Conformation Showing 101
By Nancy Rix
This is a column that appeared in UKC Bloodlines in 2002, in the Akbash Dog Column, but most of the information is applicable to our Kangal Dogs also.
The suggestions and comments below are directed toward Akbash Dog owners, who as a rule are seldom seen at dog shows. We kid around a lot that our owners, much like our dogs, are of an independent and a bit stand-offish nature, which is one reason for the lack of showing in our breed. I sometimes think the other reason is that the owners just have no idea what goes on at a show, or how much fun it can be – the info below is to help that group decide it’s worth a try, and get them to their first shows without incident. Here are some hints to make your first dog show go easier!!
Take a crate. Even if you are only going for one show and don’t plan to linger at the show, just take your crate with you. Your dog is going to get tired of being on its leash. Shutting the dog in your vehicle is not a good plan – even if the dog is used to waiting for you in the car, the atmosphere at the shows is different than that at the local grocery store, and even the best car-dog companion can get excited with other dogs around the car. Having owned one vehicle that a dog tore the seats out of was enough for me, and that was an old junker of a car I didn’t care about. Don’t trust your dog loose in your vehicle at a dog show. The crate will give you the freedom to get away from your dog; if you are experiencing “show nerves”, the dog will be glad to see you go, so it will get a chance to snooze out. If your dog has never been crated before, start using the crate at least a week before the show to feed your dog in (leave the door open) and throw lots of dog cookies and toys into the crate daily to accustom the dog to pleasant associations with his “box”. The first few trips to a dog show are tiring enough for the dogs that they rarely fight the chance to load up and gain some privacy. Take a couple of old blankets or sheets to cover the crate if you need to – the point is to have your dog stashed quietly. If you’re having trouble with your dog barking in the crate, cover it. I usually bring a fresh cow hoof or stuffed toy for entertainment; NOT rawhide, which will make a sticky spot on your dog’s front legs if it chooses to have a good chew.
Now that you have your dog secured, you will have the freedom to make your own preparations. First order of business is to make sure you entries are in order. If you are entering the day of the show, get to the secretaries table and get it done. If you have pre- entered, go pick up your arm band. Be sure to pick up a rubber-band to affix the arm band to your arm; as the day goes on, they often run out of rubber bands. Find out what ring you will be showing in, at what time. GO to the ring, don’t just ask where it is. At each ring is a steward’s table – these are the people that help the Judge, and they will be very busy, so only ask them questions if you absolutely have to. There should be a sign board with the order of Judging for your Group (Guardian Dog Group), and don’t be surprised if the Akbash Dog is the first to go in the ring. Many times, but not always, the Group is run in alphabetical order. There will be a time written that the group is scheduled to start – plan to be ringside, with your dog, at that time. If Guardian Group is the first of the day, you will start at the scheduled time. As the show goes on, the start time for Groups often gets a little behind, but don’t count on that happening. The Group will NEVER start earlier than the time posted. If your Group is one scheduled later in the day, it’s a good idea to stay near your ring as the scheduled time approaches so you can tell how far or close your actual start time will be. If your dog has been in the crate for awhile, get it out about 15 minutes ahead of when you think you will be called, go to a quiet place to see if the dog has to potty and then find an out of the way corner near the ring where you can get to the ring entrance when the steward calls your breed. Do not hang around close to the ring entrance while other breeds are being judged, especially with your dog on a leash. The best thing for a novice to do is watch the Judge they will be showing under while he/she is judging other breeds. It is rare for a Judge to change the patterns they use, and you will have a much better idea of what you will be doing if you get to see some other people go through the process.
Use the toilet. Brush your hair, check your clothes. Sportswear, conservatively cut and colored is your best bet. Pick a color that contrasts with your dog’s coat, so the Judge will be able to see the outline of your dog clearly. This is easy with our Akbash Dogs, anything but white will do!! Wear sensible, comfortable shoes that have good gripping soles.
Grooming our breed for the ring is as easy as it gets. A good bath the day before is mandatory. Trim toenails as short as possible. Hopefully you have kept your dog’s nails reasonably short, because Judges do like to see them short. However, it is not worth laming your dog to get them extra short the day before the show. The only possible hair to cut on an Akbash Dog would be off the bottom of the foot and between the toes on a long-coat, but that is not really necessary. DO NOT trim or shape the hair on ANY other part of your dog’s body. DO NOT let a well meaning groomer tell you that a show dog has to have its whiskers trimmed. That would be correct for some breeds, but it is not correct for ours. For the whitest possible coat, I have found you need purple shampoo. You will probably want to wash your dog twice during the bath – once for the light dirt, and once for the stains – or, let the dog soak at least 10 minutes in the shampoo. I find warm water helps, as well. Don’t forget to put cotton balls down in your dog’s ears so you can rinse the head thoroughly without worrying about water in the ears, and I use a thin line of Vasoline or ophthalmic ointment in the eyes to keep them from being stung with soap. I always mix my shampoo with half water so it will rinse easier. Towel dry and then put your dog in a clean place to finish drying. Our breed’s coat will dry much quicker than one would imagine, but keep them out of the dirt until they are fully dry, or you will have fresh stains to deal with. If a fresh stain should happen between bath and ring call, corn starch will help clean it out, but be sure you brush out all of any powder that you might apply. No artificial grooming aides are allowed, and if powder were to come off on the Judge’s hands, you can be excused from the ring. Our breed is shown in a completely natural coat, so don’t let a pet store salesperson talk you into grooming chalk or other aides.
