What to expect at your first SV/WDA/USCA show

How should you prepare your dog?

If you plan to show your dog, it’s best to get started when your dog is a puppy. As the dog matures, the judges have higher expectations with regard to ring training and preparation. Very little is expected of dogs, handlers, and owners in the baby puppy classes, so if you are able to enter your dog beginning with the 3-6 month class, this gives you and your dog the chance to learn the ropes without much at stake.

Your dog should be in top physical condition for a show (more on grooming later). SV rings are typically much larger than other types of show rings and dogs must gait (run) several laps. Your dog should be comfortable gaiting for an extended period of time. German shepherds are medium sized working dogs and should be shown in working condition which means lean and fit. Judges frown on overweight dogs. A dog that has good muscle mass and shows a few ribs is far more appropriate than a dog with a sagging belly or little visible tuck. The amount of physical conditioning you do with your dog will depend on your dog’s age and current condition.

You do not need to train your dog to stack itself (free stack). The most important thing with regard to stacking is that your dog is able to hold relatively still and is not upset about being stacked. Your handler will know how to stack your dog correctly in order to show off its conformation (more on the handler later). You should also practice touching your dog all over, including opening its mouth to check the teeth and checking the testicles if you have a male. Your dog should be tolerant of a judge standing over it, running his hands over the body, examining the inside of the mouth, and checking the testicles.

Ideally you and your dog should do some ring training before a show. Ring training involves the dog gaiting counter-clockwise around the ring. Many clubs offer ring training leading up to shows. Sometimes a club hosting a show will have ring training the day before the show. You should contact your breeder, the host club, and/or local Schutzhund clubs to inquire about ring training. If you do not have access to ring training, it is better to do less than do something wrong. In an SV show, your dog will be shown by a handler, not you. Normally you will be able to get your dog in the show ring before the show starts and sometimes before your dog’s class starts during the show. If you cannot attend ring training before the show, make sure your dog is comfortable being touched and wait for the day of the show to meet up with your handler and practice.

What equipment will you need?

You don’t need much for an SV show. In fact, you may not need anything at all. Typically, your handler will have their own preferred leash/lead (more on the handler later) and possibly even a preferred collar. However it’s a good idea to have a show collar for your dog, and a leash just in case.

In SV shows, dogs are shown on one of three types of collars. The most popular is the Fursaver. The only thing to note with regard to the Fursaver is that typically it is fitted more loosely/larger for showing than what you would use for training. For example, my medium size adult dog usually wears a 23” Fursaver for training and trials, but wears a 27” Fursaver for SV shows.

Another popular collar is the Herm Sprenger show collar. It is similar to a Fursaver but has a solid piece that fits around the front of the dog’s neck. These collars are harder to find and more expensive than a Fursaver, so I wouldn’t worry about getting one.

The third type of collar is something like a Fursaver with a larger leather pad that fits across the front of the dog’s neck. This collar is used for puppies, but again a regular Fursaver is perfectly acceptable and always the most common.

Show leads are typically quality leather and 8’ or longer in length. Most handlers will have their own leash that they will attach to your dog’s collar. Some handlers have knots in their leash at various intervals. If you decide to purchase a leash, it should be strong but simple. It does not need a handle on the end (if it comes with one, you can rip the seam out) and should not have any hardware other than the snap where it attaches to the collar.

At the SV show, you will not see the thin choke chains and fancy braided collars that are common in the AKC ring.

How should you groom your dog?

Unlike AKC shows, SV shows involve very minimal grooming. Your dog should be clean yet natural with a healthy coat. If you intend to bathe your dog before the show, do it a few days before the show and not the day of. This is because bathing often strips the natural oils from the dog’s skin and coat and can leave the dog dry looking for a few days. If your dog is clean, you do not need to bathe it for an SV show. You should make sure that the ears are clean and the toe nails are trimmed or dremeled to an appropriate length. Do not trim your dog’s hair. Most people will lightly spray the dog’s coat with water mist or a leave-in shampoo or conditioner and brush the loose undercoat with a common grooming tool like a rake or slicker brush. If your dog is blowing coat, you should make sure it is well brushed, but be careful not to over-brush your dog and break the top coat. You should not use any coat enhancement products like dye or colored shampoos. SV shows always take place outdoors and sometimes involve rain and mud! Before your dog enters the ring, brush any loose hairs away, wipe off any eye boogies, and flatten any cow-licks (many dogs get a cow-lick behind their withers or at their tail set).

