Conformation Class Frustrations

I just came back from conformation class and I am getting a bit frustrated and upset. Neither Zoni or I are anywhere near perfect yet with this and I'm okay with that as we've got till the end of June before her likely first show. And if she isn't ready I'll wait a little longer (although I really want her to show at the WI basenji specialty at the end of July). I've been trying to keep the training for conformation as positive as I can make it (particularly on the table) using methods described in "Positive Training for Show Dogs" and "Clicker Training for Obedience". Zoni is doing a few things right now in class that she really isn't doing at home too much a) she's jumping up (front feet in the air) and walking back on the table and won't stand still when the judge reaches out to her and while examining her, b) when I'm running her around the ring, she often plops down and stops and doesn't want to move or scratches profusely at her show collar as we're going around.

This issue is that I'm not particularly comfortable with the methods of the teacher/judge of the class (she's a Doberman breeder, but I believe she has handled Nemo's breeder's basenjis in the past) to fix the issues. When Zoni was acting up on the table today, she was having Zoni walk some of her feet off the table to simulate her possibly falling if she walked too far to the back or the side. My impression was that you aren't supposed to do that, it seems like it would make the dog afraid of the table more than solving the problem.

When Zoni was supposed to be stacked in front of the judge on the floor but was jumping backward away from her, the teacher held the lead which made the leash tighten which of course was painful when Zoni kept pulling backwards which made her scream and choke a little as she kept pulling more and more. The comment was "she has to learn for herself not to do that". That just made me feel sick to my stomach. The teacher said I was letting some of the improper behaviors become a habit for her, which I don't necessarily disagree with. And maybe I'm a little lax on corrections and erring too much on the side of only positive reinforcement but this doesn't feel completely right to me.

In part I also think a contributing factor might be that Zoni is tired at class time. The class is at 8:00 pm and she usually takes a short nap around that time. There is a conformation class mainly for junior handlers on Mondays that is earlier at 5:00 that I could try to go to, but it would be a challenge to do that with my work schedule.

I'm just wondering if I should hold off on going to conformation class for a few weeks until I have her a little better trained so I can avoid this type of situation. On the flip side, I hate to loose the opportunity for her to get used to being around other dogs and the show procedures, etc. I definitely need the practice. I'm planning to have some friends come over to help with getting her more comfortable with strangers coming up to her on the table so I hopefully I can begin to make progress on that front.

Sorry, a bit long-winded.

I would do one of two things in this situation. Either try to find a new conformation class…or tell the teacher "please don't do that, I want class to be purely fun for her"...because puppy conformation class should be all about fun, and getting them comfortable with the whole process. I would much rather take a poorly behaved puppy who is having fun into ANY ring at a show, than a terrified, nervous wreck. We all expect that Basenji puppies are going to goof off in the ring...and nobody cares...it is all a slow learning process for them. If you are too hard on them as puppies, the worst case is they get growly while you show them...not quite as bad, but not good, is that they learn to hate the show ring, and they never really shine, and it may inhibit their ability to look their best, and finish their CH.

I think your plan is good, practice, but make it fun...not too long. When I have baby puppies, we rarely ever stay for a whole class...it is too long. Don't every let anyone make your dog feel insecure on the table...bad, bad idea. You need to do lots of treats, and comforting on the table at this point. As you suggested enlist your friends. You can be firm with them on the table, by resetting them over and over, in a calm, stable manner.

Just as an aside, when I get advice from people who show working dogs, I keep in mind that they expect something a little different of their dogs in the show ring...even slightly poor behavior is completely unacceptable for them, I mean, they are the dogs that have been bred to be trained to help man.

Do you mind sharing who the teacher is?

I agree with Andrea. Showing should be fun for puppies and this approach is not fun for you nor Zoni.

This weekend we went to a UKC show so Bella could get some ring practice. Many of their shows have a Non-licensed class (like AKC's non regular classes) for Novice Puppies 4-6 months old. It was great for Bella who in the first show did many of the things that you said but was much more relaxed by the second show and I think if we had done Sunday too she would have improved even more. The judges were very nice and though it was a long day the times in the ring were short and she spent much of the day napping in her ex-pen or socializing with the people at the show. Here in California the UKC shows are pretty small though too.

I don't know…what is happening in your class doesn't sound right to me. You want your puppy to have fun and not associate showing with pain or fear.

