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Have you been watching dog shows on TV and always dreamed about having your own show dog? Regardless of if you want to compete in conformation, it’s important to find the right dog. But how do you get your first show dog?

Study Winning Dogs

Before picking your show dog, it can be helpful to attend local dog shows. This is a great way to meet potential mentors and fellow competitors. Plus, it’s also a great way to get a sense of what a successful show dog looks and acts like.

Spend time observing the breeds you’re interested in obtaining to show. Study the breed standard in advance and make sure that you’re able to pick out what qualities each dog should have. Pay attention to what characteristics are desirable in your breed of choice. Once you start to meet prospective show dogs, look for a puppy that fits the look and style of dogs that meet the breed’s standard.

Westminster, Dog Show, Conformation, 2019, BIS, Best In Show
David Woo ©American Kennel Club

Familiarize Yourself with Breed Standards

The most important characteristic of a show dog is how closely they correspond to the breed standard. Before going in search of your first show dog, make sure you have a clear understanding of the breed standard. This is where working with a mentor in your breed can be helpful. They can help you translate what you’re reading on paper with how those attributes and characteristics should look on an actual dog. When you look at a breeder’s lines, meaning the dogs in their breeding program, pay attention to their titles and win history in the pedigree. Review how closely those dogs align with the breed standard. Have open and honest conversations with breeders you’re interested in purchasing a puppy from. A responsible breeder will point out the qualities of their dogs, and what qualities they’re working to improve in each breeding.

Winning Temperament

It’s not easy to be a show dog, and it’s important to select a puppy with the correct temperament. Dog shows are loud, busy, and exciting places. To succeed in the ring, you’re going to want a puppy who is outgoing and social. A good show dog loves to show off and will have a steady and social temperament. This will allow your future show dog to be comfortable navigating a busy show site and feel confident while in the ring.

Look At the Whole Puppy or Dog

When you’re looking at a prospective show dog, it’s essential to look at the entire dog. You might look at a prospective show dog that has a stunning head, but what if their movement, structure, or coloring is off? While there is no “perfect” dog, look for the dog that has the greatest assimilation of positive attributes. One beautiful feature can’t make up for other significant faults.

Best of Breed: GCHS CH Caraneal's Bugsy Malone, Yorkshire Terrier; Toy Group judging at the 2016 AKC National Championship presented by Royal Canin in Orlando, FL.
David Woo ©American Kennel Club

All puppies are cute, but when selecting your show prospect, it’s important to try to be as objective as possible to compare a particular puppy to the breed standard. It can be useful to bring an impartial mentor with you to evaluate puppies alongside the breeder.

Show Dogs Are Pets First

When you’re looking to add a show dog to your home, it’s important to make sure that they’d be a good fit for your family. Show dogs might be stars in the ring, but they’re beloved family pets, too. One of your priorities should be picking a breed that’s going to be the right fit and temperament for your lifestyle. This means picking a breed that’s a good fit for your life, not just a breed you appreciate the aesthetics of. Each breeder’s line is going to have slightly different temperaments and characteristics. Be sure that the puppy you purchase is from a line with drive, temperament, and energy levels that correspond to what you want in a companion dog.

Pick of the Litter?

In most cases, you won’t pick your puppy. Instead, the breeder will select which puppies go to which homes, for both pet homes and show homes. It’s important to trust and respect the experience and judgment of the breeder who you get a puppy from. Meet as many dogs they have bred as possible and see what titles those dogs have earned. Although the breeder will likely have final say over where each puppy goes, your breeder should be able to walk you through why they believe a puppy would be a good fit for your competition goals.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions of your prospective breeder about why they think a particular puppy matches your aspirations. A breeder’s priority is to find the right home for each puppy they produce. Breeders want those puppies to be successful, which also means placing show-quality puppies in homes that will make the most of their natural talents.

Best of Breed: GCHP CH Involo Wanna Be Startin' Somethin', Papillon; Toy Group judging at the 2016 AKC National Championship presented by Royal Canin in Orlando, FL.
David Woo ©American Kennel Club

Potential Co-Ownership

When looking to purchase your first show dog, don’t be surprised if a breeder is only willing to sell you a show-quality puppy under the condition that you co-own the puppy with them. Breeders placing a show quality puppy often prefer co-ownership if the puppy is going to an inexperienced owner/handler.

All co-ownership agreements are different, so make sure to discuss the specifics with the breeder and anyone involved. The co-ownership agreement allows the breeder to maintain partial decision-making control over the dog, even if the dog primarily lives with and is being shown by the buyer/new owner. Co-ownerships can be tricky, and it’s important to have a clear contract in place if you’re going to be purchasing a dog that you’ll co-own with the breeder. The contract should clearly outline each person’s responsibilities for the dog, breeding decisions, and where the dog will live.

Understanding Your Contract

Purchasing any puppy from a responsible breeder will include a contract. Contracts primarily protect the puppy by outlining the new owner and breeder’s rights and responsibilities. They can include information about the health testing that went into producing the litter, and any health testing done of the puppy before going to their new home.

Contracts will also outline the care dogs will receive dogs during their lifetime and include if a dog must be spayed/neutered. Because dogs competing in conformation must be intact, you’ll need to make sure there aren’t any provisions in the contract requiring you to alter (spay/neuter) the puppy you purchase. You’ll also want to see “full registration” in a contract, which gives you the rights to keep the dog intact, make breeding decisions, and show the dog in conformation. If you have any questions or concerns about your contract, talk to your breeder to make sure you fully understand all terms before signing.

Enjoy the Journey

Getting your first show dog can be nerve-wracking, but don’t forget to have fun. There are never any guarantees that your show prospect puppy will mature into a successful show dog. However, by finding a responsible breeder and being involved in your prospective breed community, you’ll increase your chances of bringing home the show dog you’ve been dreaming of. This is a puppy who will have been bred in terms of health, structure, and temperament to be successful in the sports you want to pursue.

Remember that while you might put a lot of hopes and dreams into this first show dog, the most important thing is the relationship you’ll have with that dog. Win or lose, when you eventually get in the ring together, focus on having fun together. Remember that ribbon or not, you’re bringing the best dog home with you.

 At AKC Marketplace, we can help you find your dream dog. You can find AKC-registerable puppies from responsible, passionate breeders, and we provide the tools you need for every step of the process. Visit to start connecting with dog breeders in your area!