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Conformation Corgi stacking for owner

How to get started with Show Dogs

When beginning the journey into Conformation dog shows many ask, “Where do you even start?” Unfortunately, that question is often difficult to answer. There is little information on how to get started in conformation and what information there is, is often lacking in specifics. 

Such as where do you get a show prospect? Can you use any dog? Does grooming matter? What training do you do to prepare a dog to show? Along with many others. 

All of which are valid yet multifaceted questions. We’re going to delve into these questions step by step so that the process of how to get started becomes much less convoluted and far more streamlined. 

Related Posts: How A Dog Show Works: What Are They Judging?

Finding a Mentor

Arguably one of the most important things you can do before you start to show is find a mentor. They will become your go to for any question. From simple to complex they hold many of the answers a new person may have when started out in Conformation. 

What Is A Mentor and Why Are They Important?

A mentor is someone who has many years of experience in showing dogs. Oftentimes they are breeders as well as exhibitors. Due to their vast experience, mentors are excellent sources of knowledge especially when it comes to training, grooming, breeding, and what conformational traits to look for in an ideal dog. 

When waiting for a show prospect, taking the time to shadow a mentor allows you to learn how shows work. When first starting out, your mentor does not have to be in the breed you want to be part of. Having a mentor, before having a show prospect, allows you to gain experience in stacking and handling dogs that aren’t your own, opens the door into the basics of grooming, as well as offers insight on how class and point structures work. These aspects alone make a mentor invaluable. 

When the time comes that you acquire a show prospect typically your breeder will become your primary mentor. However, not everyone has a breeder they can go to shows with. This is why having multiple people you trust to learn from and be mentored by isn’t a bad thing.

Where to Find a Mentor

Finding a mentor can sometimes be the tricky part. Ideally you want to find someone local so that you can meet up with them to learn in person. 

One of the places you can begin your search is by emailing your local kennel club and simply explaining that you’re new to showing and would like to shadow someone to see what conformation shows are all about. Alternatively, you can go to a show and approach people in person. Just be mindful of what is going on ringside and ideally speak with them after they’re finished showing.

The AKC also offers a new exhibitor mentor program. This is a fantastic resource that matches mentors with those interested in learning to show. While you may be matched with someone local, it is unclear if that is common practice. Ideally, your first mentor is someone you can learn from in person as a hands-on approach when it comes to dogs leaves lasting results. 

When beginning your search to find a mentor it is important to keep in mind not everyone is going to be able nor willing to take on a mentee. While you may face rejections, it is important to not get disheartened. If rejected, it is acceptable to ask about a referral to someone else. 

AKC Mentor Program

Show Corgi puppy stacking for owner with treat

Finding a Show Dog Prospect

While we all love our dogs, unfortunately not just any dog is allowed to be shown. A show prospect must have full registration in order to be shown. Dogs with limited registration are not permitted to have their offspring registered. Since the purpose of a conformation show is to judge breeding stock, a limited registration dog is not permitted to be shown. 

While any dog with full registration can be shown, it is advised that when you’re seeking out a show prospect that you make sure that the parents of the dog you’re acquiring have titles in conformation. Unfortunately just because a dog is purebred, does not mean they are show quality. This makes it incredibly important to research the pedigree of your potential show prospect to make sure they are backed by a heritage that has proven themselves in the show ring. 

Finding a Show Quality Dog 

The first place to begin searching for a show prospect is a regional or national breed club’s website. Most will have a members list that allows buyers to contact breeders. While any breeder on these lists may have dogs, it is recommended you go with someone whose breed type you like. It’s an added bonus if your breeder lives local to you, as your breeder often becomes your most important mentor. 

Below are the links to the member directory for each corgi club,  as well as the directory of each club’s regional affiliate clubs within the United States. 

PWCCA Membership Directory

PWCCA Affiliate Clubs

CWCCA Membership Directory

CWCCA Affilaite Clubs

After you have found a breeder whose dogs you like, you can then reach out to them to inquire about a show prospect. From there you will be given a questionnaire which you must fill out, and if accepted will likely go onto a waiting list. It is very unusual for show puppies to be readily available so be prepared to wait awhile.