I went to a 2 day George Alston handling seminar this weekend in NY (with Ruby - dog must be 1yr old or older) - very, very intense (and not for the thin-skinned) but really worth it, IMHO.

One thing he said was that while the puppy is teething that I should only practice her walking on lead and things like stand and stand/stay, having the puppy touched by other people and having the pup around other dogs and people (also get used to the sound of applause). He said to NOT practice stacking on the table and not to practice stacking period. Pretty much don't work on the show routine until the pup is thru teething. His reasoning was that while a puppy is teething, they are in pain and their attention span is really short and that it is really easy for them to make the association of the teething pain with the show experience and then it will be hard to make a good association later on. I'm sure there are others that will not agree and say that the sooner you start training the better.

BTW, he also teaches to handle w/out bait and that a softer touch is much better (be careful when your adrenaline starts taking over) - 2 fingers to adjust legs, etc. For me, because I went to that seminar and saw how well his methods work (we had a show at the end of class and out of 9 beginners, I took 2nd - doing an "L" pattern :eek::D), I'm going to continue with what I learned in that seminar.

I will do a series of outdoor handling classes here next month, but will use Ruby - until Liyah has lost all her baby teeth. I haven't done any sort of training with Liyah for showing, as it is, because her breeder had asked me to wait until I went to the seminar. I visited with Liyah's breeder after the seminar and we all agreed that if "no bait" was how I wanted to do it, they were good with that (they will be showing her in some classes). If she isn't ready to show when she is first eligible, so be it. We have nothing but time. Right now my training focus will be on me - learning how to handle a dog and not me learning how to handle a specific dog.

So this was my long way of saying...could you take Nemo to the class instead of Zoni. That way you learn with a dog that is better behaved...he might have fun. Or could you audit the class - pay to watch.

When/if I take puppies to class… What I want to see with a puppy is that they are are happy, tail wagging, goofy on the table when someone comes up to them.. time enough later to get them to stand still... I want them to have fun... And I have has the instructor say "You need to get him/her to stand still"... or "this would never do in the show ring"... and my response is... "this is exactly what I want to see at this point... he/she is having fun"...

@Quercus:

Do you mind sharing who the teacher is?

I have to verify what her last name is, but I'll email it to you. Don't want to make enemies in the local kennel club.

I wouldn't say that she is very happy, wiggly in class perhaps a little stressed. Although in general she isn't that outwardly exhuberent with strangers. Her breeder described her as having the most "delicate" personality of the litter and a little more reserved which suggested to me that I need to be more careful about training her and that is why this was really disturbing me. The stress dandruff is very apparent in class and she is a bit distracted by everything going on but she is more than happy to take treats and listens to me as I run her through different commands to keep her occupied while we're waiting. She behaves similarly in the puppy socialization class (which is all positive training), seems a little stressed and is not as outgoing as a lot of the other puppies. She'll only eat really high value treats in class. But she was less reserved last week in puppy class and a lot more playful so I think that is a sign that she is getting more comfortable around large groups of people and dogs.

The conformation class is taught through the local kennel club and is continuously ongoing, rotating teachers every 8 weeks or so. Except for a 11 wk Toller puppy, Zoni is definitely the youngest puppy in class, every other dog is about 8 mo or older. And previous to this, the teacher was a lot more gentle with Zoni on the table but made the comment that at 4 1/2 mo she is old enough to stand still and behave so we shouldn't be encouraging this behavior. :mad:

So, I think I'll probably check out the early Monday class and start off with that teacher exactly what I want to get out of it…an enjoyable experience. I like the suggestion of going to just half the class, an hour is probably way too long. The puppy socialization classes are almost half that time.

I'm also curious when people begin showing and when "serious" show training starts. At 6 mo or typically later? The impression this teacher and others are giving is that I'm way behind in show training but I don't really see it that way...and doesn't seem consistent with what people are saying on this board. It seems like a number of the basenji people in my area are pretty gung ho and start showing the puppies very early (I know some that have finished at 9 mo) and the puppies are amazingly well behaved in the ring. I've just been focusing on basic obedience but incorporating more of the showing related commands such as stand, keeping the sessions at about 10-15 min at time, with about 5 min or less on the table every now and then. Plus off-lead, left-side walking and occasionally on the lead. I don't really know how I could make things progress much faster than what I'm doing and I don't think I would necessarily want to or need to.

@renaultf1:

So this was my long way of saying…could you take Nemo to the class instead of Zoni. That way you learn with a dog that is better behaved...he might have fun. Or could you audit the class - pay to watch.

