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How to prepare your dog for a dog show or a dog showmanship

dogshowMany of us have read dog stories in which the long-coated dog traipses to off-leash with his best human chum, chases woodland critters through the brush, is delivered to his handler the day before the show, and goes on to win best in show. Ain't gonna happen.

First, the handler would have apoplexy over the dog picking up a leaf in its coat, let along meandering through dirt. Then he or she would get down to repairing any damage that had been done to the fragile show coat, praying that it could still meet the standard of perfection. A dog with too many "holes" in its coat won't even make it out of the classes, let alone to the Best in Show ring.

About Dog Shows

Dog shows were originally intended to showcase the future breeding stock of the participating kennels, or to showcase the results of existing breeding programs. That is why many shows have Bred-by-Exhibitor group competitions, as well as Stud Dog and Brood Bitch classes. However, showing off the perfect coat of a well-conformed dog is part of showcasing the excellence of our dogs.


Dogs exhibited in shows must conform to a specifically-written standard describing a dog's appearance within a given breed. Both length and style of the dog's coat are determined by this "standard of perfection". Dogs with coats deviating from the standard can be faulted, excused, or disqualified, depending on the degree of the deviation.


The owner of a pet quality Toy Fox Terrier can get away with a bottle of shampoo, a towel, a flea comb, and nail clippers as grooming equipment. Enter that dog in serious show competition, or even in Junior Handling or 4-H, and that equipment list balloons to mild shampoo, whitening shampoo, a towel, a flea comb, a stripping knife, a soft brush or chamois cloth, a whisker trimmer, fine-toothed thinning shears, a pair of straight-bladed scissors, and black or tan chalk. If the dog in question is a Collie, that list balloons again to include a blow dryer or crate dryer, steel combs and grooming rakes of various sizes, clippers with various widths and variety of teeth, Kolestrol or similar grooming cream, white chalk for the ruff and leg markings, a variety of thinning shears and other scissors. Many other items that have a function known only to the professional handler may rest in the depths of his or her "tack box".

The difference lies, of course, exists because it's not enough for the judge to see that the dog is clean and healthy. Rather, the judge must see that the dog has the right kind of coat for its breed presented in such a fashion that it emphasizes the dog's form and function. All the equipment the professional dog handler uses to groom a dog brings that dog's appearance as close to that standard as physically possible.


Preparing a show dog starts with a bath. Unlike the pet dog owner, the show dog owner or handler keeps a variety of shampoos and conditioners on hand to meet the needs of the coat on that given day. Although many short-coated dogs are toweled dry, most long-coated dogs are slowly blown dry with a cage dryer or a dryer secured to a grooming table. As the dog dries, the show groomer carefully shapes and trims the coat to meet the requirements of the standard. Frequently, fractions of an inch are removed from the coat length, so that the dog's outline is perfectly smooth. At the same time, any imperfections are covered and a light coat of hair spray is possibly combed through to give the coat spring and texture. Some show dogs go through this process up to three times before the end of the show day: for the breed classes, for the group ring, and for best in show competition.


A large part of preparation for the show ring is maintenance. Maltese, Yorkshire Terriers, and dogs with similar coats spend their show lives in wraps or rollers. Basset hounds and Afghan hounds have their ears loosely bound in snoods to keep them from drooping into their food. Poodles undergo intensive grooming between shows, often enduring up to two hours of grooming per leg in addition to the grooming tasks on a daily or rotating basis. Even short-coated dogs need frequent attention to maintain the quality of their coats.

Junior Handling

Dogs in Junior Handling classes are not themselves being judged. However, their condition and grooming is still essential. Good grooming is part of the criteria used for judging the knowledge and skill of the competing juniors.


Some breeds are permitted to have coat imperfections. Terriers and some hounds and sporting dogs, for example, are permitted to have "honorable wounds" and scars. Grooming for show is a complicated business, but it can be rewarding when people tell you how amazing your dog looks, or when those ribbons start to pile up.

Even if she can't chase after woodland critters.

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