Owners who buy their first prospect show puppy from a good breeder and ultimately find their way to the dog show ring have long been the backbone of the sport. These enthusiasts have competed alongside professionals since the inception of dog shows. Getting the edge in competition is the most sought-after secret in dogs. How does one go about having an impact on a judge’s decision-making process in the pursuit of a ribbon?

Winning dog shows is not entirely a Saturday and Sunday occurrence. Winning is a Monday through Friday process long before one sets foot on the show grounds. The culmination of those long hours of practice and conditioning preparation becomes the show ring result on Saturday and Sunday.

Whereas the weekly schedule of pro handlers is woven around daily coat and muscle conditioning regimens for the dogs they are being paid to oversee, the owner-handler typically has less time to devote to this process. Consequently, owner-handlers must wisely use their expendable time and resources.

Setting up a weekly routine and sticking to it is an important path to success. Devoting time on off-show days to coat and muscle conditioning specifically designed for your breed and your dog’s needs is key. Training classes are useful for both the dog and owner because they provide a socialized atmosphere and the opportunity to work on ring presentation. Confidence in your dog and your ability is important. Your body language goes a long way in conveying a message to fellow competitors and the judge. Looking and acting the part are the basic tools of the professional.

An owner-handler has the distinct advantage of knowing his or her dog intrinsically well. The professional handler must quickly assess a dog’s temperamental quirks and physical characteristics and adjust accordingly. He or she often does not have the advantage of time to get to know his charge as does the owner-handler.

It helps to pick up on a judge’s pattern before you go in the ring. Try to observe when and where the judge gives the most looks and where he or she puts his hands on the dog in the exam, which could indicate where the priority lies. Anticipating a judge’s preferences and tendencies in the course of breed judging is useful information.

Maintaining credibility and visibility in the ring is vital to getting the edge. Credibility is conveying a confident, proficient demeanor at all times. Your actions in the ring should deliver the message that you are there to win. Visibility is the strategic use of time and space. You should focus and be ready to show your dog’s best features at the optimal time during class judging. Judges quickly lose interest and patience when an exhib­itor is not ready for “his moment.” Two minutes of a judge’s allotted time for each entry does not allow time for exhibitor mistakes in presentation.

When baiting your dog make it count. If you have a dog that is inconsistent in taking bait, stay away from using it. Nothing looks more desperate than when a judge is evaluating expression and your dog is turning away from a treat he does not want. Knowing how and when to use bait is important. Shoving a piece of liver in a dog’s mouth as a judge is attempting to examine the teeth never goes well. Training the dog to stand attentively in a free stack is the best use of the bait when a judge is viewing the side silhouette.

One effective way of gaining an edge outside the ring is in becoming an active member of a kennel club. Volunteering for club offices and assisting in putting on club events give you a perspective of all sides of the sport and help you learn how all the wheels turn. It also provides another road to gaining credibility and visibility.

You should maintain a positive attitude and don’t inadvertently discourage other newbies by making negative statements about judges, handlers and other participants. It does nothing for your image or how people perceive you. Keep an open eye to the prize and your own personal goals.


A professional all-breed handler for 32 years, Sue Vroom and her late husband, Corky Vroom, won hundreds of Bests in Show during their career. Vroom, of Shady Shores, Texas, works as an Executive Field Representative for the American Kennel Club. For information, contact Vroom by email at suevroom@centurytel.com.

 

Tips for Owner-Handlers from a Pro

  • Take advantage of training classes, as they provide opportunities for socialization and practicing ring presentation.
  • Set a weekly routine for coat and muscle conditioning and stick to it. Remember winning a dog show is the result of the effort you put in Monday to Friday. 
  • When showing, remember to convey a confident demeanor at all times and be ready to show your dog’s best features at the optimal time. 
  • Make baiting count by training a dog to stack attentively in a free stack when a judge views the side silhouette.