September, 2020

A few months back, I received a request (yes, I take requests) to write about what it is like to show dogs for nearly 50 (gulp) years as a breeder-owner. The request came before the Corona pandemic hit us and now I wonder if this topic has any relevance at all. But with hope in my heart that dog shows, in some form, will resume, I do want to encourage you to show your dogs, when you feel comfortable to do so!

There are two realities about showing your own dog:
First, it is not as easy as it looks and
Second, it is not as hard as you think!

Showing a Havanese requires you to master the art of presenting your dog in the show ring and learning how to groom your dog properly, according to the Standard. Learning to groom your dog takes more years of practice than learning how to show your dog. Each dog’s coat is different and asking questions of experienced exhibitors and professional handlers will help you to choose the techniques that work best for you and your dog as long as they comply with the presentation as described in the Standard. Grooming your Havanese will be discussed in a future article here.

Before you decide whether you want to show your own dog or have someone else show your dog for you, I strongly encourage you to learn how to show a dog. By knowing what needs to be done in a show ring, you will be better equipped to evaluate the many choices you have when hiring a handler.

In order to get comfortable with the process of showing a dog, start by attending an AKC dog show. Bring a chair, get there before the show begins, sit outside a ring and watch everything that happens in that ring from 8 am to the time the Best In Show ribbon is awarded. Go over to the ‘club’ table and inquire if the club offers handling classes or if they know any classes in your geographic area. Taking handling classes is, in my opinion, the key to success in the show ring. You need the training and your dog needs the training. I have participated in handling classes for most of the decades I have been showing dogs. Sometimes I have taught them but most of the time I prefer to be the student. They are invaluable. Anyone who is successful in any endeavor in life will tell you they take lessons to get better. Some professions called them “Continuing Education Courses.” To be good, you have to keep learning and practicing. No one knows or remembers everything. While learning the “how to’s” of showing a dog, these classes will help you to better understand the harder concept of what are your dog’s imperfections and how you can compensate for them. How to best “show off” your dog’s virtues is also critical. A good instructor will be able to pick up on the nuances of this for you and will guide you in the process of how to work with your particular dog. Taking classes from different instructors gives you the benefits of different suggestions and opinions.

Since every dog is different, I have felt that each dog I show must go to handling classes. You need to have an objective eye looking at your dog to tell you how your dog’s shortcomings need to be dealt with. Since a good number of people choose to hire a professional handler to show their dog (I hear many people say, “I can’t do it”), I think that is fine. But you need a reality check to know what to expect any handler to be able to do with your dog. No one is a miracle worker and before you hire and fire a handler, think about what your goals and expectations are for your dog. You want a first place ribbon in your class? You want your dog to be a champion? You want a Best of Breed ribbon? You want to go Best In Show? Set the goal and be sure it is realistic whether you are showing your dog or you hire someone else to show the dog for you. Personally, I can assure you from experience that the most memorable ribbons my dogs have won were the ribbons won with me or my husband in the ring. Over the years, I have had some of the most wonderful handlers in the profession handling dogs for me. They have each done a great job, but doing it myself has always been the most rewarding.

You can’t evaluate the ability of a handler until and unless you have done it yourself first. The next column will be on things to consider before selecting a professional handler to show your Havanese for you.

Alice L. Lawrence,
Havanese Club of America