Attitude and Ring Presence

by Anne K. Catterson

When I first became involved with Brussels Griffons, lack of attitude was more common than not. To find a Griffon that would gait in the ring with its tail up was rare, even at our national specialty. I once heard a judge proclaim, as she gaited a Winners Bitch class, “I’m giving it to the first one who gets her tail up.” And she did. Over the years, breeders and owners have learned the importance of breeding for temperament, and how to socialize a puppy to instill confidence without creating a bad citizen. Now the poor attitude is in the the minority, rather than majority, but there are exceptions. It is so frustrating to have an otherwise lovely dog show poorly because she hates to show and lacks confidence.

Ring attitude starts in the whelping box, or even before. The bitch has a major influence on the behavior of her pups, so choosing a brood bitch with the proper temperament is the first step. Socialization begins almost immediately after birth with daily handling. Even early nail clipping contributes to later happy attitudes. Griffs are unforgiving and hold a grudge. Wrestling with one the day before a show to do nails will create a sullen creature whose sole purpose now is to make you look bad in the ring, something they’re very good at. Early weekly nail-clipping gets them used to the process. It also keeps them from injuring the eyes of their playmates.

We all know the basics of socializing – we take them to the mall, the park, the dog show, the kids’ soccer games. We introduce them to many foods, many beds, many surfaces, many people. But what happens if, despite your efforts, or because you acquired a poorly-socialized puppy, you still have issues with attitude? And if you purchased a soft Griff, you didn’t do your homework – but that’s another column.
Here are two processes that have worked for me and others in the past. First, take your Griff to watch the groups, or another noisy event, but don’t put it on your lap. Put it on a chair next to you. This teaches him that he can be safe in strange surroundings with you without having to be glued to your hip. Reach over and pet or scratch him with a “good dog” on occasion, but only when they are relaxed and quiet. It may take a few groups for him to relax, but you’ve got seven to accomplish your goal.

Another process that works fairly well as a quick fix on the day with a well-trained dog that just isn’t quite sure of himself is to have a friend hold him away from the ring, and away from you, until it’s just time to show. Then the “holder” can bring him to the ring and hand him over just as your class is called. Oftentimes the dog is so happy to be reunited with his person he forgets to be worried about where you’re taking him. A little “kootchy-coo” around the ring also helps.

What does not help is encouraging your Griff to bark at passing dogs and/or people. This only produces a nuisance dog, who often continues this behavior in the ring. It also puts the dog at risk from a bigger, crankier dog that doesn’t like his attitude.

CREDIT: This article first appeared in the September 2012 issue of the AKC Gazette, and is reprinted with permission. To read the Gazette in digital format, go to www.akc.org/publications