As you glance over at your mutt lounging on your couch, after he destroyed your favorite pair of shoes, it may be hard to understand the world of show dogs. These athletic, perfectly trained, and incredibly elegant dogs aren’t your typical family pooch. They’re in a league of their own.
These show dogs don’t pop up by accident, either. When it comes to claiming dog show gold, handlers and owners will do anything to get to the top — and that makes for some backstage moments that would leave the public scratching their heads. Sit, stay, and enjoy these little-known behind-the-scenes facts about dog shows.
1. Dog handlers and trainers set up little treadmills made specifically for dogs in order to teach them the perfect stride. The treadmill helps them maintain the right pace that will have them strutting into the winner’s circle come showtime.
Lauren Gold / Flickr
2. The stance of each dog is crucial in shows. In the past, trainers would teach the dogs to stand on soup cans a certain length apart. Now, many use wooden blocks or other markers to teach the pups where to stand.
B0xiest / Reddit
3. There are times when the dogs are forced to be indoors for many hours at a time, unable to go outside and do their business. In these cases, makeshift puppy porta-potties (fenced off areas with absorbent material) are set up for the participants.
Rima Brindamour / Washington Post
4. It may surprise you that the winner of Best in Show doesn’t win any money. The prize is pride. For those in the dog show world, the idea of being a champion is enough — no massive check is necessary.
Purina Pro Club / Youtube
5. The intimidating dog show judges are extremely analytical. They objectively assess every breed from head-to-toe, but at the end of the day, Best in Show often has an intangible quality. Judges have cited a certain “je ne sais quoi” as part of the judging system.
flairflairsmack / Reddit
6. During showtime, the dogs basically get whatever they want. When the spotlight is on them, simple dog treats won’t do. One handler said she provides filet mignon for her dogs during the show. Any dog would transform into a show dog if they were given steak.
diningwithdogs / Twitter
7. The grooming stations are essential to the backstage area at any dog show. Many groomers use weird hacks to keep the puppies’ coats fresh, like using dryer sheets or even chalk to maintain smooth fur. Some looks are more extreme than others.
Barcroft TV / Youtube
8. Many handlers have commented on the unnatural nature of dog shows. The only reason these animals are so sophisticated and trotting in circles under hot light is because of extensive training. Handlers aim to make it fun for the dog, hence the filet mignon.
American Kennel Club
9. Since these dogs are basically celebrities, they never show up inconspicuously. Dog entourages are very much a thing and can consist of up to 12 people, each responsible for something different. Groomers, handlers, and owners all play a specific role. It can be exhausting.
10. What you don’t see on camera are the dogs waiting around under the hot lights for long periods of time. Because the intensity can make dogs overheat, handlers usually have spray bottles of water to keep them cool.
Terre Nicholson / Flickr
11. “Benched” shows are actually a dream come true for the dog adoring public. Every dog is required to be at their assigned “bench” for the entire day, during which the public can buy a ticket to come and interact with the different pups before actual show time!
ccho / Flickr
12. All the dogs participating in the show are trained to be very chill behind-the-scenes. That’s what makes the benched shows so successful: these dogs can interact with the public like seasoned politicians. From a young age they desensitize the dogs to loud noises and distractions.
Sara Bogush / Flickr
13. If you’re watching the dog show from home, you can’t hear the hype music that plays for each group, but it’s there. Much like athletes before a game, each category of dog gets their own entrance music — from Elvis to Post Malone.
Gracie B / Youtube
14. Handlers can only be handlers if their vehicle passes a rigorous inspection. In case of emergency, they must have a generator, A/C, water and current fire extinguishers. This is so that in the event of disaster, they would be able to keep their dog safe.
Dan Suyeyasu / Flickr
15. It may seem obvious, but there is one thing that will get any dog disqualified from participation no matter their star power. If a dog bites another dog or any human, their show days are over.
Sad Cat / Youtube
16. The outfits you see handlers wearing are no accident. They make strategic choices, never wanting to overshadow the dog they’re showing. Practical footwear is essential to maintaining the perfect trot during the show.
@chantaladair / Instagram
17. Dog handlers can be superstitious about various routines and accessories. Some handlers use the same leash every year because they see it as “lucky” or conversely, they never use the same leash twice because it’s bad luck. If plans change without warning, tensions can run high.
Best in Show / Warner Bros.
18. The hobby isn’t easy on the handler. Many career dog handlers complain of hip and knee problems due to the grueling schedule and physical demands during show season. Most of them claim it’s 100% worth it.
Sarah Mindrup / The Independent
19. When it comes to picking your next pooch, benched shows can be an awesome resource. Getting to interact with so many different breeds and experts can help you figure out which dog has the right sets of traits to match up with your lifestyle.
