You CAN Show Your Own Dog...
Handling your setter yourself in conformation competition can be exciting and rewarding! It can just as often be frustrating and nerve-wracking, as you struggle to position and move your dog and yourself with a modicum of grace and coordination! As the sweat pours down your brow, and your dog won't keep more than two feet at a time on the ground, you may find yourself wondering how those old-timers and professionals manage to make it look so effortless, so polished, so routine?
Partly, of course, it is a matter of training and practice, both for the handler individually, and with each new dog that he brings out. But there must be, you might reasonably assume, a body of basic principles to give the novice a starting place upon which to build his personal experience. And so indeed there is! Now you only need plug into it!
Your logical next conclusion might be that a useful way to learn would be to find a training class...but now you may be in for a surprise: Unlike a beginning Obedience class, a new handler often enters an on-going Conformation training class only to find little in the way of instruction for the human half of the team.
Since many experienced handlers use these classes as training grounds for new show prospects, teachers often hesitate to use the limited class time to explain basics that many folks in the class have known for years. Class emphasis tends to be on the particular problem aspects of each individual dog, without ascertaining whether a new handler has enough knowledge to understand the teacher. Often class sizes are so large that teachers barely have time enough to go over and move each dog briefly and simply cannot work with the handlers as well. Thus the novice finds himself trying to learn by observation while simultaneously controlling his dog and applying whatever he can grasp, be it appropriate to himself and his breed of dog or not applicable in the least.
Probably the best solution would be to approach a handler whose technique appeals to you and arrange for a series of private lessons. In the best of all possible worlds, you would emerge ready to tackle the ring competently and comfortably. Many handlers, however, are neither willing nor able to take on a pupil, be it for reasons of distance, time, economics, or personal choice. And a person who is an apt handler may not be any sort of teacher, leading to frustration and even greater confusion in the long run.
In an attempt to bridge this instructional gap, I have put together an introduction to the process of showing your own dog. Hopefully it will enable you to enter an ongoing conformation training class as less of a stranger to the terminology and procedures that you will encounter there!
There are four essential aspects to showing your own dog successfully, each contributing a portion to the entire picture: stacking or setting-up; moving: gait and patterns; equipment; and presentation. We will examine each of these areas individually.
Almost every breed of dog is presented to the judge for examination in the same basic posture. Not just a matter of convention and tradition, this stance is designed to best showcase the structural features that the judge is evaluating, and to give a uniform basis for comparing one dog to another and each to the AKC Standard of Excellence for the breed. It is often referred to as a "stack" or "pose," and maneuvering your dog into that posture is called "stacking," "posing," "standing," or "setting up."
This is the basic physical position that a setter should stand in: When viewed from the side, the front legs should be directly in line and underneath the top of the shoulder blades, commonly called the "withers." A line from the top of the shoulder blade, drawn perpendicular to the ground, should run right through the middle of the front foot.
When viewed from the front, the front legs should drop in a straight line from the top of the shoulders; the elbows and feet should turn neither in nor out; and the distance between the front feet should be roughly equal to the distance between the shoulders.
The rear legs should be drawn back just far enough so that the length of each hock is perpendicular to the ground. The rear feet are set slightly further apart than the front feet: a line drawn back from the outside of each front foot should touch the inside of the corresponding rear foot.
The head is held so that the top line of the muzzle is parallel to the ground, and the tail is held fully extended and level with the back.
Now, how do you manipulate your beast into this rather unlikely pose? There are a few basic principles to remember here also: Always stand at your dog's right side when you begin to stack him; his head should be pointed towards your right, and the judge will be seeing his left side in profile. Always move your dog's legs from the elbow in front and the hocks or stifle in the rear. Never move his legs by grasping a foot or a pastern (wrist).
Usually you will position the front legs first: while holding the right side of the head in your right hand, reach over the dog's back and grasp his left elbow (the one nearer to the judge) with your left hand; place the leg in a straight line underneath the top of the shoulder blade. Remove your left hand from the elbow and use it to grasp the left side of the head; remove your right hand from the leg, grasp the right elbow and follow the above procedure for the right front leg.
