What Goes On At A Dog Show?

By: DogTrekker Staff

Brittanys under judgment at a dog showThe Woofstock Cluster is one of the biggest outdoor dog shows in the country. The Woffstock is a great chance to familiarize yourself with more than 100 breeds of dogs, but if it's your first show, you might not have any understanding of what exactly is going on in the ring. Here's a guide, courtesy of the Northern California Brittany Club. More information for beginners is available from the American Kennel Club

To experienced exhibitors, the rules, classes, procedures and etiquette involved in showing a canine are as second nature as the rules of football and baseball are to the average American school kid. But if you’ve never been to a dog show, you may be at once enchanted and bewildered by the unfamiliar environment—not to mention baffled and perplexed by what the judges are looking for in the the seemingly look-alike dogs gaiting around the ring on the end of leashes so dainty they’re barely visible from afar. 

You’re sure to have questions: Is that handler really pulling something edible out of his own mouth and giving it to the dog? Why is he holding the dog’s tail up? As a spectator, is it OK to bring my own dog onto the grounds and into the gallery? Is it permitted to walk around the area where dogs are being groomed? Why are the exhibitors so unfriendly (or is it only your imagination)?

Here’s an abbreviated guide to conformation competitions, courtesy of the AKC.
The American Kennel Club sanctions three types of conformation dog shows.

• All-breed shows offer competitions for more than 150 breeds and variety of dogs recognized by the AKC (in reality, only the biggest of the biggest shows will have entries in all 150 breeds).
• Specialty shows are restricted to dogs of a specific breed, such as the Brittany.
• Group shows are limited to dogs belonging to one of the seven groups into which AKC-recognized breeds are categorized.

All conformation shows are intended to evaluate breeding stock. The judges are looking for dogs that best meet the official standards set out by each national breed club.

To compete in an AKC show, a dog must be registered with the AKC and not be spayed or neutered. Judges examine the dogs and give awards according to how closely each animal compares to the breed standard.  

Most dogs competing at conformation shows are working toward earning the 15 points required for an AKC championship. Two “majors” (wins of three to five points) awarded by at least three different judges are required in the mix. The number of points awarded at a show depends on the number of males (“dogs”) and females (“bitches”) competing. The larger the show, the larger the number of points to be won, up to a maximum of five.

Males and females compete separately in seven regular classes categorized by age, previous winnings and other criteria. Only the best male (Winners Dog) and best female (Winners Bitch) receive championship points. Those winners then compete with existing champions (called “specials”) for the Best of Breed award. The dog judged as the better of the Winners Dog and Winners Bitch gets a Best of Winners award, while Best of Opposite Sex goes to the animal that is opposite sex to the Best of Breed winner.

Are you confused yet? Understanding comes with experience, and experience can only be gained by attending dog shows.

• If the grooming area is open to spectators (and it usually is), feel free to walk around and talk to exhibitors (but please respect their stress level if they are preparing to enter the ring).
• However tempting, do not pet a dog without asking permission first, and do not allow your children to do so, either.  The dog may just have been groomed in preparation for judging, and the exhibitor will want to help the animal stay focused.
• Be prepared to bring a chair and/or arrive early, as seating is usually limited.
•If you want to talk to exhibitors, please wait until after their turn in the show ring. 

Baiting: Using a treat to get the dog’s attention and make him look alert.
Bench show: A dog show at which dogs are displayed on benches (rather than crated) when not competing so they can be viewed by attendees.
Exhibitor: A person who brings a dog to a show and shows it.
Gait: The way a dog moves.
Handler: The exhibitor or exhibitor’s agent who takes the dog into the ring.
Stacking: Posing the dog’s legs and body to create a pleasant, balanced appearance.
Amateur owner/handler: Exhibitor who has never received compensation for handling.
Junior showmanship: Competitions for youth  9-18 years of age. 
Sweepstakes: A show event for presentation of puppies and veterans  according to age category.

Photo: Brittanys in the ring at 2011 Woofstock Cluster, Vallejo, by Janet Fullwood


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