As purebred dogs become increasingly popular, dog shows are drawing more and more spectators. Yours may be one of thousands of families who will converge on the nation's parks and fairgrounds this spring for that unique blend of fun, excitement, and education that is a dog show. You might even be thinking of joining the ranks of the "fancy" yourself.
Whatever your level of interest, a first step toward fully understanding what's happening in the ring is to familiarize yourself with the peculiar lingo of the dog fancier. To get you started, here's a small sampler of doggy words and phrases you will likely hear at ringside.
A bite-sized treat, perhaps a bit of liver or cheese, used by a handler to get their dog's attention in the conformation ring and to demonstrate expression to the judge; used by show folk as a verb: to bait.
An all-breed show at which the dogs must stay in an assigned "benching area" (when not being shown, groomed, or exercised) for the length of the show. The idea is to allow spectators to see the dogs up close and talk to the breeders, owners, and handlers. The annual Westminster Kennel Club and International Kennel Club of Chicago shows are two of the biggest benched shows.
Go on, say it out loud-you're at a dog show
In most contexts, the word dog works for either sex ("The neighbor's dog had puppies last night").
But around the ring, "dog" means male and "bitch" means female. Since dog shows serve as an exhibition of breeding stock, the distinction is vital for obvious reasons.
The word bitch is bandied about endlessly at shows. If you plan to get seriously into dogs as a family activity, it might be helpful to have a little talk with the kids to explain the appropriate and inappropriate uses of the B word.
A dog who earns 15 AKC championship points, including two shows at which 3 to 5 points are awarded (by different judges), achieves the title AKC Champion of Record and has the prefix abbreviation "Ch." appended to his registered name. Last year, 22,164 dogs earned AKC championships.
The canine equivalent to the word mother; the male parent is called a sire.
A portable wire frame enclosure that provides a show dog with a safe, clean place to stretch his legs and eliminate at show sites; short for "exercise pen."
The pattern of a dog's footsteps, or trot; his overall motion while moving from point A to point B. The word functions as noun or verb: The handler "gaits" the dog so the judge can determine if the dog is properly constructed to perform the work the particular breed was created for.
The seven categories, or groups, of AKC-recognized breeds are Sporting, Hound, Working, Terrier, Toy, Non-Sporting, and Herding. At all-breed shows the catalog lists the groups in the above order. The catalog, for sale at the show, is an indispensable guide to the event.
A handler guides a dog around the ring on a lead, not a leash. A "show lead" is much thinner than the traditional leather leash you might use to take your dog for a walk.
Fanciers talking about the "national specialty" or the "national" are referring to their breed's national specialty show, an annual event open to one breed only and staged by that breed's AKC parent club. To take a top award at the national specialty is quite a coup for a dog of any breed.
A noun used to describe an area at the show site that serves as a handler's home base when not in the ring. It's where he "sets up" his grooming table and other equipment.
A noun describing a dog or bitch who has completed, or "finished," a championship title and regularly competes in the Best of Breed class only; as a verb: to special a doe.
To "stack" a dog is to position him in a way that best displays his strong points to the judge. "Stacking" is to physically manipulate the dog into position; in "free baiting" (also known as "free stacking") the handler gets the dog to stack by use of bait, commands, signals, or a tug on the lead.