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Secrets To Greater Success In The Juniors Ring

Click here to read the complete article
100 – September 2019

By William Given

If you add the minutes and hours you will be spending preparing your dog for your next ring appearance to the weeks and months you have already spent conditioning, grooming, practicing stacking, baiting, and gaiting, it is easy to see the enormous commitment you have made to improving your handling skills and fully preparing your dog for a winning performance in the Juniors’ ring. For all the time and effort you have put into getting better, you will very likely receive less than five minutes of the judge’s attention. You will have very little time, even in a large class, to impress the judge. So, use these tips to make the most of the time you have in the judge’s eye. Give the judge a good look at your dog, present your ring partner to near perfection, and then let the judge contemplate his or her decision.

Practice, Then Practice Some More

Although, all of the real action happens in the ring, victories are truly won through practice. The hard work to consistently winning Junior Showmanship competitions (or in the breed ring) begins long before you get to the dog show. Practice is a critical component of junior handling. Practice and more practice at home is vital to preparing you and your ring partner for what is going to happen when you walk into the juniors’ ring.

Along with practicing at home, practice in various settings. Practice inside and outside, individually and with other dogs and handlers, as well as with and without noise and other distractions. The only way for you and your ring partner to get fully prepared and comfortable showing is to practice. The more you and your ring partner practice, the more confident you will be in the juniors’ ring, and it will show. Remember, you are not going to get better by practicing what you and your dog are good at; instead, practice the things you are not particularly good at, for example, free stacking.

 Watch Those Who Are More Experienced

Watch professional handlers who show your breed, successful breeder-handlers, and the more experienced juniors. Pay attention to the little things they may be doing that help them stand out from their competitors.

I would never suggest that you blindly copy another handler’s technique and there are two reasons for not doing so. The first is, it might be inappropriate for your breed. The second, and more importantly, is you are much better served by developing your own style of handling. However, it does not mean you cannot learn a great deal by watching those who are more experienced and successful in the show ring. Additionally, if you approach them at the right time and in the right way, they just might show you how to do something that will serve to help you win more often.

 Know Your Breed and How to Show It

Almost every breed has some small variation in the way they are shown. So, know your breed and how you would be expected to show your dog in the breed ring. Know how to properly stack your breed, know the best way to show the bite and dentition if the breed standard calls for it, and the correct pace for the breed when gaiting. It is important that you show the judge you have a good knowledge of your breed.

 Know Your Ring Partner

Whether in the breed ring or in Junior Showmanship, your dog is your partner in the ring. You need to know his strengths and weaknesses in order to show him to his best advantage; capitalize on his strengths. You need to know how he thinks and how he will respond in any given situation. Remember, this is a dog show, it is all about presenting your ring partner to the judge in the best possible way.

 Place the Emphasis on Your Ring Partner

Many parents and mentors coach their children to “watch the judge and smile.” However, when a young person gets nervous or begins to feel the pressure, the remembrance of a need to smile vanishes. Similarly, the advice of watching the judge turns into a stare down. When this happens, too often, a young person neglects their ring partner. Eye contact with the judge is important, but not at the expense of losing focus on your dog.

Full awareness in the Juniors’ ring is a key to victory, so ensure that your ring partner is exactly where you need him to be and that he is doing what is required, then look toward the judge. Putting too much emphasis on the judge and not enough on your ring partner is how a judge can lose sight of you and your dog in the ring.

 Show Your Passion for the Sport

Smiling is certainly not going to be the first thing you think about when you are trying to remember all the little things you have to do for a successful appearance in the juniors’ ring. It can sometimes be hard to remember to smile when you suddenly find yourself a little nervous. However, smiling can be very important to your success. Try to remember you are in the juniors’ ring because of your love of dogs and your passion for the sport. You are competing in Junior Showmanship because you enjoy it, so show that to the judge and those around you, smile.

