This article is based on a handout about Bull Terrier show handling which was given out at a BTCMD handling seminar I gave with Sharon Keillor in July, 2007. I’ve also included a link to Sharon’s show grooming handout. We do a shorter version of this seminar every February before the BTCMD’s winter match so people can practice showing before the match begins.
For tips on grooming, download Sharon Keillor’s PDF handout covering basic materials, supplies, and techniques.
Bull Terrier Show Handling
One thing that top dog-handler teams have in common is that the handler is able to get and keep their dog’s attention. This requires a combination of training and effective use of bait.
Training: Catch and Watch are great commands to use
Bait: Know your dog, prepare with multiple escalation levels of bait, by this I mean you plan to use somethng your dog likes pretty well, but have something in reserve they are absolutely nuts about in case there are strong distractions while you are showing. This could be another dog that is disruptive or a handler using some kind of crazy toy as bait.
Distractions: Catch your dog BEFORE you completely lose control to distractions
Collars and Leads
Should be customized to YOUR dog, don’t just pick a certain collar because you have one, you think it looks nice, or someone you admire uses it. Use what you need to control your dog.
Noose or English lead: Only for the best-trained dogs who are not interested in arguments. It allows minimal control, but looks nice let down on the dogs neck to give the appearance of more neck length.
Martingale: Again, only for well-trained dogs with no aggressive tendencies. Good for dogs that have problems with an itchy neck as it can be let well down the neck when gaiting.
Slide or classic Resco lead: Although used in many other Terrier breeds, this is NOT appropriate for Bull Terriers. The fabric is easy on your hands, so I have used Resco leashes, just not the all in one with a slide collar.
Nylon Collar: Gives you better control, but does not allow sharp corrections. I like the parachute cord nylon which can be adjusted into the groove under the dogs skull where he/she can FEEL it. I actually find this better than chain collars on some dogs that pull hard when gaiting. Nylon leads can be purchased to match these collars, but they can be hard on your hands, so consider a less matchy leather or Resco fabric lead if your hands are getting raw!
Chain collars: Always select a small link for showing, there are three types that I consider acceptable, the curb chain, which is a fine obedience style choke, snake link, and a very fine chain which like the parachute cord, can be fit in that groove behind the skull.
Leads: Nylon can be matched to collars and is easily cleaned, and is easy to find in many sizes and variations. Leather and Resco material leads are easiest on your hands. Use a width appropriate to the amount of control you need to exert. I prefer leads without snaps they won’t come loose, and you won’t risk the snap swinging into the dogs eye when you are moving.
Examination: Stacking/Free Baiting
Train your dog to accept handling of mouth and private areas by many people. Train dog to accept being placed into position and held there, although you will not be expected to do this often in the specialty ring, all breed judges DO expect it, and it will help if you need to adjust a free stack without totally throwing the dog off. When hand stacking set up the side facing the judge FIRST!
Free stacking can be practiced at home by working to maneuver the dog with food and rewarding only when it gets into position. Raise your standards as the dog gets better at this, and work at increasing the distance between you.
These guidelines apply to both hand and free stacking, your dogs structure will determine how easily it can assume these positions,especially when free stacked.
Front legs should be placed with the toes lined up under the point of shoulder, parallel to each other, with toes pointing straight ahead.
Rear legs should line up with the rear pasterns perpendicular to the ground. Legs should be parallel to one another, toes straight ahead.
Head carriage: Experiment to find the best position the neck should be up and arched, but angle of the head may affect the appearance of the profile, practice in a mirror to find your dogs best (and worst!) angles.
Tail should be level with the line of the back but should be the last thing you worry about. Experiment to see if you can find something that always elicits tail up or a wag examples are saying a key word, having the dog step backwards, tickling in a certain place.
Markings if your dog has head or back markings that affect its appearance, such as a white spot emphasizing a back roach or head marking that spoils the smooth profile, present the dog from the other side as much as possible (do not do this if the judge specifically requests you not to)
Before you start to move with your dog, first practice holding and walk with the lead by yourself. You should be able to move at the proper speed (for Bull Terriers a fast walk, to show off the jaunty air suggesting agility and power) keeping your wrist still. Practice with keys on the end of your lead until you dont hear any jangling. Hold the lead in one hand and practice being able to take in and let out length by folding it up in your hand, do not wrap more than the first loop around a finger. The end of the lead should never be dangling.
Always pay attention to the judge’s instructions, if you can, pay attention to previous classes to get a general idea of what is expected. If you are not sure or did not hear properly, ASK what he/she wants you to do.
Common Movement Patterns
A good conformation class will have you practice all the patterns. You want the dog to be used to the likely ways it will be asked to move in the ring and to know where to expect the turns so you can keep collar jerks, tripping over your dog, and awkward turns to a minimum.
Go Around just as it sounds. Usually, it will be once around to your starting place, in a large class the judge may request more than once around, pay attention to how many times and where you are expected to stop.
Stopping: When you come back to the judge, try to stop about 5 feet in front so they can see your dog without stepping back. If your dog has a good front or expression, stopping with your dog facing the judge will show off these qualities. If your dog has a lovely outline or head profile, stopping with its side to the judge will present a better picture. The dog should expect to stand at attention when it stops, this needs to be practiced. Some judges will try and attract the dogs attention and if the dog will look straight at another person in this situation it makes a great impression.
Triangle Pattern – The judge will direct you how to move around the ring, generally down to a corner, across the ring and returning on the diagonal to the judge. Left Triangles are MUCH more common than triangles to the right.
Down and Back. The judge will indicate where to take the dog, usually on a mat, but sometimes across the ring, especially when making final decisions. You will move directly away from the judge in a straight line and then return.
Just Have Fun!
There are many show dog handling educational videos on the internet, and I’ll share a couple I like. Eric Salas is an American professional handler who does show handling workshops and also has free content on his website and on YouTube. Eric’s content is geared toward people showing in all-breed competition and is a bit more formal than seen in most specialty rings. For a more Bull Terrier specialty style approach, refer to Jane Messineo Lindquist’s Madcap University site. She like Eric has both paid and free resources for show dog handling.