Showing dogs is a fun sport where the thrill of competition is combined with the joy of seeing beautiful dogs. Dog shows, or conformation events, originated as a way for breeders to evaluate their breeding stock. While the purpose remains, dog shows are a great opportunity to socialize with people in your breed and develop friendships that can span a lifetime.
Most dogs entered in conformation events are competing for points toward their AKC championships. It takes fifteen points, including two majors (wins of three, four or five points), awarded by at least three different judges, to become an AKC “Champion of Record”.
The number of championship points awarded at a show depends on the number of males (“dogs”) and females (“bitches”) of the breed actually in competition. The larger the entry, the greater the number of points a dog can earn. The maximum number of points awarded to a dog at a show is five points.
Types of Conformation Dog Shows
There are three types of conformation dog shows. All-breed shows offer competitions for over 190 breeds and varieties of dogs recognized by the AKC.
Specialty shows are restricted to dogs of a specific breed or to varieties of one breed. For example, the Bulldog Club of America Specialty is for Bulldogs only, but the Poodle Club of America’s specialty show includes the three varieties of the Poodle – Standard, Miniature, and Toy.
Group shows are limited to dogs belonging to one of the seven groups. For example, the Potomac Hound Group show features only breeds belonging to the Hound group.
How Does a Dog Show Work?
Dog shows are a process of elimination, where one dog remains undefeated at the end of the competition and is named Best in Show. Each dog is judged by how closely they compare to their specific breed’s official standard and not against the other dogs in the ring.
All conformation events begin with competition at the breed level. Each breed is divided into sexes, and the sexes are further divided into classes. Males are judged first, then females. Owners or “handlers” enter their dog in a regular class, which can include: Puppy, Twelve-to-Eighteen Months, Novice, Amateur-Owner-Handler, Bred-by Exhibitor, American-Bred and Open.
At the end of every regular class, judges award placements and ribbons. Blue ribbons are awarded for first place, red ribbons for second, yellow for third place, and white for fourth.
After these regular classes are judged, all the male dogs that won first place in a class compete again to be named best male (Winners Dog), who receives Championship points and a purple ribbon. After Winners Dog is selected, the dog that went second in its original class to the Winners Dog and returns to compete with the remaining first-place class winners for Reserve Winners Dog and a purple and white ribbon. The regular class competition is then repeated for females to award Winners Bitch and Reserve Winners Bitch.
The Winners Dog and Winners Bitch move on to compete in Winners Class with dogs who have already earned their championship (Champions of Record), and any first-place winners of non-regular classes, such as Veterans class, for the Best of Breed award.
At the end of the Best of Breed competition, five awards are usually given:
- Best of Breed is awarded to the dog judged as the best in its breed and given a purple and gold ribbon.
- Best of Winners is the dog judged as the better of the Winners Dog and Winners Bitch and given a blue and white ribbon.
- Best of Opposite, acknowledged with a red and white ribbon, is the best dog that is the opposite sex to the Best of Breed winner.
- Select Dog is awarded to the Champion dog recognized as the next best of their sex after Best of Breed and Best of Opposite and receive a light blue and white ribbon.
- Select Bitch is awarded to the Champion bitch recognized as the next best of their sex after Best of Breed and Best of Opposite and receive a light blue and white ribbon.
This concludes competition at a specialty show. At all-breed and group shows, the Best of Breed winners advance to compete in the group competition. Each AKC-recognized breed falls into one of seven group classifications.
- Sporting — These dogs were bred to hunt game birds both on land and in the water. The breeds in this group include Pointers, Retrievers, Setters and Spaniels.
- Hound — These breeds were bred for hunting other game by sight or scent. These breeds include such dogs as Beagles, Basset Hounds, Dachshunds and Greyhounds.
- Working — These dogs were bred to pull carts, guard property, and perform search and rescue services. Among the breeds in this group are the Akita, Boxer, Doberman Pinscher, and St. Bernard.
- Terrier — This group includes breeds such as the Airedale, Cairn Terrier and Scottish Terrier. Terriers were bred to rid property of vermin such as rats.
- Toy — These dogs were bred to be household companions. This group includes little dogs such as the Chihuahua, Maltese, Pomeranian and Pug.
- Non-Sporting — This diverse group includes the Chow Chow, Bulldog, Dalmatian and Poodle. These dogs vary in size and function, and many are considered companion dogs.
- Herding — These dogs were bred to help shepherds and ranchers herd their livestock. The Briard, Collie, German Shepherd Dog and Old English Sheepdog are some of the breeds in this group.
A judge awards four placements in each group competition. First place group winners receive a blue ribbon or rosette, second is awarded a red, third is given yellow, and fourth receives white.
At all-breed shows, the first-place winner from each group advance to the Best in Show competition.
From the seven group winners, the judge selects Reserve Best in Show and Best in Show, the highest award at a dog show. The dog named Best in Show traditionally receives a red, white and blue ribbon and is the lone, undefeated dog at the end of the conformation event. See the full progression to Best in Show.