Let us assume for the purpose of this article that you are a relative beginner to the strange world of dog shows and that the pup is homebred.
A few minutes each day during early puppyhood spent on socialisation will reap rewards later on. If "Junior" does not fulfil his early promise, or perhaps you simply have a change of heart, these tips will still help to make him an easier "person" to live with.
If we first look at the period whilst the puppies are still in the whelping box. Normal hygiene rules will mean gently lifting the puppies from one corner of the box to another or for a more vigorous clean actually transferring them into a spare "container". Either way the physical contact should be gentle and unhurried. This is a good opportunity to check each pup over for any untoward signs and by running your fingers up and down each limb etc. gets him used to human contact right from the very beginning.
Puppies which are house reared will probably have been unconsciously introduced to everyday household noises e.g. Radio, Television, Vacuum Cleaners, Washing Machines etc., etc. If they are kennel reared it is a good idea to acclimatise them to such things fairly early on. A radio playing in the kennels would be a great start.
As the pup grows on the "handling" can also include running a clean finger around the mouth and gums thus preparing him for bite/teeth examination later on. This is also useful in the event of any pill administration that may become necessary. Once on their feet short periods away from mum and the rest of the litter do no harm since it helps them to become independent from an early age. Indeed, I have found that retained pups are best not kept permanently with mum or littermates after weaning, they develop better personalities if time is spent apart.
By the time they are six weeks they should have been introduced to standing on a table or other firm surface. Initially he will most likely go flat on his belly but assuming earlier handling has progressed he will be quite confident if you slide a hand between the back legs and raise him up under the chest until his legs are supporting him. Once on all four legs a tasty titbit can be offered as an inducement to encourage maintaining this position for a few seconds. The period can be gradually lengthened at successive sessions but do not be too ambitious too soon.
A similar procedure can be repeated when first grooming is attempted. Use a soft brush/wide toothed comb to begin with, in the early stages this will involve very little effort as the coat is still short but the action will again get the pup used to another part of its future routine. A quick "run-through" each day will suffice. Your puppies nails will need trimming regularly to protect Mum's undercarriage, take care not to go too short and cut the quick.
Control is by voice
At eight weeks or so, put on a puppy collar for a short period each day. This can be a "cheapie" version, perhaps from your supermarket, since he will grow out of them very quickly. Initial reaction will most likely be to sit and scratch vigorously at it, but this will pass quite quickly - try a little distraction of some kind. Once he has become used to this strange object around his neck try clipping on a lead, and, under supervision, allow him to trail it around for a few minutes to get used to its weight. After a while gently pick up the end of the lead and follow him about occasionally letting the lead go taut thus getting him used to some control. At the next lesson stand, or squat, in front of him and using a light-hearted encouraging tone of voice call him towards you taking up the slack as you go. As soon as he reaches you it is a time for great fuss and petting. Next stage is to take a small step back as he approaches you thus increasing the distance travelled. Most of the control is with your tone of voice - never lose your temper and discourage panic attacks by not rushing ahead too quickly. Soon you will be able to walk around the house/garden, and whilst the lead is on, most of the control is by the voice. If you can perfect this by the time the pup is ready to venture out, which is usually around three months, it will be one less thing for him to cope with when he hits the street!
Assuming you have both mastered the "stand" on the table - by now standing four square, you should be ready to combine this with the on-lead exercises on the ground. Encourage him to walk naturally into the four-square stance. Any minor adjustment to front leg positions can be gently encouraged, not by grabbing hold of the feet and moving them but by gently altering the balance from one side to the other and lightly lifting from the elbow. Similarly gently lift from inside edge at the top for the rear end. Speak to the puppy in a firm but reassuring voice at all times and reward with lavish praise and titbits.
Try a short trip
If you intend to use a travelling crate or cage introduce this restriction early on. You could leave it in the room with the door open so that it is accepted as part of the furniture. Inquisitive pups will often venture in on their own, and a toy or treat placed inside will help speed things up. You may find it useful to feed your pup in the cage as another means of familiarisation.
