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Showing Your Skye Terrier
Michael J. Pesare

You have been fortunate to win the trust of a Skye Terrier breeder and have waited seven months for your puppy to be born and mature. You now are the owner of a promising young show-quality male Skye. For years, the conformation ring has intrigued you and you have finally decided to give it a try. Your sales contract states that the dog will be finished to his championship. Take a deep breath….now the fun really begins!

The goal of this article is not to present you with a complete overview of conformation handling. There are a number of excellent books on this subject, most notably The Winning Edge: Show Ring Secrets by George G. Alston. Another good resource for training young Skyes is Chapter 15 of the 1990 Skye Terrier Club of America Handbook. The chapter, entitled “How To Train Your Skye Terrier For The Show Ring”, authored by Judy Davis provided an excellent overview of training your youngster for the ring. Using that chapter as a starting point, I would like to share tips and advice from the point of view of someone who has started at the very beginning and, through hard work, has been able to succeed in the conformation ring.

Before entering your youngster in a point show, I urge you seek out conformation handling classes in your area. There are two types of classes – one simply provides an opportunity for the handler to put his dog through its paces where there is little or no instruction for the handler. The second type of class provides instruction for the handler and ring experience for the dog. Of course, in the beginning, the second type of class is highly desirable if you can find one in your area.

If you are unable to find handling classes, there are other training opportunities that you can seek out to prepare your Skye for the show ring. Regular walks are a fine way to develop a rapport with your dog and to teach him to walk properly on a lead. Basic obedience classes are also an appropriate foundation. The goal in the beginning is to build rapport with your Skye and to teach him to walk comfortably and confidently on a lead. It is particularly important with Skye Terriers that you earn their respect at the beginning. This foundation of respect will be the basis of all further training.

Once you have attended handling classes and are beginning to make progress with your Skye, look for matches in your area. The Infodog Web site (www.infodog.com) maintains a list of match shows in the United States.  Matches are run like point shows, but dogs are not eligible for points. While matches simulate what you will encounter in the ring, they are generally less formal and provide opportunities to determine where you are in your training.

As you continue with handling classes and/or training at home, one training tool that I highly recommend is the use of mirrors in training. If your handling instructor offers this, as mine did, you are very lucky. If not, you can set up a mirror on the ground and one at the level of the grooming/examination table at home. Mirrors allow you to see your Skye the way the judge sees him. Stack your dog in front of the mirror – what do you see? Is the dog’s topline level? Do you see the dog’s gracefully arched neck? Does the dog look alert?

In training, the goal is to make the experience fun for your Skye. Talk to your Skye and praise him when he performs well. Your voice can be a powerful motivator with your Skye so don’t hesitate to use it in the ring, particularly on the move. Depending on your Skye, there can be three motivators – food, toys, or your voice. You may use one or all of these depending on your dog and the day. Be prepared to use any one of these motivators in training and in the ring.

Once you have attended a few matches, it is time to set your sights on a point show. Now is the time to really focus on coat conditioning and on building muscle tone. In our coated breed, grooming and build up muscle tone – Before entering the ring – make sure your Skye is bathed and well groomed. Always bring a very clean and well groom dog into the ring. Coat conditioning – in the beginning just train your dog to be groomed, but as he gets older the importance of coat increase – volume and condition.

The big day has arrived and you are filled with stress. The most important advice I can give is to relax and take a deep breath. All of the stress that you are feeling will be felt by your Skye which will not help either of you in the ring. First, keep in mind that you and your Skye have experienced quite a bit in handling class. The show ring should not be that unfamiliar. Do not worry about getting the championship points in your first shows. The main goal is to have successes with your Skye. If your Skye gaits well, looks competitive in the lineup, and generally enjoys the experience, you have achieved success. The championship points will eventually come. Everyone likes to win. But if you come out of the ring feeling that you and your Skye showed to your best advantage, you should find satisfaction in that. Your own presentation and the performance of your own dog are the things that you can control. The other factors are beyond your control so don’t worry about them.

