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DOG SHOWING is one of the few sports where the novice handler has to compete with the professionals.

Almost without question the new exhibitor will feel outclassed, out of their depth, disillusioned and sometimes intimidated. Novice exhibitors believe they don’t stand a fair chance against the skilful experts although they may have an equal or even better dog than the opposition.

As a novice handler I remember taking a third prize with a bitch behind two seasoned campaigners and asking the judge why she had placed the dogs in such order, pointing out that I knew the virtues of my bitch against the obvious faults of the two placed above her. The judge looked baffled to be so questioned and perhaps it wasn’t protocol to be so inquisitive, pertinent and demanding. But I wanted to learn.

To achieve great acclaim in any chosen sport it is essential to learn the craft and train towards perfection. Having quality tools is a must; the best shoes for dancing, good scissors for hairdressing competitions, a fitting motorbike for breaking lap records, or a first-class horse for show jumping.
Once obtaining the best tool possible, in our case a quality dog, it is essential to understand the working of the tool and with a degree of natural talent, learned skill, deep interest, and great determination we can achieve our aim.

It is no simple task to master enough self-worth to make up a champion. To win best of breed and compete in the group is something for the more experienced. To achieve success in this category we know that not only must the dog be extra special, but we have to out-perform, or at least equal, many superb and professional handlers.

It is easy to fall into a feeling of déjà vu, perceiving that this new situation has been seen before and because the competition includes those constant winners seen taking the honours week in week out. Is it really worth trying to compete with them? It is easy to think it a waste of time and money showing when the odds are seemingly stacked against us.

If we want to win we must know our tool inside out, have faith in it, and get out there and demand to be noticed. Our dog must be worthy and we must have attitude.

Yes it is essential to be realistic. We spend years looking, listening and reading – not only breed books but studying anatomy and attending seminars. We don’t pretend to know it all but eventually can claim to have some knowledge and experience that will, in turn, grow into that once envied, admired and respected winner.

To achieve success in the show ring we must take our first steps with care. We need a good dog. It may not be perfect but great quality is essential to sustain acclaim and build self-confidence in the knowledge that given a fair crack of the whip we can compete on an equal level.
Some novices will fall by the wayside. Unfortunately, unless a lot of luck is on their side they may not have selected the right dog nor have the ability to consider the many points required for success.

The breed you choose to show may determine the success or otherwise of a would-be exhibitor. For instance, if a terrier with a coat that requires constant hand stripping or rolling is the choice and the exhibitor has no notion of doing this on an on-going weekly or daily basis, they have hit their first big hurdle.

What if it is a long-coated breed and requires mountainous daily brushing? Those wishing to show a Poodle have extraordinary feats to accomplish unless they have the resources to pay a professional groomer to clip and bath the dog on a weekly basis.
If a decision is made to go ahead and get a dog of the most favoured breed, its size, energy, or coat cannot be ignored no matter what. Doing one’s homework is essential.

The Kennel Club issues a marvellous Illustrated Book of Breed Standards which displays all the essential points for each and every breed, with hints and tips on character, whether or not the breed makes a good family pet, and basics on coat care. Once the choice is made the next step is to buy the best breed books for the individual breed. The breed club – there is one for every breed – addresses are obtainable from the Kennel Club, which will be able to recommend the best books.

Read carefully everything possible, over and over. It will take time to comprehend the defining sections. What does it mean – ‘the shoulders should be well laid back’?

Confer with the anatomy book or the skeleton and illustrations in the breed book. Talk to people in the breed who are successful, read critiques between the lines, ask people if you can go over their dogs and for them to point out its virtues. If it is a current show dog they may not choose to disclose its faults! Learn to judge for yourself.

Attend local show ring training classes and go to shows. Watch dogs and learn how they move. If we have a St Bernard moving like a Poodle we need to know why. If we have a Whippet moving like a Bloodhound then we must be able to see the difference. What’s right for your breed? Ask serious breeders why the breed is as it is and know the breed Standard so that you can put the pieces together.

To achieve success, get to know your breed and buy the best quality possible. Take most seriously into consideration its temperament. Buying a puppy of eight weeks may be a big risk unless you have studied the heritage and know the odds. At such a young age it is not yet formed and needs care in rearing. If you are lucky enough to obtain a quality puppy then you must fully understand how best to raise it for the tasks that are required from it.
It is true to say that many of those taking their first steps in the show ring have bought a pet puppy, been told its wonderful virtues by some enthusiastic breeder and decided to have a go at showing the uninitiated mite. Don’t despair, many of today’s championship judges started their career in much the same way.

EILEEN GEESON
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