Dog Shows 101 | What to Expect at Your First Dog Show

Picture of Irish Setter at a Dog Show

So, you think you’d like to visit a dog show? Conformation events can be lots of fun both to watch and to participate in. However, setting foot through the door for the very first time can be quite intimidating, particularly if you’re not sure what to expect when you arrive. As with any sport, there are certain rules of etiquette that are typically respected, and it can be helpful to understand ahead of time what they are and the purpose behind them. If you’re on the hunt for your next family pet and want to see some new breeds and meet their breeders or you’re simply there because you love dogs, you’re bound to have a great time at your first dog show.

Where Do I Go When I First Arrive?

When you first arrive at a dog show, it can be difficult trying to figure out where you are supposed to go. Most dog shows take place in arenas or permanent venues that are designed for animal exhibition use year-round. Typically, most of these facilities have a main entrance and an entrance that is set aside for exhibitors only. The exhibitors’ entrance most often provides direct access to the grooming areas. Exhibitors have a lot of equipment they must bring in for dog shows, and thus, a back entrance that provides the easiest access to their grooming setup and that has double doors for ease of transporting items is reserved for their use.

For spectators at the dog show, they should enter at the main doors to the building. Though directions to the area where the dog show is taking place are typically on display in the venue; sometimes, it is necessary to ask the person manning the ticket booth where you should proceed to see the dog show.

An entry fee is required to spend the day enjoying the dogs on display at the show. The amount is nominal; typically, from $5-$10 and permits entrance for the entire day. This amount is sometimes collected directly inside the doors to the facility, but sometimes must be paid to a member of the kennel club who will have a table set up just outside the direct entrance to the show grounds. Since most clubs do not have debit machines or the ability to process credit cards, you will need to have cash on hand. This will come in handy in case there is a canteen. Many shows also have vendors selling everything from plush crate pads to dog products such as shampoos, conditioners, leads, beds, collars, food, treats, and much, much more. Some shows even have food vendors selling local products which range from homemade fudge to baked goods, and even hot lunches and refreshing drinks.

How Do I Know Where to Find My Favorite Breed?

Once you have gained entrance to the show grounds, you will then want to find the desk of the show secretary. The show secretary has very big shoes to fill at a dog show. From dispensing competition numbers to exhibitors to tracking all results to forward them to the correct organizations and even ensuring that proper procedure is observed, the show secretary remains very busy from the moment they arrive at the show until the moment they leave.

The show secretary’s desk is usually in a central location, making it easy to find. It is worthwhile stopping by this person’s desk as they often have catalogues for sale which list the different dogs entered in the show and when they will be in which ring, providing you with a handy schedule to ensure you won’t miss your favorite breeds strutting their stuff.

The show secretary and her team can also answer any questions you might have including where you can find a bathroom or if the building has a bank machine in case you happen to run low on cash.

What Will I See When I Walk Around?

There are lots of things to see and do while at the dog show. Though the layout will vary from venue to venue, there are several things that all dog shows tend to have in common. These include:

  • Several rings

Though many shows have rings for conformation events only, some do include performance sports such as Rally and Obedience. Depending on the size of the show, the number of rings will differ. If that particular show hosts conformation only, there may be as few as two rings or as many as ten or more.

Most often there is one ring reserved for use for exhibitors showing their dogs in Rally or Obedience, but there can be more. Since Obedience and Rally events require intense concentration on the part of the handler and the dog, they are most often located in an area of the venue away from where the conformation events are held.

Situated around the rings is a row of chairs where you can take a seat and enjoy watching the dogs and their handlers. To avoid causing any distraction, it is best to keep talking to a minimum with any chatting kept to quiet voices only. Taking photographs is permitted, but it is not considered polite to post photos to social media accounts without first obtaining the permission of the owner of the dog.

For those that enjoy taking photos, it is important to never interfere with the show proceedings by blocking entranceways or leaning into the ring. Another important piece of etiquette involves food. Since most dogs are highly food motivated, it is best to reserve any snacking for designated concession areas as ringside eating could easily cause a big distraction to a dog with a job to do. This is of particular importance in the obedience ring since dogs are not permitted any treats while competing.

  • Grooming areas

Most dog breeds do need some grooming prior to entering the ring. For some breeds, it takes a lot of time and specialized effort to get the dog ready for evaluation by a judge.

Grooming areas are typically kept entirely separate from the rings. This is most often accomplished by a wide aisle; however, in some venues, there is an entirely separate room or area set aside specifically for grooming.

