Tag Archives: dog shows

Go to a dog show – and how to find one

If you’ve never been to a dog show – go! They’re lots of fun and you get to spend the entire day looking at gorgeous dogs, talking to dog people, shopping for dog stuff, and eating concession-stand food!

Dog shows are like little cities that set up suddenly on a Thursday night/Friday morning and disappear by Sunday afternoon. For a few days, it’s a loud, chaotic celebration of all things dog. The bigger the show, the bigger the mayhem.

Photo of four Boston Terriers at a dog show
Boston Terriers in the ring for judging at a dog show.

This week Hope is working as a helper at a set of dog shows in our area. It’s a huge fix for dog addicts like us. When we were little girls, our mother (also a dog lover) took us to the largest show in the area every year. Back then, the shows were unbelievably crowded, the dogs had to stick around all day (called a “benched” show), and the people were happy to talk to the public – as long as they weren’t due in the show ring anytime soon.

Deciphering a dog show

Trying to explain how conformation dog shows work can get just as complicated as trying to explain baseball or football to someone who’s never seen the sport. The intricacies are many and complex – even experienced dog people like us are sketchy on some of the rules.

Fortunately, you don’t need to know the complicated stuff to enjoy a show. And with the help of the internet, it gets even easier.

Find the dogs you love

You can get started by doing an internet search for “dog shows near me.” Or even go to the American Kennel Club website and do an “Event Search.” It’s easy to do – there’s a tab for “Sports & Events.” Then it gets a little more complicated. If you want to go to a “beauty pageant” that shows off every breed, you’re looking for “Conformation” shows. Just follow the prompts, choose the area you’re in, the dates you’re available, and find the name of a show. When you see one that looks like a possibility, click on the link for “Judging Program.” 

That’s your guidebook to seeing the dogs you’re interested in. The Judging Program will tell you what time your breed is being judged, and what “Ring” the dogs will be competing in. Most shows welcome spectators, and most dog show people love to talk about their dogs. After they’re done showing and the competition is over. 

While most dog show people want to win, most aren’t heartbroken if their dog wasn’t chosen that particular day. They’re happier if they win, but they usually take it in stride and will still be receptive if you approach them to say how much you admire their dogs.

The pros may or may not

That being said, there are quite a few professional handlers at dog shows these days. These are people who show lots of dogs for lots of people. And they usually have quite a few different breeds and tight schedules, getting the right dog into the right ring at the right time. So if you approach someone who’s a bit more stressed, or not willing to spend the time, don’t be offended. They’re just doing their jobs.

The amateur dog people, the ones who are showing their own dogs, are usually the ones standing around chatting in clumps before and after their ring time. Take a mental note, and approach a likely person after they come out of the ring – when they’re being congratulated or consoled for that day’s performance.

Dabble or dig in

You may find yourself fascinated by the whole atmosphere of dog shows. As Hope was watching the crowd outside the ring she was working at, the most wonderful part was the faces watching and delighted by the dogs. Particularly heartwarming was the group from a local group home for challenged teens. These kids loved dogs, and their interactions with both the dogs and the people brought smiles for everyone. 

Another favorite part of dog shows for us is watching the Juniors. These are children, grouped by age, that are judged on their dog-handling abilities. The applause is always loudest at the Juniors ring.

If you’ve never been to a dog show – go! Don’t worry about understanding what’s going on. Just be there in time to see the dogs you care most about, and have fun!

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Dog names – getting ready for Westminster

Dog names have certainly changed over the years. When was the last time you met a dog named ‘Spot?” Or Fido? Or even Rover?

We haven’t conducted any scientific studies, but it seems to us that, as society accepts that dogs are members of the family, more and more sport “people” names. We’ve jumped on board ourselves – first with Teddy and now Simon in the family.

This week we’ll be watching lots of dogs on TV as the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show kicks off. And as each of the dogs takes his/her turn around the ring, we’ll be hearing the “registered name” as well as the dog’s “call name.”

What does “registered” dog name mean?

In order to compete in any American Kennel Club event, the dog must be “registered.” Actually, that’s really what the AKC does – it’s a registry that keeps track of all the dogs. In order to be considered a “purebreed” dog, the dog’s ancestry must be traceable through generations. And that’s what the AKC does – it keeps track of the lineage of all the dogs.

As a side note – we’re supporters of the AKC because of all the things it does to advocate for dogs. Things like the Canine Health Foundation that supports research and awards grants to further the health of our best friends. And keep track of legislation, in both the states and nationally, to protect both the dogs and the rights of dog owners. We’re not blind to the shortcomings of the organization. But we also know that it’s the only legitimate registry that’s trying to help dogs.