Sara Bogush / Flickr
20. The AKC recognizes 193 dog breeds, the most recent being the azawakh in 2019. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if you have a show dog or a rescue dog; you want to give them the best care. Sometimes, as dog owners, we make mistakes.
revival74 / Flickr
Leaving your dog outside: Dogs love the outdoors, but being there 24/7 isn’t comfortable for them. Having your dog tied up and exposed to the elements is irresponsible and inhumane.
2. Lack of dental care: It’s easy to forget about caring for your dog’s teeth, after all it’s not like there are doggy dentist offices. However, there are benefits to brushing their teeth and having them checked by the vet. It prevents gum disease, much like with humans!
3. Feed them table food: Dogs have dog food for a reason. Although you may feel bad scarfing down a steak while your pal is stuck with kibble, it’s in their best interest. Maintaining a healthy weight will help your dog live longer.
4. Being too lenient: It can be difficult to set boundaries with your pup when they look up at you with those eyes (you know the ones), but it’s worth it in the long run. Dogs like structure and rules, which will curb their destructive tendencies.
5. Not Spaying or Neutering: This simple procedure allows your animal to enjoy a longer and happier life. It also tends to reduce aggression or unwanted behavior and eliminates the possibility of a surprise litter of puppies. The only downside is the cone of shame.
6. Forget to groom them: Different dogs require different levels of maintenance, but neglecting it entirely isn’t a good idea for you or your dog. Cleaning makes them smell amazing and can help prevent massive shedding.
7. Skipping the vet: Even if your dog isn’t showing any symptoms, it is important to get her regular check ups for vaccinations and preventative care. Visiting the vet can prevent illness before it even happens.
8. Leaving the leash on: If you are with your pup in an off-leash area, don’t keep her leash on. If you feel uncomfortable without the leash, steer clear. Having a dog on leash could provoke other dogs or cause yours to become defensive.
The Healing Pack
9. Feed them cheap food: It’s true that dog food can be somewhat expensive, but it’s worth springing for the good stuff. Check the label on your dog food to make sure there are no additives or unsavory by-products.
10. Leaving your dog in the car: Under no circumstances should you leave your dog alone in the car. Extreme heat and cold can be very dangerous for your dog, and without proper ventilation, the elements can be lethal.
11. Not teaching manners: Whether they’re at the dog park or walking on a leash, it’s important you never allow your dog to charge, mount, or repeatedly sniff another dog. Impolite introductions could lead to aggression from another dog.
12. Size matters: If you take your dog to a dog park, it’s crucial you consider their size. If you have a small dog, avoid allowing HIM to play with large dogs and vice versa. Taking this precaution could prevent possible harm to your pup.
13. No exercise before the park: Of course dog parks are meant for exercise, but you don’t want them to be overly hyper when they arrive. Exercising them a bit before could stop their excited energy from having the whole park descend into chaos.
14. Not cleaning up: If you’re a dog owner who doesn’t pick up after your dog does their business, it’s time you start. Leaving waste behind is rude and unsanitary. Leaving behind poo could expose other dogs to diseases and parasites.
15. Picking up your dog: If there is some type of confrontation, it can be tempting to pick up your small dog to remove him form the situation. However, this could illicit a chase response from the offending pooch, causing him to pursue further.
16. Allowing Bullying: You must never allow your dog to nip at, jump on, or repeatedly bark or growl at other dogs. This behavior is unacceptable and is the easiest way to become the least popular pooch at the park.
17. Too Young: If your puppy is less than 12 weeks old, it’s not a great idea to bring him to a dog park. Pups this age are highly vulnerable to diseases due to their lack of complete immunizations.
18. Not paying enough attention: Keeping an eye on your dog is extremely important, especially when out in public. Issues can arise in seconds, and if you aren’t focused on your dog, you could miss something that could cause harm.
19. Hitting your dog: Unfortunately, this is a commonly used discipline tactic among dog owners. It’s been proven that dogs respond poorly to physical harm and this can cause them to fear you. An anxious and fearful dog is more likely to lash out.
20. Neglect the water bowl: Ensuring your dog is properly hydrated is integral to their health and happiness. Pay extra attention to their water levels after exercise or during a particularly hot day. Now, what if you check all 20 of these training boxes?
Then see if you truly know all there is to know about your pooch! The word “puppy” is a relatively new addition to the English language. A variation on the French word “poupeé,” meaning doll or toy, it caught on in the late 1500s.
2. Puppies sleep a ton — sometimes up to 20 hours per day — and for good reason. Rest is essential for their developing body and mind. Even when they reach maturity, dogs catch quite a few z’s each day, usually between 12 and 14 hours.