Who will handle your dog?

In an SV show, a handler will handle your dog in the ring and you will “double handle” your dog outside the ring (more on double handling later). You do not necessarily need a top professional handler to show your dog. There are several ways to find a handler for your dog:

– Ask breeders! If your breeder is not able to help you, most show line breeders have a team of people including handlers. Contact show line breeders in the vicinity of the show.

– Contact the club hosting the show and see if they know what handlers will be present or if anyone in their club is interested.

– If you are attending a Sieger show, the show web site will usually have a section advertising available handlers.

– If you are not picky, you can just show up at the show and ask around for a handler.

Most experienced handlers get paid for handling dogs. If you are not sure whether to pay your handler or how much, it’s best to ask your handler up front. For club shows, typically the handler is paid the same as your entry fee, so if it cost $45 to enter your dog, you would also give your handler $45. For Sieger shows, handling can be quite lucrative. Sometimes new and inexperienced handlers will volunteer their services in order to gain experience.

What is double handling?

Double handling is when the owner runs ahead of their dog to keep it motivated and moving forward. In the SV ring, dogs are typically shown at a fast pace. The judge wants to see a dog with powerful movement, driving forward. The easiest way to achieve this is to have the dog’s owner(s) ahead of the dog calling the dog. Double handling is typically not allowed at AKC shows but is the norm at SV shows. Even the adult classes at national level shows have double handling.

There are many different ways to double handle your dog. You will need to find out what works best either during ring training, or when you practice with your handler before the show. I’ll describe a few common ways to double handle.

– Stay just ahead of your dog – This type of double handling is very common with puppies and dogs new to SV shows. You walk, jog, or run just ahead of your dog on the outside of the ring, so your dog is basically following you or chasing you as it moves around the ring.

– Stay one side length ahead of your dog – This is also very common, especially for dogs with show experience. Instead of staying just ahead of your dog, you always stay one corner ahead of your dog. This type of double handling works great for two main reasons: 1) For some dogs, having the owner too close is too distracting for the dog and 2) if you are always one corner ahead of your dog, your dog’s head should always be focused slightly inward and never looking outside the ring away from the judge. This type of double handling involves a LOT of running, since you have more ground to cover being on the outside of the ring but always need to stay one corner and ring side length ahead of your dog.

– Hide and call – This type of double handling is not as common and is typically used with dogs that are too distracted or overstimulated with their owners in clear view ahead of them. Often the host club will set up two blinds at opposite corners of the ring. If not, people will hide behind other spectators. Do not be surprised if you are watching a show and someone squats down behind you! With the owner(s) hidden, the handler can control the dog. If the dog gets distracted or starts to drop his head, the handler will cue the owner to call the dog’s name. If there are blinds in opposite corners, ideally there are two people from the dog’s family, one in each blind, that take turns calling depending on where the dog is in the ring.

Whatever method you end up using, it’s important to pay attention to your handler! You should decide on a cue ahead of time so you know when to call your dog’s name. Usually the handler will raise his or her arm, or yell “call!” Anytime your handler cues you to call, you need to call your dog’s name loud and clear. Also pay attention to where you are in relation to your dog. Usually double handlers end up too close to their dog and need to hustle to stay far enough ahead. When the handler is stacking your dog, you either need to stand ahead of your dog (so it is looking at you) or hide, depending on what your handler indicates. You don’t want your dog turning around or turning its head away from the judge looking for you.

Can you handle your own dog?

In short, no. Unless you have an extremely well trained dog (trained to pull out ahead and move with power), you will stick out like a sore thumb. The judges expect to see your dog presented properly by a handler that knows how to stack the dog, move the dog down and back, and gait the dog. Most dogs show better in the SV style with their owner(s) double handling. If you are unable to double handle your dog and must handle the dog yourself, you should bring someone that your dog knows and likes to help you double handle.