Back to the “registered name” stuff!

All dogs competing in AKC events must be registered. But not all registered dogs have to be purebreds. All dogs are welcome to compete in AKC performance and companion events like obedience, rally, agility, barn hunt, nose work, etc.

And, when applying for AKC registration, as owners we choose a formal name for our dogs that becomes part of the permanent history of dogs in this country.

We have a friend who adopted a mixed-breed dog from a shelter and named her “Lucy” – her “call name.”  Our friend Lisa started taking agility lessons and wanted to compete with her girl. So she filled out the registration papers and chose the name “Heaven on Harlem’s Lucy I’m Home” to be Lucy’s “registered name.”

Breaking it down

Most breeders have a name for their “kennel,” which is not really a place or a building, but a reputation they build. When you get a dog from a reputable breeder, most times they’ll want their kennel name to be part of the dog’s registered name.

Without a breeder’s name to use, our friend Lisa, who’s home was on Harlem Avenue, decided on “Heaven on Harlem” as the name she’d use for her rescued dogs. And the “Lucy I’m Home” part was to recognize her favorite TV show, I Love Lucy.

So the “call name” is what you yell across the yard when you want your dog to come inside. The registered name is the one that you enter when you’re signing up for agility trials, or obedience trials, or conformation shows. And it’s the one that appears on title certificates when things work out the way you want at those trials and shows.

The call name and registered name don’t have to be closely related, as Lucy’s is. Hope’s Teddy’s registered name was Bullmarket To Catch A Thief. The breeder’s kennel is Bullmarket. “To Catch A Thief” because the breeder had a theme for this litter, which was Hitchcock movies. To Catch A Thief is Hope’s favorite Hitchcock movie.

Speaking of titles

All of those shows and events dogs participate in, aside from being fun, can also result in the dogs earning “titles” which become part of the dog’s name.

In AKC parlance, championship titles come before the dog’s registered name, and all other go after the dog’s registered name. And that goes for all championship titles, whether in conformation or in performance events.

So these titles go before the dog’s name:

  • CH (conformation champion)
  • GCH (conformation grand champion)
  • OTCH (obedience champion)
  • MACH (agility champion)
  • RACH (rally champion)

And there are many, many titles that go after the dog’s name. For example, although Teddy never earned any championships, he did have a few titles. His registered name was Bullmarket To Catch A Thief BN, RN, AX, OAJ, CGC:

French Bulldogs posing with title certificates adding to the dog names
Torque and Teddy with newly-arrived title certificates from the AKC
  • BN (Beginner Novice – obedience
  • RN (Rally Novice)
  • AX (Agility Excellent)
  • OAJ (Open Agility Jumpers)
  • CGC (Canine Good Citizen)

Most important dog names

All of those titles just meant I loved spending time with my dog and doing “stuff” with him. The most important names? The ones I used when we were cuddling on the couch watching tv. “Teds,” “Tedster,” “Teddums,” and, when he got into mischief “Theodore!”

Because the nicknames we call our dogs are the most special names they have. What are some of the nicknames you call your dogs?

Dog shows explained – Rally and Agility

All dogs can compete in dog sports –  any size, breed, mixed breed. All dogs are welcome. Although all require some training to be successful – and to compete safely.

Rally and Agility are more active, fun-to-watch dog “sports.

Rally Trials go with Obedience Trials, but Rally is the faster, louder, little sibling of Obedience.

A couple similarities between Rally and Agility – both have a set “course” the dog/handler team must follow. Both allow the “handlers” (people part of the team) to “walk the course” before competing. Both are timed. Both allow you to talk to your dog while competing. Both are fun!

Rally Obedience

Getting involved in Rally is probably the easiest transition into dog sports. At the first level of competition (Novice), everything the dog has to do are variations of the regular “sit, down, stay, heel” commands. The Rally Novice course is performed entirely on-leash and there are only between 10 and 15 signs, or behaviors, that the team needs to complete.

French Bulldog Dax in Rally competition.

Dax competing in Rally Obedience.

Rally courses are laid out so they’re easy to follow. The signs are always on the person’t right-hand side, and they have instructions like “Turn Left” or “Halt. Walk around dog.”

Once you’ve seen a couple of teams go through the course, you’ll start to know the pattern of the course and know better how the team is doing, if they’ve completed the signs correctly, and begin to truly enjoy the teamwork and fun of it.

As you progress through the levels of Rally (Intermediate, Advanced, Excellent, and Masters), the behaviors on the signs get increasingly difficult, the dogs compete off-leash, and the wonderful teamwork of the experienced competitors and their dogs truly begins to shine. It takes quite a bit of training to do side-by-side spins with your dog!


