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The Hounds Try: Conformation

Since I plan to try out all sorts of new and different sports and activities with my whippet, I decided I will try to chronicle them in a way that might be useful for other beginners. I will add updates to these posts if I learn anything else that is new or helpful and, as always, please feel free to share your own tips and tricks in the comments!

First up: conformation! Also known as, “Yes, I have seen the movie Best in Show. Yes, it is a lot like that.” There are plenty of resources out there to learn how dog shows work, including several beginner’s guides like this one from the Ottawa Valley Golden Retriever Club, so I won’t try to reinvent the wheel here. Instead, I will share my observations, what I’ve learned, and why you might want to give it a try (or not!).

What Is It?

  • Dogs are judged against their breed standard. The judge observes each dog’s structure, movement, coat, etc. to ultimately determine which one best exemplifies the breed standard.

What I Love About It: 

  • It is amazing to see so many beautiful dogs in one place and sometimes it is the only venue where you will see rare breeds.
  • Training basics for conformation complement, and benefit, from training for other activities. The basics for conformation are easy to learn but mastery and confidence take time.
  • It is a great activity for older puppies. It is low-impact, works on focus, and is an opportunity for socialization.
  • You don’t need to own a lot of equipment to practice.

What I Don’t Love About It:

  • As with any competitive activity, there will always be a few poor sports/bad losers. I am sure it is very dependant on your local scene, but I am not used to competing against other dog/handler teams (in agility, we’ve rarely had competition in our height class and I focus more on earning our Qs – competing against the clock – rather than placements).
  • While there are some things you can do that may increase your chances of success, I can say (at least as a novice handler) that it feels more subjective than many other activities.

Beginner Tips and Tricks: 

  • Attend several shows and watch some YouTube videos before you enter your first show. It can take awhile to understand the order of everything, how your dog should move around the ring, how to stack your dog, when to leave the ring, and so on. Ask questions, particularly if your breeder or another mentor is available to answer.
  • Don’t have high expectations for your first few times handling and don’t get discouraged if it feels awkward or intimidating – just try to have fun with your dog! Like all sports, looking for the little wins is helpful. Maybe you didn’t get any points this time, but did your dog do a really nice down and back? That’s a little win that shows progress.
  • If your local kennel club hosts classes then I would also recommend attending a few of them. They can help you with your form, provide a low-stress chance to practice, and answer your questions.
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