How do you enter a show?

In the United States there are two organizations that host SV shows – the United Schutzhund Clubs of America (USCA) and the GSDA Working Dog Association (WDA). Most of the requirements for entering a show are the same.

– You must have a purebred German shepherd dog with an AKC registration certificate.

– Your dog must be intact (not spayed or neutered).

– As of 2011 you may now enter your long coated dog (however you should contact the host club to make sure they are offering long coat classes at their show – long coats are shown in separate classes).

– Your dog must have permanent ID (either a tattoo or microchip) and have this ID verified. The WDA and USCA each have their own tattoo/microchip verification form. This can be signed by the person who gave the tattoo/implanted the chip, or you can take it to your vet and have them verify the ID. If you are not sure which organization you will become a member of, or intend to participate in both, it’s a good idea to print off BOTH forms and have them signed.

USCA Tattoo Verification Form
WDA Tattoo Verification Form

– You must have an official (sealed) AKC 4-generation pedigree. This is purchased from akc.org.

– Proof of rabies vaccination.

Whether or not you need to be a card-carrying member of the organization under which the show is taking place often changes. Typically, you are NOT required to be a member for a club show. For example, I showed my dog Pan in the 12-18 month class at a WDA club show in Oct 2011 and I was not/am not a member of the WDA. However it is best to contact the host club before the show. For national level events, you usually need to be a member of the organization hosting the show OR a member of the SV in Germany. Again, these rules often fluctuate depending on the organization’s need for increased show entries or any political agendas so you will need to double check before you enter.

USCA requires that all dogs entering a Sieger Show and in classes 12 months or older be individually registered with USCA or dual USCA-SV registered. Also all dogs doing a USCA breed survey must be USCA or dual USCA-SV registered. This registration application is available on the USCA web site. This is *in addition* to your dog’s AKC registration.

USCA Individual Dog Registration Form

If you are entering the “working class” (adult class for dogs 2 years and up), your dog must also have proof of a SchH1 title or higher, BH, AD, and hip & elbow certifications. Your dog can also have an HGH title instead of the SchH1, AD, and BH. The WDA accepts hip and elbow certifications in the form of “a-stamps” from Germany. USCA currently accepts both a-stamps and OFA certifications.

If your dog is over 2 years old and does not meet the requirements for the working class, you may enter the “open class” (ages 2+ with no title). The open class is not available at all shows and is usually not available at Sieger shows, so check with the host club before entering your dog.

To find upcoming shows, check the calendars for USCA and WDA events. Most clubs have a web site where they will post information about their show including registration forms and sometimes online payment options. If they do not have a web site, contact the person listed as the club secretary to inquire about how to enter.

USCA Events
WDA Events

Just like AKC shows, you will need to enter the show ahead of time. Typically the entries “closed” (are no longer accepted) about one week before the show. This is because a show is a lot of work; the secretary needs to make sure everyone is submitting the correct paperwork and everything is ready on time for the show.

Normally a show entry involves the entry form, payment, and photocopies of all required documents (AKC registration, AKC 4-gen pedigree, ID verification, and rabies vaccination). You do not need to send your original papers with your show entry, but you will be asked to present these when you check in before the show. Normally you are required to send your entry fee with your entry form, but sometimes you can pay when you check in. This is up to the host club.

Click here to see a generic WDA show entry form

If I do not hear back from the show secretary, I typically contact him/her after the closing date to confirm that my entry was received.

What time should I be at the show?

Even though shows can be a long day, you should be there on time because you will need to check in before the show starts. The check-in time should be posted or communicated to you. Generally it is wise to be there an hour before the show begins. I often arrive earlier than that, since I’m typically only showing one or two dogs and like to check in right away, not have to wait in line behind people that are checking in a dozen dogs.

Also, often the show ring is open for practice before the show begins, so if your dog is not experience and/or you are meeting a new handler, you may want to do a few laps around with ring with your handler before the show begins.