You need to have a properly fitting choke collar with NO tags or other ornaments for the show. Because we are showing such a large breed, my own choice is a regular metal choke of medium sized, all welded links. There are beautiful collars with serpentine and jeweler links available, but I have seen these can break, and they make me a bit nervous. If you have been attending a dog class and are sure your dog will respond well to a choke collar, they can usually be purchased at the show, or at a pet store. If your dog is not used to being on a leash around other dogs, please get a utilitarian collar that you can trust. To put a choke collar on correctly, make the collar form the letter “P” as you hold it out in front of you. With your dog backed into a corner so it is facing you, put the collar straight over the dog’s head – the pull ring (ring you attach the leash to) should be coming across the top of the dog’s neck when the dog is on your left side. When you get to the show, look at other dog’s collars, and if yours looks different, flip it over, or ask someone to help you. Be sure if you take you dog’s collar off at the show grounds for any reason that you have your leash looped around the dog’ s neck. Please don’t turn your dog loose, even for an instant.
I use a very short leather leash (not much more than a clip and handle) for showing my Akbash Dogs. My favorites are 3/8” wide, with a medium small brass bolt snap. While you do not want big clunky equipment, safety is the most important issue, and I would rather have too much leash than too little. I will not use nylon, as I find it much too slippery, especially if I get a little nervous, and find my palms sweating!! There is often an equipment booth set up at a show, and they will have a large assortment of show supplies. That is probably the best place to find a suitable show leash, or try a fully stocked big pet store – a light weight nylon traffic lead might be the closest you will come for your first show.
I’ve always found the other exhibitors at UKC shows to be helpful and friendly, but there is most definitely a right time and a wrong time to try to talk to people at any dog show. When you see someone with a dog on a leash hurrying through the crowd, pull your dog up close to you and stay out of the way. If you see a breed showing in a ring, anyone who owns that breed is probably going to be more interested in the judging than in talking at that time. Once the judging is over (or well before it has begun) is the time to ask people questions or to chat. Be ready to answer questions about your dog!! The Akbash Dog has only been recognized by UKC since 1998, and lots of people have never seen one. Be ready to explain the difference between an Akbash Dog and an Anatolian Shepherd; if you don’t know, ask your breeder before going to the show, so you won’t have to struggle with an answer. Take business cards or other handouts that you can give to interested people. (Editor’s note: This information especially applies to Kangal Dogs as well!)
My favorite part of the show is sitting in a lawn chair, with my dog in the crate, off to the side somewhere away from the busy show rings. I like to have an easy access to grass for exercising the dog before and after ring calls (always have a plastic bag or two in your pocket to pick up any solid waste material that may be produced). There is always more time spent waiting to show than there is actually in the ring, so your “set up” area can be like a little camp site; a cooler with drinks for yourself (a couple of extra for new found friends is a nice touch – no alcohol allowed on show grounds) and your dog, a bag with a brush, towel and clean-up baggies and a couple of lawn chairs can make you a wonderful place to spend the day. I find at two day shows, if I set up at the same location both days, that the dogs will start guarding this area like their home on the second day – it’s fun watching their protection instinct kick in, but I don’t allow them to bark at passing dogs or people.
Plan to keep your dog on a short leash for the whole show. Please don’t let your dog sniff other dogs and if someone wants their dog to “make friends” with yours, discourage this idea politely. Maybe the two dogs will get along, but maybe they will not, and because our breed can be so protective around other dogs, it’s not worth the chance to find out. I had one female dog that would act like she wanted to be friendly right up to the instant the dog’s touched noses – and then she would try her best to tear the other dog’s head off. Whenever I have a dog on a leash, I keep its head pulled into my leg, except while actually showing in the ring. Young puppies can be the mild exception to the rule, but even then, if they meet a dog they don’t like, they can make a big fuss that will not look good for our breed – please remember your dog may be the only Akbash Dog some people will ever see, and you want them to remember the breed in a positive manner. I find my dogs are quickly bored with human attention, but I do let people that want to pet my Akbash Dog do so – I have never had a problem with human aggression, only other dogs. If I have a relatively unsocialized dog with me, I’m very careful with them around any small children. Only if you know your dog is aggressive with children would I not let them get petted. Just use good sense, and remember that a dog show might be the most stressful place you will ever go with your dog; more stressful than classes or walks in the neighborhood, as there is such an overload of stimulus.
No food of ANY sort in the show ring – NEVER – not in your pocket – NEVER – NEVER!! It’s okay if you’ve been practicing for the show at home with food, but no food or bait at the show. I guess it’s okay to practice away from the ring, but don’t mess up and carry it in with you. You will get excused. This is one of the biggest differences between UKC and AKC, and it seems like even people who have never been to a show think that you need food to make a dog show in the ring. If you have been practicing with it at home, move your hand the same way you do when you have a hot dog in it, and the dog will (maybe) respond the same way as it did at home, but I found the dog show atmosphere took away all my dogs desire to eat, and they would not respond like they did in practice. (Editor’s note: The UKC has changed their rules to allow the judge to decide if baiting is allowed or not in the ring, and this will be indicated on the show board outside the ring)
If you find yourself bitten by the “show bug”, my best advice is to find a handling class to attend between shows. There you can learn the fine points of handling. The Akbash Dog is not an easy breed to show, because as they mature, their calm nature may turn to downright laziness during the day, and their independent streak makes them resent trotting around in a circle for no particular reason. It is difficult to get them animated to catch the Judge’s attention in Group competition, but a knowledgeable Judge will understand that the breed is not supposed to be overly animated and will continue to look at your dog if its structure and condition are what our Standard calls for. If you are only going to show your dog once a year at our National Specialty, to help us consider all possible breeding dogs and to meet other Akbash Dog owners and breeders, that’s okay, too. We will welcome you, help you with your dog and be very glad you came to join us. If you use the suggestions put forth here, you’ll have a great time and be glad you made the trip!!