Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Three Steps Forward; Two Steps Back: Conformation Class with Hush

As you know, Hush and I are taking a beginner conformation class right now. However, we seem to be the only beginners in the class. Let me preface this rant, by stating that I absolutely love my instructor and the class, but never the less, when it comes to dog training, there will be days where things are just off.

Last night was handling class… this was the 4th class, but Hush and I missed class #3, which apparently, covered some very important things like what exactly to do with your dog’s back legs when stacking (that’s when you have your dog stand and the judge looks the dog over), the patterns a judge might ask you to gait your dog in (basically, when you have your dog prance around), and how to show the judge your dog’s bite when/if asked.

Despite putting in many practice hours, last night was just a bad night. We arrive at class, and Hush, who has decided to be a rebellious teenager, is pulling like crazy on the leash with the exciting smells of so many dogs and people at the training club. I wrangle her into submission, and get her show collar and lead over her head, which is a feat in itself, as it *barely* fits over her rapidly growing noggin, and the new one is on back order.

As we’re waiting for class to start, I hear whispers, look over and see a middle-aged man in my class, who is absolutely glowing. Clearly, he’s happy about something. I decide to focus on Hush, and work on our gaiting until class starts. I am mentally going over all I have accomplished in a relatively short amount of time: I can get Hush to stand and stay in a halfway decent “freestack”, I’ve figured out how to hold my lead without dropping it/tripping on it/having it wrap around my hand and dislocate my fingers when Hush decides to run for the hills, and I seem to how to hold my arm to encourage Hush to move nicely when gaiting. This mental checklist gives me a bit of confidence, and for a moment, I forget that I am the only person in the class that has never shown a dog, that I am the owner of by far the youngest dog in the class, and, that many of my classmates not only have shown dogs, put championship titles on them, but also breed. This sense of pride washes away my insecurities about being the only true novice, in an introductory class filled with experts.

Class begins. We’re instructed to put on armbands and numbers, bitches are typically even numbers and dogs are typically odd numbers, though at big shows like Westminster, this is not always the case, we’re told. I grab the first even number in the stack, 16, and a rubber band. I know it goes on my arm, but I’m not sure which arm, and I don’t want to look like an idiot… so, I awkwardly wait, hoping to catch a glimpse of someone that knows what they’re doing, without giving away that I have been thrown to the wolves and the dog show experts are simply waiting for their last meal to digest, before they tear into my flesh revealing my true lack of experience. Finally, someone puts their band on their left arm, and I follow suit, hoping handlers of bitches and dogs display the number on the same arm.

Next, we’re told we are going to practice entering the ring, so the whole class leaves the ring. The teacher tells us she wants us to enter in numerical order, take them around the ring, and line up to begin judging, just like we would do in a real show. At this point, a classmate, probably someone with a kennel full of champion canines, and a living room plastered in show ribbons and trophies, asks, “Do you want us in numerical order with bitches first, and then dogs?” CRAP! I’m starting to sweat; my eyes are scanning the building for the closest exit, as I realize I was the first person to take a number. Luckily, the teacher says she wants us in numerical order, despite sex, and there are many lower odd numbers than my 16. I sigh, relieved. The first dog prances into the ring, his handler’s head is held high, shoulders broad, and the dog simply glides across the ground. This doesn’t look so hard. I enter the ring, Hush is moving nicely beside me, and I’m armed with a pocket full of sliced hot dogs… people food is strictly reserved for training class, so these should be very high value treats.

I make it around the ring, line up, ask Hush to stand… okay, I’ve got this under control. The first dog steps up to our trainer or in this case “the judge”. Our teacher tells the handler she needs to do something differently with her dog’s front legs… I look on, trying to absorb as much as possible, the handler readjusts something, and the end result looks to me, exactly as it did before. Our instructor praises this, explaining the vast improvements and incredible transformation we have just witnessed. Next, “the judge” asks the handler to gait her dog in a triangle. I have no idea what a triangle is, and am again glad to not be the first in line. I knew there was a reason I wanted a bitch when I bought Hush.

(To be continued…)


  1. Hi Y'all,

    I'm already terrified and they haven't even gotten to you...

    Y'all come by now,
    Hawk aka BrownDog

  2. Oh, I love to be continueds :)

  3. Keep trying - it'll all click! We are ready to cheer on a champion!


  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. I know how nerve wrecking this can be for a newbie. I remember the 1st time I showed my dog. I was totally clueless, clumsy & my heart was racing like crazy. We do not have any ringcraft classes here in Malaysia. Not that I know of so all newbies had to learn by themselves by observing other experienced handlers at the shows. It took me a while to get the hang of it, I can tell you this.

    You'll get the hang of it soon. Go slow & make sure you're always listening & watching. That's very important. Mimic what other handlers do. Always stay confident. If you panic or get too nervous, that energy can be passed through the leash & to the dog & the dog will then not perform well either.

    I know you & Hush will do very well at shows. The most important thing is, always practice. Practice makes everything perfect. If you can, practice stacking Hush in front of a big mirror. That will help a LOT!

    Good luck with all the training! Keep it up!