Understanding a dog show
Thousands if not millions of people tune in to watch the big televised dog shows, but what they see is just the tip of the iceberg, the Group and Best in Show competitions. These are certainly exciting competitions, as the best dogs of each breed compete for the highest honor at a dog show. However, a lot more happens at a dog show before those group competitions begin.
Think of a dog show as a pyramid, divided into three sections:
1. The base and most of the pyramid is made up of Race Shows.
2. The next much smaller section is made up of Group Competitions. The many AKC breeds are divided into seven groups. The Best of Breed winner of each breed advances to compete in that group.
3. A small section at the top of the pyramid is the third part of a dog show. This is the Best in Show competition. Only 7 dogs compete, the winning dog of each group contest.
Now, let’s get down to the race level.
In breed competition, regardless of breed, individual dogs are judged based on a written breed standard, which outlines the attributes that the “ideal specimen” of the breed should possess. Breed standards include descriptions of head, eyes, pigment, coat, color, bite (i.e. location of teeth), structure, and movement. In an ideal world, dogs are judged by the standard and the person showing the dog is ignored. (In the real world, the person at the end of the leash can influence a judge’s decision because some judges are prone to awarding professional handlers the win and ignoring non-professional handlers.)
So, this is how the classes are executed. First of all, the classes are divided by gender. Males compete against males. The females compete against the females. For each gender the following classes are available:
puppy 6-9– In this category, puppies that are not yet champions and that are between six and nine months old compete.
Puppy 9-12-In this category, puppies that are not yet champions and that are between nine and twelve months old compete.
twelve to eighteen months– Adults who are not yet champions and who are between twelve and eighteen months of age compete in this class.
Beginner – To compete in this class, a dog must be six months of age or older; he must have won fewer than three first places in the Rookie Class; must not have won a first place in Bred-by-Exhibitor, American-bred or Open Class; and must not have earned any championship points from him.
Hobbyist owner– Dogs that are at least six months old and are not champions must be handled in this class by their registered owner. The class is limited to exhibitors who have not, at any time, been a professional dog handler, AKC-approved conformation judge, or employed as an assistant professional dog handler.
bred by exhibitor – This class is for dogs that are exhibited by their breeder owner and are not yet champions.
american servant – To enter this class, a dog that is not yet a champion must have been born in the United States from a mating that took place in the United States.
open – This class is for any dog of the breed that is at least 6 months old.
Let’s say there are at least 4 entries in each of those classes. Starting with the puppy (male) of class 6-9, the dogs are called to the ring. The dogs are identified by a number that the exhibitor wears on a bracelet on his left arm. They enter the ring in numerical order. Generally, the judge first lines up the dogs, stands back and takes a quick look at each one. He may stop in front of each dog to observe the head and expression. He then tells the exhibitors to “take them around” the ring and stop at the exam table. Each dog is placed on the examination table where the judge “checks” them, examining each dog and comparing its attributes to the breed standard. Next, he asks each exhibitor to move his dog. This is often referred to as “down and back”, as the judge sends the dog first to judge the dog’s rear movement, and then towards him to judge the front movement. Some judges then send the dog around the ring to the end of the line so they can judge lateral movement. When all the dogs have finished the movement portion of the judging and are back in line, the judge will step back and look at the dogs again before making the placements, sometimes returning to a dog for a second look or asking to an exhibitor to move a particular dog again. Often the judges will ask the exhibitors to lead the dogs around the ring one last time. Then the judges make their placements.
Each class has a choice of four placements and ribbons are awarded for each. First place = blue ribbon, second = red, third = yellow and fourth = white.
The next class would be Puppy 9-12 and so on until all males in the various classes have been judged. The evaluation routine must be the same for each class.
Next comes the winning dog class. The first place winner of each men’s class is called back to the ring. This time they line up by class in reverse order, with the Open Dog winner first in line and the Puppy 6-9 winner last in line. The dogs are judged again, but are not normally put back on the table for examination. The dog that wins this class is known as the Winning Dog. He gets a purple ribbon and, most importantly, championship points from him. After choosing the winning dog, the other winners remain in the ring because the judge has to choose a reserve winning dog (the finalist). The dog that placed second in the class from which the Winning Dog came returns to the ring to compete for Reserve. For example, suppose the Winning Dog comes from the Exhibitor Bred class. Then the dog that placed second in that Bred By Exhibitor class enters the ring with the winners of the other classes to be judged against them for Reserve. The judge then awards a Reserve Winning Dog.
Now the evaluation of the dog classes is done.
