Guide to Dog Shows

Everything You Need to Know About Dog Shows

For dog owners, it can be quite interesting and fascinating to watch dog shows on TV. Do you ever wonder what exactly happens in dog shows, what are the rules and regulations, which dogs are eligible to participate, who are the judges, how the dogs are awarded and what does it mean to win a dog show? Well, if you also want to enter your dog in a show, this article will help you understand the concept, so you can prepare yourself and your dog for the big day.

What are Dog Shows?

The official term for dog shows is conformation. These are the events in which purebred dogs compete against each other based on how closely they conform to the standard of their own particular breed. This means that dogs aren't necessarily compared to one another. Rather, judges compare how close each dog is to the ideal for its breed. This is the reason why these events are called shows, rather than dog competitions.

Who Organizes Dog Shows in America?

There are about 1,500 all-breed shows in the United States every year, while approximately 2,000 independent shows are held every year in the country. These smaller competitions do serve a bigger purpose within the larger dog show community. Winning them can mean gaining entry into bigger shows that are held on a national level.

On a national level, three dog shows are conducted in the United States every year. These are: American Kennel Club/Eukanuba National Championship, the Westminster Kennel Club Annual Dog Show and The National Dog Show. In each of these conformation shows, dogs are judged by how closely they conform to their specific breed standard.

While American Kennel Club/Eukanuba National Championship is the newest and the largest of dog shows, with over 3,000 dogs entering annually, Westminster Kennel Club Annual dog show is the oldest and the most popular of all. In fact, gaining entry into Westminster conformation is not so easy and contestants spend up to thousands of dollars a year just to compete here.

What Are Breed Standards?

Breed standards describe the physical and mental characteristics of the ideal dog in each particular breed. They are based on a dog's appearance including eyes, weight, size, color, muzzle, dog’s movement, temperament and more. In general, breed standards include all the characteristics which contribute to a dog's ability to perform the task for which he was originally bred.  The closer a dog’s appearance is to the breed’s standard, the better the dog’s ability to produce puppies that meet the standard. And, since the original purpose of conformation shows is to appraise breeding stock, mixed, spayed or neutered dogs are not eligible to compete.

Which dogs are eligible for dog shows?

To be eligible to compete, a dog must be registered with the respective dog show organization, be 6 months of age or older, be a breed for which classes will be displayed at the show and meet all other eligibility requirements in the written standard for its breed. Only purebred, non-spayed or non-neutered dogs are allowed to compete.  

Breed Classes and Groups

At Westminster, males and females compete separately within their respective breeds, in three regular classes:  Bred by Exhibitor (dogs handled by their owner), American-Bred (dogs bred in the U.S.), and Open (any breed).

All three of the national shows held in the U.S. organize dog breeds into seven different groups - sporting group, hound group, working group, terrier group, toy group, non-sporting group and herding group.

  1. Sporting dogs: These dogs are particularly bred for sporting purposes, such as hunting. This group includes retrievers, pointers, spaniels and setters.
  2. Hounds: The exceptional senses of smell or physical endurance make hounds effective hunters. These include bloodhounds, beagles, and dachshunds.
  3. Working dogs: These dogs are particularly bred for practical tasks such as search-and-rescue and guarding your home. Working dogs have large sizes and great strength. This group includes Great Danes, Saint Bernards and rottweilers.
  4. Terriers: Terriers are known for their unique and energetic personalities. Examples include Scottish terriers, bull terriers, and miniature schnauzers.
  5. Toy dogs: This group includes small dogs, such as chihuahua, poodles, shih tzus, and pugs.
  6. Non-sporting dogs: These breeds don't have any unifying characteristics. They include bulldog, Dalmatian, and American Eskimo dog.
  7. Herding dogs: These dogs are particularly bred for herding animals such as sheep and cows. The examples include Australian shepherds, collies, and briards.

The Role of the Judge

The judges are experts on the breeds they're judging. They examine each dog with their hands, and watch their gait to see if the dog’s physical and mental attributes conform to the breed’s standard. After examining, judges then give awards on the basis of how closely each dog relates to the judge’s own image of the “perfect” dog as described in the breed’s official standard. In Westminster conformation, males and females are judged separately.

How the Dogs are Awarded?

Although almost every dog show follows the process of elimination, the awards offered aren't the same. With more than 3,500 shows around the country, not every dog show gives every award, but the awards at the Westminster dog show are given within each group, and then major awards are given for remarkable dogs regardless of group.

Championship points are given to only the best male (Winners Dog) and the best female (Winners Bitch) receive. The male and female winners then compete with the champions for the “Best of Breed award.” At the end of the competition, three awards are usually given – “Best of Breed,” “Best of Winners” and “Best of Opposite Sex.”

What most people aim to compete for or tend to remember, however, is the “Best in Show.” This dog is deemed to have been the most "perfect" dog, or the one that most represented its standard, of any dog in the entire competition.

Why does it mean to get crowned “Best in Show”?

Being crowned “Best in Show” at Westminster is considered the biggest accomplishment a dog and its owner can attain in dog shows. The national attention is paid to the dog, and many "celebrity" appearances are in store for the dog, including opening the New York Stock Exchange, talk shows, etc. After the initial attention, though, the dogs often go on to do other things. While they continue to receive vet services from a leading veterinarian, they can live in the lap of luxury or go on to serve. For instance, some go on to be therapy dogs. Their strict training and calm demeanor make them perfect for this line of work. Most often, however, they are put to "work" breeding. A champion purebred has literally been deemed a dog that is close to perfection, and people look to capitalize on that perfection by buying the puppies created by these winners.

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