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Taking off the White Coat and Putting on the Show Number - Vet Perspective on Dog Show

Growing up, the Westminster Dog Show was an annual highlight in our household, a magical event where the grace and elegance of each breed were celebrated. It was this childhood fascination that sparked my deep appreciation for the beauty and discipline of dog shows. This past weekend, my dog Nahla and I embarked on our own show ring adventure at our first UKC Conformation show.

While it was challenging bring a working guardian dog into the show ring, we had a fun time and it is worth all the hard work! Nahla came away with a competition win and I came away with more confidence and some homework to do as her handler. I need to improve my walk to show her movement so she can glide effortlessly like I know she can. My husband and I learned some do’s and don’ts for how to set our specific working dogs up for success in the stress of a show ring. Staying away from the bustle until the group before ours- with all the appropriate temperature control- helps our dogs to come in much more relaxed and focused. 

As a veterinarian, I look for health-centered conformation. The difficulty for me comes when I need to take off my white coat and put on my show number. Many breed standards don’t necessarily support the healthiest structure. A big part of why I fell in love with Nahla’s breed, Perro de Presa Canario, is because they are meant to be very functional dogs with healthy conformation and good temperament for protective work. Moderate rear angulation, hips slightly above shoulders (no sway back or roach back), not overly brachycephalic, moderate rear angulation, straight front legs. In show speak, no sickle hocks or cow hocks- in vet speak, no hock valgus or varus. I run the risk of making a lot of good dog men and women upset, but I am a veterinarian first and can not be silent about the health issues of extremely brachycephalic dogs, elbow/hock varus and valgus, dropped hocks, excessive skin folds, ectropion/entropion, and other breed standard conformation traits that set the dog up for health issues later in life. 

Conformation shows are complex and largely subjective but nevertheless very important for the health of each breed. Breeders who take the time and effort to show their breeding stock with well-accepted registries must be committed to thoughtful breeding to succeed. Along with objective health testing, conformation shows help ensure healthy dogs no matter their breed purpose. As a veterinarian, I’m all in favor of responsible breeders and showing off healthy, happy dogs! 

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