Unveiling Behind-the-Scenes Secrets Of The National Dog Show

By: Lisa Lee | Published: Oct 05, 2023

When you see your dog lazily lying on the couch after ruining your favorite pair of shoes, it might be difficult to understand the world of show dogs. Show dogs are very different from regular family pets. They are athletic, well-trained, and have an elegant appearance. 

Show dogs result from handlers and owners going to great lengths to achieve success. But the public is largely unaware of what happens behind the scenes, and you won’t be expecting these dog show facts!

Walk like a dog

Have you ever marveled at the grace and poise of show dogs as they walk effortlessly around the ring? Of course, it’s no secret that these dogs are trained to perfection by their handlers and trainers. But what may be a secret to some is a tool they use–specialized dog treadmills. 


Source: normanack/Flickr | CC BY 2.0

These treadmills are designed specifically for dogs and guide them to perfect their stride. And by maintaining the right pace, the dogs are able to walk with poise and confidence, hopefully leading them to gold.


Soup can stance

In dog shows, the posture of each dog is of the utmost importance. Years ago, trainers employed the tried-and-true method of teaching dogs to stand on soup cans placed a specific distance apart. The concept is straightforward–set the cans up, measure the proper distance, and guide your furry friend to step on them. 


Source: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

While achieving it may take effort, the result is a polished and confident stance. Today, many trainers have adapted to using wooden blocks or similar items of the same effect to teach their dogs the perfect stance.

The ins and outs of grooming

The grooming stations are where it all happens at any dog show’s backstage area. Groomers often employ inventive techniques to keep the dogs looking their best, such as using dryer sheets or even chalk to achieve a smooth coat. 


Source: Laura Fay/Getty Images

The American Kennel Club experts recommend extra care when grooming white dogs, as breeds such as West Highland White Terriers have fur that is particularly sensitive to colored shampoos. To avoid any staining, opting for a clear shampoo product is best. Overall, grooming is an essential step in making sure your dog looks its best.

Money doesn’t matter

You may be shocked to find out that the dog that wins the Best in Show title will only win a sense of pride and accomplishment. For those who are part of the dog show world, the idea of being named a champion is enough of a reward in itself. 


Source: Bettmann/Getty Images

There is no need for a large monetary prize. This reflects the fact that for those who compete in dog shows, the love and passion for their dogs are the driving forces behind their participation.

Only the best porta-potties

It is common for the dogs participating in dog shows to be confined indoors for extended periods, unable to relieve themselves outside. In such scenarios, temporary toilet facilities are put in place. 

Source: Chris Babcock/Getty Images

These facilities, commonly known as puppy porta-potties, are not similar to what humans use but instead consist of enclosed areas with absorbent material to catch any accidents. This is just one of the many examples of the lengths handlers and owners go to to ensure their dogs’ well-being while participating in dog shows.


Royal treatment

When it comes down to showtime, the dogs are taken care of like royalty and are given anything they want. The treats that are usually given to house dogs are just not good enough for dogs who perform before a crowd.

Source: Ed Schipul/Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

One handler even admits that they treat their dogs with filet mignon during the show. It is totally understandable that any dog would be willing to put on a show if they were given such high-end treats as their reward. 


Reserved formal dogs

Many handlers have pointed out that dog shows are not natural for dogs. Normally, chaos would ensue if a group of dogs was placed in a ring together. However, due to extensive training, these dogs can perform sophisticated maneuvers and move in a controlled manner under bright lights. 

Source: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

Handlers do everything possible to ensure that the dogs enjoy the experience, which is why they provide high-end treats like filet mignon. It is a way of motivating the dogs and making the show experience enjoyable for them.


Highbrowed judges 

The intimidating dog show judges are highly analytical. They meticulously evaluate each breed from every point of view. However, the winner of Best in Show is not just based on physical attributes but also on an intangible quality that cannot be quantified. 

Source: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

Many judges have mentioned a certain “je ne sais quoi” as a factor in their decision-making process. This means that even if a dog has been groomed and trained to perfection, if it doesn’t possess that certain something–it may not be chosen as the winner.


Dogs' celebrity status

Since these canines have attained a level of fame, they always make a most impressive appearance. And for this, they need help, so It is not uncommon for a group of up to 12 people to accompany the dog, each taking on specific responsibilities. 

Source: Henry Miller News Picture Service/Archive Photos/Getty Images

A dog’s glam squad can include groomers, handlers, and owners, all of whom play a crucial role in the event’s proceedings. It is easy to see how this level of attention and care could be quite draining for all involved, but they enjoy it.


