Unlike the long-coated or trimmed breeds, Bulldogs are relatively easy to show because they require very little preparation. If they get brushed regularly, they will naturally have a clean, shiny coat, which you can enhance by rubbing it with chamois leather or a velvet pad. The occasional bath, particularly if they are predominantly white, and daily wiping of their eyes (to avoid any eye staining) will often suffice. Check all the wrinkles are clean and dry, and make sure that his ears are clean and that his nails are short.
Training for the Show Ring
All dogs have qualities and faults that are more or less apparent, and it is the virtue of the handler to accentuate the good and minimize the not so good when exhibiting.
Show training is a long-term investment and should start from an early age, long before the first outing. The international Championship judge, Judith Daws, recommends to stand your puppy on a table every day, for just a few minutes, from the age of six weeks. He should wear his collar, but no leash. At first, concentrate on getting your puppy to stand still, while you continuously stroke him. How the legs and feet are placed are not important at this point. Then, place one hand on his chest, the other cupping his rear. While holding this position for ten or fifteen seconds, continuously repeat stand.
After a few sessions, you will be able to move his legs into the correct square position, sometimes holding his chin, sometimes his collar. The back legs should be placed slightly closer together, so that, when viewed from the front, the back legs can be seen between the front legs.
Show training should be adapted to the temperament of your bulldog. You must have endless patience and make it a happy time for your dog with a reward at the end of each session. Don’t become distressed if all does not go well during the first few training sessions. Otherwise, your bulldog will sense that you have become exasperated, and all you will have gained is that he will regard training and showing as something very unpleasant. Always keep the training sessions short, but be determined and never stop in chaos, but always conclude on a positive note, no matter how small the achievement.
Before entering any shows your bulldog must be well socialised and used to being handled by strangers.
In the UK and the US puppies are accepted in the show ring from the age of six months on, but as all puppies mature at different ages refrain from entering any breed shows until you are sure that both your puppy and you are ready. Sometimes, it is often wiser to hold back young dogs that are not yet ready for the show ring, than risk his chances of being placed.
The first time you attend, just sit and watch the other, more experienced handlers. In the meantime your puppy can become accustomed to the older dogs and new surroundings before making his debut.
Unlike most other breeds, which stand sideways, bulldogs are always exhibited front-on, facing the judge.
What to wear
Christian Bruton, breeder of the top winning bulldog, Ch. Kelloe White Glove, and author of the book Bulldogs recommends the following: “Plan your outfit to complement your Bulldog. You will be expected to look reasonably professional without distracting attention from the exhibit. Women should avoid long flowing skirts that could flap around and detract from the general outline of the dog on the move and it is always wise to leave high heels and loose, dangling jewellery at home. Loose trousers and flat shoes appear to be the most widely accepted, sensible solution here.”
For male professional handlers the same author recommends “a shirt, tie and jacket. (…) Ensure that trousers are loose fitting enough to allow you to get down and stack your Bulldog, and that jackets are not too tight across the shoulders, restricting your arms when you reach over the dog.”
What to take
A breed bag with a bowl for drinking water and a bottle of water, dry towels, a brush and a chamois leather, grooming chalk for the white parts of the coat, showing leads, a plastic hand-spray with water and one with water and diluted shampoo for last-minute cleaning if the show environment is dusty or muddy. The emergency kit should contain travel sickness tablets. Choose a bag with a secure, separate pocket in which to keep the show schedule, the car-park ticket and passes and ring cards. And of course, you’ll need a crate and a trolley on which to place the crate. Don’t forget the blanket or cushion to place inside the crate. Take plenty of disposable kitchen towels to clean up the cage in case of ‘accidents’. A lock and key may be useful to secure your dog in his cage if you need to leave him for a short while. It is also advisable to take a light piece of cloth, dust sheet or scarf to cover the crate so that your dog may remain peacefully on his own, undistracted by the crowd and other dogs. Additional essentials for summer shows are described on the heat stroke prevention page.
Behavior in the ring
Aim to be calm, confident and relaxed, to avoid your nervousness “to travel down the lead to the dog”. Never overhandle your dog. Prefer show leads of the loose-fitting nylon variety that fall away from the neck. The arch and strength of the neck is an important feature of the Bulldog, so do not compensate lack of show training by ‘stringing up’ your Bulldog like a terrier.
It is perfectly in order to be pleasant to the judge as he or she goes over your Bulldog, but it is considered bad form to carry on any lengthy conversations.
The following two books contain well written sections about how to show train your bulldog and what to expect from showing your dog:
Pet Owner’s Guide to the Bulldog by Judith Daws, an international Championship judge. Her kennel, Outdoors, is the only one to have won Best Dog and Best Bitch at Bulldog of the Year.
Bulldogs by Christian Bruton, who built up, together with his partner David McHale, the Kelloe Bulldogs Kennel.
Born To Win : Breed to Succeed (Paperback) by Patricia Craige
The Winning Edge: Show Ring Secrets by George Alston