Your cat or dog may be a winner in your eyes, but how would he do in a competitive show?
New Hampshire is home to 15 American Kennel Club sanctioned dog clubs and two Cat Fanciers’ Association sanctioned cat clubs that host official shows and competitions of all kinds, and some clubs offer training programs to help you and your pet prepare for the big event. There’s plenty of fun for spectators too — it’s not every day you get to see a cat jump through hoops.
The American Kennel Club is the largest purebred dog registry in the world and the governing body of over 22,000 dog events each year, including those hosted by its affiliated dog clubs in the Granite State.
While each club offers something different, most AKC-licensed events fall under one of three categories: conformation shows, companion events and performance events.
In conformation shows, purebred dogs are judged by how well they conform to their breed’s written standard. Judges examine the dog’s size and weight, bone and muscle structure, coat coloring and texture, facial features, movement and temperament.
Companion events are about the synergy and communication between dog and handler.
At an obedience or rally trial, the handler leads the dog through a course containing signs with various actions such as “sit,” “jump” and “heel,” and instructs the dog to fulfill each action. At an agility trial, the handler guides the dog through an obstacle course of jumps, tunnels, weave poles and so on, using only vocal and motioning commands.
“It’s about working on that bond,” said Deb Mardin, committee member of AKC-affiliated Lakes Region Kennel Club. “The more you do with the dog, the better dog you’ll end up with, and the better bond you’ll have.”
Purebred dogs belonging to breeds with unique skills can demonstrate those skills in specialized performance events. These could include hunt tests for hunting breeds, lure coursing for sighthounds or sheepdog trials for herding breeds.
Titles for AKC events are acquired through a point system; dogs are awarded points at each competition based on how they rank, and when they reach a certain number of points, they become eligible to receive a title.
How to prepare your dog for an event depends on the type of event it is. At a conformation show, for example, your dog must be trained to trot beside you, stand in one spot for an extended period of time and be cooperative during a physical examination conducted by a stranger. Some dog clubs offer training programs that directly correlate with the events they host.
“We have [classes for] obedience, handling, rally, so they’re very specific classes,” Mardin said. “Getting professional help through a class is really the best way to … teach [dogs] different skills to help them perform in the ring. It also gets them used to being around other dogs, which they’ll have to do at a show.”
No matter what the event is, you should strive to make your dog look as attractive as possible, and that can’t always be accomplished with a cookie-cutter grooming.
“You have to try out different [styles] and learn what makes your dog look good,” Mardin said.
The Cat Fanciers’ Association is the world’s largest registry of pedigreed cats and licenses about 400 cat shows each season. New Hampshire has two CFA-affiliated cat clubs, New Hampshire Feline Fanciers and Seacoast Cat Club, both of which host yearly shows.
A CFA cat show consists of Pedigreed competitions, the Household Pet competition and occasionally the Feline Agility Competition.
Pedigreed cats compete in three categories: “Kitten” is for kittens 4 to 8 months old. “Championship” is for adult cats that have not been neutered or spayed, and “Premiership” is for adult cats that have been neutered or spayed. Pedigreed cats are judged by how well they conform to their breed’s written standard. The best cats from each breed continue through a series of elimination rounds to the final all-breed ranking, where they can win points. When a cat earns a certain amount of points, it is eligible to receive a title. CFA awards titles on grand, regional and national levels.
The Household Pet competition is open to mixed-breed cats who are over 4 months old, have not been declawed and, if over 8 months old, have been neutered or spayed. Since there is no written standard to judge them by, Household Pet cats “are judged instead for their uniqueness, pleasing appearance, unusual markings and sweet dispositions,” as explained on the CFA website.
In the past, Household Pet winners received an unofficial “Merit Award,” but as of May 2015, CFA has started awarding official titles up to the regional level for the Household Pet division.
“Ninety-seven percent of cats are mixed breed … they’re the majority, so [CFA] allows them to compete,” said Carol Babel, a board member for NHFF. “People who think they have a beautiful [mixed] cat can also try their hand at a title now.”
CFA shows may also include a performance competition open to all cats called the Feline Agility Competition. Using a lure toy, the handler leads the cat through an obstacle course of hurdles, tunnels, weave poles, stairs and hoops. Cats receive points for each obstacle completed and, if they complete the whole course, they receive bonus points determined by how long it took them. Up to four titles can be earned for the Feline Agility Competition.
Training your cat for an agility competition is as easy as leading it up, down, through and around objects in your house using a laser light or wand toy. But skill training is only half of it. The other half, Babel says, is a matter of personality.
“A cat that’s naturally playful and likes to run and chase a toy will normally be pretty good at agility,” she said. “But for a cat that has a very quiet life, it can be hard to be in a show hall with all the noise and movement and other animals they wouldn’t normally see.”