The biggest event in American conformation showing happened just one week ago, but it seems like so much longer since Banana Joe took the crowning title of Best in Show at Westminster. If you’re just a casual viewer, you might have been pulling for the common house dogs which always seem to have the odds stacked against them (i.e. Labs were 150:1).
But in reality most dog lovers have close to no idea what they’re watching when they view this grand event. It’s easy to say “They’re judging against the breed’s standard,” but does anyone really know what that means? And what does the handler’s role play in this event?
The easiest way to understand conformation showing is to go to an event and see it in person. It can be hard to tell from a television what actually is going on. Chicago’s very own International Kennel Club’s show is next weekend and I would encourage everyone to go! I’ve been going every year since I was little and it’s helped me understand this hobby/sport so much better.
What a judge is looking for is different for each breed. Here is an example of what they look for in Labs. The judges take into consideration the care of the dog, which is why teeth are examined. They look at if the dog is well exercised, as demonstrated by his muscle mass and gait.
In the same respect, handlers are also under a microscope. A good handler should be near invisible, not tugging or being pulled by the dog, not having to reposition him, and knows how to show his charisma to the judge. Some handlers are “visible” meaning they can miscue the dog, and the dog bounces all over the place, or jumps onto a person, or starts barking or play bowing.
As someone with an obedience background, there are a lot of things that bother me about conformation showing, but are the proper etiquette for the show ring. First of all, wrapping the leash in your hand is a giant no-no as you could break fingers, but many handler guide books say to ‘gather the leash in the hand nearest the dog’. Also annoying is how tight they keep the leads, but this is to make sure you can see a perfect 360 of the dog.
But there were a few things that bothered me about the handlers in general; far too many had ripped stockings and none of them wore sports bras.
Overall it was a tight match for best in show but Banana Joe pulled out as a leader!
A great job was done by all and I’d like to give a shout out to great dogs representing Illinois, including the Polish Lowland Sheepdog representing the 847!