Jerky, Veggies, and Hebrew National Hot Dogs: What National Dog Show Handlers Feed Their Pups in the Ring
When you're watching a dog show competition, you'll see some handlers holding their hands aloft, capturing their dogs' rapt attention. You might even see them put what's in their hand into their shirts or mouths.
It's their "bait," the dog's favorite food that keeps their attention and motivates them to perform while in the ring. Toys work for some dogs, too. It's also known as "luring," a technique used during positive-reinforcement training where the treat is used as a lure to get a behavior. Trainers describe the treat as a kind of magnet used to get the dog to follow your hand into a specific position. And let's be honest—show dog or not, we all love a tasty reward.
"This breed lives for food," says Colleen Hamm, describing her keeshond Stormy who competed in the 2021 National Dog Show presented by Purina. It goes without saying that Hamm was also describing, albeit indirectly, me at Thanksgiving dinner.
Why use bait? It can help your dog find the best pose or posture for the judge, who's looking for a specific stance and build, says Jeffery Pepper, the 2021 National Dog Show Best in Show judge.
The small bits of food can vary from the typical (chicken) to the weird (vegetables, really?). It depends on what your dog likes and can quickly consume in the ring. When they need both their hands, the handlers will sometimes stow the food in peculiar places—tucked inside their armbands, within their bras, and, yes, right into their mouths.
"[Handlers] pull stuff out of their mouth all the time," says John O'Hurley, the Seinfeld actor who's been a member of the National Dog Show broadcast for 20 years. "... And the dog doesn't seem to care."
Hey, we can't really blame them. Some of these treats sound pretty good! Read on for the most interesting snacks from the 2021 National Dog Show presented by Purina.
Karen Graeber (Poppy, bichon frise): Beef jerky and Poppy's favorite squeaky toy. This bichon is particular, not wanting the chicken her sibling gets. "She won't look at chicken," Graeber tells Daily Paws. "She wants beef jerky." Same.
Sharliene Bowers (Jäger, German shepherd): smoked turkey bologna, which offers a "really strong, smokey scent." Coincidence that this pooch goes for the BBQ option, and also spends time at the local firehouse? We think not.
Karen Mammano (Matthew, Newfoundland): Usually chicken, but he's been taken with Hebrew National hot dogs lately. "He's very specific," Mammano says. We can respect a dog with a particular palate.
David Frei, Host: The longtime dog show commentator remembers one handler using a particularly fragrant vegetable as bait—one "that you could smell coming." Whatever works, I guess? We have to assume it's not garlic, as that can be toxic for dogs. Maybe it was steamed broccoli, which may actually have some health benefits. Gross.
Jeffery Pepper, Judge: He's seen plenty of baits over his 36 years of judging, from hunting dogs following bird feathers to "all kinds of really strange toys." If that's the reward that gets the dog to perform his best, that's what you go with.