How to run a FUN dog show

Dog show arena, De Beauvoir Square

I’ve responsible for a dog show in Hackney for quite a few years now. It’s part of the gardening club’s annual community Flower and Produce Show. It was also the catalyst to owning my own mini schnauzer, Ricci, and consequently holds a very special place in my heart. A fun dog show is very different to Crufts and there’s more to keeping everyone happy than a few dog treats. I’ve put together some tips for putting on your own fabulous event.

1. Every dog gets a prize

I live in Hackney, East London, where dogs are de rigueur and everywhere is pooch friendly. Any event that includes a fun dog show is going to attract attention. Lots of children turn up with their dogs and I don’t want anyone to go home too disappointed. I can’t make them all winners but I do prepare doggie bags filled with goodies and home made treats for every entrant.

I’ve made hundreds of peanut butter cookies, sausage muffins and cheesy bites and I have a separate post about home baked dog treats if you need inspiration. I cater for 50 dogs which also becomes a limit on entries (any more and we run out of prizes). To top up the bags I approach various brands a few months before the event. If you are lucky some will be promoting new lines and will supply enough free samples for each dog. The ‘winners’ in each category get a beautiful silk rosette too!

Dog show goodie bags - one for every entrant
Every dog gets a prize of home baked biscuits and branded giveaways

2. Keep it short and sweet

There is only so much parading a pooch wants to do. Our dog show is limited to one hour so that it doesn’t detract from the rest of the event. Consequently each dog is entered into just one category plus Best Boy or Best Girl at the end. Each of our 10 categories is limited to 6 dogs. This ensures that each round has just enough entrants and gives each dog a fair chance of success.

By the end of an hour both dogs and humans are getting a bit restless. In the big finale the audience gets to choose the winner of the Best Boy and Best Girl with their applause. This simple tactic engages the crowd just when energy is flagging and ensures we end on a high.

3. Dog show categories

Categories need to be as inclusive as possible so that owners feel they have a choice. We keep tweaking them because year-after-year we get the response ‘my dog doesn’t fit into any of these’. Here are some ideas:

  • Waggiest tail
  • Best kept coat
  • Prettiest Pooch
  • Best Rescue Story
  • Puppy Love (under 1 year)
  • Best Trick
  • Fancy Dress (choose a theme that reflects the rest of the event, the wackier the better)
  • Old Timer (over 8 years)
  • Made in Britain (British breed such as Staffie, Jack Russell, etc)
  • Best Cross
  • Dog most like their owner

Latecomers may be disappointed when their preferred category is full. Don’t worry – just remind everyone as they register that it is for fun.

4. Judge and jury

We have a local personality who acts as both judge and compère. You need someone who’s comfortable with a microphone and knows how to work a crowd. The perfect dog show judge knows that fun and fair play are what counts with the audience. Don’t underestimate how difficult it is to choose a winner out of six rescued beauties!

If you’re not lucky enough to get a judge and compère in one package you need to separate the roles. One does the funny and entertaining stuff, the other knows a bit about dogs. Don’t use someone with no theatricality to compère as it will be flat and boring. Start looking for your judge and compère early and don’t be afraid to ask for help. Ask pet shops and vets about dog mad local personalities, broadcasters and actors. A dog show is a great opportunity for self promotion and looks good on a celebrity’s twitter feed.

How to run a fun dog show

5. Volunteers

You will need some help before and on the day:

  1. Pre-show biscuit baking – recruit help to bake dog treats, make rosettes (I buy mine), fill doggie bags etc.
  2. Prepare the arena – on the day you’ll need to clear the area of any previous doggie doos! This is by far the worst job but essential. Once it’s done you need to put up any signage and mark out the arena with ribbon, bunting or balloons.
  3. Registration – three people is ideal. Register each dog (name of dog, name of owner, breed, boy or girl, category). Another person writes out a badge for the owner to wear with the dog’s name and category. The third person fills out the category lists with dog’s name and breed and takes money (if you are charging a nominal fee). The category list helps the judge identify them in the arena.
  4. Ushers – this is where dog mad children come into their own! Two children take it in turns to lead the dogs round the arena and give out prizes and rosettes. They need to be confident in front of a crowd.
  5. Dogsbody and Dog Warden – one person to get the prizes ready for each category. Plus an experienced dog handler as an extra pair of hands on stand-by (just in case).

6. Sight and sound

We use a portable PA system with a wireless microphone for the compère. It can still be difficult for everyone to hear above the noise. We make A3 signs for the ushers to hold up as they lead out the dogs. I’ve also made the ushers dog show warden bibs. These small details help to bring a bit of order to the chaos.

7. Health and safety

Our community event complies with the council’s health and safety policy. Most of it is common sense – for instance we have a trained first aider. You do need to make sure there is plenty of water for the dogs and some shade on hot days. Dogs need to be on leash (except while performing a trick). You need a supply of poo bags. Finally I have a toy water pistol ready to squirt any misbehaving dog – so far unused!

Dog show winners with rosettes
Dog show winners George (Best Boy) and Humphrey (Best Trick)
Poster for De Beauvoir Gardeners dog show
Poster on waterproof environmentally friendly paper

8. Find enough dogs

We get close to 50 dogs at our show. You don’t need this many but a dog show without many mutts is not much of an event. Social media is a free way to promote the show, remember hashtag everything with #dogshow. Pin posters around the area a few weeks before – especially in parks. Post on council event websites, local newsletters and neighbourhood apps. I also ask every dog owner I meet if they are coming along.

There are national dog show listings but we prefer to keep our promotion local. We once had an amazing dog turn up for best trick which blew every other pooch out of the water. It was very entertaining but we never saw that dog or owner again. Homespun is sometimes better. In our show the dogs often take a bit of persuading to do their trick in front of a crowd. That is part of the attraction. The cheer when a pooch finally does a rollover is wonderful!

How to run a dog show - Fancy dress 2016
Fancy Dress category

9. Take pictures

Or rather get someone else to take them for you. Its great to have a record and the pictures will help you promote next year’s event (presuming you want to do it again). We post pictures and list all the winners on the event website afterwards.

10. Relax and have fun

They say never work with children or animals… so don’t expect things to go exactly to plan and don’t take it too seriously.

Avril x