Switch hands on the head again, and use your left hand to position both hocks, again the one nearer the judge first. You may either reach underneath the dog's abdomen and move the left leg by the stifle joint (knee) or reach over the dog's back and hindquarters, cup the left hock joint in your left hand and position the leg in that manner. Repeat with the right rear leg. It is not necessary to move both rear legs in the same fashion. Depending on your dog's structure and what is most comfortable for both of you, you may either move both rear legs by the stifle, both by the hock, or one by each.
You may observe some handlers lifting their dog's entire front end off the ground and dropping it into place. Do not attempt this unless your dog both has a superb front and is very well-trained; otherwise you are apt to look awkward and may waste valuable set-up time. Remember, a judge is only allotted 2-3 minutes to examine and move each dog in the ring!
After you have positioned your dog's front and rear legs, check that his flews are hanging straight and not caught on a tooth, and that his ears are hanging freely and not caught in the lead. Then slip the fingers of your right hand into the "V"-shaped groove formed under the lower jaw by both lower jaw bones, and place your right thumb near the right jaw hinge, where the upper and lower jaws meet.
With your left hand gently grasp the tail at the base from the underside and stroke upwards and outwards until the tail rises to a line level with the dog's back. Run your fingers along the length of the tail to the tip and hold it extended from the top side with your fingers pointing downward and the tail feathering falling freely. Your dog is now stacked!
Once you have the feel of the proper procedure, practice stacking your dog in as short a time as possible. Stack him in front of a horizontal mirror or other reflective surface to see exactly what picture you are presenting to the judge, and adjust his position accordingly. Stack your dog informally at least once a day, as you are walking through your house or yard; don't make a big deal of it, or spend more than two or three minutes on it: set him up, tell him to "stand, stay," hold the position for a count of ten, and then release him with much verbal praise and a food treat if one is handy.
Judges watch dogs moving in the ring to assess the soundness, smoothness, and efficiency with which the separate parts of the animal work together. A part is only good if it contributes to overall functional usefulness. A correctly structured dog moves freely and easily, and no one part attracts the eye with a break from the general smoothness and flow.
The judge will evaluate the moving dog from three points of view: going directly away from him, coming directly towards him, and from the side. Movement is almost always assessed from a trot, as this gait puts the most stress on all four limbs and will show up any unsoundness that might be hidden at a walk or gallop. A trot is a two-beat gait, in which two of the feet are always touching the ground and two are always in the air. A proper trot pairs the feet diagonally, the right front and left rear moving together, and the left front and right rear in unison.
There is another two-beat gait that is not considered acceptable in the show ring: it is called the "pace" or "pacing," when the two legs on the same side of the dog move together, producing a rolling effect like that of a camel, an animal designed to pace. Some dogs seem predisposed to pace; it is considered rather a lazy gait, and increasing the speed of movement will often snap the dog from a pace into a proper trot.
In the ring dogs are usually moved on the handler's left side, with only the left hand holding the leash. It is a rule of thumb in showing, however, always to keep the dog between the handler and the judge (who isn't there to watch the handler move!), so there are times when it may be advisable to switch the leash to your right hand and position the dog on your right side.
When preparing to move your dog, first gather up any excess leash neatly in your left hand and keep it there. Hold the leash with only your left hand, in a loose fist with your thumb pointing upwards. Extend your left arm out from the shoulder to the elbow in a fairly rigid straight line and pivot your left forearm at the elbow to control the position of your dog. As you move your left forearm, keep your thumb pointing up.
While moving, keep your right hand loosely down at your side. If you find it waving in the air, or swinging back and forth, tuck it into a pocket or your belt for practice, but don't plaster your whole right arm rigidly against your side!
Move at a smooth run yourself. Practice not lifting your legs too high off the ground or bending your knees excessively. Try to take long, gliding, effortless steps. Your goal is as much forward movement with as little vertical action as possible.
Move in as straight a line as possible. Before starting to move, spot a goal to move toward, and then head directly for it. Remember the judge is watching your dog, not you, and try to move your dog directly away from his line of sight. When coming back towards the judge, aim yourself at a spot just off of his left shoulder, so your dog will be moving directly at him.
