Dog Shows

Posted by  on June 15, 2010

When dog fanciers talk about dog shows, they are most often talking about conformation trials, although dogs may also compete in obedience trials or any number of sporting events.  The world of conformation showing is unlike any other in the pet world.  It is a fiercely competitive environment coupled with exhibitors who are very generous in sharing their knowledge with other competitors.

What types of dog shows are there?

Specialty shows are those held only for one breed.  For example, the Australian Cattle Dog Club of America will hold shows where only Australian Cattle Dogs compete.  Some dogs come in several varieties, such as the Poodle, which includes the Standard, Miniature, and Toy varieties.  All three varieties are judged at one specialty show.

Group shows include dogs from each of the recognized groups of dogs such as Hounds or Terriers.

All-breed shows include dogs from any of the breeds by the sanctioning organization.  The Westminster Dog Show is the granddaddy of all-breed shows.

How are dog shows judged?

Quite simply, a dog show is meant to choose the best example of a given breed from among the competitors.  Winning a conformation trial has nothing to do with how well your dog is trained or how intelligent he is.  It simply means that he looks more like how the breed was meant to look than the other dogs in the ring.

Judging for dog shows is based on breed standards, which are published by the show’s sanctioning organization.  In the United States, this is most often the American Kennel Club, or AKC.  On their Web site, the AKC lists a breed standard for each of the 156 breeds recognized by the organization.

What is the American Kennel Club?

Established in 1884, the AKC seeks to promote the study, breeding, exhibiting, and advancement of purebred dogs.  To do so, it maintains records on over 15,000 dog shows organized by its 500 member clubs and 4,000 affiliated clubs.

In order for a dog to be registered with the AKC, the dog’s ancestry must be proven to be purebred.  Typically, a breeder will maintain the paperwork to prove that all members of his breeding stock are purebred, and will provide the necessary paperwork for puppy purchasers to register their own dogs.

If a dog is not registered, even though he is purebred, his offspring cannot be registered with the AKC.

AKC registration does not mean that a dog is healthy or of high quality or the right dog for your family.  All it means is that the dog has ancestors of the same breed, the goal being to produce better and better examples of the breed standard.

How is the breed standard used to judge dog shows?

A breed standard may contain some subjective requirements such as that a dog should have “expressive eyes” or an “intelligent expression”, but there are also specific parameters such as acceptable colors, height, and weight.  Any deviation from the stated breed standard is known as a fault.

The judge, who is an expert in one or more specific breeds, will run his hands over the dog to check his musculature, teeth, bones, and coat match what is specified for the breed.  In addition, the judge will ask the handler to walk the dog around the ring, known as “gaiting” to see if the dog moves in the way expected.  Looking at the dog from the side allows the judge to see the overall balance of the animal.  The dog with the fewest faults is judged the best.

How are dogs grouped for competition?

A dog who is not yet a champion may compete in one of seven different classes:  Puppy, 12 – 18 months, Novice, Amateur-Owner-Handler, Bred by Exhibitor, American-Bred, or Open.  Depending on the show, not all of the classes may be represented, but every show must include an American-Bred Class and an Open Class.  Males and females are judged separately, producing two winners in each class.  These winners are then shown against each other, again with the males and females being judged separately.  The best male and the best female are awarded points toward earning a championship.

Why are points given?

Points are important in that once a dog is awarded the requisite number of points, he is designated a Champion, recognized by “Ch” in front of his name.  A Champion dog is able to command a much larger stud fee, as he can be expected to produce future champions.  For the AKC, it takes fifteen points, including two majors (wins of three, four or five points) awarded by at least three different judges, to win designation as a champion.

Points are awarded based on the number of dogs of that breed against which he is competing.  For example, if the beagle portion of the show includes 30 dogs, and the Great Dane portion includes only 5 dogs, the winning beagle would get more points than the winning Great Dane.  The number of dogs required for each point level is described on a Point Schedule, which may be changed from year to year.  Points awarded vary by division (region of the country) and by breed.  For example, if a Lab gets 1 point for competing against 12 other Labs, a Viszla may get 1 point for competing against only 3 other dogs.  This is in part because some dogs are so much more popular than other dogs and allows less popular dogs to still earn points even though there may not be a large number of dogs of a particular breed at any given show.

What titles are given at a dog show?

The best male, known as a Winners Dog, and the best female, known as a Winners Bitch, are then judged against dogs who have already earned enough points in other competitions to be designated as champions.  The winner of this competition is awarded the designation Best in Breed.  Two other awards are usually given at this point as well:  Best of Opposite Sex, which is the best example of the breed from the opposite gender than the one which took Best in Breed, and Best of Winners, indicating whether the Winners Dog or the Winners Bitch is a better specimen of the breed.  A dog who is competing in the Best in Breed competition as a previously designated champion is not eligible for the Best of Winners prize.

Best in Group, Best in Show

The dog designated as Best in Breed in each breed competition then moves forward to the Best in Group ring.  The AKC recognizes seven groups: Sporting, Hound, Working, Terrier, Toy, Non-Sporting and Herding. The dogs are not judged against each other at this level.  Rather, they are judged against the breed standard for each breed in the group and the dog in the ring that best exemplifies its own breed standard is named best in group.  For example, the poodle is not judged against the Bulldog to see which is a better dog.  Rather, each dog is judged to see how close the individual dog fits the breed standard, and the dog that comes closest to his breed standard is declared the winner.  First, second, third, and fourth place ribbons are awarded in each group, with the first place dog advancing to Best in Show.

Best in Show judging is similar to Best in Group, in that dogs of various breeds are judged against their individual breed standards and ranked according to how close they come.  Again, four dogs are picked, with the top dog being named Best in Show.

Can my dog compete in a dog show?

Your dog may very well be the next Best in Show.  To qualify, your dog must first of all be registered with a sanctioning organization such as the AKC.  He must also be at least six months old and may not be spayed or neutered.  This is important because if he is found to be an excellent example of the breed standard, he is meant to be bred, passing on the best of the characteristics of his breed.  Remember, the whole purpose of the show is to evaluate breeding stock, so a dog who cannot be bred cannot compete.

How do I get started in dog shows?

If you already own a purebred, first make sure he is registered as such.  Next, consider joining a club dedicated to that breed to learn about the breed standard and what is expected.  Attend as many dog shows as you can to see how the exhibitors handle their dogs and how the dogs are groomed to best show off their traits.  Talk to the handlers and trainers.  Most are quite willing to discuss their dogs at great lengths.  There is a lot of “down time” at a dog show, so make sure you pick a time to talk when the handler is not preparing for his imminent entry into the show ring.

If you don’t already have a show dog, do your research before you get one.  Choose a breed whose grooming requirements you can handle and a breed that will fit in your car because you will likely be traveling a great deal to attend shows.  Once you have settled on a particular breed, begin interviewing prospective breeders to find one who has champions in his breeding stock and takes the time and effort to responsibly breed them to provide the best chance of producing future champions.  A good breeder will be able to tell you which dogs he has bred to which bitches and what the results were.  He will be able to intelligently discuss the breed standard and to tell you which traits he has successfully bred for at his kennel.  The breeder should also be able to trace his dogs’ ancestry back several generations.

Make sure you physically see the parents before you get a puppy.  Compare both parents to the breed standard, then evaluate all of the puppies against the standard before settling on the one you will buy.  Register your new puppy with the sanctioning organization and get ready to join the fun!