Conformation shows

Here She Is - Miss american-bred!


Dog shows are, without a doubt, confusing.

More than 130 breeds are eligible to compete in American Kennel Club shows and large shows draw upwards of 3,500 dogs. With a spectrum from the Chihuahua to the Irish Wolfhound, the process of selecting one ultimate winner for the show makes comparing apples and oranges a breeze. You're lucky if you can leave a dog show without being more confused by the experience than when you arrived.

A day in the life...

Let's follow our own favorite (albeit fictional) dog, Wanna Winna Big One, (from the equally fictitious breed, Corded Lackawanda Duck Pincher) through a dog show. We dragged our poor pup out of bed at 6 a.m. so that she could be bathed, blow dried, fluffed, trimmed, brushed, and at ring side for her 10:30 class.

Surprise! Winnie doesn't go into the ring at 10:30. Three breeds are ahead of the Corded Lackawanda Duck Pinchers including Crinkled Lackawanda Duck Pinchers.

Each breed is judged individually in the first level of competition and some breeds, for example, rough and smooth Collies, are judged separately by variety.

Winnie's wait to enter the ring is even longer because dog showing is sexist: the boys (dogs) get to go ahead of the girls (bitches). Within each sex, judging is further divided into five classes:

Puppy
For dogs between 6 months and 1 year of age;
Novice
for dogs that have never won a first prize;
Bred By Exhibitor
for all dogs except Champions, over the age of 6 months, presently owned or co-owned by the breeder and exhibited by the breeder or co-owner or a member of their immediate families. (Sort that out!)
American-Bred
for dogs born in the USA;
Open
for all dogs American or foreign bred.

What all this means is that Winnie, who is showing in American-Bred, must wait until all five classes of males are judged ahead of her. The judge must also select Winners Dog, the best male, from the winners of the five classes. Then three classes of her sex precede her in the ring.

In Winnie's class are seven bitches. They enter the ring in what is called 'catalog order.' This means that each dog entered is listed in the show catalog with an entry number and is judged in numerical order of that entry. Remember this fact; it is the simplest thing you will learn about dog showing.

Typically , a class gaits or jogs around the ring as a group so that the judge may study the class as a whole. The class then stops after one circuit of the ring, still in catalog order, for the judge to examine each entry individually.

Winnie's handler 'stacks' (poses) her to show her to her best advantage, and then the judge examines her body with his hands and asks her handler to gait her around the ring to determine how well all her parts add up to make a winning dog.

This procedure is followed for every dog in the class as the judge compares each one to the breed standard - the AKC approved blueprint for the construction of an ideal dog of the breed.Following this train of thought, you might consider the judge to be the building inspector. (But please don't tell him I said so)

Finally, the class examination is completed and the judge selects the four entries to receive first, second, third, and fourth prizes. Our favorite, Winnie is in first place, and, after the Open Bitch class, competes against the winners of the other bitch classes to determine Winners Bitch, where she wins again.

The second prize winner in Winnie's class then reenters the ring to compete with the other winning bitches for the Reserve Winners award. This award is just like being named Miss Congeniality and the only people who remember this dog's name are the owners.

This must be Winnie's lucky day! She has captured the coveted Winners Bitch award and gained four points towards her championship. When Winnie receives 15 points she will be entitled to use the title Champion before her name for the rest of her life.

Now Winnie and the Winners Dog enter the ring again to compete against all the dogs who have already won their championships for Best of Breed. The same standards of judging are applied to this group of dogs as in the earlier classes except that here, for the first time in the breed, the males and females compete against one another.

Miracle of miracles, Winnie wins Best of Breed! She will now represent her breed in the group competition. If she or the Winners Dog did not win Best of Breed, they would have competed against each other for Best of Winners. Since the greater fame and glory accrue to the Best of Breed, you can consider Best of Winners similar to first runner-up in a beauty pageant.

Now that Winnie is the Best of Breed in Lackawanda Duck Pinchers she may get the chance to go back to her crate and relax a bit before she competes in the group competition. In this stage of the showing, Winnie will be judged in competition with all the other Best of Breed winners for her group. (A group is composed of the breeds of dog developed for a similar purpose, for example, herding, sporting, etc.)

The group judge compares each dog against a mental picture of the ideal representative of its breed standard. The dogs in the group that are the best representatives of their breeds are selected as Group One (first place), Group Two (second place), Group Three (third place), and Group Four (fourth place). Group One then competes with the winners of all other groups in the culmination of the day's showing.

When Winnie enters the ring for this last class, she faces her fiercest competition of the day. Each dog in the ring may have defeated dozens of others to make it to this point in the show and has gained enormous prestige and stature in making it so far. When Winnie finally wins this class she will be the only dog of the day to be undefeated: she will be Best in Show!

Congratulations, Winnie, you're the tops. Before you let it go to your head remember one thing: dog showing is a sport. Tomorrow is another show with different dogs and different judges and you may not even win your class. The only thing you can count on is having a ball!

[More on conformation dog shows]

(Frequently held at the same time and location is an Obedience trial.)


The Westminster Kennel Club show is easily the most famous dog show in the US. All champions, the top five in each breed by invitation, more than 150 breeds and varieties of AKC-recognized dogs take their turns under the hands of the judges as they vie for Best of Breed, Best in Group, and finally, Best in Show. Covered by USA Network, this canine showcase features the best of the best.
  [Westminster Kennel Club]
  [USA Network: 2000 Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show]

Gail Brookhart

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