Handling your dog

There are many sources for learning to handle your dog in the show ring, but not much about presenting long coated dogs. This is a small handbook that gives some secrets and tips on presenting your dog at its best … and what to do with all that hair!

Essentials Of Showing Dogs

In this chapter, Let's cover some general information that you may already know and understand, but in the interest of being thorough, will go over it here for those that may not. Showing dogs is a "no excuses" sport … and like any other sport, if you’re not ready - you won’t win. Please don’t blame the other handlers, the judge, the condition of your dog or your own inexperience … the first two are completely out of your control, and the latter two are your own responsibility. You, as an owner handler, have a great deal more time to spend with your dog than the professional handler who must divide his time among many clients … and it’s up to you to become as professional as they are. You should take handling seriously, but never to the point that you lose your common sense. And that, friend, is exactly what I’d like to help you do with this book!

Knowledge brings confidence - lack of confidence transmits to your dog - if you’re fearful and nervous, he knows there’s trouble ahead, and down go the ears and tail. If you have a plan, know what you want to do, and work that plan in the ring, you won’t have time to be nervous … that, and practice, practice, practice. The more you work with the dog, the more confidence you will have when you actually go in the ring. It’s not a bad idea to take the youngster to a few shows before you actually enter him - walk him around a bit, let him see there’s nothing to be afraid of, and after the show he gets home safely, setting his fears at rest. Then his first time in actual competition will be old hat!

So - where to start? At the beginning, of course, with that new young hopeful that you want to have the pleasure of showing to a championship title. Whether you bred the dog yourself, or bought it (from an experienced show breeder, I hope), please get several experienced opinions on the quality of this dog … from other breeders, or perhaps a professional handler. You don’t have to start out with a BIS quality youngster, but - it couldn’t hurt, right? You just don’t want to take something really faulty, or elbow-crawling shy out for your debut. If this all seems painfully obvious, just take a look and see these mistakes being made every weekend in the dog show rings by non-professionals. You don’t have to be "a professional", that is show dogs for remuneration - to be and act professional.

The next big hurdle is conditioning. All dogs, coated or not, need to be in top condition to compete today … and this doesn’t necessarily mean length of coat! Solid, hard muscle with good covering over the ribs … not fat, but firm; a solid little body and adequate bone to support it. Good health is all part of conditioning - you can’t have a dog with parasites, internal or external - weepy eyes, dull hair-coat and a general lack-luster attitude - and expect to bring home a blue ribbon. Even a mediocre dog, in the pink of good health and condition, brimming with happiness and anticipation, is a pleasure to watch in the ring, to be handled, or to be put up by a judge.

Of course, conditioning includes coat care … and all successful breeder/owners have learned the intricacies of growing the glamorous sweeping coats that leave us breathless. These kinds of coats don’t just "happen"; they are the result of many hours of disciplined care … no "magic bullets" or products … just the determination to keep to a regular schedule, and never veer off course. You might have a setback or two, but you can’t let that stop your progress. More about this later.

Any good handler understands the structure of the dogs he shows, and their anatomy. He knows what the faults are, and how to minimize them … and even more important, he knows how to present a dog so the points of excellence are always in the judges "eye". You notice I use the word "presentation" rather than handling … because the art of showing a beautiful dog is presentation - you learn to make the "picture" - if you remember nothing else, do remember that!

Understanding how judging proceeds in the ring is vital, and what is expected of you as an exhibitor. If you know nothing about the judge, make it a point to get to the ring early enough so that you can watch him judge. You should know the "pattern" of gaiting used, whether he likes a loose lead used on the dog or hates "baiting". You should never keep the judge waiting, be ready for your class and come in when your number is called. Then - FOLLOW INSTRUCTIONS! When a judge tells you to go "down and back", and you make a circle … you’re irritating him. If you’re the 25th person to irritate him that day by not following his instructions, guess what? He may not think you’re professional enough to have a dog good enough to win!