3. Just like humans, young dogs have baby teeth that fall out and eventually get replaced by an adult set. However, there is still no evidence that any kind of dog tooth fairy exists.
4. Depending on the breed, dogs can have vastly different sized litters. Bigger canines usually have bigger litters, as a rule of thumb. A Neapolitan mastiff owns the current record for giving birth to 24 puppies in 2011.
The West Australian / Ian Munro
5. Can dogs inspire great works of art? Hamilton composer and star Lin-Manuel Miranda would certainly say so. His stage ballad “Dear Theodosia” started out as an ode to his dog Tobillo, a stray pup he adopted in 2011.
6. If you’ve ever met a newborn puppy, you’ll notice that their eyes and ears don’t open for a couple of weeks. This is because, compared to other mammals, gestation periods for dogs are pretty short. As a result, puppies are born not quite fully developed!
7. Rolling Stones guitar hero Keith Richards smuggled a number of things past customs, cough cough, but his cutest contraband was a puppy. After sneaking it past British authorities, he named the pooch Ratbag and treated him to a rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle.
8. Sure, your dog is friendly, but have you ever worried that they’d like any old stranger just as much as you? One 2005 study will put your mind at ease. Researchers observed that canines are most responsive to their owners, proving there is a definite bond.
9. Sports teams aren’t the only ones with dog mascots. The Spanish city of Bilbao is synonymous with West Highland Terriers thanks to Puppy, a gigantic sculpture outside the Guggenheim Museum. The statue weighs 17 tons and is covered in living flowers.
10. Just like in humans, yawns are contagious among mature dogs — probably as an embedded form of social empathy. Curiously enough, this isn’t the case for puppies! They are undeveloped enough to not react to their owners’ yawns at all.
11. For famed novelist John Steinbeck, a dog really did eat his homework. In 1936, his teething puppy tore apart his lone manuscript for Of Mice and Men. The frustrated author had to rewrite those chapters, much to the delight (or chagrin) of students everywhere.
12. Even though puppies from the same litter are similar, it’s extremely rare to find identical twin canines. The first confirmed case didn’t come until 2016 when a South African veterinarian determined two pups were genetically identical from sharing the same placenta.
13. But twin puppies aren’t the only genetic canine copies out there. Scientists successfully cloned the first dog in 2005, and that practice has expanded into a niche industry of cloning families’ beloved pets — for the hefty price of $50,000.
14. It’s no coincidence that dogs seem sadder whenever you’re eating. They’ve evolutionarily adapted to raise their eyebrows and make their eyes bigger to improve their chances of guilting humans into tossing a scrap of food their way.
15. Seeing eye dogs aren’t the only employed pooches out there. Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts has trained a puppy named Riley to sniff out species of moths and beetles that destroy priceless artwork.
16. Attention Dalmatian owners: don’t freak out when your puppies are born without any of the trademark spots! Those only start to pop up as the breed gets older. And Dalmatian puppies aren’t the only ones who’ve surprised owners with their coats…
17. In 2017, several dogs in the UK made headlines for giving birth to green puppies. Was this a rare mutation? Were the pups celebrating St. Patrick’s Day? No, it turns out their fur was temporarily dyed by biliverdin, a pigment naturally found in dog placentas.
18. Don’t freak out if your boss catches you scrolling through dog photos at work. A 2012 study concluded that looking at pictures of cute animals can actually help you concentrate afterward.
19. There was one warm and fuzzy result of the Cold War. Soviet Premier Nikita Kruschev knew that President John F. Kennedy was curious about Strelka, the Russian dog that went into space. As a gift, he sent JFK one of Strelka’s puppies. The Kennedys named her Pushinka, after the Russian word for “fluffy.”
Wikimedia Commons / Cecil W. Stoughton
20. JFK’s one-time political rival Richard Nixon also had a historical puppy moment. While running for Vice President in 1952, Tricky Dick came under fire for using campaign contributions for personal use. He denied these claims in a televised speech and said that the only gift he accepted was their family dog, Checkers.
21. Dogs don’t curl up while sleeping just to look cute, or even to feel more comfortable. This tendency is actually rooted in their instincts to protect their vital organs at night (and to stay warm, of course).
22. Some recent studies have found that dogs usually try to “go to the bathroom” in such a way that they’re aligned with the earth’s magnetic field. Both sexes defecate in the north or south direction, but only females prefer to urinate that way, too.
23. The idea that dogs only see in black and white is a total myth. They can actually perceive a wide range of colors, although it’s more limited than the spectrum that humans can see.