Does obedience training hamper a dog's showmanship in the conformation ring? Might obedience training break a Kerry's spirit and make him look like a wimp in the show ring? And might obedience training confuse the dog so that (heaven forbid!) he sits down in the conformation ring? If history is any teacher, the answer is three times NO.
In 1964, my very first Kerry, Ch. Bluechip Devilish ("Sam"), finished his CD obedience degree while being shown in both conformation and obedience classes, often at the same show. In 1965, Sam finished his championship without any ill effects whatsoever from obedience training. And believe me, he never once sat down in the show ring!
Like Sam, my third Kerry, Ch. Townshend's Pixie O'Toole, finished her CD a year before her championship title. And also like Sam. Pixie was shown simultaneously in conformation and obedience classes. Although she was a clown and loved an audience, she behaved beautifully in both rings, and later went on to earn her CDX degree.
Since then, I have obedience trained many other dogs, most before they finished their championships (although not all of them were shown in obedience classes). I am currently training Ch. Puck Fair Front Page News ("Rocky") who, being kennel raised, had not received much of any kind of training. He is responsive, is doing very well, and has learned not to look at or growl at other dogs in the class. When I showed him in conformation at the Long Beach K.C. in December, he was very "up" and gave no indication that he was being obedience trained.
What's the secret of success? Can any dog be obedience trained and also be shown successfully in conformation? The answer is yes, with reservations.
First, you need a dog with a good stable temperament. A dog that is overly aggressive or too shy may not do well in the obedience or the show ring. In obedience, the dog's attention must be on you; in the show ring, on other dogs.
Second, your dog needs a certain degree of maturity. For example, I am taking the puppy I intend to show in conformation to matches to teach her how to interact with other dogs, how to be "up" but controllable. In the show ring, I want her to fire up, but not fight. Once she has learned her show ring manners, I will begin more formal training. (She already knows the meaning of such words as no, damn it, shut up, get off the table, and quit biting your grandmother!)
Here are some guidelines to remember when obedience training a show dog.
Use a chain choke collar (which will not damage neck hair) and a 6-foot leather lead only for obedience training. When the choke and leash are on the dog, give only obedience commands.
Use a show lead only for the show ring (or show ring training). When your dog is on a show lead, never give an obedience command (such as heel, sit, come, down, stand, stay). If you want to steady your dog when the judge examines him or to slow him down when gaiting, think of some other words to use. Never command your dog to sit or down when on a show lead. Your dog will learn to distinguish the weight and sound of the obedience lead and collar from that of the show lead.
Be gentle and not too harsh with your dog. Kerries usually do not require harsh corrections. An exception would be a Kerry that attacks another dog--be quick and firm in your response.
Don't work your dog too much. For my dogs, every other day is best. Kerries are smart-they learn fast and don't forget. They also get bored easily, so you will have to vary your routine and train in different places. They can be stubborn and most don't respond well to force.
Always use lots of praise, and verbally release your dog when the training session is over. I say "OK" and then allow the dog to run around and play (on lead, of course). You can then put a show lead on the dog and go in the conformation ring with no "carryover."
Never take your dog off lead in public until you have 100% response to obedience commands on a 6-foot and a 20-foot lead, and then only in an area such as a large park or fenced in playground. Tragedies have resulted from working a dog off lead too soon.
By now you may be wondering why obedience train anyway? It is not simply an alternative for those dogs who can't "make it" in conformation. It sure makes a dog easier to live with. My trained dogs will not run out an open gate, but will jump in and out of the car (and the bathtub!) on command and will go into their crates on command (have you ever seen four Kerries try to get in the same crate? It's like stuffing students in a phone booth!). They will also sit to be petted by a stranger and are completely tractable at the vet's. I can walk them in public without being afraid they will jump on the first person they see, wind around a lamppost, or pull me over trying to get at another dog.
Now that puppy of mine . . . if I could only exorcise the devil from her soul. Sigh. With a grand dam named Bewitched and great grand dam named Devil Girl, need I say more?