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How to Select a Conformation Dog Show Class

Now that you’ve decided to enter your dog in a conformation dog show, you will need to decide which dog show class to compete in. Your dog will be eligible for some classes and not for others, so that should help eliminate some of the guesswork.

Most dogs at a conformation dog show are competing for points toward their AKC championship. It takes fifteen points, including two majors (wins of three, four or five points) awarded by at least three different judges, to become a “Champion of Record”.

If your dog is not yet a “Champion of Record,” you will need to enter your dog in one of the seven regular classes offered at a dog show. In these regular classes, males (dogs) and females (bitches) compete separately within their respective breeds, and each has unique criteria for which dogs may be entered.

Regular Classes

The seven regular classes at a conformation dog show include:

  • Puppy Class: dogs at least 6 months and under 12 months of age. The club may also further divide this class into 6-9 months and 9-12 months.
  • 12-18 Month Class: dogs at least 12 months and under 18 months old. This class may also be further divided into 12-15 months and 15-18 months by the club.
  • Novice Class: dogs that have not previously won 3 first places in Novice Class, a 1st place in Amateur-Owner-Handler, Bred-by-Exhibitor, American-bred, or Open Classes or who have not earned one or more points toward their championship.
  • Amateur-Owner-Handler Class: dogs handled by the registered owner who has not, at any point, been a professional dog handler, an AKC approved conformation judge or employed as an assistant to a professional handler.
  • Bred-by-Exhibitor Class: dogs handled and owned by its breeder.  The club may also further divide this class into Adult Bred-by-Exhibitor and Puppy Bred-by-Exhibitor.
  • American-bred Class: dogs whose sire and dam were mated in America and the dog was born in America. This is a required class.
  • Open Class: a required class that any dog may enter. This is the only regular class that Champions are eligible to complete in.

After a breed’s regular classes are judged, all the dogs that won first place in a class return to the ring to compete to be named Winners Dog (males) or Winners Bitch (females) and earn championship points and advance to best of breed judging.

Non-Regular Classes

Some dog shows may also offer non-regular classes, which are held after the regular classes are judged. Non-regular class winners are not eligible to compete for championship points. The premium list will state which, if any, non-regular classes are offered. You’ll most likely find these classes held at specialty dog shows.

The most common non-regular class is the Veterans Class, which is for dogs who meet a minimum age requirement set by the club. Age varies with breed; often dogs 7 years of age or older are eligible to enter. The winners of the class are eligible to compete for Best of Breed.

Special Attractions

Clubs may also offer special attractions in conjunction with their all-breed, group or specialty dog show. Special Attractions can include:

  • Best Puppy Competition gives the Puppy Class winners (for dogs and bitches) in each breed/variety an opportunity to be named Best Puppy in Show. All the Puppy Class 1st place winners reenter the ring following Best of Breed/Variety judging to determine Best Puppy for that breed/variety. All the Breed/Variety Best Puppy winners move on Puppy Group Competition, and the 1st place winners of each of the 7 Puppy Groups then compete for Best Puppy in Show.
  • National Owner-Handled Series recognizes and celebrates owner-handler exhibitors. Owner-Handlers compete in the regular classes with the NOHS Best of Breed award given at the end of regular judging. The NOHS entry process is simple (just check the owner-handler box on your entry form) and it requires no additional fee.


Sweepstakes are a non-regular competition offered in addition to regular classes and are primarily held at specialty dog shows. If a specialty show is held in conjunction with an All-Breed or Group show, sweepstakes competition may also be offered. The show’s premium list will include all relevant information about this competition.

Sweepstakes are specifically designed to recognize outstanding puppies and young dogs (Puppy Sweeps) and older dogs (Veteran Sweeps) and a separate judge is assigned to this competition. All class divisions, requirements, and conditions are established by the club. No championship points are awarded. Winners receive a portion of the entry fees as a prize for their placements.

Submit Your Entry

Once you’ve decided what class to enter your dog in, you can complete your entry form for the show you’ve selected. Entries for dog shows typically close 2 and half weeks prior to an event and the superintendent or show secretary will need to receive your entry, by mail or via online submission, by the date and time designated on the premium list.

More information about getting started with conformation dog shows can be found in Exhibitor Resources, including the Beginner’s Guide to Dog Shows and Judges Directory.