Preparing for your first show can be nerve racking and stressful for and your dog. In this article, I hope to take some of the uncertainties out of showing for the first time.
The most important rule for new exhibitors is to be prepared. This means knowing the rules of the venue you are showing in. I will take you through entering Novice A obedience for the first time. However, if this is your first Rally, or Beginner Novice run, or any other first, please know your rules!
Here is a link to AKC’s online store. From this page, click on “Companion Events” to find the Obedience, Rally or Agility rulebooks.
You are also able to download the rulebooks via PDF file. Use the following link, and then click on “sports” and it will bring up the PDF files for Obedience, Rally, or Agility.
Next step: READ THE RULES thoroughly, so you have no questions when you are ready to show. Make sure you enter the right class for your level. Novice A Obedience is for those that have never shown a dog in Obedience before. Let’s get ourselves ready for that first show.
What to Bring
Have a show bag that you will bring to every show you are entered in. Within the bag, have a checklist to ensure you don’t forget anything.
- Dog leash and collar
- Water bowl and water (If traveling, bring your own water.)
- Carry some form of anti-diarrheal in case of nerves for EITHER you or your dog!
- Dog food or treats
- Chair for yourself. Not all places have them available.
- Crate. Soft-sided crates are easier and lighter than wire, but many conformation shows do not allow them. Read your premium list for the individual shows to know before you arrive. Email the Trial Chair if you are not sure. When bringing a crate, also include a mat for under the crate so you do not damage the floor.
- Bring a sheet to cover your dog’s crate if your dog is crate aggressive or reactive, or frightened of other dogs that may be walking by.
- POOP BAGS are extremely necessary. Pick up after your dog! Don’t expect others to do this. And you will feel this necessity the first time you step in someone else’s mess right before you have to go in the ring! Be respectful of the show grounds, and do not let your dogs pee on shrubbery, or on obstacles that others will be touching, such as garbage cans, etc.
What to Wear
- Dress with what compliments your dog and is comfortable. A pretty, long flowing sweater will only flop in your dog’s face, and makes for ugly heeling. Wear something that compliments your dog’s colors. As an exhibitor, I would wear something that blends with the dog’s colors, not something so much in contrast that draws attention to every little infraction or inconsistency in the dog’s heeling.
- Wear comfortable shoes. There is no need to dress up your feet, and make yourself wish you could soak them after an hour at the show.
- Dress neatly and do not wear faded ripped jeans. It doesn’t make you look serious about your performance.
- Anything that dangles on you can pull the dog’s attention away from you, and may distract your dog. For example, a long necklace or dangly bracelets will cause your dog to take notice when you are moving, and can cause a distraction.
- Depending on what level you are at, make sure you have all of your equipment ready to go. For Novice, it is simply your leash and collar. However, make sure your equipment is within the required standard.
- A six-foot leash for Novice is required. Do not have anything dangling from the leash, and do not have a leash that doubles as a tug toy, with rabbit fur embedded in a braided leash.
- Your collar can be a chain collar or a buckle collar, again, with no tags or anything dangling. Read your rules on this, especially if you have a special collar that you like to use. It must be acceptable per AKC rules.
Spouses or Friends
- This is one of the harder ones for new exhibitors to understand. You are at the show for competition, not for a play date with your friend’s dogs. The focus must be on you, and not your spouse, or any other friend that believes that your dog is his or her best friend. Be selfish!
- If you must bring a spouse or friend, make sure they are not walking around while you are in the ring. Also, if your dog is especially attached to this person, do not have that person walk away from you right before you go in the ring. If you think out of sight is out of mind for your dog, you are wrong. That will only serve to stress your dog and make the dog look for the person.
- Instead, have that person stay put. If you have a crate set up have your friend sitting by that crate, and take your dog away from him. That way the dog doesn’t get anxious when he sees a person he loves leaving.
- Do not let others come up and interact with your dog, especially strangers that want to pet your dog. This takes away from you and your performance. Your dog will be nervous if this is his first show, and along with your first show nerves, it does not help your dog to have others treating and petting him. This is your day. Be selfish and focus on your dog and enjoy your time together.
- Also, if you want your run videoed, do not have the person stand next to the ring. This can totally disrupt and distract your dog, especially if your dog knows the person doing the videoing. And some cameras click when taking a photo, so any camera work should be done at a distance.
- When you get to the show, check which ring you will be in, and that is the ring where you will pick up your armband. Check in with the Ring Stewards to get your arm band. If you have a conflict with any other ring, let the stewards know.
- It is YOUR responsibility to make sure you are ready when it is your turn to go into the ring. The Ring Steward will usually draw a diagonal line through an exhibitor’s number, meaning that person has checked in. When that person takes their turn in the ring, the Ring Steward will draw a second line, making an X on the person’s number, which indicates that person has had his turn. Pay close attention to that. It is your responsibility to be at the ring on time. Not everyone will have shown up, and the board with the numbers will tell you that.
- Know when it is time to do the group exercises. Don’t make the Ring Stewards have to come looking for you.
- Ring Stewards work very hard for zero pay to make sure you have a great show. Ring Stewards must be accurate in their job so there are no errors in the scoring. Be nice to them, and thank them for their work. Without them, there would be no show.