What papers do I need for the show?

You will need to present the original copies of any papers you were required to photocopy and send with your entry. For most dogs this means the AKC registration certificate and the official 4-generation AKC pedigree. I usually print out some confirmation of my entry if I have it. If your dog has any other paperwork that may be of interest, bring it along (dental notation, scorebook, a-stamps or OFA certificates). If your dog is in the working class or breed survey you will also need the original copies of the scorebook, a-stamps or OFA certificates, proof of AD, and USCA registration if it is a USCA show. It is also wise to carry proof of any current vaccines, especially rabies.

At check-in you will be given an armband or tag. You must keep track of this and give it to your handler before your dog enters the ring. You do not need to save it after the show unless you’d like to keep it as a memento.

What’s a catalog?

The show catalog lists all of the dogs entered in the show. It lists them by the class in which they are showing. Catalogs also include information such as the dog’s sire and dam and their titles, the breeder, and the owner’s contact information. There is space for you to mark the results and take any notes. Catalogs are helpful if you are looking to purchase a dog or breed a dog. You are not required to have a catalog; after your dog has shown you will receive the official scorecard from the trial secretary. Catalogs are usually available for purchase when you check in.

How should I care for my dog during the show?

Make sure your dog has ample opportunities to potty. If your dog potties in the ring it will not be disqualified, but you may waste time where the judge could have been observing your dog move, so it may or may not cost you. The host club should have a potty area and cleanup tools available.

When your dog is not showing or practicing, you should keep it secured in your vehicle. The area around the ring can be chaotic with dogs entering and exiting and double handlers running around. I would not recommend keeping your dog with you while you watch. Most shows have a lunch break and during this time it would be more appropriate to let your dog stretch its legs or socialize.

Make sure your dog stays well hydrated but avoid letting the dog drink lots of water immediately after his class. Give him a few gulps and then let him rest a bit before allowing him to drink freely. Most people do not feed their dogs the morning of a show. I usually feed my dog a small meal and then feed more later after his class is done and he is rested.

How do I know when it’s my dog’s turn?

The show classes take place from youngest to oldest: 3-6 month, 6-9 month, 9-12 month, 12-18 month, 18-24 month, 24+ no title(open class), 24+ title (working class). Some shows also offer a “veterans class” which is for working class dogs that are 7 years or older (however a 7+ year old dog is not required to show in the veterans class). Dogs in the veterans class are not given ratings but are showcased for their health and longevity. There are separate classes for males and females; females always go first. There are now additional classes for long coats; long coats go last. So, the full class order for any given age would look like this: female stock coat, male stock coat, female long stock coat, male long stock coat.

Typically once one class is finished someone will announce the next class. You should pay attention as your class is coming up and have your dog ready to enter the ring while the previous class is finishing.

What if my dog is the only dog in his class?

This is OK, and at club level shows small classes are very common. Your dog is being evaluated against the judge’s interpretation of the breed standard and this does not require competition from other dogs. It can be more satisfying to place or win in a large class but a judge as the right to give whatever rating s/he feels is appropriate, so even a dog with no competition may not necessarily receive the top rating available.

Unlike AKC and UKC shows, your dog does not need to place at certain levels with competition to earn a rating and a rank. For example, in order for a dog to become a UKC champion he must accumulate 100 points and earn Best Male or higher by beating out at least one other dog and do this three separate times under two different judges. At an SV show, if a dog is awarded the SG rating in second place, that dog is SG2 regardless of whether he came in second place of two dogs total and has never been in a show before.

What happens with my dog during his class?

As soon as the previous class finishes your handler may enter the ring with your dog and begin moving around the ring. Many people use this time as a chance to do a few additional practice laps and help their dog settle down. Typically the dogs will move around the ring until everyone is present and the judge will either continue observing the movement or halt the handlers.