Good idea, this might be an option. Nemo is super easy to stack on a table for a non-show dog. And he's real mellow with strange people.

My mom only started bringing Bella to conformation class about 4 weeks ago which is when she turned about 5 months old. Bella is a little fussy on the table and has a unique interpretation of gaiting at the moment but she gets better each week and each time she is in the ring. My mom is eager to show her and entered her in what are usually small shows this week and next, she turns 6 months old on Friday.

I don't usually rush puppies and I know my mom is going to the shows with the idea that her and Bella will have fun and get ring experience. She doesn't expect to win, she just wants Bella to be around a show and get used to the sights and sounds. It is important to look for judges that are good with puppies though and will give them a good experience.

I should also add that even at 2 years old, Sophie is still wiggly and has a hard time standing still. That is the way Sophie is and we won't do well under judges that expect show dogs to be perfect showmen. On the other hand there are also plenty of judges that can appreciate that standing still and being a "showdog" is not the first love of most basenjis and will give youngsters a chance even if they are perfectly behaved.

Well…when I USED to train my showdogs 😉 It has been a progression as I learned what I was doing....and also is somewhat specific to the dog. Querk (our first) went to puppy conformation class every week from the time he was 10 weeks old or so. It was very laid back, and I learned a whole lot...it was really more about me learning to show the dog, and relax 🙂 Blondie rarely went to class, and a lot of our training happened at fun matches, and shows. Bella is a natural show girl, and really needed no training...nothing has ever bothered her in the ring, on the table, on the showgrounds...she could kinda do it on her own, I think...she even managed to win breed over Querk, with Tim showing her and stepping on her foot as a puppy! Bella's son, Hippo/Carl is the epitome of no training what-so-ever. Being pregnant with twins just didn't allow me to get him trained the way I wanted to. The first time he was in a ring was at almost six months, and it showed. He still doesn't like the judge to open his lips....he isn't angry about it, he just twitches around...we are working on it...sigh....

Anyhow...where was I going with this? Oh...the more work you put into it, the better the dog will do in the ring, obviously...but it is really much more about the novice handler learning what to do at this point, than the puppy learning what to do. You have to get the dog accustomed to what will happen in the show ring, but not at the expensive of scaring them, kwim? Since you know she is a sensitive soul, ease up on her...keep going, but focus on you learning the routine, not necessarily on her behaving perfectly.

Most people I know do their training in the ring 😉 it probably shows...but if once you are used to the routine of showing, it is much easier to do. I think the table is really where you should put your effort in, and you can do that at home...just make it comfortable and fun 🙂

@Nemo:

I'm also curious when people begin showing and when "serious" show training starts. At 6 mo or typically later? The impression this teacher and others are giving is that I'm way behind in show training but I don't really see it that way…and doesn't seem consistent with what people are saying on this board. It seems like a number of the basenji people in my area are pretty gung ho and start showing the puppies very early (I know some that have finished at 9 mo) and the puppies are amazingly well behaved in the ring. I've just been focusing on basic obedience but incorporating more of the showing related commands such as stand, keeping the sessions at about 10-15 min at time, with about 5 min or less on the table every now and then. Plus off-lead, left-side walking and occasionally on the lead. I don't really know how I could make things progress much faster than what I'm doing and I don't think I would necessarily want to or need to.

Ha, ha, well…you are way ahead of me...like I said in my post, I've done nothing in the way of conformation training with Liyah. The only stacking Liyah has done was for her puppy pics on Eldorado's website. :D;)

Personally after reading your description of Zoni's personality, to me, that is even more of a reason to be careful about how hard you push her and more of a reason to make sure she is having fun. I wouldn't overload her too early on...

The classes locally allow me to pay as I go for each session and to drop in...don't know if that is the way it is for you. But if so, maybe do a half class with Zoni and the following week do a full class with Nemo (rotate it). With Nemo, you'll still be learning about handling a dog...even if it isn't the one you'll be showing. I know I'm probably learning more with Ruby right now than I could ever with Liyah given Liyah's short puppy attention span (ha, ha...look at me say that Ruby has a good attention span...I guess it is all relative :D:D:D). And that is probably why that seminar I just went to required that the dog be over a year old.