- However, do not engage in lengthy conversations with them when you are waiting to go in the ring. This is the time to keep your dog’s attention on you! Some stewards are new, and as nice as they can be, may talk to your dog. Be courteous, but ask them not to engage with your dog – or just walk away with your dog if you have time to do so. A steward that talks to your dog will take the focus off of you. AND, the Ring Steward that talks to your dog as you enter the ring, will more than likely be one of the “posts” for the Figure 8.
- Be respectful of the Ring Stewards’ time. Bombarding them with multiple questions can keep them from doing their jobs.
- Did you ever get nervous and feel the need to use the bathroom at the last minute? Your dog may be like that also. Walk him before you go in the ring. I make sure my dog is walked a few times, and especially about a half hour before his ring time. Even though your dog may not go at home for several hours, it is not the same at the show. Learn your dog’s show schedule for bathroom breaks.
- When you walk into the ring, think of one thing only. That is having fun with your dog. Make your dog feel comfortable. Smile and say hello to the judge. Judges are people, too. Thank your judge when you leave the ring.
- Relax and enjoy your dog! What happens if something goes wrong? OOPS! It happens, to EVERYONE. If you think you are the only one that has ever screwed something up, or had a dog that screwed up in the ring, think again. Go with it, and use it to your advantage. Laugh, make your dog feel comfortable.
- Your dog will not remember what he did right or wrong when he was in the ring. What he will remember, is how you made him feel.
Volunteering. A Few Pointers.
- Volunteering to help with the trial is the best way to get familiar with what goes on. You will learn aspects that you wouldn’t even notice otherwise. It also helps the clubs tremendously. Shows would not exist without the help of volunteers.
- If you are working, do not talk to other people’s dogs as they approach the ring. This takes the focus off the owner, and can hurt their performance.
- Know what your expectation is as a volunteer or ring steward. You are working for the judge and for the exhibitors. Be courteous, but do not engage in lengthy conversations that will distract you from your job. And thank you to all that volunteer. You are much appreciated.
Ok, let’s get this first run going!
Check in with the ring you will be showing in. Pick up your armband and rubber band. Know when your ring will start.
Novice A Walk through
- Before the Novice A obedience starts, the judge will call for a “walk through” to prepare the exhibitors for how he is going to run the ring.
- Your dog is not allowed in the ring with you for the run through. Have him safely crated, or have a friend hold him while you go in for the walk through.
- The judge will walk you through the heeling pattern, and show you where you will stand for all of the exercises.
- He or she will also answer any of your questions. Don’t be afraid to ask.
Getting Ready to Walk in the Ring
- Make sure your dog has downed any last treats you are going to give him before walking in the ring. There is nothing worse than a dog that chokes up a treat on the ring floor after you walk in.
- Get your dog’s attention with his name or “heel”, or whatever means you have to get him to look at you. Smile at your dog and when the judge calls your number, walk into the ring with a loose leash. Say hello to the judge, and be ready to work.
- When stepping to the first line, have your dog already in work mode. Nothing is so time consuming as the person who walks to the line with a dog that has the cute poodle in the next ring on his mind instead of you, and you have to coerce, plead and turn multiple circles to get the dog to sit for you at the start line.
Ready to Work?
- The judge will ask if you are ready. Check your leash, and make sure your dog is paying attention and sitting properly next to you.
- You will begin the Novice exercises. Relax and enjoy your time with your dog. You will follow the sequence of the Novice A exercises as outlined in the rule book. Please be aware of the order. The judge should have gone over this in his briefing with you.
- On the heel off-leash, should your dog decide to wander away from you, call him back to you. You will receive points off for having to call him to you, but unless it happens repeatedly, you are still ok. However, if the dog decides he doesn’t want to come back you, you will not qualify, so the bigger risk is doing nothing. Remember, your dog may be nervous also.
- If you fail something, try not to take it too hard. There will be many other opportunities for you to show. After your first show, use the experience to understand what you have to work a little harder on.
When you are finished in the ring, make sure if you have qualified you know when the judge will be doing group sits and downs. Be ready, and don’t make people have to come look for you.
What to do when you WIN!
If you have qualified, the judge will tell you after you complete the group exercises. Stay close to the ring, as if two or more people have the same score, there may be a run off for a placement. Keep your dog up and attentive. The judge will announce if there are run offs. Listen for your number. Once run offs are complete, he will call everyone back in the ring that has qualified.
When the qualifiers are all called back, the judge will announce scores and placements. If he calls your name, walk forward, accept the ribbon with a smile and a thank you and stay put, facing the audience. All four placements will be given out, and as each person that places steps to the line, look at them and congratulate them. This is a huge accomplishment for all of you!
I cannot tell you not to be nervous when you are walking into the ring for the first time. But managing those nerves with help both you and your dog. Take a deep breath. It is not a life changing event. Oh wait! You may LOVE it and therefore it WILL be a life changing event, taking you on a journey you never dreamed of. You will meet many new friends, some that will become lifelong friends, and will share all of your goals and accomplishments with you, and help you through your failures. You will discover a bond with your dog that you never even dreamed of. Your life will change forever. So, look at your dog before entering that ring, and tell him, “We are going to SMOKE this.” And think of him, and let the rest of the world stand still for those few moments. Your goal that first time in the ring is to think about your dog’s ring nerves, not your own, and put your dog before yourself or any other person at that show. There is nothing more important. Smile at your dog. Don’t look like you were thrown in a bucket of starch Relax and have fun.