All you’ve ever wanted to know about puppy shows, but were too afraid to ask

  • Now is the season for packs of hounds to hold their annual puppy show.

    For those who haven’t been to one before, the name perhaps conjures up an image of cute, fluffy hound puppies being lead around a ring for all to see. The reality however is quite different but for those who attend, it is one of the highlights of the summer and is not to be missed.

    For anyone who has been invited for the first time, those who are just curious about what goes on or people who have perhaps been before but might even have been slightly confused at the goings-on, H&H answers some of the most frequently asked questions about this special event in each pack’s summer calendar.

    What is a puppy show?

    Traditionally puppy shows are held to thank those who have walked hound puppies and to show their progress since they came back into the kennels after being out at walk.

    The puppy walkers have a big responsibility, giving each young hound their initial education following being weaned. This involves introducing them to the sights and smells of the countryside, ensuring they know right from wrong, and most importantly, making certain each individual hound knows its proper kennel name.

    Who goes to the puppy show?

    Apart from the puppy walkers who really are the guests of honour, the guest list can be made up of any number of people, depending on each pack’s own criteria.

    There tends to be many more than just the puppy walkers on the guest list and these can include — although each pack varies — hunt committee members, those who organise functions and fundraising events, farmers, meet hosts, subscribers, joint-masters and members of hunt staff from surrounding packs, hunt supporters, members of the press and perhaps the local MP.

    It is seen as an honour to be invited to attend the puppy show although quite often packs have theirs as part of their annual kennel open day where everybody is welcome.

    If you haven’t been invited and wish to attend, it may be worth putting in a quick call to your local master.

    What do you wear if you’ve been invited?

    Being one of the most prestigious events on the summer hunting calendar, an effort is generally made by most guests to look smart.

    Gentlemen generally wear a suit or jacket and tie with panama hats often worn if the weather is suitably mild. Members of hunt staff tend to be recognisable by their bowler hats and dark suits.

    The attire worn by the ladies is usually dependant on the weather with waterproof coats and wellies often disguising even the best-planned summer outfit. Hats are encouraged, although on occasions those worn by some are perhaps more suitable on racegoers at Royal Ascot and would be better left at home.

    With regards to footwear, remember you are likely to be standing on grass so flats, those with a slightly sturdy heel, or wedges, would be more advisable than stilettos. Dress for the weather and remember you will be standing around for much of the time and might need an extra layer.

    What are the hounds judged on and by who?

    There are usually two invited judges who come to assess the young hounds and give their verdict on their conformation and movement. The judges are often a Master of Foxhounds (MFH) and a professional huntsman, although this can vary. Similar to judging horses, they will look at the overall picture of each hound, check they have good feet, shoulders, backs and also see how freely they move.

    How old are the hounds?

    The hounds presented to the judges are those that will start their hunting careers in the autumn and tend to be about one-year-old (usually born sometime between January and July of the previous year). There may be up to six months difference in age between litters born early in January, and some that aren’t born until July. This is something that will be of particular note to the judges.

    What is the format for the afternoon?

    You will be given a “racecard” which explains the order in which the hounds will be shown. You will also find breeding details of each of the young hounds and sometimes details of who walked each one. The doghounds are judged first and are usually shown to the judges by the huntsman in couples, so there is time for them to assess them properly. After all of the doghounds have been reviewed by the judges, they will all come back into the ring and then the final assessment will take place. Once the judging of the doghounds has been completed and the results announced, the same procedure then happens with the bitches.

    Who teaches the hounds to show?

    There is quite an art to showing hounds and the hunt staff will have spent a lot of time over the weeks and months leading up to the big day to ensure the hounds show themselves off to their best advantage.

    Don’t be surprised to see the huntsman using dog biscuits to encourage the hounds to stand properly and to get the most out of their movement.

    What is the etiquette during judging?

    Firstly, always arrive in good time. The puppy show is often a very social occasion where hunting people catch up with familiar faces for the first time since the season ended. However, it must be remembered that it is still a very important day, particularly for the puppy walkers, so do try to pay attention to the hounds and the judging. If you don’t understand something, there is usually somebody around keen to answer questions.

    It is a good idea to get involved by trying to judge the hounds for yourself to see if you choose the one that wins.

    One word of advice if you happen to be sitting close to the edge of the judging ring, always pay attention when the doghounds are near the railings, in case they decide to relieve themselves…a wet leg does not appeal to everyone!

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    What happens after the puppy show?

    After the judging has taken place, there are usually speeches and a prize-giving where prizes are awarded to the puppy walkers of the winning hounds. Most packs also give an engraved spoon to the puppy walker of each of the young hounds that went out to walk.

    In addition, many packs lay on a generous spread of afternoon tea following the puppy show. This tends to take place in a barn at the kennels or perhaps a marquee if one has been laid on and you may well get asked to contribute a plate of sandwiches or bring a cake to add to the feast. Tea is the ideal time and place to catch up with all your hunting friends.

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