@Quercus:

Well…when I USED to train my showdogs 😉 It has been a progression as I learned what I was doing....and also is somewhat specific to the dog. Querk (our first) went to puppy conformation class every week from the time he was 10 weeks old or so. It was very laid back, and I learned a whole lot...it was really more about me learning to show the dog, and relax 🙂 Blondie rarely went to class, and a lot of our training happened at fun matches, and shows. Bella is a natural show girl, and really needed no training...nothing has ever bothered her in the ring, on the table, on the showgrounds...she could kinda do it on her own, I think...she even managed to win breed over Querk, with Tim showing her and stepping on her foot as a puppy! Bella's son, Hippo/Carl is the epitome of no training what-so-ever. Being pregnant with twins just didn't allow me to get him trained the way I wanted to. The first time he was in a ring was at almost six months, and it showed. He still doesn't like the judge to open his lips....he isn't angry about it, he just twitches around...we are working on it...sigh....

Anyhow...where was I going with this? Oh...the more work you put into it, the better the dog will do in the ring, obviously...but it is really much more about the novice handler learning what to do at this point, than the puppy learning what to do. You have to get the dog accustomed to what will happen in the show ring, but not at the expensive of scaring them, kwim? Since you know she is a sensitive soul, ease up on her...keep going, but focus on you learning the routine, not necessarily on her behaving perfectly.

Most people I know do their training in the ring 😉 it probably shows...but if once you are used to the routine of showing, it is much easier to do. I think the table is really where you should put your effort in, and you can do that at home...just make it comfortable and fun 🙂

This is really good. 🙂 I think it is just natural for a newbie like myself to feel like "I should be doing more to get my pup ready"…but when you read your post or Lisa's post previous to yours, you see that it isn't all about getting the puppy ready, in fact it is even more about you being ready (knowing the routine, the standard, all of it). In the end, you can only have so much control over the dog…you can have more control over yourself, your knowledge & understanding.

@renaultf1:

This is really good. 🙂 I think it is just natural for a newbie like myself to feel like "I should be doing more to get my pup ready"…but when you read your post or Lisa's post previous to yours, you see that it isn't all about getting the puppy ready, in fact it is even more about you being ready (knowing the routine, the standard, all of it). In the end, you can only have so much control over the dog…you can have more control over yourself, your knowledge & understanding.

I would definitely agree with this. One thing I'm experiencing that I wasn't necessarily expecting is that once you have a "show dog" in the kennel club I'm at, the expectations and awareness of you and your puppy seem to heighten significantly versus a "pet dog". In the puppy class, the teachers know she is doing conformation and give helpful advice towards it, but they also seem to expect her to be further along than the other puppies because of it. I believe it's all coming from good intentions but doesn't necessarily come across that way all the time.

@renaultf1:

The classes locally allow me to pay as I go for each session and to drop in…don't know if that is the way it is for you. But if so, maybe do a half class with Zoni and the following week do a full class with Nemo (rotate it). With Nemo, you'll still be learning about handling a dog...even if it isn't the one you'll be showing. I know I'm probably learning more with Ruby right now than I could ever with Liyah given Liyah's short puppy attention span (ha, ha...look at me say that Ruby has a good attention span...I guess it is all relative :D:D:D). And that is probably why that seminar I just went to required that the dog be over a year old.

I just pay a one time yearly fee for the kennel club, it covers any classes that I want to take during the year. It's a pretty sweet deal. The conformation class is drop-in so you can come to it whenever you feel like.

I remember when I took my first classes with Shadow. The trainer was deathly afraid of Basenji's as she had been bitten by one before. And even at 4-5 months, Shadow knew it. And he pushed her. She wouldn't come up to him on the stand and go over him. So everything I learned, I basically relearned when I went into the show ring. While the handlers train the puppies, IMO, very strictly, I'm more of the type of, 'I'll wait to see what type of day the dog is having'. I find that no matter how hard I trained, there would be days that you really just needed to go with the flow of the dog. I've actually learned more from the Basenji people than from a training class.

@Nemo:

I just pay a one time yearly fee for the kennel club, it covers any classes that I want to take during the year. It's a pretty sweet deal. The conformation class is drop-in so you can come to it whenever you feel like.

Again…you're lucky to have such an option! :D:D I'm envious.

@renaultf1:

Again…you're lucky to have such an option! :D:D I'm envious.

Well, it's also a "you get what you pay for" situation. All of the teachers are volunteers so you don't necessarily get what I would call quality instruction necessarily by everyone. I'm excited about taking the agility and rally classes in the future.

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