While moving your dog, keep your lower body in line with the direction of movement. In order to watch what your dog is doing as you move him, you may incline your upper torso slightly to your left, so that partial swings of your head will both keep you heading where you need to go, and allow you to keep an eye on Fido!
Before you begin to move your dog, make certain that his collar, or the collar portion of his show lead, is well up under his chin and in front of the neck bones just behind his ears. First pull the collar forward under his chin with your right hand, then remove your right hand and pull the collar right up behind his ears with your left hand. If your show lead has an adjustable collar portion, make certain that it is pulled snug before beginning to move.
You will need to learn both how to move your dog individually and as part of the entire class of dogs in the ring at the same time. The judge moves all of the dogs together to compare their side gaits, both the forward "reach" of the forelegs and the quality of "drive" from the rear legs. Group movement is almost always done in one or more counter-clockwise circles around the entire ring, dogs on the inside (left side) of their handlers.
When moving in a group be certain to leave enough room behind the dog in front of you so that you don't "run you dog's nose up the next dog's rear end!" If your dog is moving faster than the one in front of him, never pass; swing wide on your corners and move somewhat to the outside. Remember that the judge is probably only watching one small section of the ring, to see each dog as it goes by, and modify the distance between dogs so yours will be seen at his best when the judge is looking at him!
If you are the first handler in line listen carefully to the judge's instructions, to how many times he wants you to go around the ring, and where he wants you to stop. If you are uncertain, ask for clarification. Don't just start off moving as soon as you are ready; visually or verbally check each handler in line behind you, and wait until everyone is ready before starting to move your dog. If you aren't first in line, watch both the judge and the first handler carefully, since sometimes only the first in line can hear the judge's instructions to the entire group.
Dogs are moved individually in patterns that are generally consistent from one dog to the next, since the judge is trying to compare all of the dogs doing the same thing. If you can arrive at a show early enough to watch your judge before you need to go in the ring, you can see what judging procedures and movement patterns he is using. Generally his procedure won't vary from breed to breed unless there are great differences in size between the breeds that he is judging.
The most common movement patterns are "down and back," the "triangle," the "L," and the "T." Judges may refer to them by these designations; or point to the places in the ring that they want you to pass by, with or without accompanying verbal instructions; or merely ask you to move your dog, assuming that you have been watching the previous handlers and know where he wants you to go. So it is wise to watch closely!
"Straight down and back" may be down the center of the ring or on a diagonal. Watch where the judge is standing and his angle to the ring. Then move your dog directly away from him to the end of the ring, slowing down as you approach the end so the dog can turn smoothly, swing your dog around your body to his right as you turn 180 degrees to your right, and move back toward the judge, always keeping the leash in your left hand and your dog on your left side.
A triangle may be described as, "straight down to the end of the ring, over to the far corner, and back to me," and many judges will say just that, instead of using the term triangle. As the handler, you will make your triangle in counter-clockwise direction. If the judge is positioned so that you go away from him parallel to one side of the ring, you will then make a 90 degree turn to your left, and after another left turn, you will return to him on the diagonal, always keeping the leash in your left hand and your dog on your left side.
If the judge is positioned at an angle to the ring, you will go away from him on a diagonal, make a 60 degree turn to your left and go parallel to the side of the ring, and make another 60 degree turn to your left to return to the judge also on a diagonal. Again the leash will remain in your left hand and your dog on your left side.
The 60-degree triangle is smoother if you move at a consistent pace all the way through and round off your turns. The 90-degree triangle may be completed in that manner also, but you have a couple of other options, depending on what works best for you and your dog: You may slow at the end of the first leg and swing your dog around on the inside of the angle (he will turn 450 degrees while you turn 90); this is usually not a comfortable procedure with a large dog, but you will see many toy breeds using this turn. Alternatively, you may execute a 270-degree turn to your right at the end of the first leg and swing your dog to his right around your body. Independent of whether you chose either previous swing, you may slow at the end of the second leg, and swing around to your right while bringing your dog in a wide turn to his right around you, and then complete your return to the judge. The leash again remains in your left hand and your dog on your left side.
