Training a German Spitz for a Dog Show: Beginner’s Guide

Participating in a dog show can feel intimidating especially if it is your first time. If you have ever been to one of those shows as a bystander you have probably wondered how complicated it looked! People were presenting their dogs really well and they seemed to know where to go each time and you could only admire them for it. At the same time you thought you would probably never be able to do the same.

Well, think again. Everyone starts from somewhere. Nobody is born an expert. It definitely takes some time and effort to master the skills of showing a dog, but learning the basic skills is actually not that hard. There is no reason why you could not enter your German Spitz to a show.

However, I do recommend that you will practice at least a little bit before you get into the show ring. The more you know about showing a German Spitz and about what is going on in the ring the more relaxed you will be. And the more relaxed you will be the better your dog will behave. Remember, your German Spitz is an expert at reading your feelings and he will react to whatever it is that is going on in your head.

Each dog breed has their own unique style how they are being shown and this article will naturally be about showing a German Spitz Klein/Mittel. This is a beginner’s guide, but maybe you will get some new information here even though you have some experience. Experts won’t certainly even read this.

Getting your German Spitz used to being on table

This does not mean that you should let your German Spitz jump on your dinner table. No, no, it’s quite different.

At dog shows certain breeds are being examined on a table while some other breeds are being examined on the ground. Typically all toy and small breeds, Kleins and Mittels included, are being examined by the judge with the dog standing on an examination table. If your dog is not used to this and your first time will be on a show, the result will probably not be one that you would have hoped for. You need to practice this beforehand.

At first you need to get your dog used to being on the table. If you already have a grooming table that you have used, then there is no problem and you can skip this phase. If you don’t have a grooming table I really suggest you get one because it simply is of great help.

It is not just a matter of practicing for a show where you may only go once (if it turns out it’s not something you like). Grooming a dog in general is much easier while your dog stays calmly on a table. Then when you take your small dog to a veterinary clinic the vet will examine your dog on a table. So, even if you never went to a dog show ever again, learning this skill can actually be really useful during the dog’s lifetime.

If you have a puppy you should start practicing this as soon as you get him, but you can do this with an adult dog as well. It is just a matter of being patient. Once you lift your dog onto a table for the first time make sure you have lots of treats in your hand. The best way to teach your German Spitz to become a show dog is to make your dog think that getting on a table is the best thing ever!

Treats will be flying everywhere. You could ask help from your family members, friends or even random strangers that would be willing to help. They could simply walk by and quickly stop to give a treat to your dog. At this point, when even the table is a new thing for your dog, you don’t need to do anything more. Your dog will be rewarded just from being on the table.

The next step is to get your dog used to being on the table while someone is touching him. At first it’s enough that your dog allows people, even strangers, to touch him. Your dog doesn’t need to stand in any particular position yet (later on you’ll need to teach your dog to stand).

Again, ask help from your friends: they will come with the treats like in the first exercise but this time they touch your dog first before giving the treat. Depending on the dog’s reactions you may then ask your friends (or strangers) to examine the dog’s body a little more before giving the reward.

Little by little you may ask more and more from your dog as he seems to be fine with the previous exercises. The judge will go through the dog’s entire body so this is what you need to practice as well. However, I advise you to take this step slowly because the better you will do the groundwork the better the result will be. Judges usually like happy doggos, and if your German Spitz seems happy being on the table this is only a bonus in the dog’s critique.

I remember my German Spitz Mittel puppy had already begun this training when we went to see a vet for the puppy vaccinations. My Mittel got scared of the shot and he somehow connected it with the table. I needed to do an enormous amount of work to get my dog re-accustomed to simply being on the table. The poor little guy thought he would get a needle in him every time I lifted him up there. That is why lots of positive reinforcement needs to be given.

So, in case you do not have a grooming table, yet, now it is the time to get one. You can find a perfect grooming table on Amazon, you can check the current price by clicking this linkOpens in a new tab..

This is not suitable for professional groomers, but as long as you are not one, this will do just fine.

German Spitz Mittel on an examination table in a dog show.
This is me with my 9-month-old German Spitz Mittel. The judge (on the left) is about to examine my dog.

Examining your German Spitz’s teeth

The most dreaded part of the judge’s examination is often the one where he checks the dog’s teeth. Some people have actually differing opinions about this, me included. Diseases like kennel cough spread widely when the judge goes through all of the dogs’ mouths without washing his hands in between. So far, though, this is a habit that still goes on in most cases.

The alternative would be for you to show your dog’s teeth to the judge. If the judge asks you to do this, then it is your job to show your dog’s teeth in a way that the judge can see them. It is good to practice this, too, because you never know when you are asked to do it.

Being able to examine your dog’s teeth, or letting someone else do it, is a really good skill to master even if you never went to a single dog show. You need to be able to take care of your dog’s mouth (e.g. by brushing his teeth) and you need to be able to check if your dog has developed tartar on his teeth. For this, it is important that your veterinarian can examine the condition of your dog’s teeth – or that you can show them to him – without anesthesia.

I keep saying to take things slowly, but that’s what you need to do when training dogs. Here, too, it is best to move slowly by taking tiny steps at a time. First, run your fingers on your dog’s teeth. Reward him as soon as possible. Then ask more and more before giving the treat (but you can of course praise your dog verbally).

From there you can move on to opening the dog’s mouth in a way that the occlusion (bite) can clearly be seen. At first release the dog’s mouth as quickly as possible, but slowly increase the time. Then when you can do it, the real fun starts when you need to ask everyone you know to do it as well. The more you practice the easier it will be for your dog to let strangers touch his mouth and the more confident you will be entering a show. It’s a terrible feeling in the pit of your stomach when you are not sure whether your dog allows the judge to examine the teeth or not.