Developing An "Attitude"

Most dogs that do well in the show ring have a good "attitude" … they are bright and alert, eager to please and enjoy being shown … they like people and all of the attention. Many dogs become quite addicted to showing, and get very excited when they see show preparations being made. Are these dogs just "born" or are they "made"? Great showdogs are born, that’s for certain … however, without training and discipline, they are just wild cards. On the other hand, you can instill a love of showing by working with puppies as soon as they’re old enough to toddle around the house, and watch how they react. It’s pretty easy to see those puppies that naturally take the lead in a group.

Start handfeeding at 8 weeks, with special treats … you’ll see puppies learning to watch you and your hands. This is the first step in any kind of training for the ring - getting the dog's attention! Don’t be afraid to let young pups run with the "pack" of adults … unless you have adults that would hurt a pup. Take out any "bad" dogs when the pups are playing … and let them find their place with the others. Sure, they might get "smacked" once in while if they are too fresh … but they learn deference to adults, and always try to find their own "niche". You must use common sense in this regard, for only you know the traits of your own dogs. This is healthy, and helps develop intelligence and rapport with you and the other dogs.

Passing out treats to a group of pups and adults teaches them to be pushy, with an "asking for it" attitude - they get excited when they compete and make off with their own prize. Learning to be successful at an early age gives a pup confidence in his ability, and as he finds this out, he’ll learn one-upmanship. Remember at this point to keep it fun and exciting … puppies can’t do anything wrong at this stage of life, or so they should think. Never encourage a pup to be afraid by coddling him, or taking him out of the rough action; adult dogs are programmed not to hurt puppies when they show submission … and they bounce back quickly from a correction. Even Toy puppies are tough and resilient, they’re not hothouse flowers … take them in the yard, in the garage, lots of new places … pups that sit in a pen day after day never learn to interact with you or the adult dogs in their life, and become fearful of everything different, so expose them to as many new experiences as possible while they are still young.

Put them up on the table, beginning rudimentary "stacking", never scolding and always praising … just to get them used to being handled on the table. The more things they are exposed to, the better … the more new places they go, the quicker they become used to these changes. Just as a great "star" is born, there are some dogs that never will have a "show" attitude - no amount of training or development can turn this temperament around. Any dog can be made to show mechanically, but if you really want to have fun in the ring, you’ll go with attitude every time. Select your puppies with this in mind - no matter what great "type" he has, or how structurally excellent he may be - you’ll always be fighting a losing battle with a poor attitude.

Keep those others, if you must, for breeding - and hope they don’t pass that attitude along to their kids … and if they do, forget it. A successful breeder looks for attitude as well as conformation. You will hear of many "remedies" to pump up attitude, give them a try, but you must rely on the inborn character of your dog in the end.

Early Training

When a pup reaches 3 months, you should have a pretty good idea whether or not he will be a keeper … there are still many changes to come, but when the pups are playing, you will usually see one that stands out. Then you hope the bite stays good, conformation doesn’t fall apart, or any of the many things that keep a pup from being a "show dog". Watch and wait - but don’t neglect training in the meanwhile.

Selecting a training place is important … a grassy area in good weather is excellent. Perhaps you have a garage you can work in … even better, handling classes are a great place to socialize your puppy. Take it slow, if you have a small dog, big dogs can be rather formidable to him - try to find a class that splits the sizes into compatible groups. Being in a group training session puts pressure on you, as the handler, to perform … this may result in your dragging your puppy around the ring, teaching him to hate the classes and the lead at the same time. Take it slowly, the teacher should understand, and let the pup adjust at his own comfort level.

Lead Training

By this time your pup should be accomplished at taking treats from your hand. He’ll be rowdy, grabby, and jumping all over like a maniac, we hope! This is a good time to start lead training, but please - go at it slowly and keep it a fun game! He’ll do a lot of sitting and scratching at this strange thing around his neck, trying to get the lead in his mouth, rolling around and trying to run away. Just hang on to the lead and let him take you where he will, never jerking or putting pressure on the lead for the first couple of weeks. Put some treats in your pocket, and when he pauses between runs, see if he’s interested in a taste. If he is, he will follow you eventually, hoping for more. When he backs off, follow him - never pulling him toward you.