The "L" consists of two sides of a square or rectangle. Begin with the leash in your left hand and dog on your left side. Go directly away from the judge to the end of the ring, slowing as you approach. Make the same 90-degree turn to your left, swinging your dog to his left, as you did in the first turn of the 90-degree triangle. (You still have the options of the 450-degree turn for your dog or the 270-degree turn for both of you, but they are even more intrusive here than in the triangle!)
Slow as you approach the end of the L's bottom and make a 180-degree turn to your left. As you are turning, swing your left hand (with the leash) back toward you so that your dog makes a 180-degree turn to his right. When your left hand reaches the mid-point of your body pass the leash from your left hand to your right hand, and let your right hand continue the swing of the leash as your dog completes his turn. This will put him between you and the judge on your right side for the return trip across the bottom of the L.
For the final leg back to the judge you may make a 90-degree turn to your right, keeping the leash in your right hand and the dog on your right side; or you may slow down as you approach the turn, pass the leash from your right hand to your left hand, turn your dog 270 degrees to his left while you turn 90 degrees to your right, and return to the judge! Believe me, this is nowhere near as complicated as it sounds, and you will get it down pat in a couple of tries!
The "T" pattern is rarely used these days except in showmanship competitions and by certified sadists! It is similar to the "L" except that you continue on the return trip along the bottom an equal distance from the place of the first turn, do another 180-degree turn at the far end, change the leash and dog back to your left hand and side, return to the place of the first turn, do a 90-
degree turn to your left and return to the judge. Practice it if you will; you will probably never be asked to execute it; and if you do, just fake it like everyone else in the ring!
There is a small embellishment called a "courtesy turn" that offers the benefit of your dog easing into his gait, rather than having to break into it perfectly from a standing start. It is also a way to line yourself up on the judge without being too obvious about it: Again, the specifics will depend on where the judge is positioned vis-a-vis the ring, and the particular movement pattern that he has requested.
In essence, instead of starting immediately to move away from the judge with your dog, you stand still and swing the dog in a 360+-degree circle to his left on your left side, and as he approaches the 360-degree mark, you then start to move with him. Courtesy turns offer the same type of embellishment to moving your dog that initial little loops and swirls do for a person's handwriting: Done gracefully and in moderation, they are an enhancement; done jerkily or self-consciously, they can detract greatly from the overall effect. Practice them first before trying them out at a show; a dog show ring is no place for a ballerina!
There are times when a judge will specifically want to compare the coming and going movement of two dogs, and he may ask for them to move down and back together. This is the one time when it is permissible to start moving with your dog on your right side; in fact it is necessary to do so: The two handlers position themselves so that the two dogs are side by side between them, allowing enough space so they won't interfere with each other. Thus one dog is on his handler's left side, with his leash in his handler's left hand, and the other dog is on his handler's right side, with his leash in his handler's right hand.
Courtesy turns are usually avoided, and the two handlers try to start out at the same moment and maintain about the same pace. They both slow at the far end of the ring and turn 180-degrees toward each other, turning their dogs 180 degrees into each other, one handler switching the lead from left to right, the other from right to left as the dogs pass the 180-degree mark. The handlers then return to the judge with the dogs still inside both handlers, the one originally on his handler's left now on his handler's right, and vice versa. This also reads a lot more complicated than it really is; don't lose any sleep over it!
A judge may ask you to move from your place in line in a circle around the ring and return to your original place. There is no need for anything fancy here; simply gather the lead into your left hand, keep the dog at your left side, and move around the ring. After you complete your circle, be sure to watch the judge and see if he has any further instructions for you: he may move you to a different position in line, hopefully closer to the front!
