If you have ever watched a dog show on TV and have any sort of fashion sense, I’m sure you have asked yourself why all the female handlers look so dowdy in their ill fitting skirt suits.

I had the same reaction, until I started showing my dog and realized that the perfect outfit for me to wear in the ring would be (drum roll) a navy skirt suit. To really understand why, you need to understand the constraints handlers are working under.


  1. You need to look professional. This is a serious business for breeders and professional handlers, and you need to respect that. You need to be wearing something that you could wear to the office.
  2. You need to not outshine your dog. The goal in the ring is to have the judge look at your dog for as long as possible. You have about two minutes of their attention at the most – you want them to spend that time looking not at your dog, not at you. The best handlers, like the best user interfaces, disappear.
  3. You need to compliment your dog’s traits with your clothing. For example, my Australian Shepherd has a merle, or patterned, coat. If I wear a patterned outfit, it could result in a visual mess for the judge. I try to wear a solid outfit in a color that contrasts her markings.
  4. Your dog’s size affects your hemline choices. In general, a larger dog allows your to wear fuller skirts or pants. Again, you want the judge looking at the dog and its movement, not your flowy skirt as you run around the ring. And of course, you can’t go too short, because you will be bending over and often crouching or kneeling in the ring to show your dog.
  5. You need to wear comfortable flats that you can run in. The feedback I get most often is that I need to run faster with Samba to better show off her gait. Wearing any kind of heel would be a good way for me to break an ankle.
  6. You need pockets. You have to take bait, or dog treats, into the ring with you to coax the dog into the posture and expression that the judges are looking for, and you need some way to carry it. A suit jacket has easily accessible pockets, and I suspect that this is the real reason they are so popular in the ring. Some women keep their bait tucked behind the number worn on their left arm, or in their bra. Neither of these is comfortable for me. It is possible to wear a bait bag pinned to your outfit in the ring, but this can be distracting and doesn’t look as clean. Some women add their own pockets to clothes the purchase that don’t have them, but it is obviously much easier to stick to outfits that come with pockets. It is surprisingly hard to find appropriate dresses with pockets.
  7. You are going to get dirty. You are showing a dog, after all. They have hair, may jump up on you, or drool. You will be carrying around stinky bait, such as chicken liver or beef lung. You may be kneeling on the floor or in the grass. It is pretty hard to justify paying hundreds of dollars for designer clothes that will be treated this way.

So, fashionistas of the world, here is your challenge: find me something appropriate and fashionable to wear in the ring. I think this would be an excellent challenge for Project Runway, by the way. They could hook up with handlers that go to Westminster, make them outfits for the ring, and have a combined dog/runway show. Not the making outfits for the dogs challenges they have done, but solving a real fashion challenge.

Got a letter in the mail from the AKC yesterday, saying that Samba was registered as “restricted” and therefore ineligible to compete in conformation. If she had won anything, she would have had to forfeit the points and return all prizes.

So I instantly went from being disappointed in her recent couple of performances to happy that we have been able to get valuable knowledge and experience without having to have anything taken away from us, and without taking anything away from competing dogs that actually had all their ducks in a row. (That is herding dog humor, btw.) She has done precisely as well as she was able to do.

We will fix her registration status in time for the next showin February, which will also allow us to add her breeders as co-owners so she can compete in the Bred by Exhibitor class, which is better for all of us. Goes to show how green we are at all this– we had no intention of showing her when we got her, and didn’t even really know what that meant.

Samba had a good day at Concord, getting her first rally leg, and going Reserve Winners Bitch. Reggie said she would have won if he hadn’t stepped on her foot. 🙂 (We didn’t see that happen, not sure if he was kidding or not.) I am thrilled with how well she did with all the chaos of Concord– 1500 dogs, hundreds of people, being groomed and handled by folks she only met briefly a couple of weeks ago. She is exhausted, and so am I. All 3 of us took a 2 hour nap, woke up to eat, and probably won’t be awake much longer. She is such a good natured dog, just rolling with the punches, wanting to please. I was a bit more out of sorts than I would have liked for rally– hopefully that will be better tomorrow.