There are many variables when it comes to exhibiting American Pit Bull Terriers in the ADBA show ring. Our goal as handlers should be to control as many of these variables as possible. The first variable all show goers need to understand and attempt to master is obtaining a thorough understanding of the ADBA written standard. Failure to understand the standard you are showing under is equivalent to taking an exam without looking at the material you are being tested on. The ADBA conformation standard breaks the dog down into (6) categories and assigns a point value to each category.
One thing most exhibitors do not realize is that conformation judges are not comparing each dog against the other dogs in their class. Rather, they are comparing each dog against the ADBA written standard. As a sanctioned conformation judge, I am routinely asked what it is that I do not like about a handlers dog. My typical reply is that it is not that I personally did not like your dog; it’s just that I felt there were other dogs in the show ring that more closely met the ADBA written standard. From there I try to help the handler understand where their dog may be lacking and offer tips to help them when handling their dogs.
Handling a dog in the show ring is a very important skill and can often mean the difference between winning and losing. Much like conditioning, the best way to improve your handling skills is to handle a lot of dogs. Not all dogs can be handled the same way. For this reason, I recommend entering your dogs in fun classes to get more practice. You can experiment with techniques and get your dog some extra ring experience without points being on the line. When I am bringing new dogs to the shows I routinely enter them in fun classes. Not necessarily because I want to win, more so to learn more about the dog and to figure out what techniques I need to utilize to present him to the judge in a way that accentuates his best attributes. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen really good dogs get shortchanged by poor handling. One thing I’ve found that helps more often than not is to keep your dog moving ever so slightly. Sometimes when a dog is standing still, especially for a period of time, they can start to stand funky. By slowly getting them to take a step or two while the judge is examining them it can help reset the dog and give the judge a better idea of what they are looking at. Also, try to relax while handling your dog. Many people get nervous and that energy is picked up by the dog. All good judges will give you plenty of time to maneuver your dog in a way that makes it look best. The last thing I will say about handling is that there is a fine line between over handling and under handling. Most people tend to fall on one side or the other when ideally you want to be dead in the middle. For as many dogs as I’ve seen lose due to under handling, I’ve seen just as many lose due to over handling. Find that balance and you will see your win percentages start to improve.
When entering the show ring, always be mindful to keep your dog on your left side. You never want to be standing between the judge and your dog. This sounds like common sense, but trust me I’ve seen so many people make this mistake. The judge can only examine what they see. Judges do not have x-ray vision; they can only look at what you present to them. Further, when entering the ring try to get your dog moving at a trot. I know it can be very difficult with some of these dogs as they like to pull very hard. If your dog has a nice top line and moves well, it is a shame if the judge does not get an opportunity to see it.
Always try to show your dog on an empty stomach. The week prior to the show, start feeding your dog in the morning. This way he will empty out the morning of the show. Your dog will look better and feel better in the ring if empty. Immediately after you are finished showing for the day, feed your dog. This way the body can start recovering from the long day and the sooner the dog will be able to empty out for Sunday. If you have dogs that are very fiery and use a lot of energy in the show ring, you can give them a small amount of a recovery drink after leaving the ring. Do not offer too much water or too much recovery drink. You do not want the dog to be bloated for the second show. Keep a close eye on your dog if it is hot. You will want to offer just enough water as to keep them hydrated without giving too much causing them to look full.
If you have a highly energetic dog, do your best to conserve the dog’s energy. That means you may need to park further away from other people to keep your dog calm. There’s nothing worse than a dog that is gassed out by the time the judge comes to look at them.
Always use a 1” collar when showing your dogs. Your dog will look much better in the show ring wearing a thinner collar. The 2” wide collars hide much of your dog’s neck and makes for a poor overall appearance. For the most part many handlers in the United States are utilizing the 1” collars but in Europe the vast majority are showing their dogs with too wide of collars.
When a dog is hot and panting in the show ring and you need to show the judge their bite, a trick that sometimes works is to blow in their face. It tends to cause them to close their mouth and lick their lips long enough to show the judge their bite. I also like to pick my dog up and turn him away from the other dogs when showing the bite. It’s very difficult to show the bite while the dog is facing another dog and barking.
Give your dog a bath prior to the show. As you can see above, overall appearance is 20 points. A dirty dog with a poor coat is tough to award maximum points to. I like to spray my dogs with Show Sheen after their bath. It shines their coat and adds a coating that helps to repel dust and dirt. I also spray them quickly before entering the show ring. Further, keep your kennel crates clean. There’s no use washing your dog and putting him in a dirty crate.
Spring dog shows are tough for outdoor dogs because they are shedding their winter coats. There is not much I have found that works to speed up this process other than keeping the dogs inside during the winter. I know this is not much of an option for most, so the second best thing you can do is to simply brush your dog a few times a day. My black dogs turn a greyish, brown color in spots while shedding their winter coats. One product you can use to help mask this problem is Shapley’s Show Touch Up. It comes in an aerosol spray can and will conceal discolorations if used properly. I will say it takes practice to master the technique. I’ve seen it used very well by some, but I’ve also seen it used very poorly by others and it almost makes the dog look worse when used incorrectly. So practice your technique at home first. I would not recommend trying to experiment with it the day of the show.
On hot sunny days, make sure to wear a hat into the show ring. You can use it to help shade your dog. When my dog is not being judged I will always try to face my dog in a position as to where my body is producing a shadow over the dog. This is my attempt to offer shade to my dog and keep the sun from beating on them. It helps to keep them a little cooler. You can use the hat to fan him if needed.
The most important part of winning is selecting the right dog to bring to the show, but it doesn’t end there. You need to do your part by putting your dog in the best position to win. These common sense tips are a good start. If anyone has any other tips that they’ve found to be helpful, please share them in the comments!