I’m going to tell you something now that very few people understand about dogs. I summarize this with the expression "for every action, there’s an opposite reaction"; I don’t know why this is so hard to believe, but you’d be surprised how slow people are to pick up on this very important trait in dogs. If you pull a puppy/dog towards you, they will back away … if you back away, they will usually follow you. If you push down on their back, they’ll resist and stand up taller … if you try to lift them up, they’ll become like jelly and flop down. Understand this idea, and use it when training. If you want a dog to come in close to you, back away slightly … if you want him to back away from you, step in close to him. Sounds so simple, but I repeat this idea over and over, and some people never do get it … and it really is a simple thing. I just call it the ACTION/REACTION response, and it’s very important to all phases of handling a dog, so try to keep it in mind whenever you’re working with your puppy.

Another point that’s very important at this stage of training, is not to overdo it. Remember, this is supposed to be a game, and fun for the pup … five minutes of good play/training a couple of times a day are all that’s necessary. If he’s tired, or just doesn’t want to do anything … give it up for the day, and start over tomorrow … you can really teach a youngster to hate the lead and all that goes with it if you persist. If things aren’t going well, and the puppy just doesn’t cooperate, don’t get exasperated - high pressure tactics just won’t work. You can’t do this if you’re tired and out of sorts, or angry … don’t even attempt it until you’re in a good frame of mind, and ready for some fun yourself! Dogs read your actions, tone of voice and body language … much more so than any words you use, so don’t try to fool them, you can’t. Here, they are the experts - you aren’t even a close second! After a week or two with this lead-playing, you can begin to call the puppy after you when you walk away. Let him know you’ve got treats for him, and he’ll probably run alongside forgetting the leash is even on. Sooner or later, though, he’s going to come up against the fact that this thing is pulling on his neck.

Some pups will respond to the very light pressure by amiably coming along with you … others will immediately fight back by planting all four feet and glaring at you, or just sitting down. I have to admit, I like the latter … puppies that are determined to give you a run for your money often turn out to be the best show dogs of all! This is where the battle of the wills comes in, but it must never seem to be a battle to the pup. It’s not so much that you’re forcing him obey you, as much as make it impossible for him to do anything else … and hope he thinks it’s his idea. When he’s moving with you, keep the lead loose enough that it doesn’t pull, but tight enough that he knows it’s there.

Remember, the lead is not to be used to pull a dog anywhere … it’s like a communication line between you and the dog. If you’ve ever done any obedience training, you understand what "loose lead" means … the lead actually hangs down a very short distance from the neck before coming up to your hand. I don’t recommend this for young pups, it’s fine when you have a well-trained adult in the ring and don’t need that bit of control, but for puppies they need the security of knowing that you are in charge.

Every little bit of progress is highly praised … take a minute to play with the pup, roll him over, tickle his belly, pull his tail and roughhouse a little with him in between walking with him on the lead - remember, this is for fun, not blood and guts! Never scold him, remember, he can’t do anything wrong at this stage. After several weeks, your pup should be popping along happily at your side, watching you and eager to please. If this isn’t happening, change your tactics … training doesn’t consist of doing the same thing over and over if it isn’t working!

Try getting another person involved, with another puppy … sometimes two puppies will run after each other, and they tend to be more forgetful of the leash. Got a laggard? This guy mopes along, about two feet behind you - not outright fighting the lead, but not happy about it either. Well, one trick I’ve tried that seems to work pretty well, is to cut a switch about 3 or 4 ft. long. For those of you who have never had one applied to your backside, it’s a small branch, about 1\4" in diameter, with all the leaves stripped off, with one notable exception. I leave a small cluster of leaves on the very end. No, I don’t use this to beat the little dog! I carry this in my right hand, straight up and down close to my side so the puppy can’t see it … and if he’s lagging behind, I just swish it behind him quickly, and then put it out of sight again. If he seems alarmed, praise him and act as if nothing strange has happened, you don’t know what he’s talking about, and carry on as before. If he falls behind again, rattle the leaves behind him, and urge him forward, praising him. Usually, he’ll step up his pace, with one eye behind him for that strange thing that appears out of nowhere … and be happy to keep up with you.