Upon entering the ring, the ring steward will either ask you to put your dog immediately on the table if you are the only Skye in your class or you will line up with your competition in the class. Here is where you must make a good first impression.

When stacking your Skye, I cannot over emphasize the importance of your dog’s topline in the overall picture you present to the judge. The Skye Terrier is one breed where the dog’s profile embodies breed type – long, low and level. Your Skye’s profile can often make the difference in competition and you can do quite a bit to make sure that your dog’s topline is level. Even the Skye with the very best topline, if not stacked properly, can look bad. Lift dog up under chest and then gently let the dog come down on his front legs. This does two things – it helps to position the front and it assures that the dog directly over his front legs and not standing hobby horse. Now position the rear legs out behind the dog far enough so that the dog’s hocks are perpendicular to the table or ground. Watch that your Skye does not rock backwards as this tends to ruin a good topline.

When gaiting your Skye, there are different patterns requested by judges. By far, the most common is the triangle pattern. It won’t hurt to know the “L” and “T” patterns as well. But, make sure you learn to perfect the triangle. By this I mean that you should go straight away from the judge, across the width of the ring, and then back to the judge on the diagonal. If your dog is a good mover, use that segment across the ring to your advantage by moving your dog smoothly at an even pace.

When you are asked to move your dog down and back, when you get to the end of the ring, make sure you look up at the judge, make eye contact, and make sure that you are coming back to the judge in a perfect straight line.  In an indoor ring, use the edge of the mat as a guide and keep your Skye lined up with the edge of the mat. Also, the handler does not need to remain on the mat, but your Skye should.

Judges generally will move the dogs together one last time before making his selections. At this time, an even pace should be maintained  - do not gait your dog too fast. You and your Skye should be fluid. If you move with a fluid but deliberate stride, this will help your Skye to be fluid and focused on moving forward. Your Skye should be taught to walk with his head up off the ground – not nose in the air, but not nose to the ground. The dog is going to need his head to move out, but he should be able to walk with his head up enough to see some length of neck. I am putting quite a bit of emphasis here for a reason. While judges carefully evaluate each exhibit prior to the final go round, it is true that the final picture you present to the judge is often the decision maker.

As the intensity builds, so too must your focus on your own dog. When you are in the ring, your primary focus is how your dog looks and how he is positioned against the other Skyes in the ring. There can be many distractions in the ring – but you must remain focused and in tune with your Skye so that you can react to his actions quickly.

As you become more experienced as a handler, you will develop a repertoire of skills that you should be able to quickly call upon in the heat of competition. If you can quickly react to what is happening with your dog or in the ring, you significantly increase your competitiveness.

If it is not your day, please make it a point to congratulate the winners. Shake their hands and remember that you will be judged as a competitor on how you act in the face of defeat and in victory. If you do get the points or more, be a gracious winner.

Looking ahead to future shows, photos and video can serve as an excellent way to identify areas for improvement. If you can get a family member or friend to take photos of you in the ring, particularly in the lineup, on the table and on the move, you will have valuable information.

Your breeder should be an excellent source of ongoing advice. Many breeders will help you by recommending shows to attend and judges that might like your Skye. They will point out the judges who are more willing to work with beginners. They might ask you to join them at certain shows where they can assist you in person before the judging and provide advice after the judging. Don’t be afraid to ask a lot of questions.

If you are fortunate to live in an area with a regional Skye club or at least a group of dedicated fanciers, seek them out. The support system that such groups provide can be valuable and increase your enjoyment of the sport. If you don’t have a group in your area, look into getting involved in your local all-breed club. Whatever the breed, the art of handling is much the same from breed to breed.

After years of competing in the ring, I can tell you that there is no finer accomplishment than training your own Skye for the show ring and then attaining his championship yourself.

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