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A Day at the Dog Show

Showing dogs is a great sport, whether you are a participant or a spectator.  The American Kennel Club (AKC) approves and maintains the official records of more than 15,000 sanctioned and licensed events each year, including conformation events, field trials, agility trials, lure coursing, herding trials, hunting trials, tracking tests, earthdog events, and obedience and rally trials.

We will take a glimpse into the dog show known as a conformation event, the purpose of which is to evaluate breeding stock.  It is sometimes referred to as a "beauty contest" because that is what it might look like to the casual observer, but it is much more than that.  Yes, spectators walking through the grooming area at a typical show will witness dogs being bathed, brushed, blow-dried, and beautified, but breeding sound, healthy, dogs to preserve the integrity of the breed is not easy, and for dedicated members of the fancy it is serious business indeed.


In the show ring, judges evaluate a dog's structure, coat, color, temperament, and movement, and compare it to a document known as the breed standard, which is written and maintained by the national breed club and approved by the AKC to describe the unique qualities of a particular breed.  The breed standard describes such things as head shape, ear size and placement, eye color, height, body length, coat color and texture, tail set, etc.  The breed standard clarifies those sometimes subtle differences between similar-looking breeds, and judges must have a sufficient knowledge of each breed and breed standard to determine in a matter of minutes which dog in the ring comes closest to meeting its breed standard.  To a degree, each breed standard is open to interpretation, which is why you might not see the same dog win the next day under a different judge, and why you may not see your favorite dog in the ring win a ribbon.


To help you understand the process, let us first look at what makes a dog eligible to compete at an AKC conformation event.  This paper focuses on all-breed conformation shows, but just know that there are limited breed shows, specialty shows, sweepstakes events, and matches where different rules may apply.  To enter an AKC conformation event, the dog must be:

            - registered with the AKC;

            - six months of age or older;

            - meet any eligibility requirements in the written standard for its breed; and be

            - intact (spayed or neutered dogs are not eligible to compete in conformation classes).


When you arrive at the show site, look for Catalog Sales or the Superintendent's desk, which are usually adjacent tables.  The Superintendent's desk should have free copies of the Judging Program for the show and the Catalog Sales table will have a show catalog that includes the judging program at the front, and lists each dog entered at the show.  The Judging Program will give you the ring number and judging time for each breed.


The following are some general tips for those attending their first show:


• Wear comfortable shoes.  You will likely be on your feet or walking most of the day. 

Some shows have bleachers and/or chairs, but you may need to bring your own chair for small shows.


            • Stand clear of ring entrances so that exhibitors will be able to easily move their dogs in

and out of the rings.  For large entries, exhibitors will need plenty of room to gather outside the ring while their breed is being judged.


            • Do not lean over the rings or try to talk with exhibitors while they are in the ring.


• Grooming areas are generally open to spectators and it is a good opportunity to visit

with exhibitors.  A word of caution:  prior to showing, exhibitors are focusing on getting their dog ready to show and may not have time to speak with you; the best time to approach an exhibitor is when they are done showing their dog.  If you are considering the purchase of a purebred dog, talk to the breeders and exhibitors who are the experts in their breeds.


• Do not pet a dog without first asking permission; exhibitors spend a great deal of time

getting their dogs to look perfect for the ring, so be sure to ask before you touch their dog.


• If you bring your children to the show, do not allow them to run in the aisles or to stick

their fingers and hands into crates or exercise pens.  Baby strollers are discouraged and may be restricted to certain areas, and if you bring a baby stroller you will want to be careful that you do not run over any dog's tail, and that your child does not grab or poke at the dogs it can reach.


• Many shows have vendor booths, which tend to carry unique dog supplies.


• You are not allowed to bring your pets to most dog shows.


Understanding the judging procedure and trying to figure out what is going on in the ring can be a challenge, even to those who are new to exhibiting at a dog show.  Each dog is exhibited in the ring by its owner, breeder, or a professional handler, who will try to present the best possible "picture" of their dog to the judge.  Most of the dogs at a conformation 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 an AKC champion of record.

The number of championship points awarded at a show will depend on the number of males ("dogs") and females ("bitches") of the breed actually in competition, and will be a maximum of five points at a show. 

Males and females compete separately within their respective breeds, in the following classes, which are divided by sex:

Puppy - For dogs between six and twelve months of age, that are not yet champions (sometimes this is broken down into two classes:  six to nine months; and nine to twelve months).

Twelve-To-Eighteen Months - For dogs twelve to eighteen months of age, that are not yet champions.

Novice - For dogs six months of age and over, which have not, prior to the date of closing of entries, won three first prizes in the Novice Class, a first prize in Bred-by-Exhibitor, American-bred, or Open Classes, nor one or more points toward their championship.

Bred-By Exhibitor - For dogs that are exhibited by their breeder/owner, that are not yet champions.

American-Bred - For dogs born in the United States from a mating which took place in the United States, that are not yet champions.

Open - For any dog of the breed, at least six months of age.

After these classes are judged, all the dogs that won first place (blue ribbon) in a class compete again to see who is the best of the winning dogs. Males and females are judged separately. Only the best male (Winners Dog - purple ribbon) and the best female (Winners Bitch - purple ribbon) may receive points towards their championship. The Winners Dog and Winners Bitch then compete with the champions for the Best of Breed award. At the end of the Best of Breed competition, three awards are usually given: (1) Best of Breed (judged best in its breed category - purple and gold ribbon), (2) Best of Winners (judged as the better of the Winners Dog and Winners Bitch - blue and white ribbon) and (3) Best of Opposite Sex (best opposite sex to Best of Breed winner - red and white ribbon).

The Best of Breed winners from the breed competition advance to compete in the Group competitions.  Each AKC-recognized breed falls into one of seven group classifications:  Sporting, Hound, Working, Terrier, Toy, Non-sporting, and Herding.  Four placements are awarded in each group, but only the first place winner (blue rosette) advances to the Best in Show competition.  Seven dogs, one from each of the seven groups, will enter the Best in Show ring and, by process of elimination, one dog will be named Best in Show and receive the red, white and blue rosette awarded at the end of the day.

Fort Bend Kennel Club shows are held under American Kennel Club rules and regulations.  Visit for more information.