Most dog owners have heard of Crufts, or are aware that there are plenty of organised activities that they can do with their dogs, as most of these events are televised at some time or another. But many owners are unaware that they can take part in a Novelty Dog Show.
Most organised dog activities involve either a lot of time dedicated to the dog, a lot of money, or both. The Novelty Dog Show is something you can take your pet dog to, with no prior training, no huge costs and no experience.
You and your dog choose a class you want to compete in, pay the small fee, enter the ring at the appropriate time and stand around with other dogs owners while the judge looks at each dog and decides which one they like best. Rosettes and sometimes prizes are offered (usually to six places), you all have a cup of tea and go home.
Novelty Dog shows can be found in such places as village shows, big dog events such as the Wag and Bone show (Windsor) or Paws in the Park (Kent), and some dog training clubs will hold a Breed, Obedience and Novelty show on a yearly basis as part of their open day.
They all follow a similar format. You have to register your dog for the classes you want to enter, usually (but not always) before the judging starts, and pay a fee of around £1 a class. This usually happens at around 10.30am, so it means you haven't got any hideously early starts. Judging usually starts at midday or early afternoon. You can enter as many classes as you like, but if it's very hot it's not fair to the dog to be constantly standing in a ring in full sun, so choose carefully.
Once you've paid you will be given a ring number. There may be safety pins available to pin your ring number to your clothes, but don't rely on it and take your own. You will need this number every time you enter a class. No need to be self-conscious, everyone will be wearing them; you can tell the regulars - they'll have their own special clip or armbands.
Attention must be paid to the judging so that you don't miss your class - there is no easy way of telling how long judging will take, although after a couple of classes you may be able to guess. It depends on how many dogs are entered - five dogs won't take as long to judge as 25. Some judges will take plenty of time to judge each class, having each dog walk around the ring with their handler, and taking time to talk to each owner about their dog. Other judges will just walk up and down the line of dogs, stopping to ask the dog's name and age and wanting a close look, but generally coming to a decision quickly. Classes such as 'Best Rescue' will mean the judge wants to find out the story behind the rescue dog, so this class can take a while.
While waiting for your turn to enter the ring, don't huddle round the entrance, or, if you are going in or out of the ring, don't stop at the entrance to talk to someone - you'll be in the way!
When your turn comes, your class will be called and a steward will note down all the numbers. They may call out the numbers of missing entrants, they may not; it's your responsibility to pay attention.
At novelty shows it's not hugely important that your dog is perfectly obedient, as long as the judge doesn't have to look at its bottom because your dog is paying so much attention to you, or another dog's bottom. The judge wants to see your dog's face and character. Waggiest Tail is the exception to this, as they want to see those bums wiggle!
If you can, try to get your dog to wait quietly with you - you can take treats and toys into the novelty ring. Don't let it be too interested in the dog next door as not every dog likes to be in such close proximity to other dogs, and don't let it jump all over the judge when he or she approaches. Most judges won't mind too much, but some will want to judge temperament as well as the class title so will be a bit fussier.
Don't be put off if some people in the ring have their dogs in the traditional 'breed' stance - standing in front of their owner, who is holding its head and tail up - or those who have a perfectly behaved dog sitting quietly by their side. This is not about obedience, or what a perfect example of the breed the dog is. It's about pet-owners getting out with their pets, and the judge isn't really judging the dogs to any sort of criteria other than the very loose class title. A perfect specimen of its breed could easily lose out to the muttliest mutt in the class, because the judge liked the twinkle in its eye. However, exceptionally bad behaviour from the dog while in the ring is not likely to get him or her very far, although peeing or pooping won't count against you (as long as it’s the dog, not the owner doing it). Do pick up any poops!
If you get pointed at first - you've won! The steward will tell you where to stand, lining the other winners up to your left. You'll get a rosette, possibly a prize, and a big beaming smile you can't get off your face.
If you're a first prize winner there may be a 'Best in Show' you can enter at the end of judging, so if you can, stay until the end.
If you haven't won a place, don't worry: carry on entering your classes. If you don't have any wins towards the end of the day, some shows will have a 'Best of the Rest' you can enter, which is entrants with no prizes, and this one is free. If you still don't win, don't be downhearted - you're going home with the best dog at the show! And there's always the next one. During the summer there are plenty of novelty shows going on.
Keep an eye on your local paper, as often they are advertised in there. Dog websites may have a 'coming events' section you can keep an eye on, or you may be able to sign up for newsletters. There may also be novelty classes at a 'companion' or 'exemption' dog show, so investigate any of these you hear about. Searching the Internet for any of those terms will help you to find what you are looking for. If you attend dog-training classes, talk to the other owners.
You may find leaflets advertising another local show at the shows you go to, or if you go to a few in your local area you may start recognising people, who will happily let you know of other shows they know of. Always be polite and friendly, even if you lose, as you never know if the contestant next to you will be a judge at your next show.
At bigger shows there will be plenty of other things to do, stalls to help you spend your money, games and activities you can try with your dog, occasionally a fun fair, or perhaps an arena with demonstrations to watch. You might also find car boot sales in the same area, or tests you might be able to try with your dog.