It is within the grooming setups that dogs are kept when not competing. Most rest in crates lined with comfortable pillows and pads. Others may stand on their grooming tables with their owners by their side.

It can be quite fascinating to observe owners and handlers preparing different breeds for the show ring. For many breeds, it is a dramatic transformation from beloved family pet to champion show dog. Most owners and handlers do not mind spectators watching them in process, so long as you maintain a respectful distance and do not get in the way of the work being done.

  • Concession stands and vendors

Most dog shows do have a variety of vendors and food shops where you can do a little dog-themed retail therapy. Since most of the venues where dog shows occur are rented and are not reserved for dog events on a permanent basis, the vast majority of vendors simply set up temporary booths where they can display their wares.

To appeal to the broadest customer base, vendors typically bring along something to attract everyone from pet owners to seasoned show professionals and more. Dog show vendors often have unique items for sale that cannot be purchased elsewhere, so they are definitely worth visiting for that rare treasure for yourself or your best canine pal.

Since people must eat during their day at the dog show, there is typically a canteen open. Most of the food found at dog shows is fast food fare, but on occasion, you will also find booths selling bakery items, local specialties, and even hot meals.

When is a Good Time to Talk to Exhibitors?

A lot of people go to dog shows to “shop” for their next breed. This is an excellent idea as dog shows often have the greatest sampling of different dog types all housed in one location. If you’re on the hunt for your next family pet, dog shows provide the opportunity to see some of the breeds on your short list in the flesh and to interact with them to see if the breeds you’ve been considering are right for you.But more than meeting different breeds at shows, you also have the opportunity to connect with breeders. Breeders and owners at dog shows love to talk about their dogs and can prove a valuable resource to you in your quest for a new family companion. However, there are good times to approach them and not so good times.

Typically, when an exhibitor is getting their dog ready to go in the ring, they are very busy and do not have the time to talk. Most will send off a very serious vibe which can be taken as snobbishness or lack of interest in the public in general.  However, this is most often simply a “game face.” Most exhibitors are only too happy to allow you to interact with their dog and to answer your questions when not getting ready for the ring.

The two times a spectator should refrain from approaching a dog and its handler are when the dog is on the table being groomed and when the dog and handler are standing ringside. During these times, intense concentration is required.

It is also important to note that when a dog has been groomed and is on the table awaiting its turn, you should never pet the dog. Though many exhibitors will allow petting once the dog is out of the ring, you should always ask permission first and be prepared to be told no. Some dogs will complete one class and need to enter the ring again later for the group competition or even Best in Show. Petting interferes with the meticulous grooming required for the ring, meaning additional work is required by the handler to restore the coat to its original shape

Is There Any Place that is Off Limits to Me?

Though no place is off limits to spectators, there are areas that you should ask permission before entering. Spectators are allowed to enter grooming setups to view dogs entered in the show; however, it is considered polite to ask permission before doing so.

In addition to this, you should never interact with a dog without first asking its owner for their permission. Dogs in crates, ex-pens, and on tables should not be approached or touched without first speaking with the owner or handler for their approval.

If you are bringing a child with you to the show, be careful that they are not running around unsupervised. Your child should be informed to refrain from entering the grooming area as it is filled with expensive equipment that could be destroyed if accidentally bumped, dropped, or knocked over as a result of rowdy behavior.

But more than this, it is a safety hazard for children to run through narrow areas that contain dogs. Not all dogs like children. Since the dogs are confined in small spaces such as crates or ex-pens where they have no means of escape, some will view a child’s hand or face entering their space as a threat and will respond accordingly. Other breeds simply do not like children and may respond with aggression if forced to interact with them. To ensure the safety of your child, it is best to keep them with you at all times and to speak with the breeder, owner, or handler before any interaction between a dog and your child occurs.

Can I Bring My Dog with Me?

Many people naturally assume that since they are attending a dog show that they can bring their own dog along with them to join the fun. However, strict rules from the governing kennel club forbid this. The dogs that are entered in the show are covered under the kennel club’s insurance policy which provides protection in the event of accident, injury, or even should a dog fight or attack against a person occur. However, dogs that are not entered in the event but that attend the show with their owners are not covered under this blanket insurance policy. Though your dog might be as harmless as a lamb, an accident could happen at any time, and if it did, both you and the club could be liable. For this reason, dogs not entered in the dog show are not permitted on the grounds.

Thinking you’d like to visit your very first dog show? Follow our top tips to know what to expect, and you’ll have a great time!



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