Showing Off and Enjoying Your Poodle’s Talents

Showing Off and Enjoying Your Poodle’s Talents

In This Chapter

  • Becoming a Canine Good Citizen
  • Entering the dog show business
  • Helping folks with therapy Poodles

Poodles are smart, active dogs. Any behavior you want to teach them, they can do, unlike kids, cats, and spouses. The only limitation may be size; you may be limited in what Toys and Miniatures can do physically. (Mentally, they can meet any challenge.) In this chapter, I explore some activities that you and your Poodle can do as a team. These activities provide great opportunities for exercise — for your Poodle’s brain and his body.


No matter what event you’re interested in, get a copy of the rules and regulations so you know what and what not to do. Order booklets about American Kennel Club (AKC) events at


One more thing before you dive into the world of dog shows: You can successfully train your Poodle for competition by yourself. However, I suggest that you join a class. The environment adds distractions, and your Poodle will learn how to ignore other dogs in group exercises. See Chapter Housetraining Made Easy for more about taking your Poodle to training classes and teaching a variety of commands.

Passing the Canine Good Citizen Test

Helping your Poodle to earn the Canine Good Citizen (CGC) award is a good place to start if you think you would enjoy obedience events (which I cover later in this chapter). The basic exercises are easy to teach your Poodle and make a solid foundation for advanced training. The CGC award is easy to earn, but that doesn’t detract from its importance. When the initials CGC appear after your Poodle’s name, everyone will know that he’s well mannered around other dogs and people and an upstanding citizen of the canine world. In the following sections, I explain how to prepare your Poodle and what to expect during the test.

Preparing for the test

You can teach your Poodle all the things he needs to know to pass the CGC test on your own. However, you have help at your disposal to make the process go as smoothly as possible. Many kennel clubs offer classes aimed to prepare owners and dogs for the CGC test. A class provides a good learning environment and exposes your Poodle to other dog and people teams. (See Chapter Housetraining Made Easy for general information on training classes.)
Besides teaching you and your Poodle how to take the CGC test, a kennel club class may make arrangements for you to take the final test. If so, you have one less thing to worry about.


When your Poodle is ready to take the CGC test, you’ll discover that the AKC wants you to be a good citizen, too. Before the test, an administrator will ask you to sign a Responsible Dog Owners Pledge, which says you’ll take care of your dog’s health, needs, safety, exercise, training, and quality of life. You also agree to clean up after your dog in public places and to never let your dog infringe on the rights of others.

Taking the test

Are you prepared? Is your Poodle’s tail wagging? The time has come to take the CGC test. The test consists of ten parts that test your Poodle’s ability to obey and interact and your ability to handle, and it takes about ten minutes. Your dog must do the following:

1. Accept a friendly stranger without breaking his position or going to the tester

2. Sit quietly and allow the tester to pet him

3. Allow the tester to run a brush over him and handle his ears and feet

4. Walk on a loose lead and make several turns and stops

5. Walk through a crowd without straining on the lead or jumping on people

6. Be put in a sit position and then in a down position; left and then returned to

7. Come when called from a distance of ten feet

8. Show minimal reaction to other dogs and be polite

9. Recover quickly when presented with distractions, such as a thrown pair of crutches

10. Not show signs of separation anxiety while you’re out of sight


If your Poodle growls at, snaps at, bites, or attacks a person or another dog at any time during the CGC test, he’ll fail right then and there. But don’t worry; your Poodle can retake the test.

Looking Good: Conformation Shows

You may contend that your Poodle isn’t just another pretty face, but you’ll still want to show off that side of your Poodle. A Poodle is a glamorous dog when properly trimmed and groomed (see Chapter Providing Your Poodle with a Nutritious Diet), and many owners love to show off their companions so everyone can see how beautiful the dogs are. The conformation ring at a dog show is just the place to show off your gorgeous girl or boy.


Conformation judging considers more than just your Poodle’s coat. Dog shows were originally staged to show off breeding stock, and that’s still the main objective of a show. Your Poodle must fit the breed standard and must be in condition. A flabby Poodle that doesn’t meet the standard won’t win, no matter how lovely his coat looks. Chapter Socializing Your Poodle has full details on breed standards.

In the following sections, I explain how you can prepare for an AKC conformation show, and I describe the inner workings of a show. (The United Kennel Club [UKC] also has conformation shows; see its Web site at and Chapter Socializing Your Poodle for more information.)

How can you and your Poodle get ready for conformation shows?