On a dog show you will probably not be able to use as many treats as you did while practicing. Judges won’t care too much about you constantly giving goodies to your dog. However, there are ways to reward your dog in a more discreet manner. I usually give my dog a treat when the judge is finished, just to make sure my dog has a positive experience.

Teaching your German Spitz to gait

“Gaiting” is the part where the judge makes you walk the dog in a specific manner where he/she can observe how the dog moves. This can be a circle, a triangle, a diagonal or maybe even an L pattern. It is a good idea to train all of these so that whatever you are being asked to do, you and your dog will be able to perform even with your eyes closed. You tend to get nervous in a dog show so practicing makes it easier.

You will need to buy your German Spitz a show leash. There are no specific rules to what it needs to be like but you may want to see that the color of the leash and the color of your dog match in a good way. A thin one is a good choice for a small dog. I won’t go into details here. However, I mention the show leash in the first place because it is a good idea to practice gaiting solely with the show leash. Your dog will soon connect the action with the specific leash and he’ll know what to do just from seeing the show leash on your hand. Yes, they are that smart.

Your dog needs to move in a controlled trot to the left of you. The leash needs to be loose. Do not yank. Kleins are smaller so with a Klein it is better for you to walk, but with a Mittel you might even consider running if it makes your dog look better. In most cases walking is just fine, though. Remember, your dog needs to trot; not gallop or pace.

German Spitz Mittels gaiting in a dog show ring.

Practice this first in your own backyard where there are no distractions. Once you feel like you’ve got this, move on to more demanding places where there may be other dogs, too. You will see that while it was still fairly easy at home it suddenly isn’t when you have the whole world around you. You will have to become more interesting than everything else from your dog’s perspective. Practice makes perfect.

There are unofficial dog shows (match shows) where you can go practice what you’ve learned before taking the final step to an actual dog show. They are more relaxed events and the whole purpose of these is simply to train for the real event. Therefore, it doesn’t matter how you perform really, even though prizes are given for those who perform best.

Teaching your German Spitz to stand

If you have ever gone to see a dog show you have probably noticed how some people set up their dog for the judge. The handler may even be on his knees on the ground. German Spitz, however, is not shown this way. These little dogs are presented standing freely in a so called free stack. In other words, when you first gait in a circle, for example, and when the judge gives you a signal to stop, you will then make your dog stand in place while the judge evaluates the dog’s stance. You do not touch your dog but you simply tell him to stand in place while the judge is looking at you (or more specifically, your dog).

Let me illustrate this by a photograph. It is important that your dog stands in a way that the judge can see him well.

German Spitz free stack in a dog show.

Now, this may look easy, but actually it is not. You need to teach your dog the cue “stand” which is still fairly easy. Whenever you see your dog stand, start praising him for it and add in the cue word you want to use. I often practiced this while giving my dog his food. Before giving the bowl to him I asked him to “stand” while waiting and he quickly learned what I meant.

However, mastering “stand” at home is an entirely different thing than mastering it at a dog show where there are hundreds of dogs, lots of barking and noises, and so many distractions! You will see that a dog that performed so well at home, may start looking around where the noises are coming from, may sit down or do circles, and not concentrate at all!

In the worst case scenario if your dog does not stand still but keeps on swirling, your judge will not be able to properly evaluate your dog. In this case you might not get any evaluation at all but instead you’ll get a “cannot be judged” rating. After all the effort you made, that would be devastating.

This is why I strongly advise you to practice standing in all places imaginable. The more distractions the better. When your dog is still young, judges may be more forgiving. However, as your dog grows older it is expected that he can stand still for a longer time. The moment when the judge is evaluating you and you are trying to keep your dog standing may feel like an eternity!

Once you have taught your dog the cue “stand” you can then expect it to work on the table as well. Ideally your dog keeps standing quietly on the table while the judge goes through his body and checks his teeth.

Quick tips

There are different kinds of dog shows out there and as a beginner you might want to consider a smaller event first before getting to the bigger ones. But of course, it is your choice. There are all breed shows and there are group shows. You will certainly find those that you like best. There are variations between countries so I won’t go into details here. You can find information about different dog shows elsewhere online.

I’ll give you a few quick tips, though.

When you take your dog to a show, be there on time! This is how you will have time to prepare both you and your dog without a hurry, but this also allows you to observe how your judge specifically is doing his evaluations. He usually makes all of the dogs do the same things. For example, if he keeps asking everyone before you to gait a triangle, it is almost certain that he is going to ask you do the same. This way you can be prepared before you even get in the ring.

The judge will probably inquire the age of your dog and you need to have the answer ready. Other than that, there usually is not any exchange of words going on. If the judge asks something else, you reply, but otherwise you should not talk to the judge. If you have any questions you can address the secretary.

When the evaluations for your breed (Klein/Mittel) are done, go congratulate the winner! It is always a nice gesture. Also, whatever the outcome for you may have been and whatever rating your dog got, reward your dog for being the best dog you could ever ask for. If you were disappointed with the rating, don’t let your dog know it because it is not your dog’s fault.

Even if your dog is not the star of the show he is precious to you just because he is your dog. Please don’t take shows too seriously. They are simply shows, nothing more. The judge will see just a glimpse of your dog on one specific day and the evaluation will be based on what he sees. He doesn’t know how wonderful your dog is at home!

I have gone to a few shows in my life. I have even made my German Spitz Mittel a Finnish Champion. However, shows are not my favorite hobby; I know a lot better ones. Shows are places where breeders can showcase their breeding and they are places where you can meet and get to know likeminded people. But they are not the whole world.

After reading this, if you feel like participating in a dog show with your German Spitz, you might want to go read my article about how to groom a German Spitz for a show. You can find it in this link: How to Groom a German Spitz for a Dog Show?

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