Thursday, August 2, 2012

Dipping a Toe into Conformation

This past weekend, T.A.R.D.I.S. and I got our feet wet with the UKC Conformation trial at IPOC. I mentioned previously that I am a complete novice at this, and I had no idea what to expect.

Although I tried searching the web for details on what to really expect, I couldn't really what I was looking for. So, I'm attempting to fill that gap with this post. Here's what I learned, what I did, and what I wish I had known ahead of time.


For starters, my breeder has been an amazing, invaluable resource for me. Without her help, I don't know that I could have done as well, never mind the fact that without her, I wouldn't have my dog.

When I had asked her about grooming, she quickly told me to just bring him over to her house. I had no idea what to expect - my definition of grooming meant a bath, brushing, and a nail trim. That was NOT what she had in mind!

To her, grooming involved a bath - getting shampooed twice, with whitening shampoo, a blow dry, hair product and chalking, trimming the hair on his paws, and brushing him. He lost quite a bit of hair in the process! She put in product and chalk for me - with the understanding that I need to brush it out pre-show, to help him stay a little cleaner and fluffier as this was done Friday evening before the shows.

To better illustrate the difference - this is my dog, stacked, pre-grooming:

Handsome boy right here, but....

He's handsome enough, but compare it to this:

Holy cow Batman, where did my puppy go?!

And it's night and day. After my breeder was done wit him, he looked AMAZING - like one of those dogs who you know, win stuff.

If you want my advice - when you're going to show your dog? Learn how to groom them! Let your breeder help you - hence the emphasis on always being sure to select a GOOD breeder who knows her breed. If I had shown T.A.R.D.I.S. looking like the original photo compared to a dog who looked like the second? It should be obvious who would have won!

Once he was groomed, we took him home and were tasked with keeping him clean. Do you know how hard it is to keep a one year old puppy clean? One who wants to roll in fresh mud, and fresh cut grass? Poor guy had to stay on a leash, and was confined to being mostly indoors.

The next morning, I had to be sure to brush him again, deal with any cowlicks, and dust off some of the extra chalk. I showed up early - 8:45 AM for a show that didn't start until 9:30. I wanted to be sure I knew when to go in - I was basing this off what I know for an obedience or rally trial.

Which this was not! When I got there, I checked in, expecting a schedule. Knowing when I should report to ring side. I was given a number, but no schedule. They don't give you one. They put up on a board near each ring the order of groups - like Northern, Companion, Herding, Gun, etc. (I hope you know what group your dog is in, too!)

T.A.R.D.I.S. fell into the herding group both days - so even though day two reversed the order, his group was about the middle, so it was the same place both days.

Then I realized... he was... the only Corgi. The only Corgi. He was going to get first place no matter what he did! With a little bit of relief, I sat down with a group of fellow competitors and my husband and friends, and we chatted - until it was time to get T.A.R.D.I.S. ready. When I saw the group ahead of us moving through their Group - I told my husband to take T.A.R.D.I.S. out to the bathroom. When he came back, I brushed him out again, made sure he didn't have any pee on his undercoat or front paws (I realize this sounds gross. But he is a male dog that is low to the ground, and when he tries to pee, bless him, he sometimes gets it on his underbelly fur, or on the backs of his front paws.), and went to wait ring side for my turn.

I was extremely nervous going in. Although I had a team of friends cheering me on, I couldn't shake my nerves. Lesson to be learned about dogs right here - if you are nervous, your dog is too. Your leash transfers your emotions right into the dog.

We started out okay, although I had trouble gaiting him correctly. I should have practiced more, and I will be sure to do so before the next show. I also need to learn to free-stack him better. Currently, we mostly train for obedience, so his default action is a 'sit'.

The around the ring was okay. The judge checking out his teeth was okay. Although silly looking.

See his pearly whites?

Now, here's something I'll tell you that is a little secret of mine for getting over your nerves.

Imagine the worst thing that can happen to you. Something really embarrassing. Like, say your dog poops in the ring on your first go out.

Because that happened.