At the end of any movement pattern, the judge will often tell you or gesture to you to go around the ring to the end of the line. Even if he says and does nothing, if the previous dogs in the class have been sent to the end, you are to do so also. You may or may not execute a courtesy turn at this time. The judge may or may not watch your dog move. Watch his ring procedure and see if he carefully follows the movement of each dog to the end of the line, watches them move only part way around, or immediately starts working with the next dog in line. It is always good practice to move your dog nicely, as if the judge were looking, whether he is or not, but if he is curtly dismissing dogs to the end without a second glance, you don't even have to go all the way around the ring; just walk over to the end of the line.
Some judges will telegraph their opinions of the dogs in each class by closely watching some as they move all the way around the ring, and turning away from others before they have reached the end of the line. Don't presume, however, that a judge necessarily prefers the dogs that he watches; he may be seeing a movement flaw so incredible that he needs to look hard at it to believe it!
Just about the only piece of equipment that you must have to show your dog yourself is a suitable show lead. This may be a one or two-piece ensemble:
One-piece show leads combine a collar portion and a leash portion into one connected unit. They can be one single piece of material with a fixed-size loop at one end for your hand, and an adjustable loop at the other end for your dog's head. The loop is usually adjusted either with a metal slide, plastic bead, or leather disc. These show leads may be made of flat nylon fabric, a material called cord-o-hyde, braided or rolled nylon, or leather. They are often referred to as "Resco" or "Simplicity" leads from the names of two well-known manufacturers.
Another form of combination show lead and collar is called a "martingale," and it has an extra partial loop that fits under the dog's chin on two sliding rings, allowing tension on the dog's head to be varied as you pull on the other end. It is a form of modified choke collar; it can't get so tight as to choke the dog, but since the collar portion can be quickly pulled tight, there is less chance of a dog backing out of it than with a Simplicity unit. Martingales may also be made of nylon or leather, and some versions use a length of chain at the collar end.
The two piece show ensembles generally consist of a choke collar and a short leash. Metal show choke collars are of finer links than their obedience counterparts, and some come in gold as well as chrome finish. There is a variety of links available, from "snake chains," to "jeweler's links." As long as the actual chain is sturdy enough for your dog, it doesn't matter what color or shape the links are, whatever you think looks best on your dog!
Alternatives to metal show choke collars are braided or rolled nylon chokes. These generally come in black, brown, beige, and white (as well as other bold colors) to be as inobtrusive as possible and blend in with the dog's coat color. They have a metal ring at each end, and the preferred ones have very tiny rings indeed, either silver or gold.
The best lead to use with these show chokes is one from 24" to 36" in length; we usually use a 30", but see what is the most comfortable length in this range for you and your dog. We prefer a soft leather leash that is strong but still wads up neatly and quickly in the hand; anything narrower than 1/4" will probably be snapped before long, and more than 3/8" will be too bulky. We also prefer swivel type bolts to snap ones; they seem more reliable. You can also find leads of this size and configuration in braided or rolled nylon, color-
coordinated to the show chokes, but we have found nylon to be much harder on our hands than leather, and the very thin nylon ones really cut into flesh! We do attempt to use black leather leads with black chokes, and tan or brown leather ones with the brown chokes.
There are several factors to consider when you are purchasing a show ensemble for your dog: The color should blend in with the dog. A bright color or plaid show outfit may sound cute outside the ring, but it really calls attention to itself rather than to the dog. And unless your dog has a neck like a swan, you don't necessarily want the judge's eye drawn by the only bright spot of red or green against an otherwise black or brown animal!
The lead should feel comfortable in your hand. Some leather leads are quite stiff initially, so try crumpling one up a bit in your hand. If it feels like it will soften up after a few uses, it's probably fine. If it feels harsh and rough, it may always stay that way. If it feels smooth and supple, like glove leather, it may not last for long, as it will tend to stretch and finally snap. If you are considering nylon, wind it around your hand tightly a couple of turns and then pull on the end of it for a minute. If it is still comfortable, go ahead and buy it, but I'll bet the red marks won't be worth it later on!
Try several varieties of show outfits on your dog and see which one he seems both the most comfortable and the most responsive with. The outfit in which you first train your dog may not be the one that you will use for him several months or years downstream. As his training and yours progress, you may find yourself trying out other kinds of leads to enhance or improve specific traits of movement, such as head and neck carriage, response to the handler, etc. We often start our baby pups out with a Simplicity type, switch to a choke when they are comfortable with being show dogs, and sometimes return to a Simplicity as they mature further. Every dog is different, and what works for one may have no effect or even be detrimental to another.