Beat the heat with spray bottles

The cameras may not show the behind-the-scenes moments of the dogs waiting for their turn to perform under the hot lights. But it can be a long and tedious wait and incredibly challenging for the dogs as they are known to struggle with regulating their body temperature. 

Source: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

Handlers often carry water spray bottles to ease overheating and keep the dogs cool and comfortable. Yet another of the many ways handlers ensure the welfare of the dogs under their care.


Music helps the dogs find their swagger

If you’re tuning in to the dog show from the comfort of your own home, you may not be aware that the dogs have their own personal soundtrack that plays as they take to the stage. These musical selections can range from classic hits by Elvis to more contemporary tracks by Post Malone. 

Source: Found Image Holdings/Corbis via Getty Images

This music aims to pump up the dogs and get them ready. The use of music helps the dogs prepare for their performance and gets them excited. It happens for dogs the same as it happens for athletes. 


Crowds gather for the “benched” show

“Benched” shows are an exciting opportunity for dog lovers to get up close to their favorite breeds. During these events, each dog must be at its designated “bench” for the entire day, where the public can purchase tickets to come and interact with them. 

Source: Michael Reichel/picture alliance via Getty Images

It’s a chance for the public to learn more about the different breeds of dogs and to create special memories with them. This is a perfect opportunity for dog lovers to get to know all the breeds and to find their ideal companion. It’s a dream come true for dog enthusiasts.


Laid back dogs

It’s not just puppy yoga that is responsible for the hall of tranquil dogs during these shows. The pups undergo rigorous training to guarantee that they can keep their cool and remain composed, even amidst all the hustle and bustle behind the scenes. 

Source: Carl Court/Getty Images

This is why the benched shows are so successful. These dogs can interact with the public like politicians–able to remain calm and collected even when faced with excitement and distraction. This level of training starts from an early age when the dogs are desensitized to loud noises and distractions.


Rigorous car inspection

Handlers are only able to participate in the show if their vehicle passes a stringent check. The handlers need to be prepared for any emergency situation that may arise. As part of the inspection, handlers are required to have a generator, air conditioning, water, and up-to-date fire extinguishers on board their vehicle. 

Source: Catherine Ledner/Getty Images

This is to safeguard that handlers would be able to keep their dog protected and secure in the event of a disaster. The safety and well-being of the pups are of the utmost importance, which is very nice to see!


One strike and you’re out

It may seem like a no-brainer, but there is one thing that can disqualify a dog from the show, regardless of its fame or popularity. If a dog bites another dog or any human, it will immediately be cast away from the event. 

Source: Isabel Vittrup-Pallier/Unsplash

This is an essential rule in place to ensure the safety of everyone involved in the show. However, it is important to note that muzzles are not considered an option. Having dogs wearing muzzles while performing on the floor would not be a pleasant sight. 


Attire purposefully chosen

The outfits worn by handlers are carefully chosen not to draw attention away from the dog they are showing. Additionally, practical footwear is a must for handlers, as it is essential to maintain the perfect trot during the show. 

Source: Eduardo Parra/WireImage/Getty Images

Handlers should follow a few guidelines when selecting their attire, such as avoiding wearing the same color as the dog’s coat, steering clear of dangly jewelry, and ensuring that their hem and necklines pass the “bend down” test.


A superstitious bunch

Dog handlers have a lot of superstitions when it comes to their routines and accessories. For example, some handlers are known to stick to the same leash every year, as they believe it brings them good luck. On the other hand, other handlers may only use the same leash once to prevent bad luck. 

Source: Warner Bros.

These superstitions may seem trivial, but they can significantly affect how handlers approach the show. If plans change unexpectedly, tensions can run high among handlers as they may think their good luck charm or routine has been disrupted.


The aches and pains of being a handler

A dog show is demanding not just for the dogs but for the handlers as well. Most career dog handlers experience physical challenges due to the tight schedule and the physicality of the show season. Constant parading and hours of practice can lead to complaints of hip and knee problems.

Source: Chris Hondros/Getty Images

Despite these challenges, many handlers attest that the hard work and dedication are worth it. The satisfaction and fulfillment they get from being with their dogs and representing them in the show ring is a rewarding experience. 


Best place to choose your next furry friend

Benched shows can be an invaluable resource when selecting the perfect companion for you. These shows provide an opportunity for the public to interact with a wide variety of different breeds of dogs and experts in the field. 

Source: Castle Rock Entertainment

By spending time with different breeds, you can better understand their characteristics, personality traits, and overall temperament. You can also ask questions and get advice from experts who have years of experience working with dogs and can provide valuable insight. You will definitely leave with an idea for a perfect match!