Some things to keep in mind

  • Your first show dog will likely be a male. This is because most breeders want to be certain that their girls go to experienced show homes. 
  • You likely will have no say in which show prospect you get. While it’s common to get a puppy, there are times where a breeder will recommend an older show prospect. This isn’t a bad thing as oftentimes these dogs already have a lot of the training needed to start off on the right foot. 
  • It is common to have your show prospect on a Limited rights contract. Which means you’ll be unable to breed the dog until the terms of the contract have been fulfilled. This is different from a limited registration as it still allows the dog to be on a full registration. These terms make sure that a dog is bred reputably.
  • Most show prospects are co-owned. What is a co-ownership? It is where the breeder of the puppy keeps their name on the paperwork as an owner while the puppy typically goes to live in a home with whoever intends to show them. 
  • You are allowed to say no. If the puppy you are offered doesn’t sound like it’ll fit your lifestyle and household, you are allowed to say no and look elsewhere. 

Rules, Regulations, and Entering Dog Shows

At a glance the many classes, rules, and regulations of a dog show can seem daunting. However, learning the terminology and how it applies will help tremendously. Having a mentor helps in this aspect as it can help to have someone there to explain in further detail should questions arise.

A good place to start is by simply going over the AKC conformation beginners guide. Which will walk you through class types, how awards work, championship levels, breed groups, and so much more.

As for entering a show, there are a couple of methods. The most commonly used method is entering through a website. At this time Infodog is the most popular website to enter dogs. Though, when entering online there is a nominal fee to pay for the convenience.

Alternatively you’re able to enter by manually filling out entry forms and mailing them to the address listed on the entry form. These forms are typically found at shows at the back of judging programs.

Supplies to Get Started

So you have a mentor and are actively assisting them at shows while you wait for a show prospect. Now what? This in-between time is perfect to start gathering the supplies you’ll need to get started showing. While you can certainly have more supplies, this is the bare minimum you need to show successfully and safely. 

Safety first. Travel is simply part of showing dogs. Exhibitors are on the road traveling to and from shows multiple times a year. Sometimes even multiple times a month. Which means the first thing recommended is a high quality travel crate. While wire crates may work in a pinch, they can be deadly in a crash. Investing in a crash rated crate will protect you and your dog if the worst were to happen. 

Next is grooming supplies. You’ll want to purchase any grooming products your breeder recommends. What brand tends to differ from breeder to breeder so make sure to check and see what they recommend first. Over time you can always add and try new things if needed. 

Typically this list includes a high quality shampoo, conditioner, brush spray, chalk, grooming table, grooming arm, grooming noose, force dryer, and an assortment of sprays and creams. On top of that you need a coat specific pin brush and a greyhound comb. It is important to note that the wrong grooming products can destroy the coat. A dog with a well conditioned coat shines in the show ring, whereas a dog with poor coat condition does itself no favors. 

In order to show you’ll need a show lead and collar. What are these? A show lead is the lead you’ll use to not only train your dog, but to take them into the ring. They are thin and unobtrusive so that they don’t distract from your dog.  A normal collar and leash simply aren’t acceptable tools when it comes to presenting a dog in conformation as they tend to spoil the outline of the dog. 

During this time you can have as much fun as you want. There is no such thing as being overly prepared. 

Show Prospect Corgi training

Training for Dog Shows

Training for a show prospect starts early in life. Most show breeders start their puppies young as a way to monitor how they’re growing and developing. Out of a litter of eight, most will become pets and maybe one or two will go on to become show prospects. It is important that once you have a show prospect that you continue this training. A well trained dog is an asset in the show ring. 

A good place to start is to find a local handling class that you and your prospect can attend together on a regular basis. This gives you guided instructions on the art of showing a dog as well as exposes your show prospect to the methods and environment of a show ring. 

Alongside classes at home, training is important. Such as regular daily stack training. This is where you take the lessons on how to stack from the handling class or your mentor and apply them daily at home in order to build a solid foundation. 

Training directly translates to how well your dog will succeed in the ring. A well trained dog  catches the eye of a judge more easily than a dog with poor manners.  


While getting started showing may seem like a bold feat, it becomes increasingly easier as time goes on. Everything may seem overwhelming at first, but armed with a mentor and the resources you’ll be off showing a dog in no time. 

In recent years the number of entries in conformation shows have continued to dwindle. It is of utmost importance to bring our numbers back up and introduce new people into the show world so that we can continue to preserve and protect our purebred dogs.