Presentation encompasses both how you show your dog and how you show yourself to the judge. Just as different judges favor one pattern of movement over another, they also vary in the procedures that they use to examine each dog in a class individually.
One judge may bring all of the dogs in the class into the ring to be stacked in a line that he will look over, perhaps at some length, before moving the entire group. Another will want to see the entire class in motion around the ring as his first look at these dogs. A third may not move the class as a whole until he has gone over and moved each dog individually. Yet another, particularly if he is from Great Britain, may never move the entire class together.
There is no one procedure set by the AKC for its judges, except to treat and examine every dog in a class equally. One might assume that it is suggested that each dog be viewed both standing and moving with its competitors and examined and moved individually, but how that is managed, and in what order, is pretty well left up to each judge on his own.
Judge A may first examine each dog as it is individually stacked in line, and following the final examination, return to the head of the line and move each dog individually.
Judge B may opt to examine each dog and then move it individually before examining the next one.
Judge C may stand in one place and call each dog in turn to come to a particular place in the ring, there to be stacked for examination, usually followed by individual movement, and then returned either to its original place in line, to the end of the line, or to some third location, prior to the next dog in line being called up for examination.
Any combinations of the above three procedures may be encountered, and plenty of others at the judge's personal whim. So I must once again emphasize here that when you are in the ring, you must pay attention to everything going on, as well as to your dog! Especially watch what is happening in the line-up ahead of you and move into place accordingly, without the judge having to make a special effort to instruct you.
Whatever his choice of procedure, there will come the moment when the judge approaches your dog to examine or "go over" him. He may take a first look from the side for an overview, so be certain Fido is at his stacked best! Most judges will first approach your dog at his head. Drop your dog's tail and stand beside his right shoulder, holding on to his head until the judge takes the head from you. If he asks you to show him your dog's bite, raise the front of the upper lip with your left hand, and pull down the front of the lower lip with your right. The only teeth of interest to most setter judges are the six upper and six lower incisors, the teeth in the center of the jaw. Some other breeds require complete dentition and the judges must count the total number of teeth, but fortunately you don't have to worry about this!
After the judge has looked at the bite, drop the lips and let him take the dog's head while you move to the dog's rear (passing along the other side of the dog from where the judge is working) and keep him still and steady on his hindquarters. This gives the judge enough space to examine the front part of the dog without you in the way. If the judge chooses to check out the dog's bite for himself, move to the rear of your dog as soon as the judge has his hands on the head. If your dog is unruly or somewhat hesitant about the judge or the procedure, stay at his shoulder while the judge examines his front, and cup your left hand just behind the top of his head (at the level where the ears are set) to keep him from backing away until the judge is finished with his head.
When the judge is ready to release the dog's head, he will expect you to be there to take his place. Step along the other side of the dog from the judge, stand directly in front of your dog, and take his muzzle in both of your hands. As the judge is examining the hindquarters, pull your dogs ears forward along his muzzle, pull his collar up to just behind his ears, keep his muzzle parallel to the ground, and push his head back gently toward his body to show off the arch of his neck.
Unless the judge wants you to move your dog individually at once, when he has completed his examination, make sure that all four of your dog's legs are still in the proper position (correct them quickly, if necessary), move to his right side, and hold his head and tail again. This gives the judge a final overview of how all of the pieces that he has just examined fit together.
Some judges position the entries in each class in order of preference as they are going over them individually, and there may be a fair amount of moving up and back and in between until the judge has finished with the last one. Other judges leave the dogs in the same line-up in which they first entered the ring until they make their placements. Judges may announce their placements verbally; with hand signals indicating 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th place; or with a combination of both. Some announce their placements while all the dogs in the class are moving around the ring together for a final time; others state their picks while all the dogs are standing in a stacked position.
