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Norwich Terrier being judged at the AKC National Championship

The signature event held by the AKC is the dog show, also known as a conformation event. During a conformation event, dogs are judged according to their written breed standard. And contrary to what you may think, it’s not just a beauty pageant, although the dogs are certainly beautiful. The goal of conformation is to find the dog that most closely represents its breed standard. The breed standard describes the physical characteristics, temperament, and specific traits of the breed and is the measure by which each dog is judged.

How Does Conformation Work? What Am I Watching?

The evening competition at the AKC National Championship presented by Royal Canin begins with group judging. There are seven AKC groups: Sporting Hound, Working, Terrier, Toy, Non-Sporting, and Herding. How, you might wonder, can aBoxercompete against aGreat Pyrenees, for example? They’re such completely different dogs! Regardless of breed, the judge is looking for the dog that best matches its breed standard. So, to continue our example, is the Boxer or the Great Pyrenees a more perfect example of its breed? Which one most closely exemplifies the characteristics of its standard? That is the dog that wins the blue ribbon!

What Are the Judges Looking For?

The judge examines each dog’s overall physical appearance and structure, including its proportions, size, eyes, ears, tail, muzzle, color and teeth. The judge is also feeling the dog’s muscle tone and its coat texture and length. To prepare for being judged, the handler “stacks” the dog. That’s what you’re looking at when the handler seems to be putting a dog in a specific position. Even more impressive is a dog that does this on his own. As the judge examines the dog, he or she is comparing it to the exact standards of the breed.

Next, you’ll see each dog and handler move around the ring. The judge is looking at the dog’s gait and, just as important, the dog’s attitude. This is where personality can shine through. For instance, we’d expect theYorkshire Terrierto have a sprightly, lively gait and theAkitato have a dignified attitude. The judge watches the dog move away and come toward him and also observes movement from the side.

The most competitive dogs (and handlers) display confidence in the ring. The best seem to thrive on the attention and have a real knack for showmanship. None of that is lost on the audience, which often has favorites.

Often the judge chooses pulls out her favorite 6 to 8 dogs and after a bit more examination, she selects the dogs she wants to award 4th, 3rd, 2nd, and finally 1st place.


But the Competition Isn’t Over!

In the grand finale of the National Championship, the 7 group winners compete against each other for Best in Show. Keep in mind these 7 dogs started by winning their best of breed event earlier that day, then Group 1st, and now the last 7 dogs in the ring are competing to awarded Best in Show, out of thousands of dogs. So much training and preparation goes into these competitions!

So many dedicated owners and breeders travel thousands of miles to attend the AKC National Championship, this is the culmination of a year of ardent competition. And then, from so many beautiful, fine dogs, one single dog stands out. With a spectrum running fromGreat DanetoPomeranian, anything is possible. Last year’s Best in Show was from the Herding Group,a Puli named GCHB CH Cordmaker Mister Blue Sky. The dog crowned Best in Show becomes a national celebrity. Which dog will it be this year? Now that you know a little about conformation, watch the livestream December 16th and 17th at, vote for your favorite and see if you can pick the winner.