Conformation Shows - German Style
A Beginner's Guide

by Eve Guillot

So, you've got an AKC Champion and you've decided to enter your first German style conformation show. You and your dog know all the right moves - he baits and stacks beautifully, and if you're not a professional handler, you could be. Obviously, your style in the ring will show the dog to its advantage. Right? Wrong! You're about to enter a whole new realm of conformation shows - a world where most of the things you've learned about showing in the AKC world are not only useless in the German ring, but can in fact be damaging.

Preparation for a German style show starts months before the show itself. The German and FCI judges see not only the conformation of the dog, but its condition as well. A dog that is physically fit has more energy, a better coat, and does not tire easily. In the German style shows, the judges will run the dogs for quite awhile, and as the dogs get tired, conformation faults appear and the topline starts to sag. A fat, out of shape dog will therefore place much lower than a fit dog of the same quality. Proper conditioning of a dog will ensure the best possible rating for that particular dog. Start conditioning your dog by having him trot briskly next to you (many people use bicycles). If the dog is out of shape, start with one mile 3-4 times a week. As your dog gets comfortable with his current workout, increase the distance by 1/4 to 1/2 mile increments until he is trotting 4 to 5 miles at a time, several days a week. It takes a long time to condition a dog, so start several months before your show. Generally, approximately 400 miles of roadwork are necessary before you will notice a big difference in his muscle tone/size.

A day or two before the show, bathe your dog and clip his nails. Except for brushing him, that is all that is necessary. The dog must be shown in his natural state - no trimming his coat or using any unnatural substances to change his appearance (such as dying white hairs or using a spray shine product). If your dog has a heavy plaque or tartar build up on his teeth, scale them. If you don't know how to do this, seek advise from someone who does, or have your vet do it.

When you arrive at the show grounds, the first difference you will notice is clothing. There are no women in skirts or men in suits. Everyone is dressed casually comfortable, and the footwear of choice is sneakers. The next thing you may notice is the size of the show ring itself. The show ring used for German style shows are quite large by AKC standards - more the size of the Group Ring. Put these two things together, and you may come to the correct conclusion - you're going to be doing a lot of running.

The first thing you will do upon arrival is find a catalog, pick up your numbers and determine how long you have before your class. In an AKC Show, you use the general formula of 2 minutes per entry. In a German show, the judge has to critique each dog, so plan on at least 7 minutes per dog, but watch carefully, because this is only a guess at best.

When your class is called, place your leash on the dead ring of the fur saver choke chain (fur savers are recommended, and no show chains please) and enter the ring in catalog order. Don't worry about making the dog look good at this point - the judge isn't looking and you'll only tire the dog. The judge and his interpreter will go to each dog in turn to check the mouths, and for the male classes the testicles.

You are expected to show the dogs mouth. The judge will not do it for you. Learn how to show first the bite, then the teeth on either side (including those pesky premolars) and finally open the dogs mouth wide so that the judge can inspect the mouth pigmentation in the back of the mouth. It doesn't matter if your dog is standing, sitting or lying down, just as long as the judge can see what he needs to see. Remember, you don't need to see the dogs mouth, the judge does. Make sure you're not so busy trying to see the mouth yourself that you're blocking the judges view. To show the mouth, pull the collar forward so it rests behind the ears. Take your right hand and hook your middle, ring and pinky fingers through the dogs collar under his chin. With the thumb and forefinger of your right hand, lightly pull the lower lip down, while with your left hand, using thumb and forefinger only, pull up the upper lip. Keep the middle, ring and pinky fingers of your left hand balled up so as not to obstruct your dogs view - he will struggle to see if you block his view.

It is a little more difficult to show the side teeth, simply because the pre- molars are often hidden by a flap on the inner lip. Holding onto the collar in the same manner as for showing the bite, pull the right side of the lips apart using your thumbs. If the pre-molars are not visible, run the index finger of your right hand along the base of the lower gum to pull the lip out and move the tongue over. To show the left side, use the index and middle fingers of each hand to pull the lips apart and again use your index finger at the base of the gum to see the pre-molar. Next, simply pull the jaws apart so the judge can see the mouth pigment. Practice showing the mouth so it can be done as quickly as possible with minimal fuss - the judge will appreciate it, and so will the dog.

After you have shown the mouth, you will probably have quite a bit of time, depending on where you are in line, to relax. Use it. Let your dog lay or sit if he desires, and you will often see their handlers doing the same. If it's hot, try finding some close shade, or have someone bring you some water or a damp, cool cloth to help the dog remain cool.

When it is your turn, bring the dog forward to the place the judge has indicated, and have your helper ready to attract your dog. A favorite toy or squeaker are commonly used. The best item I ever saw was a very realistic monkey puppet which not only attracted that dogs attention, but every other dog in the ring, as well as all the spectators! Oh, by the way, double handling is not only allowed in the German ring, but is encouraged. Sometimes the helper may enter the ring to attract the dog, but some judges prefer that the helpers remain outside the ring area to do the attracting, so pay attention. DO NOT use food. Allow your dog to move to the end of the leash. You may move him forward a couple of steps to allow him to stand as squarely as possible, but do not hand stack him. Remember, it's the dogs natural conformation being judged. The judges do not want you physically manipulating your dog position, or standing out in front of him.

