409 – Prepping for Dog Events in a Masked Society

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Prepping for Dog Events in a Masked Society

Vicki Ronchette from Show Dog Prep School joins host Laura Reeves for a conversation on counter conditioning dogs for shows in which the judge and everyone else is wearing a mask.

Dogs read humans’ facial expressions and body language as their primary form of communication, so masked strangers may be a challenge for certain breeds or individuals.

Ronchette, who works as a pet groomer, said her recent experience at her grooming shop was that most dogs took the masked staff in stride.

“First I think we have to identify if we have an issue,” Ronchette said. “We’ve seen actually a much lower incidence that we expected of dogs reacting to the mask. That being said, usually (the owner is) handing the dog to us. I was actually shocked. I thought it would be much worse than we are seeing. So I’m happy that a lot of the dogs don’t seem to be having a big reaction to it.

“I think the difference is going to be in dogs that are bred to be really, really visually on point like herding breeds where they are so ingrained to notice anything that’s not right.

“(It’s) gonna be a lot of new stuff to deal with. One of the things that remains true, that hasn’t changed, is dogs need to be able to handle whatever is thrown their way. The work that we do with puppies the work that we do with our young dogs all of that is going to pay big benefit now when there’s new and different things for them to become accustomed to.

“I think another thing that I want to touch on and I think gets left out of the equation more often than it should and that is us. Because dogs feed on our energy. Are we stressed out because we’re at this dog show that isn’t running the way we think it should? Are we stressed out because we have concerns about our health but we really, really, really, really, really want to be at a dog show? Or are we nervous about something? And remember that just being nervous about being in the ring is bad enough. Now let’s add nerves about a more impactful situation and remember the dog feels that.

“All of us, the judges, exhibitors, the experienced handlers, the new people, this is all new for all of us. Everybody’s figuring this out. So, it’s almost like it’s leveled the playing field.”


We’re all in this together, crew, and having to figure out our new reality. It makes me think of the idea of extending grace. Give the dog a little bit of grace. Give the judge a little bit of grace. Extend grace to the other exhibitors, the Superintendent, the show chairs. Stay safe and healthy friends.


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