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How the Judge Sees You Showing Your Dog, Part IV – Who Sees What?
Posted on 12/03/2012 in Ringside Conversations.

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Richard (Rick) Beauchamp

It usually doesn’t take more than a minute or two to realize who in your ring is a veteran at showing dogs and who the beginner is, but often we who judge are dumbfounded to realize someone you were sure was just a beginner has been showing dogs for years!

The rank novice is terrified, of course, and while trying to pose his dog continually replaces the dog’s feet (even when they don’t need it). When it comes to moving the dog, the beginner looks straight ahead (never to where the judge is standing or down to see what the dog is doing).

This is all fully understandable in the first-timer, but we can only wonder how this could have been going on for years and years without a handler realizing that something was wrong - that the dog was losing more often than not, and not because the dog lacked quality. In a good many cases, it is because we who are on the other side of the dog never once get to see what the dog really looks like.

If an aspiring handler never ever learns anything else about handling, he must understand that the picture the handler sees looking down at his dog and the picture the judge sees standing across the ring have absolutely nothing to do with each other!

The handler sees the top of the dog; the judge sees the entire picture, the all-important silhouette - one of the five critical aspects of breed type. In case you’ve forgotten, the five critical elements of breed type are: Breed Character, Silhouette, Head, Movement and Coat.

What the handler of the dog must learn to do is pose the dog so that it comes as close to the ideal picture as possible for the person standing in the middle of the ring. This is what the judge is initially looking for - the dog that comes closest in outline to what the standard asks for.

The handler cannot learn to do this by looking down at the dog (if it’s a small one), or in front or behind the dog (if it’s a big one). The exhibitor must learn what to do in order to get your dog to look like what he wants the judge to see.

Creating The Perfect Silhouette
What is it that creates the perfect silhouette for a given breed? Every breed we recognize today has its own distinctive silhouette. It is created by the sum of all the correct proportions. Any number of well-written standards gives many of these proportions. Unfortunately there are a good many standards that give few. Examples of proportions defined are things like: “the neck is one third as long as the body from forechest to buttocks,” “length of leg from elbow to ground is approximately the same as the distance from withers to bottom of chest.”

Understanding everything that is required to create the perfect silhouette takes a good deal of time and study. The student is in effect learning anatomy.

In his studies, the student learns there are also numerous terms that must be learned and understood. Every breed that exists is governed by certain general dog terms, such as height, length of body, length of leg and so forth. There are also common expressions such as “low on leg,” “long in body,” “racy,” “cobby’, and hundreds of others that are required additions to the student’s vernacular. In pursuit of correctness, it is imperative that one understands how these terms apply to any specific breed of dog.

Each breed has its one set of defining proportions. A dog cannot be set up properly unless the handler has a clear mental picture of what he is trying to create.

Perfecting The Picture
Seeing someone else set up a dog, or looking at a photograph of himself setting up the dog, helps, but the handler has to learn how to make that happen. I have a suggestion that has worked for hundreds, if not thousands, of aspiring handlers everywhere.

Purchase a full-length mirror, the kind that many people place on the back of the door to their dressing room. Take that mirror and tack it up horizontally on a wall on which you have room to stand back from. Depending upon whether you normally pose your dog on a table or on the ground, position the height of the mirror so that you are able to get a complete reflection of your dog in the mirror.

Larger dogs naturally will require a larger mirror, or just as good is using a nearby storefront window in which you can see your dog’s image reflected. Regardless of where this is being done, observe what your dog looks like standing on his own, and compare it mentally to that image in your mind of the ideal dog of your breed.

Exhibitors of dogs with lots of hair believe that they can correct all their dog’s faults with a scissors, comb and brush. Remember one thing, those tools can help, but the dog’s structure remains unchanged. Hair can come and go, blow in the breeze, or be victim to a bad hair day, so learn to set your dog up correctly, to its best advantage first, then resort to the touch-ups.

Handlers of coated breeds can be especially susceptible to deluding themselves. It is the groomer’s job to present a dog in the best fashion possible; however, an exhibitor who reinvents the dog in his mind on the basis of what he wants to see is only kidding himself.

A good handler must know what is really there. He doesn’t have to tell the world about those shortcomings or point them out by constantly fiddling and drawing attention to them, but he must know where his dog might be lacking.

Observe what happens to your dog’s silhouette when it leans back (referred to as “posting”), or when he pulls his hindquarters up under himself. Where, then, do the legs have to go in order to get that picture back that you are looking for? Memorize where the legs, the neck, the topline - where everything must be in order to maintain the correct silhouette - and also remember what it is you have to do while looking down at the dog to make that happen.

Comfort Counts
Not all dogs, regardless of how good an example they are of their breed, are constructed exactly the same way. A position for one dog may not be that comfortable for another. If your dog is unable to keep its feet in a certain stance, you may have to do some compromising. All the training in the world is not going to make a dog want to hold a position that is totally uncomfortable for very long. Note that I have emphasized the word unable. There is a difference in a dog being unable to stand in a certain way and not wanting to. You are going to have to determine which is true and proceed accordingly.

This may all sound like incredibly time-consuming detail, but that is exactly what it takes to master the expertise of good handling. There are some dogs that can be trained to pose on their own on a loose lead and look the perfect picture (we should all be so lucky), but that is the exception and not the rule. It takes hard work and patience to help your dog assume that picture of perfection.

Once the handler understands what his dog should look like to the viewing lady or gentleman in the ring, he must learn to put the dog as close to that picture as is possible.

The next step is to train the dog to remain properly set up for an indefinite length of time while the judge makes his or her final decisions (that’s where the dog’s comfort comes in). As difficult as this may sound, a show dog must learn to maintain the correct position often for minutes at a time. The dog must not become bored and sluggish. Remember that all four legs may well be in the correct place, but the dog may be hanging like a wet curtain between them. The handler must learn the trick of keeping the dog’s attention while staying in his control.

Does all this seem terribly difficult? It’s actually more time-consuming and patience-demanding than difficult. Do note, however, that there are some people who obviously have mastered all these techniques. Nor should you neglect to notice that more often than not they are the same individuals standing in the Winner’s Circle with their well-trained dogs.

Richard G. (Rick) Beauchamp has been successfully involved in practically every facet of purebred dogs: breeding, exhibiting, publishing, writing. He is the author of numerous breed and all breed books including the best-selling Solving the Mysteries of Breed Type and Breeding Dogs for Dummies. He has judged all breeds throughout the world and was one of the United Kennel Club’s first all breed judges.

This article originally appeared in the November 2012 issue of BLOODLINES Dog Event News.