Dog show handling tips

Updated April 17, 2017

Showing your dog in conformation may look easy, but it's actually an acquired skill. Hours and hours of practice go into preparing a dog for the show ring. By doing your homework, you can ensure your showing experiences are enjoyable.

Handling Class

Would you enter an obedience trial without first taking obedience lessons? Well, the same thing applies to dog shows. Dog show handling skills come only with plenty of practice. Ask local breeders to recommend a good dog handling class near you and try to attend weekly. A good class should cover the basics, such as standing for exam, proper gaiting and ring procedure. Also, the best instructor will teach you ways to show off your dog's assets and hide his weaknesses.


One class a week isn't enough. Make sure to practice your handling skills at home. Practice hand-stacking your dog quickly, and having him hold that position for longer and longer periods of time. Hand-stacking is when you physically move your dog's limbs into that perfect four-square stand with your hands. Also, try to work on free-stacking techniques. Free-stacking involves your dog learning to assume that perfect standing position on his own. Get your dog used to your show collar and lead. Practice gaiting so you know the exact speed to go when it comes time for the show.

Come Prepared

Be prepared on the day of the show. This means arriving early to set up your crate and give your dog time to settle down and to give you time to pick up your number. Also, you want to get there early enough to watch the judge's ring procedure, so you know what to expect. Pay special attention to little details, such as: Does the judge do an out and back or a triangle (gaiting patterns to see if your dog moves soundly)? Where does he want your dog to stack? Make sure you have plenty of bait, along with back-up choices in case your dog suddenly decides to snub his old favourite. Plus, always come with an extra collar and lead, just in case yours breaks. Always be ready and waiting outside the ring before your number is called.

Extra Tips

Once in the ring, show your dog to his best advantage. Have your dog stacked whenever the judge is looking down the line. For individual exams, start stacking your dog as soon as the dog in front of you starts his up and back. Make sure you dog trots on his gait and don't run up on the dog in front of you. Try to relax, and your dog will, too. Be courteous to fellow handlers and always observe good ring etiquette, such as congratulating winners and thanking the judge at the end. This will go a long way toward giving you a good name in the dog community, making your future dog shows more pleasant ventures.

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