As two of the three dog snobs actively compete (and the one who doesn’t will do obedience eventually because Fang has converted Potnoodle to the dark side already), it reasons that we spend a lot of time at dog trials.
*Dog Shows are typically referring to conformation shows. These can have obedience, rally and very occasionally agility at the same location. Dog trials are pretty much exclusively referring to one of the performance, sporting or companion events.
Before attending a dog show as a spectator (or perhaps first-time competitor), it is important that you understand a few basic rules. Afterall, no one wants an angry breeder/owner/handler/trainer/judge/steward/spectator coming after you with a pointy comb unless you have a camera, in which case, keep it up. You can be Youtube famous and we can get more followers for predicting your demise. Win-Win.
1. That is not your dog. That is my dog. Don’t touch my dog. Touch your dog.
It’s pretty straightforward kids. This is not a petting zoo. We all (hopefully) passed kindergarten and keeping our hands to ourselves was a key component. Aside from the fact that it’s common sense to not get all up in a dog’s face, just your hand putting a dent into a carefully coiffed rump or baby-talking to that dog prepping in the holding area could cost them points, a title and an actual monetary amount. How would you like it if someone came into the stage wings offering you peanut butter while you were trying to focus? While we understand that poodle’s topknot looks wonderfully pettable, just don’t. Their handlers have scissors and they will, we repeat, will cut you. Potnoodle’s poodles aren’t even conformation dogs and she doesn’t want your greasy hands in their topknot.
2. If people look busy, they are. Leave them alone.
See that dog about to go into the ring? This is not the time to ask the handler a question. Asking any sort of question moments before entering the ring will earn you a serious case of stink-eye. From grooming to getting to the correct ring in time to keeping the dog from becoming distracted, handlers have a lot to think about and will not take kindly to you interrupting their well-planned out pre-show routine.. When they’re out of the ring and look unbusy, however, feel free to go over and ask questions; most are very friendly and happy to offer advice. Note that we say most, because just like in any other arena, there are always going to be assholes. A pro-tip, if you have questions for a specific person watch their ring performance and find something you feel confident in to compliment them on. A simple compliment on their dog is often the first step to a pleasant conversation.
3. There’s no shame in being a beginner.
Everyone had to start somewhere and if you’re starting here you’re already ahead of the game. Mentors are getting harder to come by for a lot of reasons, so if you’re lucky enough to have one, be grateful. If you’re not, well you’re not alone. That ‘What the hell am I doing here?’ feeling doesn’t go away immediately but eventually you’ll see a pattern. All shows should pretty much work the same way. The key will be knowing what time you’re supposed to be ringside and being there. That schedule you get sent? That’s your bible. Go to the ring first thing when you get there, check in, pickup your number and then you get to wait around. If you’re really confused, figure out who else is in your class and stalk them around in as non-creepy of a way as possible. Do what they do unless it seems wrong in which case, don’t. Clear as mud? It’s ‘Monkey, see. Monkey, do’. Unless they’re being an idiot
4. Ask the Stewards.
These people are volunteers (and usually club members) or they’re paid professionals. It’s their business to know what’s going on. As an exhibitor, these are the people you want to ask your questions to. They generally are nicely dressed, if harried and tend to be obsessively counting things. As a spectator, asking them questions falls under Rule 3. If you aren’t competing, there is bound to be someone seated spectating or just standing around sans dog to ask your questions to.
5. Being a douchebag will not help you. Being associated with people being nasty will not help you either.
You’re new and therefore being a jerk to anyone is not in your best interest. Being nasty to other competitors, stewards, spectators or judges will not help you. As an exhibitor that number on your arm is an identifier. There’s this bigass book that pretty much every show has called a catalog. That catalog has your information in it including, sometimes your address. Flash frozen poop on your doorstep is the least of your worries. The dog community is small and your reputation as a nice person and a good sport will mean a lot. Being known as ‘That dillhole who made the 82 year old ring steward cry’ is not a moniker you want.
As a spectator, your main goal should be watching and staying out of the way. It’s pretty near impossible not to run across someone nasty eventually. A good rule of thumb is to not associate yourself. Neutrality will save you a major headache down the line. Not to mention as a beginner, keeping your eyes open and your mouth shut will serve you much better in the long-run.
They are cute and can get away with it.
6. People telling you not to do something isn’t a personal attack.
Being asked to move, or move away, or just not be somewhere isn’t personal. Sometimes it can be someone being douchey (We’re looking at you Doxie handmaiden of Satan*) but most of the time there’s a reason beyond “I need two more feet of space next to me because my friend is going to stand there in 5 hours.” You’re probably in the way. Smile, apologize, and move aside and try to find somewhere less in the way. Being told not to eat a hotdog along the ring-gates is common sense so don’t get pissy if you’re told off for it.
7. Be prepared for amazing feats of “fashion”.
Mind you, by conformation fashion we are generally referring to a charming blend of modest lady-suits and sensible shoes. Most female handlers tend to stick to a lovely palette we like to call “Palm Beach Chic”, which basically consists of muted pastels that look like they belong on the set of Golden Girls (RIP Bea Arthur). The performance events are not immune. If you have a foot-fetish, the sheer number of Vibrams at agility events will give you enough material for a year. There are also endless puns on agility t-shirts that make little sense to outsiders. Obedience and Rally often have some delightfully tacky breed-wear but it’s generally more subdued than elsewhere. While we suggest you don’t point or laugh (see #5), taking sneaky photos of the “fashion” you see and then posting online (read: on our blog) is encouraged. BusyBee is more than willing to provide tips on sneaky photo-taking as it is kind of her forte.
8. Bring Cash.
At dog shows, parking is usually a per-vehicle fee. If you want to eat, or buy things it’s mainly a cash deal. Ipads and other tablet card readers have made it easier but you’ll pay for the privilege. Know that there will be an abundance of sport and breed-specific gear for sale, and it is almost impossible to walk out of there with something you “need”, even if you are just there as a spectator.
9. If you’re not competing, leave your dog at home.
Barring you having a competition-ready dog at home going for proofing, leave your pal at home. A lot of trials have a strict non-entered dog policy. Dog shows tend to have a more lax approach but a newbie handler with an overstimulated dog can accidentally create a lot of havoc.
10. Crate Conservatively
This is especially true for the performance events. If you have one small dog and bring a giant crate plus an ex-pen…. you’re going to get dirty looks. You may even be asked to pack it up. We get super possessive of our crate space, so don’t bring the whole family and expect to set up a village. Don’t take up more room than you need, and don’t step into someone else’s clearly marked space unless invited.
*Fang has been asked to move by a Doxie-person without a dog for daring stand underneath her personal tree that she had staked out ringside the evening before (Seriously). It was an interesting afternoon.
**If Fang wants to remain friends with Potnoodle, she does not actually need it.
Did we miss anything? What is your favorite (or least favorite) part of attending dog shows and trials? Share below!