How to Train a Chihuahua for Show

Medium
4-6 Weeks
General

Introduction

Sassy is a champion Chihuahua show dog, with a wall full of ribbons and trophies to prove it. What's her secret?  Well besides having excellent conformation, representative of her breed's standards, Sassy is a triple threat! She not only has the physical characteristics and personality that judges look for, but she also knows her three show behaviors: gaiting, stacking, and how to be examined by the judge. This means that she knows how to trot smartly beside her owner, showing off her movement, stand still on a table in the correct position, and remain calm when being handled by the judge. 

These are all behaviors Sassy had to learn, but they are generally not hard to teach. You just need to get your Chi accustomed to what is expected and practice it, so she is comfortable with performing. Most handlers, including owners of show Chihuahuas, use clicker training and positive reinforcement to teach their dogs show behaviors. If your dog is prepared for what is expected of her at a show she will show off her natural attributes better, giving her all the advantages at show time to put her in the winners' circle.

Defining Tasks

Your show Chihuahua needs to stand still for grooming, be calm around other dogs and people, stand still with her legs together, and allow a judge to handle and manipulate her. Your Chi will need to be able to circle the show ring in a line with other competitors, and by himself, at a smart trot at your left heel. 

This may sound straightforward, but it's not as easy as it sounds. For example, when "gaiting", you want your dog to move out with a spring in his step and carrying his head and tail high. Your Chi will be required to keep up with your left leg, and move in line with other dogs, and by himself, with lots of distractions present.  

Standing still and being examined by a judge will also require your Chi to be calm when a stranger handles him and other, strange and sometimes excited dogs, are moving about in close proximity. Your dog will be required to stand in the correct position to be examined which is called "stacking".  There are two types of stacking, hand stacking and free stacking.  In free stacking, your dog positions himself in the correct position to have conformation judged. In hand stacking, your Chi will allow you to manipulate him into position to be judged and examined.  Many owners use clicker training and positive reinforcement to lure and shape appropriate show behavior so their Chi learns what is expected of him. Practicing around other people and at informal shows can also give your little dog experience with the sights and sounds of a show so he will not be startled or taken by surprise on show day.

Getting Started

You will want to check out breed standards for your Chihuahua, so you are familiar with what characteristics and behaviors the judge will be looking for on show day.  You can go to practice shows or attend a Ringcraft class to help you understand how dog showing works and give your Chi some much needed experience. Small dogs like Chihuahuas need to “stack” or stand on a table, so practicing this on a table at home is a good idea.  Small dogs usually use a Resco collar in the show ring, which is an all-in-one collar with a loop and slider, to allow the loop to be snug on your Chihuahua's neck.

The Gaiting Method

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Use a clicker and treats
Put treats in your left hand and hold a clicker in your right hand. Let your Chi know you have treats and start walking.
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2
Reinforce 'heel' position
When your Chi trots over to your left side, click and treat. Move forward and click and treat your Chi for moving with you at your pace.
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3
Reinforce look forward
Your Chi should be looking forward so the judge can see his profile at all times when heeling. Start clicking and treating your Chi only when he is facing forward and matching your pace, moving out at your left heel.
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4
Add leash
Add a Resco leash and move forward. Hold treats in your right hand and clicker and leash in your left hand. Start walking.
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5
Shape and position
If your dog moves out in front of you say “oops” and go back to starting position. Continue forward, reinforcing with click and treat for successive steps in moving at the pace you set and moving forward. Only expect one thing at a time. For example, work on your Chi keeping pace with you first and not pulling ahead, then expect him to look forward, do not expect both at the same time. Gradually reduce clicking and treating.
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The Hand Stacking Method

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Set up on table
Place your Chi on a table with his right side facing you. Hold small pieces of food like a hot dog or chicken breast in enclosed in your right hand.
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2
Hold food
Allow your dog to take a small amount of food out of your hand, with your hand wrapped around the food to slow him down while you manipulate and position your dog into the right stance with your left hand.
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3
Manipulate limbs
Start by moving your Chihuahua’s front feet, at the elbow, then his back feet, at the hocks. Do not grab his feet. Run your hands over his body smoothly.
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4
Reinforce 'stay'
Once your Chi is in position, say "stay" and pull the food away. If your Chi holds the position, say “yes” and give him the treat. Gradually increase the time required until your Chi is holding the correct position for the required length of time.
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5
Engage assistants
Have an assistant come and run their hands over your Chihuahua and manipulate him for a short period of time. If your dog is calm and holds position, provide a treat. If he moves, correct him and repeat. Gradually introduce new people to handle your Chi in different circumstances, rewarding calm and correcting behavior as required.
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The Free Stacking Method

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Step
1
Hold a clicker and treats
Hold some treats and a clicker and stand in front of your Chihuahua.
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2
Reinforce standing still
When your Chi stands still in any position, click and treat.
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3
Reinforce 'back'
Ask your Chi to “back”. Move toward your dog and wait until he takes a step back, looking for his treat. Click and treat for progressions towards his front and back legs being positioned together.
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4
Reinforce step forward
Ask your Chi to step forward. Take a step away from him, say “step” and wait for your Chi to step forward. Click and treat. Repeat to establish.
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5
Shape to correct position
Require your dog to step back and forward, providing commands that have been reinforced until he is positioned with both feet side by side. Gradually require the correct position before you provide reinforcement. Work in short sessions and reinforce approximations until your dog is standing in the position you want.
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Success Stories and Training Questions

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