The American Kennel Club’s guide to dog shows
The Westminster Dog Show will be contested at Madison Square Garden on Feb 13 and 14. The American Kennel Club offers the standards and rules for the showcase and all major events. Westminster will be on FS1 for the first time. For the entire viewing schedule, click here.
The American Kennel Club® was established in 1884 to promote the study, breeding, exhibiting and advancement of purebred dogs. It is the largest not-for-profit purebred dog registry in the nation.
The AKC approves and maintains the official records of over 22,000 sanctioned and licensed events each year.
The AKC has over 620 member clubs and over 5,000 affiliated clubs. These clubs are more than show-giving entities. They are public service, educational organizations whose activities benefit the entire community. Some AKC club activities include public education through presentations at schools, fairs, libraries, shelters, hospitals, rescue leagues, scouts and 4-H; training classes; and health clinics.
AKC registration means that a dog, its parents and its ancestors are purebred. It does not indicate health or quality. Dogs registered with the AKC may have their offspring registered and compete in AKC events. Their owners may use the AKC’s full line of education and information services.
The World of Dog Shows
Showing dogs is a great sport where the thrill of competition is combined with the joy of seeing beautiful dogs. Dog shows are one of many types of AKC dog events in which AKC-registered dogs can compete. These events, which draw more than three million entries annually, include dog shows and tests of instinct and trainability, such as obedience trials, Canine Good Citizen® tests, field trials, agility trials, lure coursing, hunting tests, herding trials, tracking tests, and coon-hound and earthdog events.
Dog shows (conformation events) are intended to evaluate breeding stock. The size of these events ranges from large all-breed shows, with over 3,000 dogs entered, to small local specialty club shows, featuring a specific breed. The dog’s conformation (overall appearance and structure), is an indication of the dog’s ability to produce quality puppies.
Types of Conformation
There are three types of conformation dog shows:
All-breed shows offer competitions for over 175 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 are 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 May 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.
The Role of the Judge
Judges examine the dogs, then give awards according to how closely each dog compares to the judge’s mental image of the “perfect” dog described in the breed’s official standard.
The standard describes the characteristics that allow the breed to perform the function for which it was bred. These standards include specifications for structure, temperament and movement.
The official written standard for each breed is maintained by the breed’s national club and is included in The Complete Dog Book published by the AKC, and can be found on the AKC website www.akc.org.
The judges are experts on the breeds they are judging. They examine (“go over”) each dog with their hands to see if the teeth, muscles, bones and coat texture conform to the breed’s standard. They view each dog in profile for overall balance, and watch each dog gait (“move”) to see how all of those features fit together in action.
Judges award first through fourth places in each class, and give a ribbon to each dog receiving an award. The color of the ribbon is determined by the type of award the dog has won.
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 (five) points.
Males and females compete separately within their respective breeds, in seven regular classes: Puppy, Twelve-to-Eighteen Months, Novice, Amateur-Owner-Handler, Bred by Exhibitor, American-Bred and Open.
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. Also may be awarded Grand Champion points.
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. If Champion of record may also be awarded Grand Champion points.
PUPPY — Shall be for dogs between six and twelve months of age, that are not yet champions. (Optional class)
SIX-to-NINE MONTHS — Shall be for dogs between six and nine months of age, that are not yet champions. (Optional Class)
NINE-to-TWELVE MONTHS — Dogs nine to twelve months of age, that are not yet champions. (Optional Class)
TWELVE-to-FIFTEEN MONTHS — Shall be for dogs between twelve to fifteen months of age, that are not yet champions. (Optional Class)
FIFTEEN-to-EIGHTEEN MONTHS — Shall be for Dogs fifteen to eighteen months of age, that are not yet champions. (Optional Class)
NOVICE — Shall be for dogs that are at least six months of age and over, which have not, prior to the date of closing of entries, won three first prizes in this class, a first prize in Amateur-Owner-Handler, Bred-by-Exhibitor, American bred, or Open Classes, nor one or more points toward their championships. (Optional Class)
AMATEUR-OWNER-HANDLER — Shall be for dogs that are at least six months of age that are not champions. Dogs must be handled in the class by the registered owner. This class is restricted to exhibitors who have not, at any point in time, been a professional dog handler, AKC approved conformation judge, or employed as an assistant to a professional handler. (Optional Class)
BRED BY EXHIBITOR — Shall be for the dog is not yet a champion, and the exhibitor is the breeder and the owner. (Optional Class)
AMERICAN-BRED — Shall be for a dog whose parents were mated in America, and the dog was born in America. The dog is not yet a champion. (Required Class)
OPEN — Shall be for any dog of the breed, at least six months of age. (Required Class)
Grand Champion – A Grand Champion is a champion of record competing against other champions of record beyond the traditional requirements for a Championship and focuses on competition at the Best of Breed level, to achieve the level of Grand Champion. All Champions of record are eligible to be awarded points towards this Grand Championship level.
There are five levels of Grand Champion status achievable:
1. Grand Champion
2. Grand Champion (Bronze Level)
3. Grand Champion (Silver Level)
4. Grand Champion (Gold Level)
5. Grand Champion (Platinum Level)
For a complete explanation on the earning a Grand Champion and the 4 other levels of a Grand Championship, go to the AKC website:
Select Dog – The Select Dog is similar to Awards of Merit in that this dog is the next best as far as the quality of the dogs in competition. These awards are selected after Best of Breed/Variety and Best of Opposite Sex. However the Select Dog is eligible for Grand Championship points.
Select Bitch – The Select Bitch is similar to Awards of Merit in that this bitch is the next best as far as the quality of the Bitches in competition. These awards are selected after Best of Breed/Variety and Best of Opposite Sex. However the Select Bitch is eligible for Grand Championship points.
The Road to Best in Show
Dog shows are a process of elimination, with one dog being named Best in Show and one dog as Reserve Best in Show at the end of any All-Breed Show and those Limited Breed Shows allowed awarding a Best in 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 inAll-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.
Hound — 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 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.
Each dog that receives an award is given a ribbon by the judge. The color of the ribbon indicates the type of award the dog has won.
Blue — awarded for first place in any regular class. Also awarded to the winner of each group competition, usually in the form of a “rosette”.
Red — awarded for second place in each class. Also awarded for second place in each group competition, usually in the form of a “rosette”.
Yellow — awarded for third place in each class. Also awarded for third place in each group competition, usually in the form of a “rosette”.
White — awarded for fourth place in each class. Also awarded for fourth in each group competition, usually in the form of a “rosette”.
Purple — awarded to the winners of the Winners Dog and Winners Bitch classes. Since these are the classes in which championship points are earned, these ribbons are highly coveted.
Purple and White — awarded to the Reserve Winners, that is, the runners-up to the winner of the Winners Dog and Winners Bitch classes.
Blue and White — awarded to the dog that wins Best of Winners; that is, the better of the Winners Dog and Winners Bitch winners.
Purple and Gold — awarded to the dog judged “Best of Breed” in each breed competition. This is highly coveted because it allows advancement to the Group competition.
Red and White — awarded to the Best of Opposite Sex. This means the best dog of the breed that is the opposite sex of the Best of Breed winner.
Light Blue and White — two of these awarded to the Select Dog and Select Bitch in the Best of Breed competition awarded points towards earning a Grand Championship Title.
Red, White and Blue — only one of these is awarded, at the end of each show. It is given to the ultimate award winner, the BEST IN SHOW.