Nowadays most folk tend to transport their dogs in an estate type car, but whatever style of car you may have early introduction to the vehicle can help avoid later problems such as travel sickness or over excitement. If you have an estate version try just sitting in the back with the pup - whilst stationary of course, for a few minutes each day. After a few days try a short trip, just five minutes or so - during daylight hours. Another possibility is to put the cage he is already familiar with into the car then take a short ride.
Returning to the on-lead exercises, practise these for short periods on a regular basis making sure they are enjoyable for both of you. Endeavour to use the voice as the first means of control so that the lead can be held relatively loosely - keeping all the feet firmly on the ground. If distractions can be arranged so much the better, for sure when you go to shows there will be all sorts of other things going on that your pup would rather be joining in with. Any friends or visitors should be encouraged to run their hands all over the pup, not forgetting the mouth, in order that he gets used to as many different people of both sex.
As time goes on short trips around town may also be included and as long as "Junior" appears to be mentally coping, this could also be extended to such places as the local railway station etc. You may consider attending a Ringcraft Class and if approached carefully can be quite beneficial. Often these classes are held in small village halls and can get quite noisy. My advice would be to arrive very early so that you are amongst the first there. Let your pup just sit and watch the new arrivals and maybe play a little. If he seems relaxed try walking him up and down on your own. Avoid hour-long sessions of training because in my experience this will quickly turn your naturally inquisitive pup into a bored "sack of potatoes". Certainly for the first few visits I would not keep him there for any more than say three quarters of an hour.
This article was not intended to be an exhaustive training manual, but rather a just a few tips learnt through personal experience over the years. Many will be pretty obvious others you may find worth trying another time.
Prior to first show
Other general advice would include the suggestion that you attend at least one show without your pup in order that you can gain some understanding of procedure, show layouts etc. When you do decide to venture into a show with your young hopeful remember the tip about first ringcraft classes, arrive early (major shows often have tailbacks of traffic as judging time approaches) and allow him time to get accustomed to what will seem a very strange place and atmosphere.
If it is a benched show this will be a new experience so do not expect him to just sit there as if he has done it all his life - lift him up gently and sit with him for a while. If you use a travelling crate this can be put on the bench (always assuming you have not gone for an outsize version!) or if not benched will still provide a familiar haven from which to survey this strange new world. Try to gauge how long you have before you will need to enter the ring and use that time to allow him the opportunity to relieve himself and then finish the grooming. Do not fall into the trap of putting him on the table for hours on end and constantly grooming until you have worked yourself up into a frenzy! If the showring is empty early on seize the opportunity to walk your pup up and down, around and also a triangle so that you will both have more idea when the time to show-off arrives.
Remember above all else that you are both there to enjoy the occasion and if he is fortunate enough to appeal to the Judge, savour the moment - there is no guarantee that it will happen next time! Whatever the result do bear in mind that judging is very subjective and beauty is in the eye of the beholder! Watch the more experienced exhibitors and see how they go about things, you can learn an awful lot by watching quietly and hopefully not too many bad habits!
The picky stage
One thing that often causes the owners anxiety during the growing period is the puppy that becomes "picky" with its food. Nine times out of ten I would say that this problem is caused by trying to overfeed in the early stages. Puppies, like babies, should always be fed little and often but only as much as they will eat in the first few minutes. Do not leave food lying around, you need to provide the competition that was there when he ate with his littermates so, if not eaten, pick it up and re-offer at the next mealtime. If you have already arrived at the "picky" stage then my advice to you would be to withhold all food for say 24 hours, and then offer just a very small amount on perhaps a saucer. If all is then consumed, praise profusely and at the next mealtime increase the amount just very slightly and so on. The idea is that he gets used to clearing his dish in a fairly short space of time. Do not worry too much if his intake is reduced for a few days, for this must be preferable to a dog that grows up a faddy eater and never eats properly.
I wish you both well in you new leisure time activity, I am sure you will enjoy the experience. Be prepared to listen to any advice and then decide for yourself how much of it, or any, you can make use of. Don't be afraid to ask questions if you are not sure about anything, but do avoid approaching other exhibitors during their preparation time or worse still, just as they are about to walk into the ring - you may just get a shorter answer than you would like!
Written by Mr Rodney Oldham