When you purchased your Poodle, your breeder may have given her opinion as to whether your puppy is of show or pet quality (see Chapter Deciding Whether a Poodle Is Right for You for more about getting a Poodle from a breeder). If the initial evaluation was that your Poodle is show quality, you should go back to your breeder for another opinion as your Poodle grows. If you know other owners who show their dogs, get their opinions as well (especially if you found your Poodle at a rescue group or shelter and you don’t know a breeder). If everyone you speak with agrees that your Poodle fits the standard and has the personality to enjoy showing, you should give it a shot! At that point, you can start working on preparing your Poodle (and yourself) for a show.

Preparing your Poodle

Handling classes are a good place to start preparing, but you’ll also want to work on your Poodle’s coat. Showing in conformation requires special clips; the hair is kept much longer than you would ordinarily keep a pet’s coat. Your pet may have longer nails than is appropriate for the show ring, and those teeth had better be snowy white.


You can show a Poodle in a puppy clip until he’s a year old; after that point, he must have either an English saddle clip or a continental clip (see Chapter Providing Your Poodle with a Nutritious Diet for more information on the types of clips). The puppy clip of the show ring is very different from the puppy clip that you may be familiar with on a pet Poodle:

– The show coat is much longer in a puppy clip.

– The mane and topknot are already being developed.

– The flpas feature longer hair.

– The feet, face, throat, and the base of the tail are shaved clean.

Preparing yourself

You have the option of showing your Poodle yourself or hiring a professional handler. You’ll have a great time and a rewarding experience if you show your Poodle yourself, but you may desire the help of a professional because of the intensive grooming required. If you love the idea of showing your own dog, you can still hire a professional to teach you the ins and outs of show grooming. You also may come across a bartering handler who can help you with grooming in exchange for your help feeding, exercising, or cleaning up after her dogs.
Ask your breeder or other dog people for handler recommendations. Go to shows and watch handlers in the ring. Do you like the way they treat their dogs? Do you like them?
If you plan to show your own dog, take handling classes, which many local kennel clubs offer, or find a handler willing to teach you what you need to know. Generally, this means going to shows and being unpaid kennel help as you learn.

How does a conformation show work?

At an AKC show, your Poodle needs a minimum of 15 points, including two majors, to earn the title of “Champion.” The number of points is based on a scale that varies by geographical areas. The more dogs that your dog beats, the more points he wins. The maximum number of points that a dog can earn at any one show is five. Three-, four-, and five-point wins are considered majors, and your Poodle needs at least two majors under two different judges to complete a championship. Theoretically, a dog could earn a fivepoint major at three consecutive shows and become a champion, but normally, it takes a lot longer.
You can enter six regular classes when you’re showing your Poodle; each one has different requirements, such as age. In all classes, a judge reviews male dogs first and then moves on to bitches (females). Here’s how the actual competition goes down after all the dogs separate into classes and gender:

1. An official judges all the class males and calls the winners from each class to return to the ring, at which point she selects the Winners Dog.

This dog is the only dog to receive points toward a championship.

2. The judge repeats the process with the bitch classes, and the Winners Bitch receives the points.

3. The Winners Dog and the Winners Bitch return to the ring with all the champions, or specials, who’ve been entered.

4. In this class, also known as the Best of Breed class, the judge chooses the Best of Breed, Best of Opposite Sex (to the Best of Breed), and Best of Winners.

5. The dog chosen as the Best of Breed goes on to compete in group judging.

Seven groups compete in group judging. If you have a Toy Poodle, you show him in the Toy group. If you have a Miniature or a Standard, you show him in the Non-Sporting group.

6. The winners from each group advance to the Best in Show judging, where a judge chooses one dog as the Best in Show over all the other dogs entered.

Figure 13-1 is a visual depiction of all these categories.

Figure 13-1: An AKC conformation show progresses from breed classes to Best in Show.

Testing Skills: Rally Events

If you and your Poodle enjoyed training for the CGC test (which Icovered earlier in this chapter), you may want to continue trainingfor competition with rally events. A rally event is less structuredthan an obedience event (I cover obedience in the next section),but it can still give you a feel for competition. Rally became anapproved AKC event in 2005 and is really growing in popularity.
In rally, 10 to 20 stations make up the grid of the competition,depending on the rally level. When a judge starts you, you andyour Poodle follow the designated station numbers and perform the exercises described on the cards at all the stations. A qualifying score is 70 points out of a possible 100. Your Poodle should be on your left during the rally and not be more than two feet from you, but a formal heel position isn’t necessary. Your Poodle should sit when you stop moving.


Unlike in formal obedience competitions, you can give multiple commands and talk to (and encourage) your Poodle. You may not touch your Poodle, but you can slap your leg, clap, and/or use hand signals to complete each exercise at the stations.

