A dog show, or conformation show, is an event where dogs are judged on how well they measure up to the breed standard and to the other dogs in the ring on that day. It's much more than a beauty contest, though. The conformation ring brings together breeders and their dogs to evaluate those pugs that are best suited for breeding. Each pug's structure (conformation), movement, and attitude are judged against the breed standard. The dogs that most closely meet the breed standard earn championships and are considered good breeding prospects.
Pugs earn points toward championships at all-breed dog shows. Each win brings one to five points, depending on the number of dogs defeated. A three-, four-, or five-point win is called a major. A pug must earn a total of fifteen points under three different judges to earn a championship. Two of the wins must be majors, each received from a different judge.
In addition to meeting the standard physically, a good show pug has character and expression, qualities defined as showmanship. The best show dogs have a style and attitude that draws all eyes to them. Showmanship can make a great pug stand out even more and can even bring a lesser pug to the judge's attention. Some pugs just seem to “ask” for the win, and they often get it, even if they aren't necessarily the best in the ring that day.
In the best of all worlds, only the most deserving pugs would earn championships, but a top handler can “finish” almost any dog as long as the owner is willing and able to spend unlimited amounts of money. That doesn't make for a very good champion, though. A pug should be able to earn a championship on his own merits.
Most conformation shows are run under the auspices of the AKC. The United Kennel Club (UKC) also offers conformation titles and hosts shows. AKC shows are more numerous, but UKC shows are more family-oriented, prohibiting the use of professional handlers. Top-winning pugs can make it all the way to the best-known and oldest American dog show of them all: Westminster. The pug that took Best of Breed at the 2004 Westminster Kennel Club show was Ch. Kendoric's Riversong Mulroney.
Specialty shows are limited to dogs of a single breed, which in this case is pugs. They are usually judged by breeders who are experts in every facet of pug conformation. You can see some of the best pugs in the country at a specialty show. Specialty shows can be local, regional, or national. Attending a national specialty show allows you to see a variety of pugs from around the country. The climax of a national specialty is the Best of Breed competition, where pugs compete for the honor of being the best pug in the country.
Some of the classes at specialties that aren't normally found at the average all-breed dog show are the Veteran, Brood Bitch, and Stud Dog classes. The Veteran classes showcase dogs that are still sound, even at seven or more years of age. They represent the lines that smart breeders want to use. Brood Bitch and Stud Dog classes showcase the offspring of the dog entered. Sometimes you can see three generations shown together. Another class unique to a specialty show is the Sweepstakes. The Puppy Sweepstakes put on display the younger generation of pugs.
Conformation Training and Handling Tips
If you've never shown a dog before, consider attending a handling class offered by your local dog club. You can sign up for it when your pug is about three months old (he can't be entered in a show until he's six months old). In class, you'll learn how to display your dog's outline in the show ring (called stacking), gait (move) him properly, and groom him appropriately (see Chapter 13 for grooming tips). Your pug will learn how to stand for examination on the table and gait around the ring at the appropriate speed. The two of you can practice your newfound skills at matches (practice shows).
Pacing is important. Pugs are shown at a walk on a loose lead. Pugs tend to want to charge forward, so you need to teach your dog to stay with you. Most judges don't like seeing dogs on tight leashes.
One of the best things you can teach your pug when he's young is to permit himself to be hand-stacked. Lots of pugs learn to free-stack — meaning they set themselves up in the proper position — but in a crowded ring there's not always room to do that. That's where hand-stacking comes in. Teach your pug to let you put his feet in position — foursquare — and to hold that position. As you did with the stay command, start by asking him to hold the position for only a few seconds and gradually increase the length of time he must stay stacked. Start teaching this at an early age. If you wait too long, it will be difficult if not impossible to teach.
Make showing fun for your pug. He should enjoy himself in the ring rather than being on edge because he senses your anxiety or bored because he'd rather be doing something else. Use liver or a favorite fleece toy as bait to keep his attention and bring out his natural charisma. A pug that's having a good time is already a winner.
If you want to be successful in the ring, watch and talk to and learn from other handlers. Don't be afraid to ask for help. Pug people are pretty friendly, and more than likely they'll be happy to show you the ropes.
Show a little style yourself. Dress professionally but comfortably so you can move with ease. Wear a nice skirt or slacks and a neat shirt. It's a good idea to wear a color that contrasts with your pug. You don't want your dog's outline to disappear against your clothes. Wear light-colored clothing if you're showing a black pug and colored or dark clothing if you're showing a fawn pug.
If you have a nice pug — one with good conformation and the appropriate temperament — you shouldn't have any problem showing him to his championship. Handling your own dog to a championship is a great achievement that you can always cherish. Nonetheless, you may prefer to hire a professional handler for perfectly valid reasons. You may not enjoy being in the spotlight, even though your pug is the one being judged; you may not have the skill and coordination to handle a dog well; or you may simply not have enough time.
Professional handlers show ten to twenty dogs a show at as many as 120 shows a year. Not surprisingly, they understand the physical and mental conditioning show dogs need. Not just any handler will do, though. You want someone who knows how to care for, condition, and motivate your pug. Some handlers specialize in toy breeds and have a deep understanding of the particular conditioning and personality issues involved in showing a pug.
The handler should have a rate card or rate sheet that explains exactly what expenses you're paying for (travel, food, advertising, and so on). A contract should spell out the yearly budget, travel plans, who gets the trophies, and any other important details. To avoid surprises or disappointments, you and the handler must be honest with each other from the beginning.
With that in mind, understand where your pug falls on the handler's priority list. If you simply want your pug to finish his championship, it won't be a big deal if an assistant handles him from time to time. Your handler may have several dogs to show at the same time, and he can't be in three rings at once. Be clear on how the system works, and accept that your pug isn't always going to be at the top of the heap.