Getting Started in the Show Ring by Cindy Robinson(2008)
So. You now have a "show quality" puppy and are perhaps feeling nervous and overwhelmed by the prospect of going into the ring for the first time. Keep in mind that even the long-time, seasoned professional handlers were in your same shoes at one time. There is a steep learning curve to conformation showing, and it's certainly not for everybody, or for every dog, for that matter, even if he is of show/breed quality. But it can be a lot of fun in addition to being very addictive! I have been showing my Cotons for just over three years, so still consider myself new to this sport. Here is my advice from one newbie to an even newer newbie:
Purchase one or two good books on the basics of showing and handling. I recommend "The Absolute Beginner's Guide to Showing your Dog", by Cheryl S. Smith, and "New Secrets of Successful Show Dog Handling" by Peter Green and Mario Migliorini. They are both easy and fun to read, and you will get the lowdown on the "mechanics" of showing, along with some great tips on practicing with your dog at home, which is extremely important!
Find and attend a dog handling class in your area. These are usually very informal and attended by folks at all levels of showing-- some are veterans, just practicing, and some, like you, are new, so you will feel comfortable. Your dog needs to attend this type of class to become familiar with the atmosphere and stresses of the show ring. A good handler/instructor will give advice specifically for you and your dog to become a 'team'; judges are looking not only for a great dog, but for teamwork between the dog and handler.
Don't be shy about asking your dog's breeder for all the advice you need on grooming, which is one of the fundamentals in showing!!!! Additionally, there is loads of information on the subject on different breeders' websites, as well as in the archives of various online Coton owners' groups. Go into past posts and do a search on grooming specifics: shampoos, brushes, dryers, etc.
Practice, practice, practice with your dog at home-- both inside and outside on grass!! Be sure to make it FUN for your dog, with lots of treats and praise. Your Coton must exhibit a happy, bright temperament in the ring, as it is part of the Standard for the breed, so it's up to YOU to make sure he is enjoying himself!
Try to have fun yourself. Your dog will pick up on your nervousness, and can be affected adversely. At my first show, I wasn't nervous at all, because I had absolutely no idea what I was getting into or what to expect!!! At subsequent shows, however, especially after getting "the taste of success", I have become a nervous wreck some of the time, but I still love it!
One of the greatest things about showing is the people you meet. And one of the worst things about showing is the people you meet! Grow a good thick skin, and learn not to take things too personally or seriously. Concentrate on your own dog, your own attitude, and be kind to others around you!!! Both of the books I read warned of cheating, jealousy, back-biting, etc. And believe me, it's out there! When you are nervous, overly-sensitive, and excited, it's easy to take things the wrong way.
Try to find a mentor nearby or at a show, who can help you learn the ropes. You will find, for the most part, that the judges are kind and understanding, and will be happy to talk to you after a show and offer advice if you ask. They are most often especially forgiving with young puppies in the ring, so the sooner you get out there, the better!
Look at this as the beginning of a great new adventure for both you and your wonderful little Coton! If you take your time, practice, and love your dog to pieces, you can't help but succeed! At best, you will be in ribbons. At worst, you will have a wonderful time without them!