neutered, they don’t want to place pet puppies in a home where they will be bred on accident or solely for profit.
  • That several of your pets have died due to being hit by cars, or have been lost.  No breeder wants to place a puppy into a home that won’t keep them safe.  There’s a time to discuss your past, and how you intend on preventing those accidents, but you don’t want this as your first impression.

Have you attended a dog show as a spectator?  How did it go? Did this Novice Guide to Dog Shows make attending easier?

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