It’s almost inevitable that, after spending time owning any one breed in particular, you may be bitten with the ‘dog show bug’. Your breeder might offer you a nice show potential puppy, or you just might decide that showing could be a fun hobby. No matter how or why you get bitten, jumping straight into the world of conformation shows is not for the faint of heart.
Like most sports, your best resource for learning about dog showing is a mentor – someone to hold your hand and guide you step by step through the process. In lieu of that, however, books can be a great crash course in learning the lingo, and getting a feel for the lay of the land.
I asked experienced show people and breeders for their personal suggestions on the best books for true novices to read if they want to learn about dog shows.
Here are their suggestions, and mine.
The Road to Westminster: How to Select and Train a Purebred Dog and Prepare It for the Show Ring
Robert and Toni Freeman
This book is one of my personal favorites. It’s simple, easy to understand language is perfect for true ‘first timers’.
Westminster is regarded as the mecca of U.S. dog shows, guaranteed to create a superstar out of any winning canine. Understandably, the road to Westminster is a long and challenging one, but one which many owners of purebreds aspire to travel. Bob and Toni Freeman have traveled the professional dog-show circuit for more than 20 years, showing their beautiful Clumber spaniels. The couple share their collective wisdom in The Road to Westminster, a book bursting with information on selecting, raising, and preparing dogs for showing. Throughout, the Freemans emphasize the importance of enjoying your puppy as he grows and develops, champion dog or not.
Health care features prominently in the book, with an emphasis on the purebred dog. The authors list the symptoms of common illnesses and the appropriate actions an owner should take. A useful glossary of dog-show terminology completes the book.
Raising a Champion: A Beginner’s Guide to Showing Dogs
A John, C Richards
This is another fairly easy to follow guide, written in a more ‘step by step’ manner.
Whether you’re new to showing dogs, or are a breeder sending a show puppy to a new home, here’s an award-winning book that will help get your show puppy off to a great start! Raising a Champion is the complete handbook for people who show their own dogs! Raising a Champion has complete, detailed and fully illustrated instructions! Twenty five chapters contain step-by-step information about training for and competing in the show ring. The FAQs answer questions that every handler asks at some time. Counting championship points is carefully explained and illustrated with dozens of worked examples
Annie on Dogs
Anne Rogers Clark
This book is written by the ‘Grand Dame’ of dog shows, long time judge/breeder/handler Anne Rogers Clark. I had the (rather terrifying) privilege of showing to Mrs. Clark with one of my first Frenchies, and once I got past my fright, found her advice to be very helpful.
Annie On Dogs is a compilation of magazine articles written by Anne Rogers Clark…one of the most respected judges in the dog world. When Mrs Clark spoke, you listened!! And learned!! Her death in December 2006 was a blow to all who knew her and she may never be “replaced”.
If you wish to learn how to conduct yourself in various dog show situations (some very funny), then this is the book for you. If you wish to understand what goes on behind the glamour of televised dog shows, wish to understand things about those crazy people in the ring and just WHY that judge chose that dog, get this book and start reading at the beginning. The wisdom on the pages will astound you.
I was fortunate enough to both show under and steward for Mrs Clark and base my own judging format on her example. Read Mrs Clark’s book and you’ll never regret it!!! A 5 star rating is not high enough. Make this a 20!!!!!!
Show Me!: A Dog Showing Primer
I haven’t read this one personally, but Dorey Carlson, of Echecs French Bulldogs, recommends it highly as a great introductory level book.
Successful owner-handler D. Caroline Coile tells you how to recognize, raise, and train a dog that has championship potential. With clear directions and instructive color photos, she demonstrates the correct way to pose, gait, and handle a dog in the show ring, offers enlightenment on the specific points that dog show judges look for, and tells how to cope with various situations that might arise both in the ring and out. She also advises on grooming, conducting dress rehearsals, deciding which classes to enter, and guiding a dog from novice to top winning champion. New in this edition is more detailed training advice, tips gleaned from various handlers, and recent changes in AKC regulations that exhibitors need to know. Both new and experienced handlers will find information to help them win—and have fun doing it!
Best Junior Handler!: A Guide to Showing Successfully in Junior Showmanship
Anne and Denise Olejniczak
Katherine Barnett, of Curlious Chinese Crested, suggested this book. She writes –
My favourite is “Best Junior Handler!: A Guide to Showing Successfully in Junior Showmanship” yes, even if you aren’t a junior! Juniors are the only ones specifically judged on their handling skills, where a win or a loss is really dependent on what they do. Also covers handling loses, when you are having a bad day, and the importance of teamwork with your dog, all important things to learn when you are just starting out!
Slightly more advanced than the other books I’ve included, this guide is for those who intend to compete to win.
In the show ring, judges assess the whole package, which is the sum of effective breeding, evaluating, rearing, teaching, conditioning, nutrition, grooming, care and presentation. Pat Hastings discusses all of these elements in this book and shares a variety of tips and tricks that she has found useful over her long career in the dog world. The revised edition is a significantly enhanced resource, with expanded text, more visuals and all-new illustrations.
When you’re ready to move on from purchasing a show puppy to breeding your own, there is no better reference book than this one –
Born to Win, Breed to Succeed
Patricia Craige Trotter
I own this book, and refer to it frequently. It’s one of the absolute best books about dog showing, bar none.
The most comprehensive dog book of our time. Who but Pat Craige, winner of 10 Hound Groups at the Westminster show, could write the definitive dog book that explores every facet of breeding and exhibiting top winning Pure Bred Dogs. This is an extraordinary book that defies categorization. It is unique in the depth that treats each topic and the insights gained from many years at the top of the Dog Game. Over 250 photos in color and black and white.
Finally, before you even walk in the ring, it might be good if you know what you’re in for. No movie has ever parodied (and portrayed) dog showing better and more accurately than this one by Christopher Guest:
Best in Show
Carrie Aizley, Lewis Arquette, Bob Balaban, Jehshua Barnes, Jay Brazeau
This film parodies the biggest event of the North American dog showing year, the Westminster Kennel Club dog show (here called the “Mayflower Kennel Club Dog Show”, with a knowing wink to the pedigree roots of some of the club’s board members).
Following a group of exhibitors, Guest accurately introduces us to a variety of ‘dog show types’ – the gay couple with the top winning dogs, the bored rich housewife with the strong willed handler and over groomed poodle, the bickering upper middle class couple with the frustrated child substitute dog, the lower middle class breeders with the underdog terrier.
Filmed in BC, the Lady Slipper Kennel Club dog show and venue stood in for Westminster’s Madison Square Gardens locale. Several ‘real life’ dog show judges were shown in the film, along with local exhibitors (including Diane Dickens, of Almagest French Bulldogs fame).
Was the movie overdone? Of course – but watch it in the company of long time dog show exhibitors, and see how quickly we start calling out names of real life people who match the characters on screen.
In case you haven’t seen it before, you can watch the trailer after the cut.