The three levels in a rally event are as follows:

Rally novice: The dog stays on lead for all the exercises, and you rally through 10 to 15 stations.

Rally advanced: This level has between 12 and 17 stations, including at least one jump. Exercises are done off lead.

Rally excellent: This level features between 15 and 20 stations and requires at least two jumps. Exercises are done off lead. At this level, the handler can give multiple commands but may not clap or pat her leg to encourage the dog.

Oh, Behave! Obedience Events

Many of the exercises in obedience competition are similar to the activities found in CGC tests and rally events (see the previous sections of this chapter), but the judging and rules are stricter in obedience competition.
AKC obedience events have four levels, each featuring a variety of exercises:

– Companion Dog (CD)

– Companion Dog Excellent (CDX)

– Utility Dog (UD)

– Utility Dog Excellent (UDX)

At each level, the exercises become more difficult. For instance, at the CD level, some exercises are done on lead. At the CDX level, all exercises are done off lead, and a jump and dumbbell retrieving are added, as well as a broad jump. At the UD level, your dog needs to master a scent discrimination exercise, in which he selects an article that you have handled and retrieves it. There is also a “directed retrieve” test; three gloves are dropped in a line, and your dog must retrieve the glove that you select.
At all levels of competition, your Poodle must earn a qualifying ribbon under three different judges. A qualifying score is 170 points out of a possible 200, which comes with the dog scoring at least half of the points assigned to each exercise.
After you’ve mastered these levels, you can work on your obedience championship (OTCH), which requires earning 100 points in specific classes.
You can see a Poodle in an obedience event in the color section. You also can check out the UKC’s Web site at for more information about its obedience competitions.

The humble beginnings of obedience

Today, obedience is a popular activity for ambitious dog owners. Breeders now recommend basic obedience training for dogs in pet homes. However, it wasn’t always this way. Two Poodle people are responsible for bringing obedience training to the attention of America’s dog owners.
In 1931, Helene Whitehouse Walker imported three Standard Poodles from England, and she established Carillon Kennels. At the same time, she began reading about obedience tests that took place in England, and she became interested in bringing that practice to America.
In 1933, Mrs. Walker organized the first obedience test in America, which she held in Mount Kisco, NY. In 1934, three more tests were held: one at Mount Kisco and two at all-breed shows. That same year, Mrs. Walker spent six weeks in England to discover more about obedience training.
In December of 1935, Mrs. Walker submitted a pamphlet on obedience procedures to the AKC, and she requested recognition of the sport. The AKC approved of the new sport, and in April of 1936, the organization published “Regulations and Standards for Obedience Test Field Trials.” The first AKC-licensed tests were held at North Westchester on June 13, 1936 and Orange Kennel Club on June 14, 1936.
With the AKC on board the obedience train, Mrs. Walker and her associate, Blanche Saunders (who wrote several books on obedience training), decided to spread the word about obedience across America.
In September of 1937, they began a 10,000-mile “trailer trek.” They took three Standard Poodles on a trip to give demonstrations. They handed out pamphlets and lived in a 21-foot trailer, which they pulled with a Buick. They removed the backseat of the car, and the area became home to the three Poodles as they traveled!
Fast forward to 1976. The AKC created a new title, OTCH (Obedience Trial Champion), to recognize dogs who reach the highest levels of obedience. In an age when Golden Retrievers and Border Collies seem to dominate the obedience ring, you can take solace in the fact that a Miniature Poodle, Ch. Andechez Zachary Zee, UD, was the first breed champion of any variety to earn the OTCH honor.

Staying on Course: Agility Events

Poodles enjoy the challenges of learning obedience commands and taking obedience tests (see the previous sections in this chapter), but these tasks can become repetitive in a hurry. Poodles do get bored easily, so the repetition of obedience training may make them lose interest in the sport. If your dog requires variety in her exercise activities, agility may be just the sport for your active Poodle.
In the following sections, I describe an agility course, I outline the levels of agility competition, and I highlight special considerations in preparing Poodles for agility events. You can see a Poodle in an agility event in the color section.


Agility takes strength and stamina from both you and your Poodle. Depending on the organization holding an agility event, you may not be able to compete in agility until your Poodle is at least 12 or 18 months old. The age requirement gives your dog a chance to grow up and develop the muscles he needs for agility. You can take the time before your Poodle hits the required age to begin training.

Surveying an agility course

In an agility competition, your Poodle navigates through a set of obstacles, at your direction (or at the direction of a handler), in a set amount of time. The obstacles are fun, and you have many of them to consider, including a variety of jumps, an A-frame, a seesaw, a dog walk, a pause table, open and closed tunnels, and weave poles. The number of obstacles in an agility competition depends on the level of the competition (see the next section). The following list digs deeper into the different types of agility obstacles:

– Jumps may be simple bar jumps, tires suspended from chains, or bars in varying height combinations.

