Showing at Crufts for the First Time
Your dog has qualified for Crufts -congratulations! No doubt you have heard many of the "old hands" at showing make comments on Crufts just being another championship show, but there is no denying the fact that Crufts is that bit extra special. You generally get a bigger entry than at most other general championship shows, you often get dogs arriving from abroad to compete, the show is shown on TV and the internet, and of course visitors arrive in their thousands, from not just the UK, but from every corner of the world. If you are used to the average championship dog show held in a big field or park during the summer with few if any of the general public visiting, then Crufts will be an entirely different experience for both you and your dog. So what should you expect?
Check Your Entry
Let's start with your entry. Double check that your dog is qualified -the exact qualifications may vary slightly from year to year, but in a nutshell breeds that ever have CCs on offer can qualify at any championship show during the year (general, group or single breed) provided the breed has CCs available at that particular show. If your breed never has CCs, then any championship show will qualify. Normally you qualify by being placed first, second or third in most breed classes -but not all. A placing in Good Citizen for instance will not qualify you for entry at Crufts, so do check the up to date qualifications for entry, which will be published in the Crufts schedule and on the Crufts website at www.crufts.org.uk as well as in the dog papers. There are also some ways you can qualify at shows other than championship shows, but this is much more limited.
The breed classes at Crufts are usually the same as at other championship shows. It used to be that Puppies could not be entered until 8 months of age and therefore the Puppy class was from 8 to 14 months instead of the usual 6 to 12, but from 2015 this has changed, and the age classes are the same as at all other championship shows. It is free to enter extra classes, so you could for instance enter both Junior and Post Graduate, or Veteran and Good Citizen (if your dog has passed at least its Good Citizen Bronze test), but do take into consideration that for many breeds classes at Crufts will be huge and so maybe your dog may get bored by being entered in more than one class as you will have a lot of waiting time in the ring. All dogs are different, and not all breeds have huge entries, so take into consideration what is likely to work for you and your dog. If you are not sure about how many dogs are usually entered per class in your breed at Crufts, you can look up the results from previous years online at http://crufts.fossedata.co.uk as this will show you how many entries there were in each class.
You will get one free pass to Crufts for each dog entered, and if the dog is owned in partnership, you will get two passes. If you are bringing other family members or friends and need extra tickets it is best to order these together with your entry, as not only does it work out cheaper, it also means those people can enter the show together with your and your dog rather than have to go to the visitors entrance to buy a ticket.
The National Exhibition Centre
Crufts is, of course, held at the NEC in Birmingham, and as a show venue, it is quite different to all others -in particular when it comes to the distance you have from the car parks to the halls, and the amount of visitors you get. If possible, I would suggest that you enter your dog for LKA in December as a "dress rehearsal". As LKA is also held at the NEC, it is very good practice for Crufts. You don't get anywhere near the same amount of dogs, visitors or indeed trade stands, but it is very useful all the same. From the car parks at the NEC you can either walk to the show halls, or you can take a shuttle bus. I find LKA perfect for a dog's first experience of the shuttle bus. Many people prefer to walk to the halls, but if it is raining or if you have a lot to carry, the free shuttle buses are very useful. Unless your dog is already used to travelling on buses, it will be a new experience. At LKA you will most likely only queue for and get onto the bus with other exhibitors, but for Crufts you will find yourself surrounded by the general public, most of which will be very interested in your dog. The buses tend to be crowded and so you need to squeeze yourself and your dog into a small space -and mind that tail so that it doesn't get stepped on!
When arriving at the NEC, allow yourself at least half an hour to get from the car park to your bench at Crufts, if not more. First you have either the walk to the hall, or the trip on the shuttle bus. The buses tend to run every 15 minutes. Make sure to check out what hall you will be in, and what door to enter through. (This will be mentioned in the exhibitors info sent to you in advance.) If you for instance will be benched in hall 5, the last thing you want is to enter via hall 2, as you then have a long walk through several halls. Arriving at Crufts is in many was the worst part of the day. It is extremely crowded, so many visitors and so many exhibitors, and there are also so many trade stands that getting through the halls to find your bench and ring can be quite an undertaking. Do not be surprised if visitors complain at the presence of dogs either, believe it or not, I have heard many a comment from visitors about dogs being in their way!
