” 1997 Ė Elaine C. Stevens
In my opinion, the hardest part of showing a
dog in conformation is getting started. Although conformation is not really my
"thing", I do show some in conformation. As one who has "been
there, done that" I feel qualified to write this article which I hope might
help some of you who are new to the breed, have just decided to start showing in
conformation, or are thinking about it. Keep in mind that what follows is
strictly my opinion, based on my experience, and may not apply to all.
First you must select
your dog. I personally think it is best for a novice handler to go ahead
and spend a little more money and purchase an older dog, one that already has
some points, or at least has been trained to stand for grooming, stack itself,
and has been shown some. You can learn from a veteran dog. Itís much better if
one of you knows something about whatís going on than for two greenies to hop
in there together, which is the way Rowdy and I started out.
If an older dog is not a consideration, then
you must begin your search for a suitable show prospect puppy. Unless you get
lucky, this will not be an easy task, and in all probability the first puppy you
buy will not be the one you end up showing to a championship. First you must
realize that there are several different "types" of Aussies. There are
different sizes, body shapes, head shapes, amounts of bone, coat, etc. Although
in my opinion it should not be this way, there are certain "types"
that seem to have much more success in the breed ring than others do, so choose
wisely if you want to show successfully in conformation. You should attend
shows, talk to breeders, ask for videos, and do whatever you can to look at as
many Aussies as possible. When you find the "look" you like, then find
out who the breeder of that line of dogs is. Contact them, and tell them which
dog you saw that you like and request one as close to that one in type as
possible. Again in my opinion, it simply is not possible to tell when a puppy is
eight weeks old whether or not it will "finish", although some
breeders will tell you it will. Iíve bought, raised, and watched too many
puppies belonging to other people grow up Ė they change. Sometimes a lesser
pup in the litter turns out to be stunning when mature. The pick of the litter
may fall apart at a year old. Usually a breeder who "guarantees" a pup
to finish either includes a clause in their contract that says "with proper
training and/or handling" (which gives them an "out" if your dog
doesnít finish) or will agree to take the dog and show it if you are unable to
finish it. Try to buy from a breeder who shows regularly in conformation and
lives close enough by to help you with training and grooming your dog. Breeders
know their lines better than anyone else does and if you buy from them, they
should be willing and able to help you get started and encourage you along the
Temperament is of utmost
importance. In order to show well the dog must have lots of
self-confidence and a happy, outgoing, "loves everybody" attitude.
This is a point that has been difficult for me to accept. The ASCA breed
standard states that an Aussie should be "reserved toward strangers".
But yet in order to show well an Aussie must greet strange judges with
enthusiasm and Ė without showing fear, shyness, or aggression Ė allow this
strange person to approach them and handle them from nose to toe, including the
most private parts in between. It seems to me that this is in direct conflict
with true Aussie temperament according to our breed standard. But Ė if you
want to show successfully in conformation, thatís the way it must be.
If at all possible,
attend a conformation class or two. Constructive criticism accepted with
an open mind can work wonders. Also, classes prepare you and your dog for the
real thing. One of the very best aids for improvement that I have found is to
have someone video you and your dog while gaiting and stacking.
buy some good books. Two I highly recommend are: "The Forsyth Guide to
Successful Dog Showing" by Robert and Jane Forsyth (especially good for
beginners) and "The Winning Edge Ė Show Ring Secrets" by George G.
Alston. A big part of winning is the psychological perspective. Both handler and
dog must be in the right frame of mind to do well. "The Winning Edge"
explores and supports this theory. After Rowdy went Winnerís Dog for the first
time, there was a long dry spell when nothing happened. I was very disheartened.
I knew I wasnít doing my best when showing Rowdy because my heart just wasnít
in it Ė I felt defeated before we ever went into the ring. I read
Winning Edge" right before our next show. It really inspired me; I was
"all pumped up" and full of confidence. Rowdy went Winnerís the very
first night of that show. So I know first hand that frame of mind is a very
important factor in showing.
Ask experienced show
people for help. There are always experienced show people standing
at ringside, waiting their turn. Find one you know (or get to know one) and then
ask them to watch you and your dog, and after you show, to critique you. These
people are usually good about sharing not only their opinions but also tips that
can help you and your do show better. But be prepared and put on your alligator
hide. If you donít want the truth, donít ask for it.
Be patient. It
will take several shows for you and your dog to get the hang of things. Even if
its structure and movement are really good, your dog must get to the point where
it relaxes and begins to show well before it will begin to win. And you must get
to the point where you donít trip over your feet (or the leash), fall into
holes, and drop the bait. Even after you both are seasoned, there will be
"off days" when one or both of you are just not up to par. Donít get
discouraged Ė just keep at it. Many dogs are at least two years old before
they begin to shine in the breed ring. After the first time you pick up a
Reserve or Winners, your self-confidence will increase and you will find showing
a lot easier, and a lot more fun.
Remember to always
exhibit good sportsmanship, no matter how your dog does. Thanking the
judges for judging and congratulating the winners is a nice gesture, even if you
have to grit your teeth while doing it. And when your dog poops in the ring,
just act nonchalant, ask for a clean-up crew, and try your best not to step in