Contact obstacles each have an area that the dog must touch as he gets on and off the obstacle. The contact zone helps protect dogs from injury; you don’t want them leaping on or off an obstacle too far from the ground. The contact obstacles include the following:

  • The A-frame is shaped like a giant “A,” and your dog must go up one side and down the other.
  • The seesaw is just like the one you remember from your childhood. Your dog must get on at the end that touches the ground and walk across it until the other side drops to the ground.
  • The dog walk is a narrow plank that leads from the ground to another plank that is parallel to the ground. Another plank leading back to the ground is at the other end.


A UKC agility course doesn’t have a dog walk, but it offers a sway bridge and a swing plank (see Chapter Socializing Your Poodle for more on this organization).

– At the pause table, your Poodle must sit or lie down, at the judge’s discretion, for five seconds.

– An open tunnel is a long tunnel (pretty simple!); it can be straight or have bends in it. A closed tunnel consists of a rigid section where the dog enters and a “closed” section that’s made of fabric. The dog must run through the collapsed fabric part to exit the tunnel.

– The weave poles are rows of poles through which your Poodle must navigate.

Looking at rules and levels

Both the AKC and the UKC offer agility competitions. The two other major agility organizations are the United States Dog Agility Association (USDAA) and the North American Dog Agility Council (NADAC). Each organization has its own set of rules and regulations, and these rules can change periodically. They apparently aren’t worried about making it easy on you! You can find more information at and
Make sure you have a set of the most current regulations for the organization that’s offering the trial. The regulations tell you about the specific heights of jumps and give you the rules for point deductions and nonqualifying scores.
Each organization that offers agility competitions has three levels of competition. You can go on to win agility championships within the levels of these organizations.


You can find other agility associations that offer events:

– Teacup Dogs Agility Association ( for dogs 17 inches and under

– Just for Fun ( for dogs and owners who enjoy agility but not competition

If you have an older Poodle, you can try to find a veteran’s class. The AKC offers a preferred class for seniors. In this class, jump heights are lowered by four inches, and your Poodle has five extra seconds to complete the course. (For more about senior Poodles, check out Chapter Easing Your Senior Poodle into the Golden Years.)

On the Prowl: Hunt Tests

Poodles were bred to hunt decades and decades ago (see Chapter Socializing Your Poodle), but they’ve been so successful as companion dogs since they became popular that people have a hard time remembering their field origins. One event that lets your Poodle return to his roots and lets you see him in his natural environment is a hunt test. At a hunt test, a dog is judged on his ability to notice, or “mark,” where a shot bird falls, and then on his ability to go to that spot when he’s sent, retrieve the fallen bird, and carry it to the hunter.
Both the AKC and the UKC allow Standard Poodles to compete at hunt trials, but neither organization allows Miniatures or Toys to compete. The Poodle Club of America offers a hunting class for Standard and Miniature Poodles at its national specialty shows.
In the following sections, I explain how to train your Poodle for hunt tests, and I describe the different levels of hunting competition.

Equipping yourself and training

If hunting with your Poodle sounds like a great time for you, you should train for an event rather than run out the door with a shotgun and your dog. To train and to eventually compete, you need

Guns: For training, many people use blank or starter pistols. Otherwise, you’ll need a shotgun.

Bumpers: A bumper is a plastic or canvas cylinder that you can throw either on land or in the water, where it will float. The weight and size of a bumper simulate what your Poodle will experience when he retrieves a bird on a hunt. Many plastic bumpers, or dummies, have knobby surfaces to encourage a soft mouth on the bird. Bumpers come in various sizes, from 2 to 4 inches in diameter and from 9 to 15 inches in length. You can find them at sporting and gun shops, in dog supply catalogs, and online. They range in price from $10 to $20 each.

Birds: Eventually, you’ll need real birds to train your dog.

To train your Poodle, start by working with bumpers until your dog understands retrieving and is under control. At that point, you can mix birds with bumpers.


You should consider joining a retriever group for serious hunting training, because a club is more likely to have access to birds than individuals. And, even if you have access to birds, you know that each bird can cost $10 or more. To find a group, ask other dog people or your veterinarian, who may have clients to hunt. You also can search online for groups in your area.

Hunting at different levels

For the AKC tests, the levels are Junior Hunter, Senior Hunter, and Master Hunter. The following list outlines the AKC levels:

– A Junior dog is tested on four marks: two on land and two on water. A dog marks, or notices where a bird falls, before you can send him to retrieve it.