Your assistant should attract the dogs attention by squeaking the toy, tossing the ball up into the air, or whatever. A word of caution though - don't overdo it. You want the dog to look alert, to be standing well under himself, but you do not want him attracted to the point that he's bouncing around trying to get at the toy. Also, your assistant should place themselves in one spot, and pretty much stay there. The judge will move around as necessary to see the dog from all angles; if the assistant moves around, changing the angles, the judge can't see what he needs to see. Some judges tend to get irritated after trying to see the dog from a particular angle several times, only to have the handler or assistant move the dog, so watch it! After your dog is standing nicely, freeze your position and hold the leash slightly up and out in front of you. If your dog breaks his position, feel free to walk him a few steps, or circle him around and try again. Sometimes slight pressure on the lead in one direction or the other will be enough to get him to shift his weight or move an ill-positioned leg. But remember, the judge isn't judging how well the dog is trained to pose...he's judging the dog's conformation. As the judge is looking at your dog, he will be orally critiquing it (most likely in German), the translator will be interpreting, and the typist will be typing the critique word for word. The critiques will be handed out at the end of the day, after the judge has had a chance to sign them.

At some point, the judge will indicate to you that he wishes you to gait dog. Usually he will want you to run a pattern, such as a triangle, and he will want you to do so on a loose leash. He wants to see the dogs natural movement, and he can't see that if you're holding the dogs head up or off to one side the way its commonly done in an AKC show ring. Most likely, he will have you repeat the pattern until you do it on a loose leash, but also, it is possible that the judge may come to the conclusion that "the dog is not free in movement". This is part of the critique. It is to your advantage, therefore, to let the dog move naturally. Also to your advantage, move out quickly. Your dog can't have "free and far-reaching movement" if you are mincing around the ring like you have a poodle on a string. Don't worry about how you look, the judge isn't critiquing you.

When the judge has finished his critique of your dog, go to the end of the line and relax. After he has critiqued all dogs in the class, the judge will ask the handlers to move their dogs. You will start at a medium walking pace until all the dogs are moving in a circle and are spaced evenly around the ring. Then he will start the running. Remember to use the entire ring, don't cut corners. The judges will run the dogs for quite awhile, so unless you are a marathon runner, learn how to hand your dog off to another runner without breaking stride. Kind of like those relay races you used to run in school sports. You may change runners as often as necessary so long as you keep the dog moving. Again, move out briskly. As your dog gets tired, or even before, it's fine to talk to your dog to encourage him to keep up his pace. If the dog in front of you is too slow to allow your dog to strut his stuff, pass them. Catalog order is not important at this point. As the dogs are moving, the judge will start pulling dogs into the center of the ring. If you are among the first pulled in, don't get your hopes up. In the AKC ring, the judges point to the top dogs in the class, but the German shows usually operate on a process of elimination. Dogs are eliminated until there is only one dog left running. That is the one dog that will usually win the class. Occasionally the judge may change placements after all dogs are pulled in, but not very often.

When all the dogs are in, the circus begins. All the assistants get lined up with their dogs, and attract the dogs attention to make them look their very best in the hopes of gaining a placement or two. The judge will go down the line, comparing the dogs and making final placements. After the final placement, the assistants are no longer needed to attract the dogs. At this time, the judge will explain why he placed each dog where he did, and what the dogs rating is. In German style shows, each dog is compared against the standard, not the dog in front or behind yours. For dogs 2 years of age and up the ratings are:

In a class of 20 dogs, they may all be V or SG, or there may be no V or SG rated dogs. The top 4 dogs are then given placements of 1st through 4th place, with their rating preceding their placement. Thus, if the top 3 dogs were V rated, and the 4th place dog were rated SG, their ratings would be V1, V2, V3 and SG4. However, the exception to this rule is that a dog rated G or below, no matter where they are placed in the line, will not receive a placement. Thus if the top dog was V rated, the next 2 SG and the 4th one G, the ratings would be V1, SG2, and SG3. There would be no 4th Place awarded. In the young dog classes, 12 - 24 months, the highest rating is SG, so a G rated young dog would still be placed. In classes under 12 months, the ratings are:

One very important thing to keep in mind is that this is supposed to be fun. A conformation show will give you an evaluation of your dogs physical beauty, but it will tell you nothing of the dogs character, working ability or of its ability to provide pleasure in your life. No matter what your critique says, isn't the bottom line the pleasure we derive from our dogs? So enjoy yourself, enjoy your dog, and be a good sport. We're here to have fun, and that's what our dogs are all about.

Previously published in the United States Rottweiler Club Magazine.
Copyright 1991 by Eve Guillot. All rights reserved.
Republished on the Rottie-L website with author's permission - thank you!
Permission to reprint is granted for private use or club newsletters.
All others must obtain written permission from the author.

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