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For many owners of purebred dogs, the ultimate goal of raising a prize-winning pup is often on the horizon as soon as the puppy is born. Purebred dogs are often chosen to be bred and trained for competitive dog shows right from the get-go, displaying the best of the ‘ideal’ breed standards while demonstrating exceptional obedience and behavior out in the show ring. However, not every dog is capable of being show-ready, and no dog is going to be ready for a show right out of the gate. In fact, many owners put in months, if not years, of hard work in order to prepare their dogs for the ring. It’s not often you see a dog show participant running amok with poor behavior and etiquette.
One of the most prominent breeds for show is the German shepherd. While there is some debate about the development of the breed for show purposes, they are still widely regarded as dogs of prestige and beauty both in and out of the show ring. German shepherds are responsive to training with the right motivation and are often quick to want to please their owners which makes for a great show companion. However, as with all dogs, the preparation for competition is arduous and requires a great deal of commitment.
A dog show typically consists of multiple dogs of the same breed entering the ring and being observed by a panel of judges who look for particular traits in things like the dog’s gait and walk, the dog’s coat and fur colors, their idle stance, and the health of their ears, eyes, mouth, and paws. While some dog shows pit one dog against the other, other shows may compare each dog to a “standardized” look. No matter which type of show, however, your German shepherd must be trained to perform the appropriate behaviors within the show ring.
The first important thing is the walk, as dogs are often instructed to walk at a certain pace around the ring with a handler. The second is their stance when standing, where most German shepherd owners prefer to utilize a stance called the “stack”. The third is general obedience and how it comes into play within the show ring. Each of these is a potential milestone for German shepherd owners who wish to show their dog.
Before getting started, be sure that your dog meets the requirements for competing within the show that you wish to compete. Most dog shows are accepting only of purebred dogs with traceable lineages and pedigrees. Comparatively, while show rings are open mostly to purebreds, dog sports competitions like agility and rally obedience are open to dogs of all breeds, mixed or otherwise. But for breed shows, you’ll want to have your dog’s papers on hand to be able to prove that he is, indeed, the breed that is being shown.
Second, you’ll want to be sure your dog is vaccinated. Dog shows can bring him around any number of other dogs and illness can readily spread without the proper precautions. In addition to a health check, you’ll want to have a leash and collar that is standard in the show ring. This will help your dog adjust to the sort of gear that will be used later on.
The Heel Method
German shepherds should be learning heeling techniques as soon as they are vaccinated and safe to do so. This means beginning in puppyhood.
Adjust to the collar and leash
Offer treats while trying to fit your dog with the right collar and leash that you will want when teaching him to heel and walk at your side. Be sure that the collar fits appropriately and is not too tight or too loose.
Bait your dog into position
Use a treat to lure your dog to stand to your left. Don’t start walking until he can remain in that position for a good few seconds.
Use the command ‘heel’
When your dog sets himself into the right position, use the word ‘heel’ to mark the behavior. Reward whenever he maintains the position.
Start the walk
Use a treat to lure your dog forward a few steps, but keep him in the position at your left side. Reward him for managing those steps. Gradually increase the number of steps you take before giving a reward.
Keep training short
Repeat the training often, but keep the length of the training sessions to a maximum of ten to fifteen minutes. Keep the training fun and rewarding. Always end on a good note with plenty of treats or some play time with a favorite toy.
The Stacking Method
Teach your dog to stay
The basis of a good “stack” is to ensure that your dog doesn’t move from her position. Work on a ‘stay’ as a part of her usual obedience work.
Stack on flat ground
Working on a hill or other slanted surface may make it more difficult to stack your German shepherd the correct way.
Align the front legs
Hold your dog’s head by the collar to keep it straight while aligning the front feet. Both legs should be side by side and straight up from the ground. You should only be able to see one leg if viewed from the side.
Align the hind legs
The foot that is farthest away from the “viewer”, if viewed from the side, should have its toes aligned with the beginning of the hips. The foot that is closer to the viewer should be placed further back with the heel of the foot aligning with the tip of the tail.
Learn the anatomical terms
There are many terms that typical show dog owners use for stacking a German shepherd. Among them are terms like ‘withers’, ‘hock’, ‘croup’, and other similar terms. Use these when referring to different parts of your dog.
Reward for holding the stack
Never keep your dog in a “stack” position for longer than is necessary. It can be uncomfortable to remain in that posture for too long. Reward often for holding the position and quickly move on to something else when possible.
The Obedience Method
Show dogs are handled by all manner of people, including strangers like the judges and other handlers. Socialize your German shepherd to many different types of people and dogs.
Get personal with your dog often by placing hands along his nose, ears, eyes, mouth, and paws. These are often areas that judges will inspect when performing their judging, so your dog will need to know how to tolerate it. Keep touches gentle and reward often when your dog allows you to touch these areas without a fuss.
Learn the basics
Every show dog should have basic obedience on their resume. ‘Sit’, ‘stay’, and ‘down’ are all important for a show dog to know. Make it easier for him in the show ring by also teaching him ‘stand’, ‘quiet’, and a release word that means it’s okay for him to relax like ‘okay’ or ‘all done’.
Show dogs can easily be disqualified for relieving themselves in the ring. Start potty training early and work on holding it when indoors. If you’re at a competition, be sure to take your dog outside when necessary to use the bathroom before you have to be in the ring.
Dogs are much happier when they have time to just be dogs. While showing is important and can create a good sense of a job well done, your German shepherd should still be allowed to play, run around, and get plenty of exercise when he isn’t in a competition. Remember that your dog is still a pet with needs.
By TJ Trevino
Published: 02/12/2018, edited: 01/08/2021