Showing a German shepherd is a sport. There is a lot that goes into properly presenting your dog in the ring. As with any sport, it is necessary to properly train and condition your German shepherd. Training should begin with your show line German shepherd dog as soon as you bring them home. This growing period is the most impressionable for the puppy.
Most essential to beginning ring training with a puppy is to make sure the puppy is enjoying themselves, and it is fun. Getting your puppy started at this age is both beneficial to you and the puppy.
Quick Puppy Tips
Socialize your puppy. You would like your pup to be comfortable around other dogs and crowds. The most crucial times for socializing puppies is between four weeks and four and a half months.
Let strangers touch your puppy. I know it can be hard to let people touch your new puppy, but trust me. Having people run their fingers through your puppies hair and teeth will be beneficial in the long run. This process emulates how your German shepherd will be inspected by a judge at a show. I can’t see a win in your dog’s future if you snaps a judge’s finger!
Keep training sessions short, and frequently reward your pup with their favorite toy or treat after each positive behavior.
Never severely punish your puppy. This creates an insecure puppy. Nothing shows better in the ring than a confident German shepherd.
Grooming Your Dog
At the top level of shows, very little grooming is required. However, a healthy coat is a must.
Bathe your dog a few days before the show. Never on the day of the show. Bathing your dog strips them of their natural oils. So on the first day after a bath, your dog’s coat will be dry.
Clean their ears and trim their nails.
Before their run in the ring, wipe off any eye boogers and loose hairs. You can even spray with an oil sheen. Ask us what we use.
Do not use dyes or color-enhancing products. Be honest about your dog’s appearance.
It’s A Team Effort: Your Handler and You
There is constant communication between you and your handler in the ring. Pay close attention to your handler as they circle around as they are able to read the dog. Usually the handler will cue to you to call by raising their hand. At this time, call your dog using their name or your desired call sound.
You cannot handle your own dog. If you try, your dog and you will not be successful in the ring. Unless your dog is trained to run ahead of you with great power, your run in the ring will be ineffective.
We at Haus Amberg Shepherds practice “double handling” with our shepherds in the show ring. In the German show ring, the dog moves at somewhat of a fast pace and allows the judge to see the powerful movement behind the dog. You will need a Show Collar and a Show Leash. Sometimes your handler will have a preferred one that they will bring, but it is best to have your own for practice with your dog.
For puppies, the most common type of double handling is to run just a few paces in front of your pup outside of the ring. This method is useful as they are not yet used to the show environment and need a bit more coaching.
Just outside of reach. If you decide to use this method, get ready to run! This way is a bit more advanced and should be practiced on more experienced dogs. Rather than staying in close range to your shepherd around the ring, you as the owner or caller would stay atleast one corner and ringside length away from your dog as they circle the ring.
At quieter, smaller shows or if your dog is too attached to the owner, having them hide behind the blind (a blind image) is quiet effective. Two blinds are often set up at opposing sides of the ring. You and another caller can use these to hide behind to call your dog as they circle the ring. If blinds are not available, many owners will use spectators to hide behind. Each owner takes turns calling the shepherd depending on where they are in the ring.
In the big shows around the world and the major shows in the United States, the dog is shown in a faster gait with the German shepherd running in front of the handler with the dog gaiting counter-clockwise around the ring. This structure is taught as a puppy using “double handling,” which we will go over in detail later.
The gait is outreaching, elastic, seemingly without effort, smooth and rhythmic, covering the maximum amount of ground with the minimum number of steps. At a walk it covers a great deal of ground, with long stride of both hind legs and forelegs.
The feet travel close to the ground on both forward reach and backward push. In order to achieve ideal movement of this kind, there must be good muscular development and ligamentation. The hindquarters deliver, through the back, a powerful forward thrust which slightly lifts the whole animal and drives the body forward.
Your Dog’s Stack
As I often explain to our clients who are interested in diving into the show world, stacking your German shepherd at the early stages is crucial to the success of your shepherd. If you wait too long to start this training, the more and more difficult it will be. If your dog gets antsy and irritable while you attempt to place them in a stack, it means you are not practicing enough. At show time, your handler will take the reins in regards to stacking and showing in the ring. An experienced handler will know how to properly show your dog. We just need you to lay the foundation, so to speak.
Position your puppy in the proper stack position (referene image) for short periods of time throughout the day (5 minute sessions), and use your desired command at this time (much like you would say “sit” to have your pup sit).
We use German commands, so the command for our shepherds is “Steh (German for “Stand”). Doing this as often as you can will build tolerance for your dog to hold this position, which comes natural to most German shepherds.
Conditioning Your Dog
Your breed of dog is a medium-sized working dog and should be shown in working condition, which means lean and fit. Judges frown at overweight dogs (SV Weight and Height Standards)
If your shepherd shows a few ribs, it is far more acceptable than if your shepherd has a droopy belly or no visible tuck. How much physical training you do with your dog depends on the age of your dog.
Physically conditioning your dog should be reserved for a time when your puppy reaches over a year and a half. Puppies and young adolescents should have exercise to keep them fit and begin the process of muscle tone building, but you cannot do heavy conditioning work on a dog under the age of one to one and a half years old. It is too stressful for a young dog’s joints.
At adulthood, around two years of age, your dog can begin heavy conditioning to increase your dog’s muscle tone and stamina. It is quite crucial to your dog’s performance in the ring. We have seen dogs start at the top position and fall to the middle of the pack because of lack of conditioning. Stagger your dog’s workouts and the intensity of the workouts.
Practice Makes Perfect!
Meet up with your handler shortly before the show to practice. There are often gaps between each class at a show. Use this vital time to make a couple of runs with your handler and dog. Your dog’s success in the ring depends a lot on how much prep work your put into it. It’s not as easy as it looks and is quite an undertaking. Don’t be discouraged, because we are here to answer all your training questions.
Alishia co-owns Haus Amberg Shepherds with her husband, Patrick. Having lived and worked with shepherds in Germany for years, she has collected a pool of knowledge that she would like to share with fellow German shepherd enthusiasts.
Our Mission: To provide top-quality German shepherds and expert advice.