Yesterday was one of our local dog shows, Bonanza KC in Carson City, Nevada! Siblings, Mystic and Hunter, were showing.
Hunter went on to win Winner’s Dog and Best of Winners (for a 4 point major!) under Judge Maria Gutierrez-Otero! It was also a Trophy Supported Entry. I was so proud of him!
Mystic and Hunter both showed very well, they have both had the problem of insecurity in the show ring (not uncommon in Salukis). And for some reason, I seem to get asked to handle a lot of dogs with these issues (there’s a reason for this!). Many will remember me showing trouble-maker Claire (Amala Zerdali JC), the “backwards” dog who went on to win Winner’s Bitch, Best of Winners, and Best of Opposite Sex for a 5 point major at the Western Sighthound Combined Speciality. Last year I was showing a dog at the SCGSF Speciality who was very nervous and insecure, I went on to win the very large Open Dog class and Reserve Winners Dog with him. So needless to say, I have become very experienced over the years in dealing with nervous, insecure, or misbehaving dogs (specifically Salukis) in the show ring.
4 Important Tips on Showing the Insecure Dog
1. It Starts From Day 1
First of all, from the day you get your show puppy, you should be focusing on making showing FUN! Start with practicing with your puppy show lead such as this one (not a chain lead which you will use once the pup is older):
When you have the show lead on, make it super fun. Grab your pups favorite toy and play tug-of-war, race around the yard with them running and jumping (don’t worry about them trotting nicely yet), and give lots of treats. Get them used to you touching their legs and moving them around while saying, “stand.” Between the time you get your pup and the time you start to show them (usually around 6 months old), socialization is EXTREMELY important. Have them “stand, stay” while people pet them and give them treats, expose them to busy places, and get them used to their teeth being checked. This training foundation will help with preventing your dog from being insecure or nervous in the show ring.
Sometimes, however, you might be asked to handle a dog who is not your own, or perhaps your own dog will be going through an “everything is scary” phase. Keep reading…
2. Getting Acquainted
This is one of the most beneficial things you could do for a dog who is nervous. Well before you have to go into the ring, start practicing with the dog. Take the dog away from their “comfort-zone,” whether that’s with their owners or away from their other canine housemates, because when you are in the show ring, that will definitely not be a comfort-zone. Once you are away, walk around with the dog, get them comfortable with you and gain some trust, and practice stacking and moving to get a feel for how the dog is going to act in the ring. Determine whether you need to move very slow when stacking, whether they will bait for you, and how they will move (if they are all over the place, you might be better fast-walking the up and back to settle down the trot).
3. Where is my owner?
This could be a make it or break it deal for you in the ring. You must determine beforehand whether the owners need to “hide” from their dog while you are in the ring, or whether they need to stay put in one spot where the dog can see them. These are the two options that have worked best for me. One dog I show regularly, Artreyu, does much better if his owner hides from him (well before I go in the ring), it helps him to focus on me and realize that he can trust me and not worry about where he should be instead. Another dog I show (whom I also bred), Mini J, does much better if she can see where her owner is outside of the ring. A VERY important point about this technique, make sure the dog knows where the owner is and that the owner STAYS PUT! If the owner is constantly walking around or moving to different places, the dog will constantly be looking for where they went or what they’re doing and not be focused on you. If they stay in one place, the dog will realize that they are not going anywhere and can focus more.
4. Stay calm and carry on
Dogs can sense, smell, and feel what you’re feeling. They are very intuitive. If you are nervous or are getting frustrated, they will sense that and react to it. Stay calm, eat a breath mint (they can also smell nervousness on your breath), talk softly and reassuringly, and move slow but determined. If your dog is spazzing out, stay calm and collected and that will help your dog calm down and the situation will also look calmer to the judge.
Just because your dog may be nervous or misbehaving, doesn’t mean that they do not deserve to win. Be confident in your dog and in yourself and that will show and translate to the judge as well. This has been proven to me time and time again, including yesterday with Hunter (who whined the entire time he was doing his up and back)!