Dog Show Information

What Are Dog Shows All About?

Couple with dog at a dog show
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A dog show is a competitive dog sport that involves the presentation of purebred dogs to be judged for conformity to respective breed standards. Some think of these as beauty pageants for dogs. In general, the purpose of dog shows is to determine the best specimens of each dog breed. Many dog breeders prefer to breed dogs that have placed in dog shows so the puppies will have the most desired traits of that dog breed.

These puppies are often healthier, more desirable, and worth more money.

What Happens During a Dog Show?

Also called conformation trials or breed shows, dog shows are designed to display the purebred dogs with the ideal characteristics of their respective breeds. These standards are determined by purebred dog associations like the American Kennel Club or the United Kennel Club. Ultimately, the goal is to maintain and even improve each breed so that future lines remain of the highest quality.

During conformation shows, dogs are presented in the ring by their handlers. The handler may not be the owner of the dog. Dog owners often hire professional handlers to show their dogs. Handlers generally have a lot of experience in dog shows and know how to make the dogs look their best in the show ring.

In the ring, the dogs are judged by knowledgeable and experienced purebred dog experts. These judges look at the dogs' physical characteristics, movement/gait, and temperament to determine which dogs measure up most closely to their respective breed standards.

Dog Show Awards

During a dog show, the dogs first compete alongside dogs of the same breed. The winner is given the title Best of Breed and goes on to compete for Best of Group. Then, group winners go on to compete for Best in Show, where one final champion dog is determined.

Champion dogs are considered better breeding stock than non-champion dogs because they are proven ideal specimens of their breed.

For this reason, their offspring generally have a higher monetary value.

The following placements are awarded during most dog shows:

  • Best of Breed is the title given to the dog that best represents its breed standard according to the judge of that round. During this round, dogs are shown with others in the same breed.
  • Best in Variety is awarded in lieu of Best in Breed when a dog breed has several varieties of the same breed. One example is the Poodle, which has miniature, standard, and toy varieties.
  • Best of Opposite is awarded to a dog of the opposite sex of Best of Breed or Best in Variety that best represents the same breed as determined by the same judge. This indicates that the pair is ideal for breeding.
  • Best in Show denotes the overall winner of the dog show. This dog is selected from all of the Best in Group winners of that show. Best in Show is the highest distinction in a conformation dog show.
  • Award of Merit may be given at the discretion of the judge to outstanding entries that are not Best of Breed or Best in Show.

Dog Show Terminology

Whether or not you are a fan of dog shows, you may have heard some terms that leave you guessing. Some of them might be easy to figure out but others are not so obvious.

Here are some of the terms commonly used in dog shows with explanations of their meanings: 

All Rounder describes a dog show judge who is licensed to judge all breeds.

Bait is an object used to get and keep a dog's attention in the show ring, such as a treat or toy. Some shows do not allow bait to be used. 

Benched Show (or bench show) refers to a dog show at which dogs are assigned to separate benches when not in the showing ring. Spectators can approach each bench to learn more about the dog present. The Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show is one of the few benched shows in the United States. 

Bitch is the term used to describe an intact female dog (not spayed). An intact male is simply called a dog.

Breed Standard is a written description of the ideal physical, functional, and temperamental traits of a specific breed.

This is the standard against which all dogs of that breed are judged. The breed standard is created and enforced by the parent club for each breed.

Champion (Ch.) is a title for a dog that has earned a certain number of points competing in AKC shows.

Conformation describes the structure and physical traits of a dog and how well they conform to the breed standard. Dog shows are also often called conformation shows.

Dam refers to the mother of a litter of puppies.

Dog is used in the dog show world to describe an intact male canine (not neutered). An intact female canine is called a bitch.

Gait refers to the movement of the dog and may also be called "action." A competing dog's gait is judged when the dogs are running around the ring. This helps to show proper or improper structure and conformation.

Handler describes the person who shows the dog in the ring. This is not always the dog's owner, but a professional handler that is paid to show dogs. An excellent handler is well-paid because a good performance can mean the difference between a win and a loss.

Stack refers to the position a dog stands in while being shown. Certain dog breeds have their own special positions. Most breeds stand so all four paws are aligned.