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Pincie Creek Australian Shepherds

About our breed

1997 Ė Elaine C. Stevens

In my opinion, the hardest part of showing a dog in conformation is getting started. Although conformation is not really my "thing", I do show some in conformation. As one who has "been there, done that" I feel qualified to write this article which I hope might help some of you who are new to the breed, have just decided to start showing in conformation, or are thinking about it. Keep in mind that what follows is strictly my opinion, based on my experience, and may not apply to all.

First you must select your dog. I personally think it is best for a novice handler to go ahead and spend a little more money and purchase an older dog, one that already has some points, or at least has been trained to stand for grooming, stack itself, and has been shown some. You can learn from a veteran dog. Itís much better if one of you knows something about whatís going on than for two greenies to hop in there together, which is the way Rowdy and I started out.

If an older dog is not a consideration, then you must begin your search for a suitable show prospect puppy. Unless you get lucky, this will not be an easy task, and in all probability the first puppy you buy will not be the one you end up showing to a championship. First you must realize that there are several different "types" of Aussies. There are different sizes, body shapes, head shapes, amounts of bone, coat, etc. Although in my opinion it should not be this way, there are certain "types" that seem to have much more success in the breed ring than others do, so choose wisely if you want to show successfully in conformation. You should attend shows, talk to breeders, ask for videos, and do whatever you can to look at as many Aussies as possible. When you find the "look" you like, then find out who the breeder of that line of dogs is. Contact them, and tell them which dog you saw that you like and request one as close to that one in type as possible. Again in my opinion, it simply is not possible to tell when a puppy is eight weeks old whether or not it will "finish", although some breeders will tell you it will. Iíve bought, raised, and watched too many puppies belonging to other people grow up Ė they change. Sometimes a lesser pup in the litter turns out to be stunning when mature. The pick of the litter may fall apart at a year old. Usually a breeder who "guarantees" a pup to finish either includes a clause in their contract that says "with proper training and/or handling" (which gives them an "out" if your dog doesnít finish) or will agree to take the dog and show it if you are unable to finish it. Try to buy from a breeder who shows regularly in conformation and lives close enough by to help you with training and grooming your dog. Breeders know their lines better than anyone else does and if you buy from them, they should be willing and able to help you get started and encourage you along the way.

Temperament is of utmost importance. In order to show well the dog must have lots of self-confidence and a happy, outgoing, "loves everybody" attitude. This is a point that has been difficult for me to accept. The ASCA breed standard states that an Aussie should be "reserved toward strangers". But yet in order to show well an Aussie must greet strange judges with enthusiasm and Ė without showing fear, shyness, or aggression Ė allow this strange person to approach them and handle them from nose to toe, including the most private parts in between. It seems to me that this is in direct conflict with true Aussie temperament according to our breed standard. But Ė if you want to show successfully in conformation, thatís the way it must be.

If at all possible, attend a conformation class or two. Constructive criticism accepted with an open mind can work wonders. Also, classes prepare you and your dog for the real thing. One of the very best aids for improvement that I have found is to have someone video you and your dog while gaiting and stacking. Also buy some good books. Two I highly recommend are: "The Forsyth Guide to Successful Dog Showing" by Robert and Jane Forsyth (especially good for beginners) and "The Winning Edge Ė Show Ring Secrets" by George G. Alston. A big part of winning is the psychological perspective. Both handler and dog must be in the right frame of mind to do well. "The Winning Edge" explores and supports this theory. After Rowdy went Winnerís Dog for the first time, there was a long dry spell when nothing happened. I was very disheartened. I knew I wasnít doing my best when showing Rowdy because my heart just wasnít in it Ė I felt defeated before we ever went into the ring. I read "The Winning Edge" right before our next show. It really inspired me; I was "all pumped up" and full of confidence. Rowdy went Winnerís the very first night of that show. So I know first hand that frame of mind is a very important factor in showing.

Ask experienced show people for help.  There are always experienced show people standing at ringside, waiting their turn. Find one you know (or get to know one) and then ask them to watch you and your dog, and after you show, to critique you. These people are usually good about sharing not only their opinions but also tips that can help you and your do show better. But be prepared and put on your alligator hide. If you donít want the truth, donít ask for it.

Be patient. It will take several shows for you and your dog to get the hang of things. Even if its structure and movement are really good, your dog must get to the point where it relaxes and begins to show well before it will begin to win. And you must get to the point where you donít trip over your feet (or the leash), fall into holes, and drop the bait. Even after you both are seasoned, there will be "off days" when one or both of you are just not up to par. Donít get discouraged Ė just keep at it. Many dogs are at least two years old before they begin to shine in the breed ring. After the first time you pick up a Reserve or Winners, your self-confidence will increase and you will find showing a lot easier, and a lot more fun.

Remember to always exhibit good sportsmanship, no matter how your dog does. Thanking the judges for judging and congratulating the winners is a nice gesture, even if you have to grit your teeth while doing it. And when your dog poops in the ring, just act nonchalant, ask for a clean-up crew, and try your best not to step in it.

Happy Showing !!



~~ Inquiries Welcomed ~~
Roger & Kathy Stevens
175 Fortson Road
Dothan, Alabama  36305
Phone 334-692-3883 (call after 7:30 p.m. CST)
or email us at


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