Dog Shows & Field Trials: Beginner’s Guide

Taking part in dog shows and field trials can be a lot of fun, but only if you and your dog are fully prepared. Events range from informal local competitions put on by local dachshund and other dog breed groups, to large national championship shows. Show judging will be based on the looks and personality of your dog. Field trials require a high degree of specialized training and obedience from your dachshund.

Dr. Holly Ramsey, Ph.D.

Show Standards

To get an idea of what a dog show is like, visit one without your dog to see what happens. Show judging is based on AKC and Breed Conformation.

Conformation is a combination of the skeleton, muscle structure, body shape, and coat type that is unique to each breed. This is spelled out in a document known as the Breed Standard.

The standard is written by the breed club and submitted to the American Kennel Club for approval; only those breeds with approved standards can compete in AKC events. Each standard spells out the characteristics that define the breed. Descriptions of head shape; eye color; ear shape and size; height and weight; length of body; coat texture, length, color, and patterns; foot shape; and type of gait paint a word picture of the breed.

After reading the standard, an observer should be able to pick out the sometimes subtle differences between similar breeds. But even though it describes the ideal specimen of a particular breed, a standard is open to interpretation. What looks like rich color, moderate angulation, or an appropriate ear set to one person may not seem so to others.

In addition to differences in interpretation, an observer might consider one dog to have a near-perfect head for the breed but may be lacking in balance or size or coat type, while another dog might have a less-than-perfect head but better depth of chest, spring of ribs, and coat color. When the observer is at ringside, he can pick and choose the type of dog he likes and no one cares. When the observer is a judge in the ring, he must know the standard, be adept at selecting the dog that best meets the standard in that class, and make his decision in a matter of minutes.

Besides the physical standards set down by the AKC, judges will also be looking at the personality of your dog. Your dachshund should be happy to be handled by strangers and have an extroverted and friendly disposition.

Preparing for a Dog Show

You’ll obviously want your dog to be in top health, with impeccable grooming. This means neatly trimmed coats, paws, and manicured nails (not polished, but neatly trimmed). Make sure your dachshund’s ears are free of wax. Bathe your dog a few days before the show to allow the natural oils time to renew. For long hairs, trim the featherings, and strip wire-haired coats of excess hair.

You’ll need an attractive collar and leash, a special show lead, perhaps a chamois or brush for final brush down before going into the ring plus a water bowl. Unless you plan on being at the show all day, skip the food, but you will want very small reward treats you can keep close at hand.

A show dog needs to be trained. Though you may train your dog yourself at home, conformation, and handling classes are beneficial for both you and your dachshund. Any training class also serves to socialize your dog. This gets him accustomed to being around other dogs in conditions similar to what you’ll find at a dog show. At the show, he may be anxious or in awe of a thousand other dogs. Socialization will make showing a better experience for both you and your dachshund.

Prepare for Dog Show

In the ring

Needless to say, your dog will be grouped with other dogs, so he must have good manners when surrounded by strange dogs and odors. Each judge has their own routines, but it basically goes something like this: the judge will have the entire group walk around the outside edge. The handler, which will probably be yourself, will have a registration number attached to your clothing as a way of identifying your dog.

When the class enters the ring, the judge generally asks the handlers to gait the dogs around the edge of the ring and then stack them in a line along one side. The handlers urge the dogs to a trot and move counterclockwise around the ring so the judge can stand in the center and check the dogs for smoothness of gait, balance, and soundness. The judge will be looking at not only the physical characteristics of each dog, but also how they handle themselves on the lead. This is a critical time in the judging as the judge will be making assessments and ranking the group from top to bottom. Then everyone stops.

The stack is a pose used to show the dog to best advantage. The judge then looks at each dog individually. This means the judge will handle the dog from top to bottom. In most breeds, the dogs are stacked with their legs straight under their bodies, but some breeds pose with their hind legs somewhat stretched out.

The judge gets an eyeful of the stacked dog, then moves closer to examine bite (the standard describes the position of the front teeth); feel the skull; check the facial expression; use his hands to determine the depth of chest, spring of ribs, shoulder angulation, coat, and body condition. On males, he checks for two testicles. He may also check the length of ears or tail, and if the dog appears to be too big or small to fit the standard, he may ask for a measuring wicket to check the shoulder height.

After the hands-on exam, the judge asks the handler to gait the dog so he can assess movement going away, coming back, and from the side. He watches the dogs closely for movement faults – does the dog move straight and true or do his feet cross over and interfere with efficient movement? Is his movement free and easy or is it sloppy or restricted? All of this takes about two minutes per dog. If the class is large, the judge may ask handlers for additional movement so he can compare two dogs side by side or reconfirm his decision in his own mind before he hands out the ribbons.

Dog show etiquette

Dogs that are accustomed to shows are generally well-socialized with other dogs and have good manners with people. However, in the interests of courtesy and edification, here are a few tips for not making a faux pas:

  1. Always ask before petting.
  2. Always approach the dog from the front.
  3. Make a fist and extend your hand for sniffing before your pet. Make sure your hands are clean.
  4. Keep food out of reach. (Children carrying snacks or wearing ice cream are likely to get licked.)
  5. Don’t block the entrance to the show rings.
  6. Wait until after the class to ask questions and pet the dog.
  7. Children in strollers are at face level with large dogs, so watch out for quick tongues and bruising tails.
  8. Visit the education booth for information about purebred dogs, dog shows, performance events, etc.
  9. Leave your pet at home; un-entered dogs are not allowed on the grounds.

Why people enter dog shows?

Dachshund Dog Shows

Breeders show their dogs for many reasons, chief among them to prove and promote their breeding programs. The agenda is to produce dogs that meet breed standards, and good breeders justifiably take pride in their ability to do so. A championship is one criteria for a good breeding dog; others include good health and appropriate breed temperament.

Some breeders go beyond the basics of showing their own dogs and hire a handler to travel with the dog to various events to earn championship points or compete for group and best in show wins. Professional handlers often show a couple of dogs from each of the seven AKC groups: sporting, hound, working, terrier, toy, non-sporting, and herding. They may have a class dog and bitch that need points for championships and a “specials” dog that has already achieved a championship and is striving for best of breed, group wins, and best in show awards.

Working/Field Trials

Dachshunds are still considered hunting dogs. By competing in Dachshund field trials, breeders and owners work to preserve the breed’s original purpose. In many areas, they help both farmers and hunters in the pursuit and retrieval of game. Working Trials, also called Field Trials, are organized to test the Dachshunds’ tracking and scenting abilities.

Dachshund field trials are held in various areas of the country.  You can search for an event in your area by going to Events Search section of the AKC website.  You can contact a Dachshund club in your area through the AKC Club Search and searching through the Performance clubs for a Dachshund club near you.

Scent Trailing

Most dogs have a keen sense of smell, and Dachshunds have one of the most finely developed of any breed. Scent-trailing events create a trail of blood or meat along a course and the dogs are expected to follow the trail to its source, using a direct route.

In Dachshund field trials braces of dogs are put on the scent line of a rabbit or hare and judged on the quality of their work on the scent line.  The Dachshunds should never appear to be running haphazard but rather should display sensible and efficient actions with an intense enthusiasm for hunting.  The dogs should be credited with work in relation to how it leads to accomplishment, rather than ‘style’ of work.

Going to Ground

Dachshunds were first bred to drive game from underground, so it is no wonder these dogs show such enthusiasm when presented with an animal burrow. Going-to-Ground competitions require the dogs to get through tunnels and pipes. The most successful dogs are alert and leanly built.

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