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Dog showing for beginners: How to make your pet a show dog

smooth haired dachshund walking in show ring

If your dog is a registered purebred, then you can take your shot in dog show competitions! 

© StockphotoVideo - Shutterstock

If you’re a Crufts fanatic, then you know about purebred dog showing. But did you know you and your pet could make it into the dog show world if you wanted to?

By Justine Seraphin

Updated on the

If you have a purebred, registered dog at home, you can show them! This means you can enter competitions in which experienced judges will evaluate your dog and compare them to their breed standard. The more your dog conforms to the breed standard, the more likely they are to win show dog competitions. 

If your dog is truly a beautiful example of its breed, you may even be able to make it to Crufts!

Before you get started in dog showing

If you know you want to get your dog started in dog showing, be aware they need to be at least 6 months of age or over on the first day of the show. Here are the steps you need to take before you start showing your dog:

Register your dog

Before you even think about entering dog shows, double-check your dog is registered with The Kennel Club on the Breed Register. Only pedigree dogs are allowed to compete at dog shows (excluding companion dog shows, in which crossbreeds are allowed to compete as well). 

Keep your dog in top form

As with anything you do with your dog, health is of the utmost importance! Make sure your veterinarian has okayed your dog for showing - “fit for function” is one of the most important factors judges look for in the show dog world!

You’ll need to get your dog used to getting their teeth brushed and nails trimmed from a young age so they impress the judges come competition day. Also be aware your dog cannot be overweight for a dog show, so make sure you lay off the table scraps!

Attend dog shows or ringcrafts

Before you get started, do your research! Attend dog shows or dog show classes (also known as ringcrafts) near you. In this way, you’ll be able to see how handlers show their dogs, and what specifics judges are looking for. Plus, you might be able to meet like-minded people who can help you get started, which brings us to our next point!

Get a mentor

The dog show world can be quite overwhelming for beginners. You’ll need someone who can guide you and show you the ropes as you get started. Why not ask your dog’s breeder? If that’s not a possibility, try to approach someone at a dog show. If they’re too busy to talk (which is likely), come back to them later, or purchase the conformation show catalog. This will contain all the names of the owners and breeders who attended the show, which is an invaluable resource for finding potential mentors! 

Ask for an honest opinion

Though your dog might be a pedigree, they might not be show dog quality. If your dog doesn’t conform closely enough to the breed standard, they won’t stand a chance in the show dog world. The first question you should ask a potential mentor is whether your dog conforms enough to be considered a winner at a dog show.

How do you train a dog for a show?

If you’ve done everything in the checklist above, then your next task will be to train your dog. Showing a dog might seem easy, but there’s actually a lot of training that goes into it! Your dog needs to know how to stand still, to heel, to be calm around other dogs, and to be comfortable being handled in every which way by the judge.

A great place to start is taking ringcraft classes. These clubs train dogs specifically for the ring! Some clubs even put on ‘mini dog shows’ to help dogs and handlers practice for real competitions. They’re also great places to socialise your dog and to meet like-minded people!

Remember your main goal in showing your dog should be to have fun and bond with your pet. Use positive reinforcement training methods, and never do anything your dog isn’t comfortable with!

What types of dog shows can I enter?

There are different levels of dog shows, and like most things, you should probably start at the bottom and work your way up! Here are the various dog shows you can take part in, from the lowest level to the highest:

Companion dog shows

Companion dog shows are the most relaxed of all the dog shows. They’re typically a charitable event, and any dog, whether pedigree or crossbreed, can take part. Some of the competitions include waggiest tail, fancy dress, and best six legs - so as you can see, it’s quite a fun event!

At Crufts, there is an informal competition similar to this known as “Scruffts”. It is strictly reserved for crossbreeds!

Limited dog shows 

A limited show is a show that is restricted geographically, or by a membership to a club/group/society, or by breed. It can be entered by beginners, as long as you meet the restriction requirements. 

Open dog shows

An open show is a nice middle-ground between a serious dog show and a relaxed dog show. They are open to all registered pedigree dogs, though some open shows might be restricted to a single breed. If you win best in show, reserve best in show, or best puppy in show at an open show, then you’ll have qualified to participate at Crufts.

Premier open dog shows

Premier open dog shows are run much like open dog shows, but on a larger scale.

Championship dog shows

Championship shows are the highest level of dog shows in the UK. Though it is open to everyone, the level of competition will be much higher here. At a Championship show, your dog can win a Challenge Certificate (CC) or Reserve Challenge Certificate (RCC). These awards are only given to dogs who are thought to have outstanding merit. Any dog that wins three CCs (from three different judges), will be awarded the title of ‘Champion’ which is one of the highest honours in the dog show world. 

How to get started in dog showing

If you think you and your dog are ready to get started, here’s what you’ll need to do:

1. Obtain show schedules

Go online or to your local ringcraft club to obtain a show schedule. Schedules list a lot of important information about upcoming shows, including the breeds and classes available. 

2. Complete an entry form

Signing an entry form declares that your dog is fit and healthy enough to take part in the show, as per The Kennel Club’s rules and regulations. This is a vital step in signing your dog up for a show. Be aware there are different forms for different classes - so make sure you fill in the right one. You can enter your dog in any one of the below classes:

  • Minor puppy
  • Puppy
  • Junior
  • Yearling
  • Novice
  • Post-graduate
  • Limit
  • Open
  • Any variety not separately classified

Requirements for entry in these classes will be detailed in the schedule. You may enter one or more classes, if your dog meets the requirements. However, if you’re new to  dog showing, we suggest you start with just one class, so as not to overwhelm your dog.

3. Make a payment

All payments for shows should be made in advance, with the exception of Companion dog shows. Much like the entry form, you can make a payment online. However, if you would prefer to post the payment via mail, make sure you get proof of posting as well. This will ensure you can still participate in the show, even if your payment somehow gets lost along the way. 

What to expect on the day of the show

You’ll want to arrive at the venue early so you have time to park, find your ring, give your dog a last groom, and settle before the show. Dog shows can be busy places, so it’s important to find time to relax with your dog. Remember to bring all the essentials, including grooming equipment, leads, and poo bags! 

Once in the ring, the judge will look at your dog as it stands still, and as it moves. The judge may ask you to move your dog in a triangle, circle, or straight line. All exhibitors are expected to conduct themselves in a sportsmanlike manner. Never argue with a judge’s decision, always congratulate the other participants, and remember to have fun with your dog!

If not showing, why not try obedience?

So what do you think? Could showing be right for you and your dog?

Frequently asked questions

How much does it cost to put your dog in a dog show?

What should I bring to a dog show?

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