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How a Dog Show Works

If you get a chance to visit a local dog show for a day, you’ll get a chance to see more than a hundred different varieties of dogs being groomed and shown. Most shows have obedience as well as conformation competitions. In this post, I’m going to attempt to describe how the conformation part of the show works.

Showing a dog in conformation is a lot like showing a dog in a beauty pageant. Each dog breed and type has a breed standard that describes what the perfect dog of that breed and type should be like. It usually specifies size, color, coat, head shape, ear placement, tail placement and carriage, desired movement, dentition, etc. Of course, the breed standards for dogs are as varied as the dog breeds themselves.

In conformation, the breed judge is striving to find the dogs in a particular breed, that best conform to the breed standard. They are called “judges” for a reason because there are a lot of aspects of the dog to evaluate and judgments must be made on each aspect. Also, some judges value certain characteristics more than others.

Each breed (or sometimes types within a breed) are initially judged separately. Each breed is divided into the two sexes (dogs and bitches) and each sex is divided according to age. Each one of these divisions is called a class. So, there is a 9-12 month old puppy bitch class, for example. In most shows, there will be the following classes:

6-9 month old puppy dogs
9-12 month old puppy dogs
12-18 month old puppy dogs
American bred dogs
Bred-by dogs
Open dogs

6-9 month old puppy bitches
9-12 month old puppy bitches
12-18 month old puppy bitches
American bred bitches
Bred-by bitches
Open bitches

And, there may be others like “veteran dogs and bitches”, etc.

There are strict rules for which dogs can be entered in each class. But, often, any given dog could be shown in any one of several classes. For example, an American-bred bitch that is 15 months old might be shown in the 12-18 month class, the American-bred class, or maybe even in the Bred-by class (if the person showing the dog bred and owns the dog).

The boys are shown first. They are shown in classes in the order shown above.

While each judge has their own process for judging, most follow a common process. First, they look at all the dogs stacked in the ring to get an overall and first impression. Then, they usually want to see the dogs trotting in a circle around the ring to get an idea of their side-gate and to excuse any dogs with obvious limping. Then, each dog is judged one-at-a-time. The judge will inspect the head and teeth, feel the dog’s overall construction, maybe make some crude measurements of lengths or angles, check for testicles on boy dogs, inspect the tail, etc. This is a “hands-on” examination that usually takes less than a minute. The judge will then want to see the dog move “coming and going”—that is, trotting away from the judge in a straight line and coming back directly at the judge. The judge will then watch how the dog stops, where he/she puts their feet, what kind of attitude and expression the dog has. Then, the judge will have the dog run around the ring by it’s self to once again see the side-gate. This whole process takes about 2 minutes. When the judge has looked at each dog individually, he or she will take a final look at all the dogs, maybe have them run around the ring one more time, and then make their decision.

In each class, the judge will award 4 ribbons. (A judge can, at their discretion withold any ribbon if he or she does not think any dog deserves it.) First place gets a blue ribbon. Second place gets a red ribbon. Third place gets a white ribbon. And, fourth place gets a yellow ribbon.

Once all of the dog (boy) classes are done, then all the blue ribbon winners go back into the ring to compete against each other for “Winner’s Dog”. Whichever dog get’s this ribbon also wins some points toward their championship.

The whole process is then repeated for the bitches (girls).

To earn a championship, a dog must win 15 points and must have two “majors” from two different judges. A major is a single win worth 3, 4 or 5 points. The number of points awarded depends upon the number of dogs beaten. And even that varies in different regions of the country. (Areas with fewer dogs tend to beat fewer dogs to win a major.)

So, winning Winner’s Dog or Winner’s Bitch is the goal of most people who are showing their dog.

But, it isn’t over yet!

After all the “class” dogs (and bitches) have been shown (dogs that don’t have their championships), there is a “Best of Breed” competition. In this competition, dogs that already have their championships (called “specials”) compete among each other and with the Winner’s Bitch and Winner’s Dog for Best-of-Breed.

The judging goes pretty much the same as in the classes exept the boys and girls are in the ring at the same time.

The judge will award three ribbons. One is for Best-of-Breed (BOB). One is for Best-of-Opposite-Sex (BOS). And, one is for Best-of-Winners (BOW).

The BOB could be a dog or a bitch, and is the best dog in the breed on that day. The BOS is awarded to the best dog of the opposite sex to the BOB. And, the BOW is awarded to either the Winner’s Dog or the Winner’s Bitch, depending upon which one of them the judge thought was the best among the two that day.

One dog could win two ribbons. For example, the BOB might go to a dog special, but the BOS and BOW could go to the Winner’s Bitch.

Getting BOB or BOW if you are a class dog is a big deal, again. The reason is that the winner could be awarded more championship points. If the Winner’s Dog got 2 points for winning among the dogs and also wins BOW, he can be award the points earned by the Winner’s Bitch. Or, if a class dog wins BOB, the Specials that he beat now count toward his points. It can get confusing!

Now we have named the best dog in the breed on that day according to that judge.

But, it is still not over!

Each breed belongs to one of seven dog “groups”. The groups are:


All the best-of-breed dogs in a group are now judged together. This is the part of a dog show that you usually see on TV. In judging at the group level, the judge is now NOT judging the dogs relative to each other, but instead is judging each dog against their breed standard. The goal for the judge is to select the 4 dogs in each group that best conform to their individual breed standard. These dogs are awarded group wins.

The first place winner in each of the seven groups then goes on to compete with the other group winners for best-in-show.



Posted by Rick on 07/28/2004 at 03:35 PM

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