Waiting for Your Class
When you are showing at Crufts, I would strongly suggest staying with your dog at the bench or ringside (if there is space -some of the popular breeds have so many people wanting to watch the judging that it is unlikely you would get a seat ringside unless you arrive very early)- try to not leave your dog alone on the bench. With so many visitors, many of whom bring children, you simply cannot ever be sure that nobody will touch or upset your dog. For your dog's safety, stay with him or her. Even if you use a cage on the bench it is safest to stay with the dog. Fabric cages if used should be tethered to the bench, and indeed I have seen such cages fall off when the owner was out of sight. If you need to use the toilet (and beware, the queue for the ladies gets VERY long at Crufts!), then ask another exhibitor to keep an eye on your dog. I would also suggest that if you want to do some shopping at any of the many (around 500 ) trade stands at Crufts, do not bring your dog with you. Crufts is just too crowded, and the chances that your dog will have his paws or tail stepped on are great, and it won't be a nice experience for the dog to walk around the trade stands. Also if you have a male dog, you never know if he may decide to cock his leg at something! A separate day at Crufts for shopping can work out great, or try to bring a friend or family member with you so that you can take it in turns to go shopping and to watch your dog. The shopping really is great at Crufts, and is an experience not to be missed.
Toilet breaks for your dog will involve a visit to any of the areas cordoned off with rope and covered in sawdust. many dogs will not want to use this, especially bitches. Strictly speaking you are not meant to leave the building to go outside with your dog, but if you speak to one of the people guarding the exits they may allow you to pop outside onto the grass and then come back in again.
Bring some food with you to eat, both for you and your dog. The food at the NEC is expensive, queues are long, and you are not allowed to take your dog with you into any of the cafeterias, although you can of course purchase food from any of the stalls located in each hall. It is much easier to bring your own food though. Crufts is a very social occasion, you tend to meet up with all your friends in the breed, and its not at all uncommon to bring a bit of extra cake or biscuits or anything similar, to share among your friends.
The actual judging process at Crufts is of course the same as at any other championship show in the UK. But remember that at Crufts, the world is watching you. Dress nicely, and make sure your dog truly is ready for Crufts, and behaves well. The last thing you want is for people to see your dog act nervous or aggressive in the ring.
Should you be lucky enough to win BOB or BOS you will get prize money, and you will need to either collect this at the show (where can vary, so please ask an official) or claim it by post after the show. If you have won BOB and therefore will compete in the group, allow yourself PLENTY of time to get to the collection ring in front of the arena just outside Hall 1. It can take much longer than you think to reach it, and once there your dog will be photographed and you will need to fill in a form with all details about your dog.
Leaving the Show
If you have not won BOB (and let's face it, winning Best of Breed at Crufts is a once in a lifetime experience for many, if it happens at all) then you still have to stay at the show until 4 pm. No exhibitor is allowed to leave earlier with their dog, unless in exceptional circumstances, which require KC permission and usually involves your dog being unwell and the Crufts vet agreeing to you taking it home. I would suggest that, if possible, you do not leave at 4 pm. You will notice that already at 3.45 pm or so, exhibitors will start to queue by the exit doors, in order to get out as quickly as possible. With thousands of people and dogs all wishing to leave at the same time, there will be long queues indeed, the shuttle buses will be packed full and the car park traffic will be running very slowly indeed. I have known it to take a long as two hours to leave Crufts, although this was extreme. If you instead wait until at least 4.30 pm or even better 5, you will find it a lot easier. At this time the number of visitors will have thinned out a lot, and you can take the opportunity to have a quick look at the trade stands with your dog -the only time of day it really is viable to do so with a dog.
Enjoy the Day
Above all -enjoy your day, make it fun for your dog (plenty of treats!) and make the day special whether you win anything or not!