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6 Tips to Help Prepare for Your First Dog Competition

Dog in a tunnel at a dog show


As a pet parent, you know your dog is the greatest, so entering a dog competition just makes sense. Dog shows provide opportunities for the crème de le crème of the canine world to strut their stuff. But before you sign Fido up, make sure a dog show is the right move. Check out these tips for your first dog competition to decide if your pup is ready for the ring.

Research dog shows, prepare to train extensively, and start at a local level. Honestly assess your dog’s chances of winning a dog competition. Your dog should have excellent obedience skills, little to no health problems, and impeccable grooming. Consult the competition’s specific rules. Purebred show dogs can’t be altered to conform to breed standards or spayed or neutered.

Be patient if you plan to enter your dog into a competition. You have a better chance for success if you take the time to familiarize yourself, prepare appropriately, and know the expectations.

What Do Judges Look for in a Dog Competition?

Before entering your dog into a dog competition, it’s best to honestly assess if your pup is a good fit. Every pet parent loves their dog unconditionally, but that doesn’t mean your pal is dog show material.

According to judges for the National Dog Show presented by Purina, “the main consideration is the dog’s conformation to overall appearance, temperament, and structure.” In other words, how well can your dog perform and fulfill the intended role of their breed?

Also, top contenders in dog competitions possess almost immaculate presentations, with excellent grooming and obedience skills. You should rethink your plan if your dog needs extra attention in these areas or has any health issues. At the very least, you’ll want to work on these areas before you enter a dog show.

What Disqualifies a Show Dog?

Different competitions have various rules and restrictions for participants, so make sure to know what they are. These guidelines will vary depending on whether you’re entering a mixed breed or purebred dog show. But here are some examples of things that can disqualify a show dog.

  • Your dog is spayed, neutered, or surgically altered in any way other than the breed standards.
  • You attempt to hide any hereditary or congenital deviations from the breed standards.
  • Your dog doesn’t fall within their breed's height or weight guidelines.
  • If your dog has cropped ears or a docked tail and the show takes place in a state that outlaws these practices.
  • Your dog cannot be on any medication during a dog show. If a vet has prescribed drugs for a particular condition or illness, you cannot enter a show until your pup’s finished their medication. All medicines must be out of their system.
  • Biting or other signs of aggression can disqualify your pooch.
  • Any conflicts of interest between the judges and the dog's handler or owners can also be a reason for disqualification.
A dog doing agility training

How Do I Prepare for a Dog Show?

You’ve determined your dog has what judges are looking for and has no disqualifying factors. Therefore, you decide to enter your pup into their first dog competition. Now what?

1. Get Familiar with the Dog Show Scene

Check out dog shows in your area, watch some on TV, and find others entering competitions. Learn what dog shows are all about, how they flow, and assess the types of dogs participating. Also, become knowledgeable about the dog show jargon so you can understand what everyone is talking about.

2. Ramp Up on Obedience Training and More

Your dog and you both need to be in perfect sync when it comes to training. Prepare to devote a lot of time to preparing and practicing. But it’s more than obedience training when prepping for a dog competition. 

Show dogs are expected to perform all sorts of tasks in the ring, and judges want perfection (or close to it). Consider hiring a dog trainer specializing in show dogs to work with you and your pup.

3. Make Sure Your Dog Has the Right Look

Determine what the competition expects when it comes to your dog’s appearance. Breeds must meet specific guidelines, and you want to ensure your dog matches the image in the judges’ heads. If you can’t groom your dog yourself, you’ll undoubtedly want to find a high-quality professional groomer to do the job.

4. Work on Socializing Your Dog

The perfect time to work on socialization is when your dog is a puppy. But it's never too late; it just might take more effort, time, and patience. Along with training, ensure your dog is comfortable around people and other dogs.

5. Get in Shape

You and your dog will run, perform, and spend long hours getting ready for the dog competition. It’s essential to be in your best health. Go on regular walks with your pup, ensure they get a nutritious diet, and help them stay in shape.

Schedule an appointment with your vet to verify your dog is in good health to compete. Also, check that your dog is up-to-date on all vaccinations. Ask if additional shots are needed since they will be around other dogs for extended periods.

6. Work Your Way Up

If this is your first competition, you probably don’t want to sign up for the World Dog Show right out of the gate. And Westminster’s Dog Show might be a few years down the road, too. 

Instead, you can start with smaller, local competitions to familiarize yourself with the process. It will also help your dog get used to the experience. You can hone your skills as you work your way up to compete with the big dogs.

What Do I Need for My First Dog Show?

In addition to the above tips, you’ll need to register your dog with the appropriate organizations to enable them to compete. You'll also need to organize a few essentials to take with you, including:

  • Proper grooming supplies for your dog, including a comb or brush, nail clippers, wipes, and rubber bands for long-haired breeds
  • Paper towels
  • Show lead and collar
  • Crate and bedding for your pup. A crate cover is also good if your dog needs quiet time amidst the chaos.
  • Food and water, a water bottle for the crate, or a spray bottle
  • Treats
  • A doggy first-aid kit
  • Poop bags
  • Dog hair remover so you can keep your clothes hair-free
  • A folder to organize your paperwork
  • Cash (some vendors at competitions won’t accept cards)

How Much Does It Cost to Enter a Show Dog Competition?

The cost to enter a dog show is typically between $25 and $40. However, the overall costs of participating in dog shows are a lot higher than that. Many participants enter multiple competitions in one month. 

If you enter ten shows, you could spend $400 on entry fees. Additionally, if you pay a handler, you can expect to pay anywhere from $75 to over $500 per show. 

The cost will increase significantly if you want the handler to work with your dog exclusively. Once you’re in the big shows, like Westminster, handler fees can nearly double.

Dow owners also pay to advertise their pups in show magazines, social media, and more. You could spend $1,000 a month on advertising costs. Then there are the costs for grooming, traveling to the shows, boarding, and other miscellaneous factors.

If you aim to get your dog to a big show like Westminster, you could invest over $100,000 annually. It’s undoubtedly a big commitment. Therefore, make sure it’s what you really want to do and that your dog is on board with the process.

It’s Showtime!

Don’t rush into the dog show scene. Instead, take your time learning the ropes and deciding if your pooch has what it takes. Your patience, diligence, and follow-through will pay off in the long run. For more pet parenting tips, check out the Neater Pets blog for resources, insights, and ideas to help your pet thrive.


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