Got a wild one? Just dashes around on the end of the lead, leaping and running all out? This one's easy; just go with him till he wears out! And - when he settles down - don't forget the treats, and lots of praise

Be creative, develop your own little tricks and ideas. If the puppy keeps getting underfoot, running in front of you, just turn to your left and step into him - gently, please!, until he learns to watch your feet and stay out from under them. If he pulls to the outside away from you, try walking along a wall, hedge, or anything that keeps him from getting too far away from you. Be imaginative and try different things - there is no set rule for this kind of training, you just do what works best for you.

Lets take a minute here to consider the picture you are making as you take the dog around the ring. I know you have a small dog on the lead. This does not mean you have to walk around like the Hunchback of Notre Dame, begging your little guy to come along! This is why they make leashes fairly long, so you can stand tall with your shoulders back while walking the dog. It’s OK to bend from the waist when giving a treat, but please! Stand and walk erect, no matter what kind or size of dog you’re showing.

Some dogs think they are plow horses! This is probably your mistake, by putting the lead too low on the neck. The lead should be up behind the ears and under the throat, not down on the trachea which can cause coughing or choking. You can control a horse with a halter and lead, because you control the head … but you can’t control a 5 lb. dog with the lead down around his shoulders! Also, remember ACTION/REACTION! Pulling on the lead to bring the head up, only causes most dogs to try harder to get their head down so they can breathe … keep that lead loose and talk to the dog, show him a favorite toy, hold the treat in your hand so he’ll look up and watch you.

Move out a little faster, even run with him to get him over hanging on the lead. This is also a good time to practice stacking with the youngster. Just a few seconds at first, with lots of praise and a treat or two. If you’re using a table, remember to put down a towel, or other non-slip surface for him to stand on. Just hold his head with your right hand, and put him into a standing position for a very short time, gradually lengthening the time you expect him to stand still. We’ll get into show "stacking" a little later, but for now, just get him used to standing still, either on the ground or on a table, for short periods of time. The rest of leash training consists of gradually assuming more control, never with a tight lead (remember the lead is a means of communication, not force), and always asking just a little bit more, and giving a lot more praise. You want the dog to move with you, or slightly in front of you at the best possible gait for him. A smooth, flowing trot with head up, making tight corners, and always anticipating one another’s movements is the result of many hours of practice for you both … and is a pleasure to see in the ring.


"Stacking" is a term loosely applied to posing a dog, either on the floor or the table, for the judge’s examination. The first time the judge sees your dog is when the class comes into the ring, and everyone is lined up while the judge and steward check armbands. The judge then makes a critical first assessment, and then you are asked to circle the ring together with the competition. This first impression is very important, and many judges make general placements at this time. Even more important is what happens when the judge turns to look at your dog on the table and his original impression is either confirmed or rejected.

You only have two or three minutes in the ring to grab that judge’s attention - gaiting individually, posed on the table, posed in the final lineup or moving with the entire class when the judge makes his final selections. The rest of your time in the ring, especially in a large class, is spent straightening up your dog, watching the judge, posing the dog, watching the judge, watching the competition, watching the judge … and making sure your dog is always looking his best in case the judge takes a second look around the class while going over another dog!

Should you go in the ring first? If you do, you’d better be ready … if the judge moves the class around the ring, and asks for the first dog to be put on the table … you are at a disadvantage in that you will have to quickly arrange hair, pick up the dog and place it on the table in the most advantageous manner … all with the judge looking on. The advantage is that the judge will be comparing the following dogs with yours, and if you made a stunning presentation, he may be hard pressed to find another that he likes as well!

