HINTS TO IMPROVE HANDLING
Some of these I learned through competitive obedience training, some through various seminars I have attended (including a very entertaining George Alston handling seminar). Most of these are very simplistic, but people get nervous showing their dogs and forget the basics. Maybe you will find something helpful here.
- Make sure you can walk and trot a straight line. If you weave or drift, then the dog has to compensate and that will affect movement.
- If you are gaiting on mats, make sure to keep the dog, not you, in the center of the mat.
- Learn to move at the speed that is best for the dog, even if it is not your natural speed. Have an experienced person help you determine the speed and then burn it into your muscle memory. Using a metronome can help you with cadence and will be easier for you to keep the memory of the beat in your head.
- Practice setting up your dog by using a mirror; that way you can see the results immediately. Set up the dog the way you think is correct and then look at your reflection. Does your dog look good or do you need to re-adjust something? Reset your dog by making the adjustment and then look back in the mirror. Do not make the adjustment by looking in the mirror as you do it — because there won't be a mirror in the ring for you to rely on. Learn how to set up your dog so that your dog looks correct the first time you look at your reflection.
- Now that you have learned how to set up the dog correctly, increase your speed so that you can set the dog up properly as fast as possible. If it takes you a minute, learn to do it in 45 seconds, then thirty seconds, etc. The goal is: front foot, front foot, hind foot, hind foot, tail, head. What's that, 5, maybe, 6, seconds?
- Learn to have quiet hands. Put jingle-bells (Christmas decorations are great for this) on your wrists and listen to how much noise you make while setting up and gaiting your dog. If the bells are ringing, then your hands are moving and fidgeting. Practice setting up and gaiting your dog without jingling the bells. Learn to make your hand movements quiet, steady and purposeful without extra movement. The dog will appreciate it, also.
- Learn to fade in the background. The best handlers are the inconspicuous ones. We have all seen handlers where Mr. X. X. SHOWS a dog and we have seen handlers where Mr. Y. Y. shows a DOG. Sit and watch groups where you can learn a lot in a small amount of time. Watch the best handlers; you will notice that the dog looks good and you barely see the handler do anything. Compare that to the handler who is showboating, tossing bait, moving in big sweeping motions. Think of it as Dressage versus Rodeo Roping.
- Be mindful of your facial expressions. Don't look at the judge as if you are pleading for your life or worse, threatening theirs. Keep a pleasant expression on your face. If you are not a big, natural smiler, don't force it, but don't look angry either. If you are like me and tend to concentrate on what you are doing and not what you look like, be mindful that your facial expressions can be a real hoot at ringside. Learn how to keep your expression calm and pleasant. A good place to practice this is on the job with some of your co-workers reading emails regarding work place policy. If you can keep a calm, pleasant expression there, then the show ring is no challenge.
- Train your dog before you come to the dog show. If your dog knows how to gait on a loose lead without bouncing or sniffing the floor, can make the about turn without breaking stride, can do left turns without bumping, can halt, be stacked and then stand there quietly while the judge examines him, you have half the battle won. Puppies are an exception. As far as I am concerned they can bounce as much as they want, they just have to learn that dog shows are fun. But, for goodness sake, don't use the dog show as the first venue to lead-break your puppy.
- Present your dog to the judge as if you have a something wonderful to show them. If you don't think you have something special, why should the judge?
- And, finally… Your mother was right.