Monday, September 10, 2007

Dog Showing for Dummies!

I've always been a major fan of the series of books. No matter what subject you lack expertise in -- whether it's knitting, Java programming, personal finance, how to buy wine, or any other subject... if there's a "Dummies" book available, then you're sure to get some great help and advice, delivered in plain English -- and perhaps best of all, the "Dummies" authors make the fine distinction between "need to know" and "nice to know."

When I first got started in dog showing, I lamented the fact that there really was no such book as Dog Showing for Dummies. There still isn't, if you check the book list at -- but I have discovered the one book that genuinely qualifies as the best "Dummies"-style book for conformation showing: Raising a Champion by A. Meredith John and Carole L. Richards. The Holy Grail has been found!

This is the book I wish I owned when Dinah and I were first starting out. I've become somewhat of a connoisseur of books on dog showing over the past year or so, and each one has its particular strengths and weaknesses. However, Raising a Champion does the one thing none of the other books does: It anticipates practically every question the first-timer will ask, and provides each answer in plain English, with photos or illustrations, as well as a wealth of helpful hints. It's all here, from how to stack a dog (and recognize mistakes, as well as how to fix them), how to enter a dog show, how to read a judging program, ring courtesy, how to calculate points, and so on. It's all here!

If you're lucky enough to have an independent bookstore nearby, please buy it there. However, if you don't, here's the link to it on Amazon.

The Next Best Thing

The book that did help me get started was Show Me! by D. Caroline Coile, Ph.D. Like Raising a Champion, it covers subjects ranging from how to pick a puppy for show to how to fix ring-related behavior problems... to maintaining a grip on reality between the time you send in the entry form and the time you arrive at the show. The two things that rendered this concise and colorful book indispensable for me were the two bulleted lists on what to pack for the dog and for yourself. For the first few months, I didn't dare leave for a show without having the book open on the kitchen table, displaying those two bulleted lists. This book deserved the highest number of stars for its wonderful attitude -- practical, yet positive.

Here's the link to the book on Amazon.

Other Additions to the Bookshelf

I did own Richard Beauchamp's Simple Guide to Dog Showing for a while. (Here's the Amazon link.) Even as a rank novice, though, I found this one too simple to be of any real use. The book spends more time than the others explaining about the various breeds and groups and such -- useful to someone new to dogs, but not to someone who already has spent some time with various breeds, or who already has chosen a show dog. This is not to say that an absolute beginner might not find a lot to like in the book -- the graphic design and "handwritten" comments and captions give the book a delightfully informal feel -- but it's one you won't need to keep around for very long. I read my copy once and then donated it to the kennel club raffle table, hoping some other newbie would win it and enjoy it, and then pass it on.

Peter Green and Mario Migliorini's New Secrets of Successful Dog Showing is a terrific book (here's the link). It isn't as informative in the tutorial sense for the absolute newbie, but it does explain a lot of things you will encounter with a little exposure to shows (such as the various regions and their point schedules). The high points of this book are: whole chapters on stacking and baiting, with lots of photographs and examples, a comprehensive checklist of what to bring to a show, a great bait recipe (Liver Cake), and lots of interesting anecdotes about dogs these long-time show luminaries have handled or bred over the years.

I did find one boo-boo in the book: it states that puppies bred outside the US and Canada must enter the Open class for starters, and that is simply not true. You may show in Open, but you're not compelled to do so. The classes closed to foreign-born dogs are American-Bred (duh), Novice, and Bred By Exhibitor (unless, of course, you bred your foreign-born dog and are showing it yourself in the USA).

George Alston's The Winning Edge: Show Ring Secrets is not your first dog show book. (Here's the link.) However, it's the one you might end up keeping around for the longest time, or for good. It's the next best thing to attending one of Mr. Alston's notorious handling seminars, plus it won't make you cry. This book's prime focus, by its own admission, centers on the psychology of dog showing, and how best to fine-tune your own mental game. It's not the friendliest or most attractive tome out there -- the photos and the graphic design all make it look a bit dated, and it lacks the many helpful photographic examples of the Green book -- but it grows on you. It's definitely a book that you appreciate more with time. Buy it, but don't buy it first.

Ones I Haven't Read (But Would Like To)

While I was cruising Amazon looking for the links to these books, I noticed The Absolute Beginner's Guide to Showing Your Dog by Cheryl S. Smith. I don't have this book, so I can't review it adequately -- but she does cover subjects the other books don't (or don't go into in depth), such as "The Temperament You Need for the Ring," "Travel Time and Money," "Anatomy Class," and "Grooming for Success."

Likewise, I didn't find Lynn Hall's Dog Showing for Beginners until I was... well, no longer a beginner. I like the way she explains the hard realities of showing -- that you will be disappointed from time to time, that it is an expensive and sometimes political hobby, that "purebred" and "show quality" are not one and the same concept, and so on... but this kindly, practical tome is probably a good second book for the newbie. It doesn't explain about how to train your puppy or subjects like those, but it still comes across in the same voice a friend might use when describing the whole show game to you. It pulls no punches, however -- so be prepared to hear some unvarnished honesty. I enjoyed the excerpts I read on Amazon very much.

Pat Hastings' Tricks of the Trade focuses primarily on the dog: how to select one, how to raise one, how to evaluate one, and the role of structure in the show ring. I can't wait to hear what she says on these subjects, since The Puppy Puzzle should be required reading for anyone considering buying a puppy or breeding a litter. (Here's the link.) This book's other unique feature -- and one which I greatly appreciate -- is its emphasis on selecting the right equipment for the show. There's even a specific, detailed section on grooming tables! This book doesn't delve into the minutiae of showing from the exhibitor's point of view, the forms, the vocabulary, or other concepts bound to be foreign to the rank newbie. On the other hand, this is another book, like the Alston book, that grows more valuable on your bookshelf with time.


Kim said...

I've enjoyed reading your blog, and I wish you continued success with your girl. One correction to this post, however: Foreign-born and/or -bred dogs are, indeed, eligible for AKC's Novice class, as long as they meet the other criteria for that class (not having, prior to the closing of entries for the show, won three first prizes in the Novice class, a first prize in Bred-by-Exhibitor, American-Bred, or Open classes, nor one or more points toward their [American]championship). This means that even foreign-born dogs with foreign championship titles could be shown in the Novice class in the US. In fact, a Japanese champion won WD from the Novice class at the 2005 Sheltie National.

Food Fan Frank said...

This is a great post. I will most definitely be looking into collecting all of the mentioned books. The only one that I own at present is Pat Hasting's "Tricks of the Trade." It is a great book, but I think some of the other books would be very beneficial to me as a new owner/handler. Thanks again!

blkwhtbcs said...

Your right still no Dummy book for dog shows.
I, like you ,started in agility and Rally. Now I have a retired agility dog and an 8 mos puppy who will be going to his first show this weekend . I am excited and nervous at the same time. I was only excited at agility trials.
Thanks for posting about your experiences