Dog Shows 101


by Lexiann Grant
Copyright© 1998

The following article has been provided by the above author. All copy rights are held by the author and any reproduction of this material in whole or in part must have the authors approval.

One of the most beautiful spectator sports in existence is a conformation or all-breed dog show. Some dog lovers are already aficionados of the sport, attending shows in their hometown. Many more people enjoy the Westminster show each February on television. But most people — even owners of show dogs — may be slightly confused by the ever-changing order of dogs running in circles. So what is the structure and purpose of a dog show?

Hundreds of dog shows around the country each weekend are sanctioned by the American Kennel Club (AKC). The AKC is a national dog organization that oversees and maintains the registry of purebred dog breeds as well as supervising the showing of these dogs.
While all dogs are marvelous creatures, purebred dogs have been created and bred for specific traits, skills, and physical characteristics in order to perform a unique job, such as retrieving water fowl or herding sheep. This is known as breeding for function and “type,” type being the temperament and physical form required to perform that breed’s job. Each breed’s job and “ideal” type are defined by a written “standard,” also registered with the AKC by a parent breed club, like the Dalmatian Club of America, or the Norwegian Elkhound Association of America. At a show, dogs that most nearly conform to their breed’s standard are judged to be the best.
Best in what? in breed? in group? in show?
The competition starts with class judging, which is divided by gender and age. Dogs are posed in a stand for the judge’s inspection of their build, structure, fur color and texture, and correct head, tail, bite and ear-set. The handlers then run the dogs around the ring, individually and as a group, in order to show the motion, or gait, appropriate to their breed, all necessary elements to a breed’s proper performance.
Winners are selected from each division, then the best male and female are chosen from these selections. These dogs, the Winners Dog and Winners Bitch, are awarded points based on the number of dogs they beat. When a dog receives 15 points, they earn the title of “Champion.” After the two Winners are picked, these dogs then compete with the already finished champions for Best of Breed.
Winners from every breed class go on to the Group ring where one dog each from the Hound, Working, Sporting, Non-Sporting, Terrier, Toy, and Herding groups is designated as the first-place winner for their category. From these final seven, one dog is picked for the top honor of Best in Show — the dog who is judged to most closely conform to their breed’s standard on that day.
What does it take to have a winning show dog?
Time, money, work, training, grooming, devotion, and a love for dogs are a few of the answers. The effort, which is a way of life for many dog enthusiasts, begins before a dog is purchased.
For Jon Six, a show dog owner, the process began when he saw a Chinese Crested dog and “fell in love.” Before “jumping in,” he spent months researching the breed, breeders, advertisements, pedigrees and health histories. “I had never shown a dog but I took it on as a challenge and went to handling classes,” said Six. Not only does an owner need to learn about showing, but the dogs also require education before entering the show ring. Handlers should start show training young puppies around eight- to 10-weeks of age, by touching and socializing them, getting them used to being groomed, posed, and inspected, and being in noisy crowds around other dogs.
In addition to being well-mannered and trained for the ring, a dog show is a beauty contest and muscle event. “No matter how good a dog is, they must be in good condition to look good and show well. You have to condition them with exercise,” said Doreen Bates, of DanDee Elkhounds, “Diet is also very important. These are some of the things that go into making a show dog.” In order to build muscle, show dogs may be taken jogging or exercised on a treadmill indoors in bad weather.
Also there is the financial aspect of showing dogs, with expenditures for items such as supplies, equipment and entry fees. Handlers need special vehicles, like a large van that will hold crates, for transporting dogs to shows. Then there’s the cost of staying in a motel. And the dog food is more expensive than what is usually fed to the non-showing pet. Six said that providing good nutrition, clean housing, quality veterinarian care and regular grooming for his show dogs occupies much of his time.
Show day is a frenzy of activity. Preparation usually starts the night before as exhibitors arrive at the site and set up their grooming equipment such as tables, blow dryers, clippers and an array of brushes, combs, scissors and sprays. The next morning as the sun rises, so do the handlers who feed, walk and prepare their dogs. At ringside, competitors check in with a steward and wait for their number to be called. Then the competition begins, after which it’s time to pack up, head home and get ready for the next show.
What is the purpose behind dog shows and why would anyone want to spend so much energy and effort on a dog?
“Shows are a validation of your breeding program because you are getting someone else’s expert opinion,” Dan Bates, DanDee Elkhounds, said, “The objective of a breeding program is to attain the most perfect representative of a breed, including temperament. We are trying to make a healthy dog that will be a good companion for years and years. Not every dog is a show dog but every dog is a pet.” If you are interested in getting or showing a purebred dog, a dog show is one of the best places to begin gathering information. Following are some guides for enjoying and understanding a show.

 Come early and stay long enough to watch the classes of the breeds you most like and talk to the handlers afterwards.
 Wear comfortable shoes and bring a folding chair.
 Purchase a catalogue listing breed class times, locations and owner addresses.
 Take notes in your show catalogue about whose dogs won, those you liked and what you learned.
 Follow-up any questions after the show with the dogs’ breeders, owners, or handlers.
 During slack times, talk to groomers about what type of care certain breeds require.
 Browse the vendors and information booths for helpful dog supplies and brochures.
 Contact the AKC by calling (919) 233-9767 or on the Internet at
Preparing for and participating in a show is an exciting way to build a close, strong relationship with your dog. Six said, “The biggest thing I do is love my animals. The dog shows are something that I can do with them. Many people boat or ski, but their pets aren’t involved. When you go to dog shows your pets are there with you. It’s all for them.”