Then come the classes for the females. (At dog shows, females are referred to as “Bitches,” and it is not used in a derogatory or swearing sense. It simply means “female dog.”) The classes are the same, and the routine of judging is the same. At the end, all female class winners return to the ring and are awarded one Female Winner and one Reserve Female Winner.
The men and women who compete in these classes compete for points towards their championship titles. To become a champion, a dog must earn 15 points. Of the 15 points, two of the dog’s wins must be major wins. A “major” is a 3, 4 or 5 point win. Five points is the most points a dog can earn at a show. Points at each show differ for each breed and depend on the number of dogs of each sex in each breed competing on that day. AKC reviews its points program annually and the program is printed in each show’s catalog, a book that lists each entry in the show by group and by breed.
The final class for each breed is the Best of Breed class. The Winning Dog and the Winning Bitch compete with the champions for the Best of Breed award. At the end of the Best of Breed Competition, these prizes are usually awarded if there are enough dogs in the class for all the prizes to be awarded:
best of breed– This is the dog judged as the best specimen of the breed. Best of Breed may be awarded to one of the exhibited champions or to the Winning Dog or Winning Female, whichever dog the judge deems most worthy.
best of winners – This placement is awarded to the Winning Dog or Winning Female, whichever the judge deems more worthy.
The best of the opposite sex – This award is given to the dog that is the opposite sex of the dog that won Best of Breed. (If a female wins Best of Breed, this winner would be a male, and vice versa).
select dog– A champion male who has not won either Best of Breed or Best of Opposite Sex but the judge finds him serving as a prize.
select bitch– A female champion who has not won either Best of Breed or Best of Opposite Sex but the judge finds her serving as a prize.
Champions compete for race points, which will increase to give them national rankings. One point is awarded for each dog of the breed entered in the competition. So if there are 20 Lhasa Apsos entered in a show, the winner of the breed will get 20 breed points. Best of Breed (if champion), Best Opposite Sex (if champion), Select Dog and Select Bitch will also earn points towards a Grand Championship title. Once they earn that title, an accumulation of points earns them Bronze, Silver, or Gold Grand Champion status.
The Best of Breed winner of each breed entered at the dog show is now eligible to represent their breed by competing in the Group Competition. There are seven AKC groups. Since it is this part of the dog show that is usually shown on television, most people are familiar with what goes on in these groups. The seven groups are
1. Sporty– These dogs were bred to hunt game birds both on land and in water. Examples include cocker spaniels, Irish setters, Labrador retrievers, golden retrievers, vizslas.
2. Hounds – Bloodhound breeds were bred to hunt other animals by sight or smell. Examples include Coonhounds, Beagles, Whippets, Salukis.
3.Working – These dogs were bred to pull carts, guard property, and perform search and rescue services. Examples include Boxers, Newfoundlands, Akitas, Bernese Mountain Dogs.
4. Burrow – Terriers were bred to rid property of vermin. Examples include Skye, Norfolk, Airedale, Welsh, and Fox Terriers.
5 toy – These small dogs were bred to be housemates. Examples include Pomeranian, Shih Tzu, Maltese, Chihuahua, Pekingese.
6. Not sporty – This diverse group includes dogs that vary in size and function. Many are considered companion dogs. Examples include Lhasa Apso, Dalmation, Poodle (Standard and Miniature), Keeshonden, Lowchen, Shiba Inu.
7. grazing – These dogs were bred to help shepherds and ranchers herd and/or care for their livestock. Examples include Briards, Collies, Old English Sheepdogs, Corgis, German Shepherds.
It is important to realize that in group competition, dogs are not judging each other because the standards for each breed are diverse. What the judge is looking for is the dog that best represents the ideal described in his breed standard. Of the dogs to be exhibited, the judge will select four for their placements. The ribbon colors are the same for group placements as they are for regular classes: blue, red, yellow, and white.
Dogs competing in the pool compete for pool points towards the national pool rankings. For example, let’s say there were a total of 233 sheepdogs entered in a show. The winner of that pool receives 233 pool points. Subtract the number of dogs of the same breed as the winner and the rest of the points go to the second place dog. Subtract the number of points in that dog’s breed and the rest of the points go to the third place dog, and so on for fourth place.
Finally, the seven group winners climb into the ring where they compete for best of show, the highest award at a dog show. The winner of Best in Show receives points for the victory, which will go towards the national rankings. Therefore, if a show had a total entry of 2,000 dogs, the Best in Show winner receives 2,000 points. If a show had an entry of 300 dogs, the Best in Show winner receives 300 points.