You may think that confirmation show dogs are simply strategically bred dogs who “stand still and look pretty”. While that is part of their job, it may surprise you that every pet parent can learn something from how these elite show dogs are trained and cared for, even if their dog will never set paw in the arena of a dog show.
Confirmation Show Dogs Are Well Socialized
When I was working at Petsmart, a pet parent who planned to show her English Springer Spaniel came into the store one day. I approached her to inquire if she needed any assistance and her request was one I had not heard before, but one that should always be asked by parents of all puppies: “Would you mind looking over my puppy? I am training her for confirmation showing, so she needs to be used to strangers running their hands over her, looking at her ears, paws, teeth, etc…”.
A confirmation show dog must tolerate a judge examining them to determine if their physical stature conforms to their breed’s American Kennel Club (AKC) breed standard. This means that they must be socialized to be examined.
Judges evaluate each dog carefully; breed standards specify a dog’s physical traits from their ears to their paws and everything in between. As such, confirmation show dogs must cooperate with their ears, faces, teeth, heads, legs, paws, abdomen and tail being examined.
Dogs who will never enter the show ring should tolerate similar physical examinations. From a practical standpoint, every dog will need to:
- Be petted by their owner, family, friends, and the occasional friendly stranger.
- Be handled by their owner; tolerate being lifted or carried, tolerate ticks being removed, etc.
- Be examined by a veterinarian; preventative physical exams, exams of injuries, etc.
- Be groomed; bathed, nails trimmed, ears cleaned, teeth brushed, coat dried off with a towel or dryer.
- Be able to walk by other dogs and humans without overexcitement, aggression or fear.
- Accept being held or restrained for veterinary exams, grooming, or other care.
- Accept a collar or harness being put on.
The way to make your dog comfortable with being handled and examined is to socialize him or her. In simple terms, this means ensuring that your dog is comfortable by teaching your dog to be through positive experiences.
Taking a similar approach to the aforementioned pet parent is a great way to do this; she used the opportunity of encountering a friendly, dog-savvy stranger to socialize her puppy.
To learn more about socializing your puppy or dog, read my article about socialization here.
Confirmation Show Dogs Are Well Trained
If you have ever watched a confirmation dog show, you will observe dogs being posed by their handlers, then standing still, remaining in that pose as a judge examines them. Then the dog runs and walks beside their handler to allow the judge to observe their gait.
This requires a dog to be well trained; it is not easy for a friendly dog to stay calm and still when they are getting attention, or run and walk politely by other participants when they are in close proximity or are excited to see them!
Taking the time to properly train your dog makes a big difference; a well-trained dog is a pleasure to live with, fun to go on walks with and fun to go on adventures with. While most dogs who are not going to be shown will not need the skill of posing, the average household pet dog will need these skills that confirmation show dogs are trained to do:
- Walking politely on leash; not pulling, dragging or constantly yanking their handler.
- Walking by other dogs and people while remaining relaxed and calm.
- Allowing people to examine them; all dogs need to tolerate their owners or their veterinarians and groomers performing a physical examination.
- Allowing people to pet them while behaving politely; no jumping, scratching or losing their mind with excitement. This one may be tough for very social dogs!
Confirmation Show Dogs Are Well Groomed
To conform to their breed standard described by the American Kennel Club (AKC) breed standard, long-haired dogs often must maintain a specific hairstyle. A dog of any coat type in a confirmation show must be well-groomed.
Any dog, whether a beloved pet or a prize show dog, must be groomed. However, grooming is not just for fancy hairstyles; it is a part of the basic care that dogs require:
- All dogs, regardless of coat type, require their teeth to be brushed.
- All dogs, regardless of coat type, require regular baths.
- Long-haired dogs require regular brushing to prevent unhealthy, unsightly and painful matting.
- All dogs, regardless of coat length, require regular nail trims. This is accomplished by clippers (traditional or guillotine), or a nail grinder.
- All dogs, regardless of coat type, should have their ears inspected regularly for debris or infection. Some dogs may never require ear cleanings, while others require them often. Consult with your dog’s veterinarian if you are unsure how often your dog requires ear cleanings.
Confirmation Show Dogs Teach Us That Not All Breeders Are Bad
Today’s society is more supportive of dog rescue than it ever has been before. As such, breeders and dog show participants are taking quite a bit of heat these days.
Nearly all pet parents will hear from another pet parent at some point, “There are so many dogs who need homes, why should dogs continue to be bred until they all have a home?”
While it is hard to shrug off that statement when shelters and rescues across the country are full, responsible breeders involved with dog shows are generally not to blame. A responsible breeder will:
- Genuinely care where their puppies go. They will carefully interview each potential family to ensure that breed of dog is a good fit for them.
- Always be there for the puppy. They will ask that each puppy’s parent or family return him or her to them if they are ever unable to care for them rather than surrender them to a shelter or rescue.
It does not make a breeder or a pet parent irresponsible to search for a show-quality puppy if they plan to show.
Specific breeds are bred for specific purposes; this means that dogs who are bred to conform to a breed standard are bred to be shown. The majority of the pet parents of these dogs carefully searched for their puppy for this specific purpose, and therefore, the puppy most likely has a forever home.
The breeders who are irresponsible and are causing our shelters and rescues to be rapidly filled are the breeders who are solely concerned with profits; these are generally not the same breeders who carefully bred litters of puppies to conform to a breed standard.
The pet parents filling shelters and rescues with unwanted puppies and dogs generally did not do research before adding a dog to their family to ensure that the breed was the right fit. Others chose not to honor the commitment they took on when adding a furry family member to their pack, caring for their dog conditionally until it became difficult or inconvenient.
To learn more about finding a responsible breeder, read my article about them here.
Confirmation show dogs can teach us about caring for our dogs; socialization, training, grooming and about caring breeders, which are crucial to caring for every dog properly, not just show dogs.