– For a Senior test, blind retrieves are added — both on land and on the water. A blind retrieve means that the dog can’t see the bird. He still marks it, but he can’t actually see the bird. On land, the bird may fall behind a bush; on water, the bird may be resting in reeds near the shore.

– At the Master level, your Poodle must deal with multiple marks and blind retrieves, as well as more distractions. Your dog also needs to honor another dog’s retrieves; in other words, he must remain in the heel position next to you (or his handler) while another dog works, if called upon to do so.

Earning qualifying scores

Your Poodle competes for the hunting titles by earning scores from the two judges at each test. The following list outlines how your Poodle earns his titles:

– To earn the Junior Hunter (JH) title, your Poodle must receive qualifying scores at five AKC-licensed or member-club hunting tests.

– To earn the Senior Hunter (SH) title, your dog needs to qualify at five AKC-licensed tests. If your dog holds a JH title, however, he needs only four qualifying tests.

– To earn the Master Hunter title, your dog must qualify at six tests. If he already has the SH title, he needs only five qualifying tests.

To qualify, your Poodle must have an average overall score of 7, with each part of the test being scored from 0 to 10 by the two judges. Your dog also must have an average score of at least five in each part of the test.

The Nose Knows: Tracking Tests

Tracking is a test of a dog’s sense of smell, and most Poodles are up to the challenge! Whether you have a Toy, a Miniature, or a Standard Poodle, you can compete in tracking.
A tracking competition involves a track that features a specified number of turns, depending on the difficulty of the test. Flags are used to mark the direction of the track. Along the track, a tracklayer drops specific articles that the dog must find as he tracks. The dog, who wears a tracking harness and a lead between 20 and 40 feet long, tracks the scent of the tracklayer and indicates the dropped objects, which also have the tracklayer’s scent. Each tracking test features two judges, and both must agree that your Poodle has passed a test in order for your dog to earn a title.
Your Poodle can earn three tracking titles in competition from the AKC:

– Tracking Dog (TD)

– Tracking Dog Excellent (TDX)

– Variable Surface Tracking (VST)

The difficulty of attaining each title is based on the length of the trail, the number of turns in the trail, and how the track has been “aged” — that is, how much time passes between when the track was laid and when a dog is allowed to run the track. A dog becomes a Champion Tracker (CT) when he earns all three of the tracking titles.

Sharing the Love: Therapy Poodles

Maybe, in spite of all the events you can participate in with your Poodle, you just don’t have the competitive gene. Maybe you’re more of a couch potato. Maybe, however, you’re a noncompetitive couch potato with a very big heart. If so, helping your Poodle to become a registered therapy dog may be for you. With very little effort and no competition at all, you can share your Poodle’s love with people who really need it. If you have the energy to complete a CGC test (which I cover earlier in this chapter), your Poodle can become a registered therapy dog.

How a therapy dog helps

Here are just a few of the things that a therapy dog does to help:

– Therapy dogs frequently visit healthcare facilities. A therapy dog can simply provide comfort, or he can take an active role in therapy sessions. For instance, a patient throwing a ball for a dog to retrieve can be a form of physical therapy.

– More schools bring in therapy dogs to be reading partners. Students like reading to dogs because dogs never criticize.

– Therapy dogs also can be of service during disasters. Not only can a therapy dog comfort the victims of a disaster but also rescue workers.

How to become certified (and other considerations)

Many people do informal therapy work, but if you want to have a certified therapy dog to feel more official, you can check out Therapy Dogs International, Inc. at or the Delta Society at These organizations register dogs who pass a test similar to the CGC test. After your Poodle is registered, you’ll receive the following:

– An ID tag for his collar signifying his status

– A card for your wallet for showing proof of certification.

– Information on visiting hospitals or other healthcare facilities

– Depending on the registering agency, you may have insurance coverage for you and your dog in case of an accident

After your Poodle is certified, you can do as much or as little therapy work as you like. Contact local healthcare facilities; most welcome regular visits. If the idea of helping children appeals to you, talk to your local school system about visiting classrooms or starting a reading program.


Whether you want your Poodle to get certified or not, you need to make sure that he’s comfortable around the people he’s supposed to help. A dog who’s afraid of children won’t be of much use in a school. If you want to work in a healthcare facility, get your dog used to wheelchairs and walkers before you make your visits.

On your first visit to a therapy session, take a copy of your Poodle’s vaccination records. Trim your Poodle’s nails, and file the tips, if necessary. Older people have thin skin that can bruise and tear easily. And make sure your dog is clean! No one wants to pet a dirty dog, even if he doesn’t shed.

by Susan M.Ewing