The life of a puppy with a show dog future is slightly different than that of a pup with simpler aspirations. For one thing, puppies in training are likely to spend some of their time with a professional dog handler, like Clint Livingston of Denver. Livingston has been training Westminster hopefuls for three decades. "We start them young, and the key is socialization," he explains. "We make sure they're around lots of people, with lots of hands on them so they get used to it."
While non-show dogs don't need to be as comfortable with the human touch as Westminster wannabes, they can nonetheless learn something from Westminster training and grooming standards. Below, Livingston shares his tips for helping your furry friend achieve best in its own show.
What's crucial to training a dog to do just about anything? Repetition, food motivation and compliments. "Dogs want to make people happy," emphasizes Livingston. "Give them lots of praise when they do something right, and lots of verbal encouragement along the way. Positive reinforcement is the best training tool of all."
Before they compete, show dogs must master these skills:
But the work doesn't end there. If you want your pet to look like a show dog, add nail clipping, teeth brushing and ear cleaning to your weekly to-do list. For each, choose a time of day when your dog tends to be relaxed. Talk sweetly to your best friend throughout, and if it begins to resist you, finish up another day. But more specifically:
Your pal doesn't have to be a show dog to look and act like one. With Livingston's guidelines, your dog can be like the puppies he trains in no time. "It's great to watch them learn," he says. "You watch their confidence grow by the minute. They get more and more adventurous the more you teach them."
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Darcy Lockman is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in The New York Times and Rolling Stone. She lives in Brooklyn, with the prettiest pug dog in the five boroughs.
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