You’ve seen the National Dog Show on TV every Thanksgiving, maybe even watched the Westminster Dog Show every February. But what is a dog show really about? It is just a bunch of dogs running around the ring with people dressed up? Conformation shows like you see on TV originated as a way of judging which dogs are best suitable for breeding stock. Dogs are evaluated on structure, movement, temperament, and more. They are actually judged against the standard for their breed and in a perfect world the dog that matches the standard the closest in the winner. There is a rhyme and reason behind the patterns and “poses” you see the dogs doing!
Typically dogs must be intact (not spayed or neutered), since the idea is to determine which dogs are ideal for being bred and producing the future of that breed. In AKC showing, dogs must first compete against their own breed. Within the breed, the judges choose the best male who does not have a championship (Winner's Dog), the best female who does not have a championship (Winner's Bitch), and then the best dog of the breed (best of breed) as well as other placings. The dog (can be male or female) that wins Best of Breed, goes onto the group class. In this class, the best representation of each breed competes against other breeds in the same group types. Groups include herding, working, toy, non sporting, sporting, hound, and terrier breeds. The top dog from each group then moves onto compete for Best in Show and Reserve Best in Show. Typically the portion of the dog shows on TV are the group classes and Best in Show.
I first started in the world of conformation with my first Belgian Tervuren Kaden. Fortunately for me, the Tervuren are what we call an owner handler friendly breeds. While there are professionals that will take dogs and show them for the owners in every breed, there are some breeds this is more common, such as poodles, boxers, and German Shepherd Dogs. It was a whole new world for me-I had to learn how to gait my dogs properly, not too fast, not too slow; stack my dogs to show them off to their best, control their exuberant energy, and more. I did somehow mangle my way through and Kaden finished his conformation championship. Which was more a testament to his excellent breeding then my skill level!
Conformation shows are great exposure for dogs to get used to noise, people, other dogs, and busy environments. It does take a confident dog to handle it, as the shows are very busy. The dogs will be around loud noises, new dogs, new people, even being handled by new people. Most show dogs are started at a young age going to classes to learn all of this.
It is important to have a mentor when you dive into the world of dog showing. This is normally your dog's breeder, but it can be another knowledgeable person. And often you have multiple mentors. I sure did!
We are lucky to have multiple AKC kennel clubs in this area if you are interested in learning more:
And if you want to find an upcoming show to go watch visit Infodog for schedules and show info.
Boo Donoho, DVM