I imagine dog shows are pretty weird and stressful to most dogs. Let’s begin with the obvious: the environment. Dog sporting events are probably the only places our dogs will be surrounded by hundreds or thousands of strange dogs and people in close quarters, none of whom they’re allowed to interact with. There’s not normally a ton of noise at conformation events but there’s always a dull roar of activity and sporadic barking, especially by the terriers and toys. Adding to the stress are the owners who don’t properly control their dogs (looking at you, Chow man) or the spectators who coo in your adorable dog’s face (“HELLO little Border Terrier!!!”). Plus most owners/handlers are stressed and distracted, so they aren’t paying attention to their dog and may even be stressing their dog out.
As an imaginary dog I’m already exhausted thinking about this, but now we have to go into the ring. Your dog must perform ambiguous behaviors (standing just right, trotting just right) in the presence of strange people and dogs. In fact, there’s a dog right in front of her that she isn’t allowed to say “Hi” to and a dog right behind her who might be doing something shady. She doesn’t know, she’s not allowed to look. A strange person walks by and now the shady dog is chasing her as they trot around the ring!
Then comes the exam. For Borders this is on the table, which your dog may not enjoy at home, much less at a show. Some tables aren’t stable either, so she gets to stand on shaky ground in a crazy place with a bunch of strangers. Speaking of, a strange person walks right up to you dog while staring at her face and starts touching her head. This person has the audacity to stick their fingers in your dogs mouth! Then the stranger runs their hands along the dogs entire body and touches some extremely sensitive parts, maybe even tugging on her pelt or checking boy parts. Is it any wonder most dogs do a full body shake (stress reliever) after being removed from the table? Afterward your dog is expected to trot in a perfectly straight line, an abstract concept for a dog, before trotting right up to the stranger who is still staring at her face. Finally you go around the ring and she finds herself looking at that strange dog’s butt again, the one she’s not allowed to investigate.
When you think about normal canine communication and behavior, all of this is totally out of their wheelhouse. So let’s have some sympathy! We think it’s no big deal to stand around with our buddies, stroll around the ring, or have a judge run their hands over our dog. Our dogs would disagree; this is nothing like everyday life.