In all cases, pay very close attention to the judge from the time he has completed his individual examinations and has moved the last dog in the class, until he has announced all four of his placements (or however many there are, in classes of less than four.) If you don't receive a placement, you may congratulate the ones who did, and then quietly walk out of the ring with your dog.
If you receive a placement, immediately walk over to the sign showing the number of the placement that you have received; if you are moving, break out of line and walk directly over to the markers; if you are standing in line stacked up, you may wait until all four have been announced and walk over together. Stand so that the ring steward and the judge can see your armband number. Stay in the ring until the judge hands you your ribbon (and trophy, if any.) Say "thank you," politely and then walk out of the ring. The ring steward will let you know if your dog will be needed for further judging.
You will probably spend a good amount to time and effort in grooming, bathing, brushing, and "spit polishing" your dog for the ring. Since you and your dog make up a team, it is also important that you appear presentable and well-
groomed. There are three basic rules for your own appearance, comfort, and success: Don't enter the show ring wearing any item of clothing that displays your name, your dog's name, any dog club logo, or anything else in the way of personal identification. Dress in such a manner that you show respect for the judge, the sport, your dog, and yourself. Wear shoes that give good support and traction for running! They don't have to be hiking boots or track shoes, but sandals and leather soles are definitely out!
Clothing specifics for men include no blue jeans, designer or not. Cords are all right if they are slacks, but avoid jeans-cut corduroys. Acceptable attire for a youngster or a novice handler with a young dog is slacks and a shirt or sweater, depending on the weather. Preferred wear is a sports jacket or fitted vest, and you will observe that experienced or professional men handlers will wear two or three-piece suits and ties in the show ring.
Women may wear pants in the ring, especially if their figures are not flattered by skirts, but the outfit should be a nicely tailored pantsuit with either a jacket or matching vest. Split skirts are ideal because they offer great freedom of movement paired with discrete coverage! Skirts or dresses usually make a nice impression, but you need to pay more attention to the needs of the show ring than to the current fashion trends in selecting skirt length: skirts that are too long are awkward to run in, and you may trip over them moving from kneeling to standing positions; on the other hand, a skirt may only be as short as you can bend over gracefully in, without displaying normally private portions of flesh and undergarments!
A nice figure can be shown to advantage in walking (not running!) shorts, but avoid halter, tank, and midriff-baring tops. A word on underpinnings also: the more amply you are endowed, the nicer you will appear in a firm support or sports bra. After all, we want the judge to watch the dog, don't we?
Unless it is quite a chilly day and your ring is outdoors, you will probably heat up considerably while running around the ring...if the exercise don't get you, your nerves will! So short sleeves are often more comfortable in the ring than long ones; you can always wear a sweater until just before time to go in, and then drop it at ringside.
Men usually don't have to worry about a pocketless outfit, but the most perfect dress to show off Fido isn't worth a darn if it doesn't have at least one decent sized pocket. You will find yourself stuffing it full of toys, drool rags, combs, bait, and all sorts of other little items that you simply must carry into the ring with you. I hardly think I need mention that all show clothing must be washable, unless you can afford a new outfit with each entry fee!
Avoid a lot of large or heavy jewelry. It can restrict your movements, get tangled in the lead or your dog's coat, and be distracting to both your dog and the judge. Strongly scented perfumes or cosmetics are also distracting to dogs and some people.
A final word on color: Some folks believe that they should wear a dark color behind a dark dog, especially is he has any topline faults, such as a dip behind the shoulders, a rise over the loin, or a low tail set. The theory is that a light color would highlight the fault, whereas it won't be seen so glaringly against a darker hue. Conversely, a dog with a lovely outline might best be seen against a lighter or complementary shade. Thus you will see people showing Gordons in black and navy blue, and in red, green, turquoise, yellow, and beige. Irish don't look as nice against orange or pink as they do in front of kelly green, sky blue, or white; and they blend well into rusts and earthtones. In all cases, however, it is important not to wear a busy print or small bright plaid skirt, dress, or suit. One or two large bodies of color, or an allover neutral plaid or tweed will allow the bulk of attention to remain where it belongs, on your dog!