Dog Show Etiquette: Tips for Spectators

I live in Oklahoma City, and summers here are hot. Imagine my excitement, then, when I learned that the OKC Summer Classic dog show was in town and would be held indoors in an air-conditioned arena. I had never been to a dog show before, and my only experience had been watching on television, where the dogs are in the ring and the spectators are sitting quietly in the stands. This show was nothing like what I’d seen on TV. Dogs and their handlers were everywhere, hurrying to and from show arenas and grooming areas, and roaming among the various vendors. Just as my fiancée Emily and I walked in, we spotted a tiny, adorable Italian Greyhound. As Emily reached out to pet the dog, the handler scowled and backed the dog away. “What just happened?,” we thought. Obviously we had broken a rule, but I realized we didn’t know what the rules were. To avoid making any more embarrassing mistakes, I did some research about the general etiquette that dog show spectators should follow.

Ask Before You Pet

As Emily and I learned the hard way, spectators should never pet a show dog unless the handler gives permission. The dog may have been recently groomed in preparation to be judged, and you could accidentally mess up the dog’s coat. If you’ve ever seen an Afghan Hound’s long, silky coat right before a competition, you can imagine the time it took for the groomer to prepare. You don’t want to wreck their handiwork.

Watch Your Children

Emily and I could barely resist reaching out to touch the tiny Toy Poodles and giant Great Danes. For a small child, the temptation could be too great to handle. Make sure if you bring your children to the show, they understand that dogs are for looking only. Also, if your child is in a stroller, watch out for the wheels. You could unintentionally run over a canine paw or tail.

Visit the Grooming Area – But Only If It’s Open

The dog grooming area is not always open to spectators, so be sure to ask first. Emily and I were able to walk through the OKC Summer Classic grooming area and talk to professional groomers about their various breeds. Some dogs have very uniquely styled show coats, and the groomers know exactly how and why their dogs are presented like they are. After learning how much effort goes into grooming some breeds, I’m even more thankful that I only have shorthaired dogs.

Talk to the Breeders and Exhibitors

I am a proponent of animal rescue, and it’s relatively easy to adopt almost any type of purebred dog from a rescue organization. Unless you plan to show a dog yourself, I always recommend rescue over purchasing a purebred animal. That said, few people know more about your favorite breeds than the breeders who show them. Whether you plan to buy from a breeder or adopt from a rescue, ask questions of the breeders to learn more about your chosen breed. Just be sure they are not getting ready to show the dog. You wouldn’t want someone interrupting you while you were working, would you?

Leave Your Dog at Home

There are so many great pet-related vendors to see at dog shows, it can be tempting to bring your own dog along to enjoy the action. The only dogs allowed at most shows are the dogs entered into competition. If you bring your dog and cannot present contest-entry documents you and your pet both may be asked to leave. I didn’t see this happen during my visit to the dog show, but it would certainly be embarrassing if it happened to you.

Dog shows are fun events for animal lovers, and I can’t wait until the Oklahoma City show returns next year. I’ve never seen so many interesting breeds in one place, and the environment during the final judging was as exciting as many sporting events I’ve attended. I’ll know what to expect next time, and if you follow these simple rules, you will have a great time at a dog show too.