When people talk about dog shows, they're often talking about conformation dog shows. Think of the Westminster Dog Show, and you're looking at the top AKC conformation dog show. Or, if you'd like, think of the funny movie Best in Show.
Once a dog that wins points goes to the best-of-breed ring, he goes up against the winner of points of the opposite sex and against dogs that are champions. In this competition, there are a number of awards he can potentially win: “Best of Breed” (best dog there, male or female), “Best of Opposite Sex” (the opposite sex of the winner of the Best of Breed), or “Best of Winners” (the best of the two dogs that took points).
In any case, conformation is a judging of how well the dog conforms to standard (remember the rottweiler standard in Chapter 1?). Dogs are judged according to how closely they conform to their standard. What makes conformation so interesting is that it comes down to the judge's interpretation of the standard.
Most rottweilers don't fit the standard and have one or more faults or flaws that prevent them from ever winning in the show ring. This doesn't make these dogs substandard as pets. In fact, many rottweilers that don't fit the standard make excellent pets and/or obedience, agility, and tracking dogs.
Some of the standard is quantitative, such as height or number of teeth. But much of it is qualitative — what is medium length when one looks at the head? The forehead line should be moderately arched — what is a moderately arched forehead? A serious fault is a male dog that looks feminine (bitchy dog) or a female dog that looks masculine (doggy bitch) — who decides that a female dog looks masculine instead of feminine? See the problem?
Dog shows aren't a casual affair. Those in the audience dress up to go to dog shows. While in the ring, handlers wear nice outfits to look good to the judge and to complement their spiffy dogs.
In the ring, the judge has the handlers gait their dogs once around the ring. Then, the judge examines each dog, looking at his bite, head, and topline and feeling his legs. On the males, the judge will examine the dog's testicles to make certain that both are fully descended. Then, the judge will ask the handler to gait the dog in a pattern: up and back, L-shaped, or a triangle. The judge will then ask the handler to gait the dog to the end of the line.
A dog that might be chosen as a winner by one judge may be panned by another. Handling is as much an art as a science because a good handler can emphasize the dog's outstanding qualities while de-emphasizing flaws. Much of dog shows has to do with handling and not necessarily the dog himself.
In conformation shows, the showing classes are divided into the following categories:
Age group: puppy 6 to 9 months; puppy 9 to 12 months; 12 to 18 months (young dog)
Bred By (for the breeder/owner)
In these classes, males compete against males and females compete against females. The winners of each of those classes compete to be “Winners Dog” or “Winners Bitch,” in which the dogs compete for points. The winner in each class goes into the best-of-breed ring.
The best-in-breed winner may earn anywhere from one to five points toward the championship. The amount of points awarded depends on the number of dogs the winner had to beat. A win is called a “major” when it earns three points or more. When the dog has earned fifteen points, including two major wins, the dog becomes a champion and may put the initials “Ch.” in front of his name.
You might wonder how a dog becomes the “Best in Show.”Once the dog wins best of breed, he continues to compete in the group class. In the rottweiler's case, the best of breed must compete against all the other best-of-breed dogs in the Working Group. If the rottweiler wins this class, he is awarded “Best in Group,” and he goes on to compete for best in show against all the winners of the various groups.
Grooming for Conformation
Part of the trick of conformation showing is grooming your dog. The good news is that unlike those fluffy or time-intensive breeds that require scissoring and special grooming, the rottie is a wash-and-wear kind of dog. His coat should be coarse, so a little top coat dressing that emphasizes its coarseness can be used. Some handlers trim the rottie's whiskers for a more refined look, but you don't have to do that.
Training for Conformation
Training for conformation isn't as easy as grooming. There are entire books devoted to conformation handling. Your best bet is to find a professional training center that teaches conformation classes and handling. Finding a mentor is also an option.
In these classes, you'll learn how to stack your rottweiler. Stacking is sort of like posing your dog so that he stands in a position that is most flattering to him. When a handler stacks his dog, he emphasizes his best qualities and hopefully hides the negatives. Stacking requires that the dog accepts your moving his feet until he's in the position you want. Some dogs free-stack, meaning they've been trained to come into that position automatically.
Unlike obedience and agility, in conformation competition you get to use food treats in the ring as much as you want. In fact, the judges and other handlers expect you to.
You can train your rottweiler to stack by putting him into a stand/stay and baiting him (that is, holding a piece of liver or cheese in front of his nose). Very carefully, move your rottie's feet so he is standing squarely. When he stays there, give him the treat. If he stays in the correct position, you have a stacked dog.
It takes a while to learn to handle a dog correctly. In many circumstances, owners hire professional handlers to show their dogs in conformation shows. Hiring a handler is expensive work. Most charge $50 each time they step into the ring. So, if your rottie ends up competing for best in show, you're probably paying over $200 by the end of the first day.
This is why it is important to choose a good handler. Most people find their handlers through word of mouth. They know someone or have watched someone handle other people's dogs. If you're looking for a handler for your rottie, ask your breeder or a trainer. Sometimes trainers will handle dogs professionally.
If you do decide on the handler route, be aware that you may be sending your rottweiler away to compete in shows outside your area. Some people hand their dogs off for months at a time to obtain their championships.