It happened and it was mortifying. My nerves transferred down my leash, into my dog, and ... and he pooped in the ring. Now, I've only shown in obedience before, and if you 'go' in the ring, you are automatically NQ'd (Not Qualifying). I almost broke down in tears, because I thought... he's the only dog in the ring, and he still lost!

Fortunately, my breeder was present and she swooped in to help me clean it up, assure me it was okay - and then the judge handed me my dog's leash again, and told me to take him around.

What's this? Still? Yes, still. Going in the ring in Conformation, apparently, does not NQ you.

And since he was the only dog present, he won First Place, Best Male, and Best in Breed! Not bad, right?

Since he took Best in Breed, this also meant he was going to advance to Group. So, repeat the nerves.

I did have to wait until the rest of the herding dogs showed, so that the Best in Breed could be determined for each one, and then each Best in Breed would be put together in Group. There were several dogs in our Group (I did not actually count them... I was nervous), and I was a nervous wreck showing him against other dogs.

So imagine my surprise when the judge flagged me as Third Place!

Happy boy with his Day 1 ribbons!

The second run of the day was similar - we took the exact same ribbons and got two of everything. Since we placed in group, I splurged and got us a professional photo, too.

One proud Corgi.

After the second run of the day, we left to go home and rest - but I still had to be sure I kept him clean for day two. Day two started out much like day one - however I learned another difference between Obedience and Conformation.

In Conformation? Keep your arm band! In Obedience,  you get a new band each day - but here, we were expected to hold onto it. I wish I had known this, as I ditched mine at the end of day one. They had to hand-write me one for day two.

On day two, he took the same placements in Breed as he was again the only Corgi - but this time he didn't place in Group. I suspect this had much more to do with my ability as a handler, as I could not figure out how to gait him correctly for the life of me. Although at one point, a judge had a moment where she seemed to struggle between selecting him for Fourth Place, or another dog, but she decided to go with the other dog. Oh well!

Day two's ribbons.


Overall, he came out of this with 4 first place ribbons, 4 Best Male, 4 Best of Breed, and 2 Group 3 ribbons. I'd say for a novice handler and dog, that isn't a bad haul.

ALL YOUR RIBBONS ARE BELONG TO ME!

In summation, I feel like I learned a lot from this experience. I'm compiling a short list for you all here at the end, things I'd wish I'd known ahead of time. Things you can remember going forward:
  • The embarrassing things that could happen aren't really that bad.
  • Listen to your friends.
  • Listen to your judge.
  • Listen to your breeder.
  • Show up early, and watch the pattern the judge wants you to use.
  • If the judge says No Bait, don't bring in bait.
  • If you can bring bait, don't throw it.
  • Dress to win. If you have a black dog, don't wear black pants. Don't think you can hide flaws by dressing to match your dog - the judges are aware of these tricks, and it may cause them to look extra closely at you.
  • Your dog is the best dog in the ring. Act like it, and show him like the champion s/he already is.
  • Not placing does not mean your dog isn't good enough.
  • Be a good sport. Do not be upset if you do not place, and congratulate the winner. It may be you one day!
  • Don't be a jerk to your competitors by intentionally trying to distract their dog. Do what you need to do keep your dog on you, but some of them might be just starting out too. How would you feel if you've nicely stacked your dog and while the judge is looking at him, a competitor starts squeaking a toy? I know not everyone plays fair - but you can only be in control of your own actions. Rise above it, play fair.
  • Get a photo.
  • Pay attention to your environment. Your dog may be a saint, but not everyone's is. While waiting to go into the ring at one point, a doberman started staring down T.A.R.D.I.S. hard and growling. If I wasn't observant, it could have escalated quickly. Rather than picking a fight with the owner and demanding he remove his dog, I simply moved further away to give the dog more space to avoid confrontation between the two animals and made a point to be aware of it the rest of the day. It's not worth the potential injury to my dog should something happen.
  • Above all, enjoy working your dog! Showing your dog and being involved with them will increase your bond in the long term. Talking with other people can help you make friends who are involved in dog sports too.
  • Dogs are awesome, duh.

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