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Imagine walking onto the carpeted ring of the Westminster Dog Show with your beautiful French Bulldog by your side. You look out into the crowd of onlookers, look around at the other competitors, and make brief eye contact with the judge, who watches the dogs and their handlers move gracefully past him. You have worked hard to get to this point. You have spent lots of money. You have traveled across the country. You have competed in countless dog shows to get where you are right now. You feel your heart racing as you try to focus on your dog, on the judge's instructions, and on being in the moment. You hold your breath while the judge runs his hands across your pup. You feel a swell of pride when she stands still for the examination. She is lifted to the floor, and the two of you strut across the ring to show off your pup's movement. She walks beautifully beside you, looking gracefully ahead. You have finished your examination now. You wait as the judge evaluates the other dogs. You glance down at your dog. Again your heart swells with pride as she stands calmly next to you, confident, happy, and calm amidst a crowd of onlookers and a ring full of other dogs. Win or not, your dog has already made you proud.
So much goes into a dog becoming a Grand Champion or highly ranked in her breed. Great breeding is essential; a pup will not get far in conformation shows without it, but once you have a wonderfully bred dog, then what? Your pup needs to learn how to stand for an examination, to remain calm and happy in a crowd full of other people and dogs, to walk beside you nicely around the ring, and to handle all of the less obvious aspects of a dog show career, such as crate confinement and grooming. Having the right training, socialization, and grooming can ensure that your well-bred pup is able to go all the way in her show career.
Not only will training help your dog to win , but proper training will also minimize the stress of the ring for your dog, and make things more enjoyable for both of you.
The earlier that you can begin socializing your pup, getting her used to people, other dogs, grooming, handling, heeling, crate confinement, and standing, the easier and more successful the training will be. While training your dog, remember to keep anything associated with the show ring positive and fun, so that she will look forward to time in the ring. Not only is it better for her mental, emotional, and physical well being, but confident, happy dogs also tend to show better than nervous ones.
If your dog has ever shown any form of aggression, do not do this training on your own. Instead hire a trainer in your area with experience in dealing with aggression or fear, to help you with your dog. Many of the steps in the methods involve close physical contact with your dog, and you do not want to risk being bitten or to put other people, such as judges, in jeopardy.
To get started you will need lots of small, soft, easy to eat treats. Good options are freeze-dried meats, real chicken, and soft liver treats.
If you are using 'The Socialize Method' then you will need a resource that can teach you how to train specific Basic Obedience commands, such as 'Sit', 'Down', 'Stand', 'Heel', and 'OK' or 'Free. Wag! Walking's Training Resources page is one such resource. Another option is to join a local obedience club or class, that teaches the basic obedience commands that you would like to train your dog how to do.
You will also need a variety of environments where you can practice encountering other dogs, other people, and crowds of people. Friends, family, or neighbors with friendly, well-socialized dogs that you can practice interactions with would also be helpful, as well as dog savvy volunteers who would be willing to interact with your pup and give her treats for calm behavior. You will also need a crate and interesting chew toys, such as hollow Kongs that can be stuffed with food. You will also need grooming supplies, such as a brush, toothbrush, and nail clippers, to practice grooming your dog with.
If you are using 'The Stand For Exam Method' then you will need a table to practice on. Something such as a coffee table, breakfast table, fold out table, or buffet table should work well. The table that you choose should be large enough for your dog to stand on. If the table that you are using is slippery then you will also need an anti-slip mat. Something such as an anti-slip mat for use in a bathtub, under a rug or in a cabinet or drawer, or possibly a yoga mat, should work well for this. You will also need a collar and leash or a slip leash. If you are struggling to keep your dog on the table and handle and reward her at the same time, then you will need an assistant. You will also need several people who will, one at a time, practice handling and rewarding your dog once she is comfortable being handled by you.
If you are using 'The Walk Method' then you will also need a treat stick. You can create a treat stick out of anything that is one to two inches in diameter, and long enough to reach from your left hand to the front of your dog's face while you are standing up straight with your dog on your left side. This length is typically two to three feet long, depending on the height of the person and the dog. You will also need peanut butter or squeeze cheese to use as a reward, and a very small container to hold the cheese or peanut butter. You will also need a crowded or semi-crowded location to practice walking with your dog once your dog is doing well in a calm location.
With all of the methods, you will need a positive attitude, patience, and the ability to make training fun for your dog.
The Socialize Method
Teach obedience commands
To begin, teach your dog basic obedience commands, such as sit', 'down', 'heel', and 'stand'. Take Fifi to public locations and practice her commands in the presence of other people and dogs, so that she learns to pay attention to you around distractions.
Greet other dogs
Practice calm greetings with other dogs, where your dog has to approach the other dog calmly and is not allowed to greet the other dog until you have told her "OK", "Free", or "Say hi". Also practice sitting, standing, and laying down next to other dogs, without interacting with them.
Work on calm interactions with people, where you pup receives treats and praise for tolerating petting, for standing still, for laying down, or for sitting while being greeted. Whenever possible, have the person give your pup the treats so that she will not be afraid of strangers. Reward her especially well for standing still while being greeted by a person, since she will need to do this for a judge's examination and during a line up in the ring.
Go to new places
Practice taking your dog to crowded public places, and having her stand' and 'heel'. Reward her well for paying attention to you and ignoring the other distractions. If the crowds are overwhelming for your dog, then start with less crowded locations and gradually work up to visiting harder locations overtime. Good places to practice are parks, outdoor shopping centers, farmers' markets, public, dog friendly events, dog park parking lots, and pet stores or other dog-friendly stores.