 Show Rings Can Get Crowded

Space can be a crucial factor in gaiting. Watch your speed, it has to be the correct pace for your breed and your dog. Stop early enough to ensure you have enough room to move your ring partner forward into a free stack, or to reset his feet. If that does not work, you can use the space to circle about for another go at it. Having that space also allows you to give the judge a full, unobstructed view of your dog and it allows the judge to move in to get a close-up view.

 Keep Your Ring Partner Looking Natural

Keeping a dog looking and moving naturally can be highly stressful for some young people. You must understand that there is a fine line between keeping your dog’s head up and holding it uncomfortably high. A very tight lead may make him move awkwardly, cause him to strain against the lead, or limit his reach and drive.

 Know the Rules and Practice Proper Etiquette

Showing dogs is a time-honored tradition. The sport of purebred dogs has rules, and you are expected to observe proper etiquette in the juniors’ ring, and, yes, good sportsmanship is a big deal. You must know each of the ring patterns the judge could use. Watch the classes before yours, that way you have a good idea of what the judge will be asking of you. It is sometimes important to give your dog a little break while the judge is examining other dogs, however, be ready to immediately return to the business of showing because you never know when he or she is going to take another look your way. Always know where the judge is in the ring. Never run up on the dog in front of you or allow your dog to be overtaken by another.

 Think of Junior Showmanship Like a Job Interview

In any job interview, the potential employee is trying to sell his or her knowledge, experience, and expertise to the prospective employer. From the moment you enter the juniors’ ring until the time you walk out with your dog, you are being evaluated just like you would be at a job interview. However, you are only going to get the three to five minutes that you are in the judge’s eye to make a big impression. Three to five minutes is not a great deal of time and first impressions really do matter. You are going to have to show the judge, with the assistance of your ring partner, that you are the most prepared, most practiced, and best Junior Handler in your class.

 Be Confident in Your Abilities

The greater your level of self-confidence, the more you will be able to quell the little voice inside of you that says, “I just can’t do it.” Building your confidence means taking small steps that leave a sense of accomplishment. As your confidence grows, you will find you have greater drive to stretch your abilities.

Having confidence in your abilities does not mean you will always win, but you will know you can handle the challenge of tough competition without being crippled by it. Having confidence allows you to show up, stand up, and stand out from your competition. Let your very best shine through. You are well-practiced, trust you know what to do in the juniors’ ring and the right time to do the right thing. Try not to overthink things or second-guess yourself, and you will almost always come out on top.

 Judging in Junior Showmanship is Subjective

In the breed ring, the judge uses the standard to assess the dogs entered under him or her. The skills you demonstrate in the juniors’ ring are not being judged objectively, but rather subjectively. You should expect judges to have different beliefs and opinions on what the best practices are.

Whether you finish in second place or out of the ribbons, it does not mean you did anything wrong. It simply means the judge saw something in another competitor that convinced him or her to place them where the judge did. So, learn from your past experiences and strive to excel in future contests.

 Always be on Time

Whether it is for breed competition or Junior Showmanship, always be early to your ring. Be early to get your arm band and watch the judge for a bit. Get an idea if he or she is quick and calculating or slower and more methodical. That way you will know how quickly the classes are likely to go. Make sure you keep a close eye on your ring as the time for your class approaches, and be ready to enter the ring when the class before yours is finished. When the judge has to wait for a late arrival, or is nearing the end of judging a class, you may not receive full consideration and you have worked too hard to allow that to happen.

 Your Takeaway Message

Remember, when you take your dog into the breed ring, the judge’s task is to examine and assess the merits of your dog based on the breed standard. However, when competing in Junior Showmanship, it is not the confirmation of your dog that is being evaluated, but rather your skills as a handler. The competition in Junior Showmanship can be tough, many Juniors are skilled well beyond their years. If you possess talent and do everything right, you actually make it look easy. The better you are as a handler, the better you can make your dog look where it matters. That translates to greater success in the Juniors’ ring.

Click here to read the complete article
100 – September 2019

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