Karen Martin started training dogs when she was sixteen years old as a junior handler. She had many other breeds before her current Great Danes.  They were Shelties, Labradors, Rottweilers as well as her very beginning training that started with her first Great Dane.
She has done obedience, tracking, field training and most recently (15 years) being in the conformation and agility rings. She's taught obedience and tracking classes for about 20 years. So when she got back into Danes 15 years ago, she knew she wanted a dog to do everything with. The breeder Karen bought her first Great Dane from, along with everyone in the local Great Dane club, thought she was nuts!! ďDanes canít do that!!Ē she was told. But being persistent in pursuing her goals has brought her to where she is today, trying to do almost everything with her Great Danes.

Diamond Great Danes












 by Karen Martin

To me, to be successful in the ring means not just winning and finishing champions. I want my dogs to look good and not act up and to not make a fool of me in the ring with their bad behavior!!  So I get started on ďtrainingĒ as soon as they are born. If you are a breeder you have an advantage of being able to start while they are in the whelping box. If you purchase your Great Dane puppy hopefully you have bought one from a breeder who does lots of things with the puppies right from birth. A very big part of training in any venue is the preliminary things we do before we actually start formal training. For instance socializing puppies with other people and other dogs and exposing puppies to everything possible. I start with handling puppies right after birth. I assume most breeders do most of that. I hold them in all kinds of positions, restrain them, trim toenails etc. As they get older and their eyes start to open I start putting baby toys in with them so when they crawl/bump into them they make noises. I buy baby toys from garage sales that jingle, have bells, balls inside and things to make all kinds of noises to expose them to. I play a radio so they get used to human voices, music and lots of foreign noises. When they are about four weeks old,  I take away the beginning toys so they donít chew out the squeakers or bells and replace them with movable objects and things to play inside or under. I have a see-saw that is baby puppy size so they can play on it and get used to have something move when they walk on it. I have tunnels and cubbyholes for them to crawl into and through. The more that you can expose a puppy to before they go to their new homes the better they adjust when things change. I want my puppies to walk into a new home like as if they have always been there and have no fear of the new place.

The training I do specifically for the conformation ring is actually very little! There are a few things that they do have to learn that is specific to the conformation ring but not really a lot!  If you really think about it, everything you will require of them in the conformation ring is already taught in the obedience class. Of course there is much more taught in obedience than they need in conformation. But in my opinion, every Great Dane should have some obedience training. Maybe not formal enough to go in the ring and earn a title, but at least enough that they can mind you so you have control over them.

This breed is way to big and strong to let them get the upper hand. Having control over a dog in the conformation ring is what makes it seem easy to bystanders. Just to give you an example. We placed a show quality puppy in a pet home because we did not have enough show homes at that time early in our breeding program. She wanted a dog to compete with in obedience. She had no interest in conformation. She entered him in our B-Match here locally and I talked her into letting me show him in conformation also. All I had to do is to tell him stand and stay and he didnít try to sit in the ring. He won BOB at the B-Match and after that finished in 6 weekends of shows. No formal training for the conformation ring at all. He only had some regular obedience training. What I have found is that if you concentrate as much on stand and get treats as you do sit and get treats, they will do what you say instead of just reacting and automatically sitting for a cookie. Obedience is also great for getting attention, which in turn is great for teaching them to free bait. That is another important part of the conformation ring for me. So as you can see, I really do think that having an obedience trained dog gives you control, a dog that is used to paying attention to you and that makes it so much easier to show them. Also, teaching a dog to sit in obedience is not going to make them sit in the conformation ring. They are smart enough to learn the difference between the rings and what you expect in either place. We use different collars, leads and even hold our hands in different ways and use different commands. My first Dane would do tracking, obedience and conformation play training all in the same day at different times. She was never confused on what she was doing and what came next.

Now for the things I do specific to the conformation ring. I do these on my own dogs and teach new handling clients to do these things at home to help make my job easier when I show their dogs. I start with my baby puppies and stack them often with VERY short training sessions. We take weekly pictures so they have to stack!! With this breed if you are always trying to get a perfect stack you will teach your puppy some wrong things. When they are high in the rear and you are fidgeting with them trying to make them look perfect you can really mess them up. It will teach them to back up and pull backwards. I teach them at a very young age to accept the collar up around their neck and encourage them to pull forward over their front. Nothing is worse than accidentally teaching them to pull back when you stack them; that makes their toplines look awful. So who cares if they are stacked perfect or not? Just pick feet up and put them down it doesnít matter if they are perfect or not. No fiddling, just do it once and stop. Then bait them forward and encourage them to lean forward with slight pressure on their collar to hold them back. In the beginning until they really know what they are doing, everything is in play and having fun. It is way to easy to ruin a puppy in the beginning by yelling at them ďNo, StayĒ and getting aggravated that they moved. I can guarantee you they are going to move so donít worry about what they do wrong, just reward what they do right. Give them lots of praise. You can never praise too much. So taking this one step further I go through it like this. First pick up feet and place them with collar up around the neck. Bait forward for a second and then I toss the treat and release them. They learn very quickly the whole process of what comes next.  They start looking for the treat toss and know what comes next. I repeat that several times and that is the end of a session. I do this with any age dog to start with. I do this training with client dogs, older dogs or baby puppies. I am trying to teach trust, what comes next; this is fun to do etc. Always having fun with them and not making corrections. As the dog/puppy starts looking for the treat I make them hold the stand for a few seconds to begin with. They get to a point very quickly that they are waiting for your release command before they go for the cookie. When they have a good idea and are doing it correctly many times then you can actually start using a command and associating that word with what they are doing. Like Stand, then Stay, then OK get it, etc. This is over time, not one training session. Donít try to rush anything to quickly. You should be training long before your puppy or dog goes into the ring.

None of this really takes a lot of time on your part. You just have to be committed to doing it. If you do no training and just take a dog into the ring, believe me it shows. To everyone standing ringside and to the person handling the dog and to the judge. Iím not saying that when I take a puppy into the ring that they are perfect! They definitely are not. I actually use the puppy classes for training also. I take a toy in the ring and try to play after we have moved but not so that it interferes with anyone elseís puppy. If they have a bad experience in the ring as a puppy it will stay with them for a long time. So the more you can make them ready for everything or so that whatever happens is not the end of the world, the better it is for the puppy. We have all known what is called the back yard champions! That attitude is too easy to kill. Make everything fun for them and for you. Training does not have to be a chore or something you donít have time to do.  You HAVE to make the time if you want a dog to look itís best and to be confident in the show ring. I hope I have given you some insight as to how easy it really is to make a dog happy and show well in the conformation ring. Let them be puppies when they are puppies. With time, training and experience it will all become second nature to them and you will have a dog with confidence that likes to show!!  Wouldnít that be nice to have?  

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