Spend lots of time getting Fifi used to confinement in a crate. Work on teaching her to love her crate by regularly hiding treats inside of it for her to find, feeding her her meals inside of it, locking her inside with a Kong or other hollow chew toy that has been stuffed with tasty treats, and rewarding her for calm behavior by going over to the crate and dropping treats inside. Gradually increase the amount of time that you leave her in the crate for, being sure to provide her with interesting toys, such as stuffed Kongs and other safe chew toys, when you place her inside.
Work on grooming
Spend lots of time getting your pup used to being groomed, since she will need to be groomed often during her show career. Every time that you touch the brush to her give her a treat. Gradually work up to brushing more and more of her fur, while giving her treats. Get her used to having her teeth brushed by using a tasty dog-appropriate toothpaste and rewarding her for allowing you to brush them. Practice touching her paws and applying very gentle pressure to them, while feeding her treats. After she is comfortable having her paws touched, then work on touching the nail clippers to her nails and then clipping small amounts, while giving her treats. Work up to a full nail trim gradually, so that she will learn to like having her nails clipped. Spend time rewarding her and getting her comfortable with any form of grooming that she will need to tolerate during her show career.
The Stand For Exam Method
Get set up
To begin, find an area that is raised like a judge's table and big enough for your French Bulldog to stand on, to practice training on. Good options might include a breakfast table, a fold out table, a buffet table, or a coffee table. If the table is too slippery then try placing an anti-slip mat on top of the table. Different types of anti-slip mats available include those designed for use with rugs, bathtubs and drawers, and some yoga mats.
Practice table standing
Attach a short leash to your dog's collar or place a slip leash around your pup's neck, to keep him from jumping off the table and injuring himself. Place him onto the table, and while he is standing on the table praise him and offer him a treat. Slowly let go of his body, but continue to hold onto the leash in case he moves, then give him a treat every three seconds that he remains standing, without trying to get off the table. Do this until he seems content to stand on the table, and is not focused on trying to get off of the table anymore.
When Fido is comfortable standing on the table, and not trying to jump off or get away from you anymore, then begin to get him comfortable with being touched while on the table. Gently rub his ear while praising him, then give him a treat Repeat this with his other ear.
Repeat touching different areas of his body and giving him a treat. Touch his paws, one at a time, and give him a treat, touch his abdomen and give him a treat, touch his inner thighs, one at a time, and give him a treat, touch his chest and give him a treat, touch his neck, touch his chest, touch his back, and touch his legs. Every time that you touch him somewhere, be gentle, praise him, and give him a treat.
After you have touched him all over, then practice running your hands all the way down his body and down his tail, while giving him a treat. Also practice looking into each eye, like you are checking for clarity, gently opening his mouth, and lifting the corners of his lips. Give him a treat each time that you touch or check him. If he has ever shown any form of aggression then do not do these exercises on your own, instead look for a trainer in your area to help you. If your dog seems to be getting overwhelmed or tense during your training session, then take a break and practice it again later when he is more relaxed. You want him to learn to enjoy your touch.
Practice touching your dog and running your hands over him while you reward him, until he is completely comfortable being touched by you, and even enjoys the contact. Do this frequently for at least two months.
When your pup is completely comfortable being touched by you all over, then recruit a friend to practice gently touching him and giving him treats. Recruit as many dog savvy, gentle friends as you can. Practicing with just one friend at a time before moving onto the next one. Having other people, besides just yourself, touch and reward him should help to prepare him for being touched by a judge later.
The Walk Method
Create a treat stick
To get started, create a long treat dispensing stick. To create a treat dispensing stick, look for something that is long enough to reach from your left hand to right bellow your dog's nose, when your dog is standing on your left side. A thin piece of PVC piping, a wooden stick with the bark removed, part of a plastic hanger, a clean metal rod, or any other long, skinny, and safe object will work for this. Smear a little bit of peanut butter or squeeze cheese onto the lower end of your treat stick. Place more peanut butter or cheese into a small container, that you can hold in your right hand, to dip the stick into as needed.
Attach your Bulldog's leash to his collar, or if using a slip leash, slip the loop portion of the slip leash over your dog's head, and position the loop high on your dog's neck. Keep just enough upwards pressure on the leash to prevent the loop from slipping down, but not enough to choke him or cause him discomfort.
In an open area, command your pup to 'heel', lower your peanut butter or cheese smeared treat stick to the front of your pup, and begin to walk at the speed that you will need to walk at in the show ring
While you are walking with your dog, allow him to lick the stick in front of him. The stick is there to both guide him into the correct position and to reward him for walking beside you. Praise him while he walks politely beside you.
Practice heeling like this several times a week for at least a month, until your pup will stay in the 'heel' position when you walk, without the treat stick in front of him to keep him there.
Prepare for distractions
When your pup can heel in the correct position, matching your speed, without the stick in front of him, then begin to practice heeling in public places, around other people and dogs, to prepare him for the show ring that he will walk in later on. Utilize your treat stick, without any food on the end of it, to guide him into the correct position if he needs to be reminded while in the new location. When he has walked nicely for several feet, then reward him by dipping your stick into the peanut butter or cheese and lowering it down to him, or reward him by reaching down to him while still moving and feeding him a soft treat. Repeat this every few feet, gradually increasing the distance that he must walk before being given a reward as he improves. Practice this until he can heel around distractions without needing the treat stick for guidance.
By Caitlin Crittenden
Published: 03/21/2018, edited: 01/08/2021