Another point, if the class is a large one, the judge tends to spend less time on the last dogs - especially if they haven’t made a positive impression on him already. This is not deliberate, just human nature! Most judges are very interested in "going over" a dog that they liked moving. Going in the middle of the class, you have time to get every hair in place on the dog, you know when you will be in the table, and can pick up the dog - ready to place him on the table while the judge is still watching the handler and dog just before you. By the time the judge turns to look at your dog, you can have him "stacked" perfectly, making just the "picture" you want to convey. Never underestimate the importance of this moment, many times the "win" or "loss" is made right here!

Some Tips on Coat Care

I’ve included an article on grooming on this homepage, and I recommend you read that before you look at these tips. Nothing takes the place of regular, disciplined grooming - but having said that, all the grooming in the world won’t help if you’re using the wrong products and the dog isn’t healthy and free of internal and external parasites. Too much brushing is as bad as not enough … urine will damage coat, or stain it … so just rinsing with warm water, patting dry and shaking in a little cornstarch will clean it easily.

You can also use the Absolutely Natural Groomaid … just spray on urine on hair, and wipe off with soft absorbent paper towel; it will neutralize the urine completely. But the less brushing between baths, the better. Lhasas don’t do well wrapped, their harsher coat texture tends to cause breakage where the coat is folded over … rubber banding is better. If you’re going to band the hair back, be sure to change the bands every day - otherwise banding will cut the hair like little scissors!

For the Yorkshires, I make up a rinse of Absolutely Natural Conditioner (2 tbsp.), Nutragena Bath and Body Oil (2 tbsp.) in a 16 oz. bottle, and fill it up with distilled water. After a bath and rinse, I shake the mixture well, put about 2 oz. in a large bowl of warm water, and pour over the dog. I then brush this through the coat well with a large pin brush before I start drying.

A word about dryers. I know "fast" is good most of the time, but I would be hesitant to use a blower with a lot of force, it tends to whip the ends about, and can result in split ends. Hot is not good, unless you keep the nozzle well away from the dog, and dry him quickly. Place your hand on the dog where the blower is blowing, and if it’s too hot for your hand, it’s WAY to hot for the dog! So, medium speed and heat, dry the tummy and show side first, then the other side.

Ironing is great to press down the hair cuticle, but too hot of an iron will destroy the cuticle and seriously damage the coat. Section the coat horizontally when you iron, don’t take great bunches of hair at a time, and I fold white muslin around the hair before I iron a section. This protects the hair from direct heat, and gives a smoother finish. If you need to, you can dampen the cloth with a fine mist of distilled water before you iron, this will take a little longer, but the finish is spectacular. Remember how carefully you iron a silk blouse? Same principle!
For anti-static, I use Absolutely Natural Glossifier … works like a charm! Now about those sticky gels, gummy ointments so many of you use on parts, and to keep hair out of eyes … if this junk isn’t washed completely out after every show, you will get a buildup that makes the hair brittle and subject to breakage. If you’re showing outside, and it’s windy … may I suggest that every other dog in the ring will be in the same condition? Some Lhasas have wonderful hard, straight coats that the wind won’t budge, but if you have a flyaway coat, just add a little more conditioner, and use the Glossifier heavily … don’t resort to hair spray, please. If you really feel you must, however, use the Groomaid and spray those areas you’ve put junk on after showing - at least it will neutralize the effect of the other chemicals!

For topknots, a slippery, slidy clean coat is hard to work with … try the Absolutely Natural Coat Texturizer brushed into the head hair, and let dry … you’ll find it so much easier to "blouse" the hair, and it will stay where you put it when the rubber bands go on. If you’re showing a Toy Dog with lots of hair, don’t leave the show grounds without re-wrapping or re-banding … those few extra minutes mean better coat condition over the months ahead. A bath when you get home, or the next morning will pay off more than you can imagine - your competition is doing it, you can be sure!

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