Showing your dog is more involved than any spectator realizes. A great deal of preparation is needed for both you and your dog. The dog must be trained to stand in a show pose so that the judge can look at him and examine his conformation by feeling the dog structure and muscling first hand. The dog must stand perfectly still and submit to the handling without growling, flinching, fidgeting, or being playful or affectionate.
Start teaching your dog to stand in a show pose by standing on his right side and placing the lead high up on his neck right behind the ears. Then clasp the lead in your left hand, place the dog’s head at a high, but comfortable height, and keep light tension on the lead so it remains there. Now reach down with your right hand and adjust the front, beginning with the left foreleg, then the right so that the legs are parallel from all sides and perpendicular to the ground. The toes should be pointed straight ahead, neither inward or outward like a duck.
The width between the front legs varies according to breeds and individual dogs, but the best adjustment is the one that provides the most solid base for your dog. On smaller breeds, it is often permissible to set up the front by placing a hand under the dog’s chest, lifting him slightly, and letting the front drop naturally into position. If your dog drops into a good solid stance consistently, it is to your advantage to set up the front in this same manner.
Change the lead from the left to the right hand (while maintaining the tension) and begin to adjust the rear legs. Do not let go of the lead or let the head drop out of position or you will most probably find the front will need readjusting again.
In some dogs with very good rears, little or no adjustment will be necessary and if that is the case, great; however, if your dog’s rear is out of line, begin by adjusting the left leg and then the right, as with the front.
There’s a greater variation of stances in the hindquarters between breeds. For example, German Shepherds are shown with one rear leg forward and the other back so check your breed photos to see which is correct for your type of breed. However, most are shown with the hind legs parallel and slightly wider spread than the front. The line of the pastern from the hock down should be perpendicular to the ground with toe straight forward.
At this point, your dog should be fairly well ‘stacked’ in his show pose. Make sure none of the legs have shifted, and then check your dog’s topline. In most breeds, the topline should be level or sloping downward towards the tail. Again, check your breed’s standard, as some breeds, like the Whippet and Borzoi, require a ‘roach’ back. If the topline is correct, make sure the tail is in the proper position and that your dog’s head is up with an alert and intelligent expression.
As you become more proficient, you will see where you can make further small adjustments to improve the appearance of your dog and minimize his faults while maximizing his strong points. However, that comes much later, after you gain more experience. Make your dog hold this pose for only a few seconds at first while giving the command ‘Stay’ then offer him lavish praise and reward him.
Practice this several times a day, until after one month or so of practice he will stand for up to five minutes or more without you having to readjust him. Always try to keep these sessions pleasant for both you and your dog and do not be overly critical until he understands what is expected of him.
If you have a puppy, you will have to be especially patient and expect his ability to hold the pose to be much shorter in duration. Your dog must enjoy showing or he will not perform well in the ring. Therefore, try to make it fun and don’t forget to reward him with praise and his favorite treats.
It is also a good idea to watch the professional dog handlers in action when you can and learn more about different techniques in showing. You can also gain advantage by watching their style and methods.