How a Dog Show Works

What most of us think of as a “dog show” is formally known as “conformation” because it is meant to evaluate how well each dog conforms to its breed standard. The purpose of conformation shows is to evaluate breeding stock. Breeders are showing off their dogs to other breeders as potential dams and sires.

If you are attending a dog show as a spectator and want to understand what’s going on in the ring, or would like to get started in showing and want to learn more about the process, here is a brief primer on what happens at the show.

Who’s who

The judges are experts on the breeds they are judging. Many are breeder-judges: They also breed that type of dog themselves. An AKC-licensed judge has passed an exam on the breed standard. Some are licensed to judge only a particular breed; others may judge a group (e.g., terriers). All-breed judges have passed an exam that permits then to judge any breed.

The exhibitors are the people showing the dogs. The exhibitor may be the dog’s owner, its breeder, or a hired professional called a handler.

Each dog to be shown is individually registered with the AKC, at least 6 months of age, and neither spayed or neutered.

What to expect

Plan on a long day. If you want to talk to breeders, you have to arrive well in advance — the closer they get to show time, the busier they will be and the less time they will have for you. Staying late means you can catch the breeders after their turns in the ring.

Of course, there will be a lot of barking.

You will hear the word “bitch” a lot; it’s the proper term for a female dog, and you will have to get used to it.

  • If you are a spectator, buy a catalog. The catalog has information on each dog entered: its registered name, sire and dam, date of birth, its breeder, and its owner. This is everything you need to know if you decide that you’d like to get a puppy from a particular dog or breeder. The catalog also has the ring number and judging time for each breed or class. If you’re at an all-breed show, look for the breed(s) you want to see and determine which ring is which.
  • If you are showing your dog, find the show secretary or the club/catalog table to pick up a judging program. Check the judging time and ring number for the dog(s) you are exhibiting. Don’t assume you know the judging time — times get changed! Determine which ring is which. Find the grooming area and a place to set up.

If there is a vendor hall, take a stroll through it. It’s a paradise for bull terrier lovers, who rarely find items with our dogs on them. If there is a raffle or silent auction, buy some tickets or place some bids — these are usually fundraisers for the host club and who knows? You may win something!

Most of all: Talk. This is your big chance to meet people who share your interest in your breed, who can answer your questions, who can laugh at your stories or share your sorrow over a beloved pet’s crossing the Rainbow Bridge.

It’s showtime!

The ring steward will call entered dogs to the ring for each class, or category, of competition. The exhibitors will take up places around the edge of the ring. Usually the judge will have the entire group walk their dogs around the ring so s/he can get a first look at the dogs.

Then, one by one, the exhibitors will bring their dogs up to the bench to be shown to the judge. The exhibitor will “stack” or pose the dog to show it to its best advantage. (Many show dogs have been trained since puppyhood to stack automatically!)

The judge will examine the dog to see how closely it conforms to the breed’s official standard. The standard describes the characteristics— body structure, movement, temperament — that make the breed function as it was intended. Each breed’s standard is determined by its national club and registered with the AKC.

The judge will go over each dog with their hands to feel its muscles, bones, and coat. He’ll open the dog’s mouth to look at its teeth. He’ll look at the dog in profile, straight on, and from behind, checking how its body is structured. Then he’ll have the exhibitor walk the dog around the ring to see how the dog moves. This procedure will be repeated for each dog.

The judge will choose a winner in each class. Dogs and bitches compete separately.

Each of the winners in each class will compete again to be named Winners Dog and Winners Bitch. The judge also may award a Reserve Winners Dog and Reserve Winners Bitch. The Winners Dog and Winners Bitch both earn points toward their AKC Championship titles.

The Winners Dog and Winners Bitch join Champion dogs to compete for Best of Breed. The awards out of this competition are Best of Breed; Best of Opposite Sex, the best dog of the opposite sex to the Best of Breed dog; and Best of Winners, the better of the Winners Dog and the Winners Bitch.

If this is an All-Breed Show, the Best of Breed goes on to compete in the Group (e.g., Terrier). At the Group level, placements are first, second, third, and fourth. The first-place Group winners go on to compete for Best in Show. The dog named Best in Show is the dog that best meets its breed standard compared to all the other dogs entered!

Sources: A Beginner’s Guide to Dog Shows; How Stuff Works;