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Friday, April 16, 2010

Taking the Family to a Dog Show

You have decided to take the whole family to a dog show.  Yay!  I think it's a wonderful family activity -- we love that time together as a family.  But I also think you need to know a few things to make the experience more enjoyable and safer for everyone -- both your family and the other people at the dog show.

Once you have decided on a particular show to attend (it could be a big all-breed show with conformation, obedience, rally, agility, demos and vendors or perhaps a small rally and obedience show or anything in between -- I've listed some links below to show schedules of some venues I am familiar with), do some research and find out all you can about the show.  Is there an admission to attend, where is parking and does it cost anything, what facilities are on-site, is there food and drinks available, are there chairs or should you bring your own, is the show inside or outside, etc.  If you have very small children, check to see if strollers are allowed; some shows do not.

Once you have all the basic information, it's time to educate your family.  If this is the first time you have taken the whole gang, my recommendation would be to leave the canines at home and focus on the humans in the family for this first experience.  That way you can keep a better eye on things and get a good lay of the land without having to worry about your dog.

Some of our family rules for dog shows:  Never approach or pet a dog without asking first.  Some dogs don't like children, some dogs may be getting ready to go into the ring and the handler doesn't want to be interrupted or distracted, or any number of other specific situations we may not be aware of.  If the handler says it's okay to pet the dog, ask the handler how his/her dog likes to be petted.  My Daisy loves her neck and shoulder area rubbed, but she's a beagle and if you offer the typical hand to be sniffed before petting her, you may be there all day with her sniffing your hand.  So I will tell people to let her have a very quick sniff and then commence with petting!  Our Husker is a stereotypical Golden in that he loves everyone -- his way of showing that is to wiggle and rub against you.  If someone is dressed up, we always try to warn them they will probably be pretty hairy when they are done interacting with him.  Never put your hands into any dog's crate or confined area.  This is just asking for trouble.  Even the nicest dogs may mistake little fingers for a yummy treat and then a terrible accident happens.  Be respectful of all dogs in the rings.  These dogs are competing, sometimes for big prizes, and I don't want any of my family to be the reason a dog doesn't do well in the ring.  Being respectful means keeping all body parts and extraneous accessories out of the ring, eating only in food areas (NOT ringside), keeping our voices low and calm, and putting our cell phones on vibrate/silent.  Ask before taking any photos.  We don't allow our kids to take photos of anyone in the ring except for family and friends and even then we ask first.  Outside of the ring most people are very agreeable to photos, but keep in mind the same things as petting dogs (above).  Always let sleeping dogs lie.  The old saying is one of our rules -- if a dog is sleeping, no matter how cute and wonderful, we are not going to wake him up to interact with us.  That's just not fair and doesn't set that visit, your family, or the dog up for success.

We try to keep the rules simple and easy to remember and have had great success with them.  Yes, there will be lots of other people who don't follow any rules at all, but I love it when my family sets a good example for others and it always pays off in the end.

Now all that's left is to go!  Pack your chairs if you are going to need them, a cooler with lunch or snacks and some drinks (depending on what will be available and/or what you want to do), and have the kids bring some quiet activities. (Just in case!  Ours always bring an electronic device with headphones and a notebook and writing utensils.  When our youngest was very young we would sit ringside for hours while she drew pictures of different dogs and wrote down every single dog she saw.  Both of our girls are dog breed experts from this early and frequent exposure!)

Talk to people at the show.  Dog people love to talk dogs!  Ask questions, interact and have fun.  Get comfortable with the environment and what is going on all around you.  This is all preparation for when you might bring your dog with you.  Enjoy the company of people who love dogs as much as you do and know that you are all on the journey together.

Canine Work and Games -- C-WAGS
Association of Pet Dog Trainers Rally Obedience -- APDT
American Kennel Club -- AKC

St. Hubert's Companion Dog Sports Program

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