Once the judge is ready to begin, s/he will halt the handlers. The judge has discretion on how the class proceeds but usually it goes something like this:

– The handlers will all stack their dogs, in catalog order, along the side of the ring near the entrance.
– The judge will do a brief examination of each dog, mainly to see any obvious faults or temperament issues.
– The judge will examine each dog one-by-one by having the handler bring the dog into the ring and stack the dog.
– The judge will check the bite, feel the condition of the dog, check the testicles of the male dogs, measure the dog if necessary, etc. (“stand for exam”)
– The handler will move the dog directly away from and then directly back toward the judge (“down-and-back”).
– Once all the dogs have been examined, the handlers will move the dogs around the ring at various paces indicated by the judge. At this time the judge may have the handlers begin moving in a new order as indicated, or they will proceed in catalog order.
– As the dogs move, the judge will re-arrange the order.
– When the judge is satisfied with the order, s/he will indicate for the handlers to halt.
– The handlers will stack their dogs along the side of the ring.
– The judge will offer a critique and give the rating and placement of each dog individually, in the order that they are placed (the first dog is the class winner).

If your dog is 12 months or older, there will also be a gun fire test after the stand for exam. Typically the judge will ask 3-4 dogs at a time to come forward and will fire a few blank shots to make sure the dog is not gun-shy.

Sometimes with the older classes, the judge may have the handlers do the down-and-back in groups.

If the class is very large, the judge may also choose evaluate the movement in groups. S/he may ask several dogs to wait in the middle of the ring or outside the ring.

What are the ratings and what do they mean?

Unless a dog is excused from the ring (rare) each dog will be given a rating and a ranking. What ratings are available depends on the age of the dog. For a complete list of ratings and their meanings, please refer to points 3 and 4 in this article by Fred Lanting: http://www.fredlanting.org/sv-conformation-rules/

3-12 months:
“VP” very promising
“P” promising

12-24 months:
“SG” very good
“G” good
“S” sufficient
“U” insufficient

24+ with title:
“VA” excellent select (this rating is only available at national/Sieger shows)
“V” excellent (this is the top rating for regional and club level shows)
“SG” very good
“G” good
“S” sufficient
“U” insufficient

The dog will also be given a rank number based on the order of placement. For example, the working class at a regional level show may look something like this: V1, V2, V3, V4, SG1, SG2, G1…

One of the requirements for the breed survey is a show rating of “G” or better, so this can be earned when the dog is 12-24 months, or in the 24+ title (“working class”). Note: ratings earned in the 24+ untitled (“open class”) do not count for the breed survey.

What is the critique?

The critique is the judge’s interpretation of the dog’s conformation. S/he will point out any faults, areas of improvement, overall strengths and weaknesses. Keep in mind that this is just one person’s opinion of the dog, and often the critique seems to focus on the negative points. I once heard a very negative critique and then the dog was awarded the highest rating possible in second place overall.

Typically the critiques are not recorded, so you may want to write down the critique of your dog or any other dogs you are interested in.

The audience should remain quiet and respectful during a critique and cheer/applaud at the end of each individual critique. If I am able to, I typically congratulate the owners of the other dogs in my dog’s class.

What happens after the class?

Once the critique is finished your handler will immediately hand over your dog, armband, and any trophy or award. Sometimes, the handler will stack a dog for the critique and then release the dog to run out to the owner when the audience applauds. Your handler may be showing a dog in the next class so please be ready to take your dog directly after the critique and not require the handler to find you.

If your dog earned a trophy or award that was not presented during the critique, you will be able to get your award during the lunch break or at the end of the show.

You will also need to obtain the official show card if it was not available after the critique. If your dog is 12-24 months or in the working class, the show card is what you will need to present later on if you are going to do a breed survey. The show card is the official record/result for your dog (like a scorebook for a Schutzhund trial). If you forget your show card or it is not available, contact the host club.

Can my dog win the show?

SV shows are different from AKC and UKC shows. Rather than having dogs show in their classes and then show against each other until only one breed winner remains, in SV shows dogs only show one time in their respective class.

Typically, the winners of the 24+ month titled (“working class”) are considered the “winners” or the show Sieger/Siegerin.

Video of the male Working Class (Gebrauchshundklasse Ruden GHKH) at the Budessiegerzuchtshau (BSZS) in Ulm, Germany 2012