In a Slump? Branch Out!
Chelsea Murray CPDT-KA, KPA-CTP, CTDI

Sometimes we all need a break from the show ring.  Or more importantly sometimes our dogs need a break from the show ring. There are many experiences that could lead to the need for a break, such as a sudden confidence change related to a fear period, a lackluster ring performance, or realizing that a dog may need more time for physical maturation. Despite how it may initially feel, taking time off can be a very good thing for you and your dog. It can give you time to master your show ring training or to focus on your behavior modification plan for a happier and more relaxed dog, and it can even prevent burn out for you both. No matter the reason that brings you to an intersection in your show roadmap, sometimes making the tough decision to take a step back from showing can actually lead you and your dog to learning new things and growing stronger as a team! However, just because you don’t have any show dates on the calendar, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have training plans! But finding the right pastime for you and your dog is essential!

Exploring Another Sport
Even if conformation might be your main dog sport, now is the time to try new things. Enroll in a few introduction to sports classes either in person or virtually to see if there is an activity that makes your dog light up! Some sports teach dogs to be independent and use their sense of smell like barn hunt and nose work, which can help timid dogs gain a boost in confidence. Sports like agility can be great physical and mental outlets for young dogs who always want to be on the move. Looking at your dog’s breed and original purpose can also allow you to offer some breed specific outlets to help your dog meet their needs. Keep an open mind as you learn new things together and stick with the activity that brings you and your dog joy. You may be surprised at how many of these alternative sports’ foundation training concepts like confidence, work ethic, focus, and proprioceptive awareness can cross over to provide value for your dog in the conformation ring.

Training fun tricks is a great way to fill in the gaps of time!

Trick Training
While training fun tricks may boost your dog’s social media following, tricks can also bring both you and your dog a lot of joy. Specifically training tricks over manners or obedience can go a long way towards building your relationship with your dog. The American Kennel Club now has a titling program for tricks, so you can even add more letters to your dog’s name during your conformation hiatus. Some tricks like a hand target, spin, shake, and wave can be used down the road when you re-enter the show ring to keep your dog entertained and lively in the show ring during a large breed or group class. Tricks like backing up, paws up, and foot targeting can also be used to help improve your dog’s body awareness, which can be used to teach solid free stacks, stacking boxes, and improve gaiting. And some tricks like puppy push-ups, planks, and pivots can help improve your dog’s physical conditioning, muscling them up and providing a fit show dog physique. So, while you have some fun building your dog’s skillset, you can secretly be improving their ability to be a show dog without even realizing it!

Try Another Venue
While working on a new conformation title many of us solely think of American Kennel Club shows. Since these shows are often larger, they can be overwhelming and stressful. For some owners and their dogs, a change of venue to a show that might be quieter and slower paced can help reduce stress for all involved and can lead to a positive and more pleasing outcome. Fun matches, drop-in training days at clubs, UKC shows, and IABCA shows should be considered. While they might not be suitable for all dogs who are taking a break, like dogs who are engaged in behavior modification training, they can be good options for owners who need to deal with some personal anxieties and mental blocks or a dog who is young and needs some more on-site training to learn the game.

Work on Your Presentation Outside of Competition
While there is a certain amount of learning for new owner-handlers that happens “on the job” or at shows, sometimes teams just need more time for polishing their performance. There is a reason experienced handlers do well at shows with their dogs– they look the part and often make their performance spotless. While owner-handlers who are new to the game have a lot of new skills to learn and master.  Without a show date on the calendar, you can remain stress free and focus on building your handling skills like managing the show lead, moving at the right speed, setting their dog up quickly, and showing the bite smoothly. Get the help of an experienced handler or conformation trainer to help you break down all these big behaviors into small pieces so that you can find success and get that flashy performance that you and your dog deserve.

No matter how you spend the time off, your goal should be to have fun. Be kind to yourself and your dog. There is no reason to be ashamed of taking a break from the show ring, but instead you should respect the need for a break and use the time to become more well-rounded. Good for you for making you and your dog’s needs a priority. Are you taking a break from the show ring? How are you spending your time?

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Vicki Ronchette is the founder of Show Dog Prep School and a Certified Professional Dog Trainer. Vicki has been working with dogs professionally for over 30 years as a professional dog trainer and behavior consultant, groomer and veterinary assistant. She is the author of Positive Training for Show Dogs, From Shy to Showy and Ready? Set. SHOW! Vicki presents workshops and seminars all over the country on how training show dogs.