Conformation Showing

Function: noun
1. formation of something by appropriate arrangement of parts or elements; an assembling into a whole
2. a: correspondence especially to a model or plan b: structure c: the shape or proportionate dimensions especially of an animal [the dogs conformation]

I enjoy showing in conformation or "breed" as it is sometimes referred to. A Conformation show or Dog Show is where the dogs are judged on how closely they adhere to the breeds standard. Also known as All-Breed, Group, or Specialty shows. For each breed the AKC registers, there is a breed standard which is a word description of the perfect dog of that breed. Standards describe the mental and physical characteristics that allow each breed to perform the function for which they were originated. The standard describes the dog's looks, movement and temperament. Breeders involved with each breed are attempting to produce a dog that most closely conforms to the breed standard. In this respect, dog shows are not unlike cat shows, bird shows, cattle shows, horse shows, etc. In fact, for almost every species bred by man there are competitions among breeders. AKC approved judges examine the dogs and place them in accordance to how close each dog compares with their mental image of the "perfect" dog as described in the breed's official standard.

There is training that goes into showing your dog. Your dog must be able to gait (trot) while on lead without breaking into a gallop and he should be able to stand while a judge does his examination which includes checking your dogs bite to ensure he has proper dentition, going over the dog's body to determine if the dog has correct structure and if he is a male checking to be sure both testicles are present.

So, how does a dog show work and how does a dog become a champion?

As mentioned above there are three types of dog shows:

  • All-breed showsoffer competitions for over 150 breeds and varieties of dogs recognized by the AKC. All-breed shows are the type often shown on television.
  • 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 Group showsare 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.

Which dogs can participate:

  • To be eligible to compete, a dog must:
    • be individually registered with the American Kennel Club
    • be 6 months of age or older
    • be a breed for which classes are offered at a show
    • meet any eligibility requirements in the written standard for its breed

Spayed or neutered dogs are not eligible to compete in conformation classes at a dog show, because the purpose of a dog show is to evaluate breeding stock.

How a Dog Show works:

Each dog presented to a judge is exhibited ("handled") by its owner, breeder or a hired professional. The role of a handler is similar to that of a jockey who rides a horse around the track and, hopefully, into the winner's circle.

Most dogs in competition at conformation shows 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 American Kennel Club "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 male or a female can win. The maximum number of points awarded to a dog at any show is 5 points.

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 male or a female can win. The maximum number of points awarded to a dog at any show is 5 points.

  • Puppy - For dogs between six and twelve months of age, that are not yet champions.
  • 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 owner and breeder, 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 6 months of age.

After these classes are judged, all the dogs that won first place 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) and the best female (Winners Bitch) receive championship points. 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:

  • Best of Breed - the dog judged as the best in its breed category.
  • Best of Winners - the dog judged as the better of the Winners Dog and Winners Bitch.
  • Best of Opposite Sex - the best dog that is the opposite sex to the Best of Breed winner.

The road to a Best in Show

Dog shows are a process of elimination, with one dog being named Best in Show at the end of the show.

Only the Best of Breed winners advance to compete in the Group competitions. Each AKC-recognized breed falls into one of seven group classifications. The seven groups are Sporting, Hound, Working, Terrier, Toy, Non-Sporting and Herding. Four placements are awarded in each group, but only the first-place winner advances to the Best In Show competition.

The Seven Groups in All-Breed Shows

  • 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.
  • Hounds - These breeds were bred for hunting other game by sight or scent. These breeds include such dogs as Beagles, Bassets, 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 Belgian Malinois, Briard, Collie, German Shepherd Dog and Old English Sheepdog are some of the breeds in this group.

Finally, the seven group winners are brought into the ring where they compete for Best In Show, the highest award at a dog show.

How Do I Get Started Showing My Dog?

The best place to start is by joining a local kennel club, whether an all-breed kennel club or a breed-specific specialty club. A listing of clubs by state can be found on the AKC website, AKC Clubs.

Local clubs will have information on training classes for the show ring, and for obedience and agility classes. Even if the show ring is not your ultimate goal, the relationship that training forms between you and your dog will be very rewarding to you both. Local clubs also have "Fun Matches" where you and your dog can test your skill in the ring.

Handling your dog is an exceptional and enjoyable experience. From the grooming table to the show ring, you and your dog will develop a bond. While training classes offer the best hands-on way to practice for the show ring, attending shows and observing your breed is also a great way to gain understanding of what judges and other competitors do.

Tips for the First-Time Exhibitor

  • Make sure your dog is registered with the AKC.
  • Be sure your dog is current on all inoculations.
  • Learn the proper techniques for grooming and for presenting your dog in the ring.
  • Join your breed's Parent Club, or a Local Specialty and/or All-Breed club in your area.
  • Become familiar with the AKC rules and regulations for dog shows which can be found at AKC Rules.
  • Attend some dog shows to observe your breed being judged and how others present your breed. Get a Judging Program at the show to find out ring number and judging time.
  • Use the knowledge of your breeder.
  • Don't be afraid to ask questions.
  • Attend handling classes with your dog.

Tips for the First-Time Exhibitor

  • If the grooming area is open to spectators, visit it and talk with professional groomers to get tips on keeping your dog looking his best.
  • However tempting, do not pet a dog without asking for permission first. The dog may have just been groomed in preparation for being judged.
  • At each dog show, you will find vendors and information booths. Many club booths offer helpful information to the general public.
  • Wear comfortable shoes - you'll be doing a lot of walking. Unless you bring a chair or arrive early, be prepared to stand most of the time, as seating is usually limited.
  • If you are considering getting a purebred dog, talk to the breeders and exhibitors - they are experts in their breeds.
  • If you bring a baby stroller to a dog show, be careful that you do not run over any dog's tail, and that your child does not grab or poke the dogs it can reach. Avoid having them near ring entrances, which are especially crowded. Some shows prohibit baby strollers.

Dog Show Terms

  • Angulation: Angles created by bones meeting at their joints.
  • Baiting: Using liver or some treat to get the dog's attention and have him look alert.
  • Bench Show: A dog show at which the dogs are kept on assigned benches when not being shown in competition, so they can be viewed and discussed by attendees, exhibitors and breeders.
  • Exhibitor: A person who brings a dog to a dog show and shows it in the appropriate class.
  • Fancier: A person who is especially interested, and usually active, in some phase of the sport of purebred dogs.
  • Gait: The way a dog moves, movement is a good indicator of structure and condition.
  • Groom: To brush, comb, trim or otherwise make a dog's coat neat.
  • Handler: A person or agent who takes a dog into the show ring or who works the dog at a field trial or other performance event.
  • Heel: A command to a dog to keep close beside its handler.
  • Match Show: A usually informal dog show at which no championship points are awarded.
  • Miscellaneous Class: Transitional class for breeds attempting to advance to full AKC recognition.
  • Pedigree: The written record of a dog's family tree of three or more generations.
  • Points: Credits earned toward a championship.
  • Soundness: Mental and physical well-being.
  • Stacking: Posing the dog's legs and body to create a pleasing picture.

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