Agility is the running, jumping, climbing, obstacle-course-racing part of dog sports.

Agility is the one that may look like it’s just an all-out race, and in some aspects, it is! The trick to agility isn’t to get your dog to run – all dogs can run. Or jump – most dogs can jump. It’s to do all the “stuff” in the right order at the fastest possible speed.

Most of the obstacles involved in agility are jumps. There are also tunnels a few yards long, the “dog walk” which is a one-foot-wide board four feet off the ground, weave poles (12 for the upper levels, six for Novice dogs), a seesaw, an A-Frame that towers over five feet tall, and the “Pause table” – which brings the run to a complete halt for five seconds. It shows that the chaos of the agility course truly is under control.

Boston Terrier Booker on the Agility seesaw

Booker on the agility seesaw.

Every trial features a different course, created by the judge, that has the obstacles in a different order in different patterns. There are rules the judge has to follow in creating courses, like the distance between obstacles, what order they can be in, etc. The obstacles are numbered. Competitors “walk the course” for eight minutes before their competition class begins.

Agility is also the sport where it’s most important to find a good instructor – it can be dangerous for the dogs if done incorrectly. And for the people.

Everybody (and their dogs!) can do it!

Everyone who wants to find a place to play with their dogs can find dog sports to suit. Find more information about all our favorites on the American Kennel Club website.

Explore them, find out which one(s) you enjoy, get out there and have fun with your dog. You’ll meet some of the best people in the world – dog people!

Dog shows explained – Conformation and Obedience

We have a nice collection of ribbons from dog shows. Not a huge collection Not even as big as we’d like, but we have them. Really, really expensive little strips of different colors of silk. 

We like green ones best, but the other colors are nice, too. Green ribbons mean the dog qualified (did really, really good.) Other colors signify placements, usually first through fourth.

dog show ribbons

Ribbons our dogs have earned at recent dog shows. Green is “qualifying” – other colors signify placements.

Ribbons are what you get at dog shows when you get what you want, while experience is what you get when you don’t! 

There are all kinds of dog shows and it’s confusing if you’re not familiar with dog sports. It’s particularly confusing because there are different organizations that put on shows. Because we’re American Kennel Club supporters, we’re just going to talk about AKC shows.

Conformation dog shows

First of all, the granddaddy of all is the “conformation” dog show. This is the beauty pageant of the dog world. Only purebred dogs are allowed, and each breed is judged separately. The judge compares each dog in the breed to a “standard” set by that breed’s “parent club.” Each one of the 150+ breeds recognized by the AKC has a “parent club” which represents that breed in the United States. Therefore, it’s the people who love the breed who determine the standard for their own breed. The dog most closely resembling that standard is the winner. That dog and the best dog of the opposite sex of the winner each earn “points.” Dogs need 15 point to earn a breed championship.

After each breed judging, the winners of each breed go into “Group” judging. Which breeds are in each group was determined by the original function of each breed. There are currently seven AKC groups:

  • Hound Group.
  • Terrier Group.
  • Working Group.
  • Herding Group.
  • Sporting Group.
  • Non-Sporting Group.
  • Toy Group.

In a conformation show, the winners of the seven groups finally go on to compete for Best In Show. The dogs really don’t compete against each other because they’re judged, at every level of the competition, against the breed standard. Therefore, the dog critiqued against a vision of the perfect example of the breed – that that perhaps exists only in the judge’s mind. The person showing the dog isn’t supposed to figure into the judging, although experienced “handlers” know how to show off the dogs to their best advantage. There’s lots more that goes into showing a dog in conformation (grooming, proper handling, ring readiness, etc.) but this is the basic outline.

Obedience dog shows

The next oldest type of dog show is the Obedience Trial. We’re passionate about obedience. Some people think watching obedience is as exciting as watching grass grow. Or paint dry. For us, it’s fun. At the Novice level of Obedience competition, the dog and person (handler) team are competing for the Companion Dog (CD) title. There are set exercises the dog/handler team must complete to “qualify” in the trial and earn a green ribbon! Three qualifying scores (170 or up to 200) earns the title. The exercises for the Novice competition include:

  • Heel on Leash
  • Figure 8
  • Heel Free (no leash)
  • Recall (Come when called)
  • Long Sit
  • Long Down

Obedience Trials look chaotic because so much is going on at once. Most Obedience Trials (shows) have several different “rings” going at the same time. A different judge presides in each ring. And each ring has a different level of competition going. After Novice, the dog competes in Open (CDX title), then Utility (UD). After that, dog/handler teams may compete for the UDX (Utility Dog Excellent), and the ultimate accolade – OTCH (Obedience Trial Champion).

Next time we’ll talk about Rally and Agility.