Thousands if not millions of people tune in to watch the great televised dog shows, but what they see is just the tip of the iceberg, the group competitions and the best of the show. 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 the 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 the Race Contests.
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 from each race advances to compete in their group.
3. A small section at the top of the pyramid is one third of a dog show. This is the Best in Show competition. Only 7 dogs compete, the winning dog of each group competition.
Now, let’s take it to the level of race.
In breed competition, no matter what the breed is, individual dogs are judged according to a written breed standard, which describes the attributes that the “ideal specimen” of the breed should possess. Breed standards include descriptions of head, eyes, pigment, coat, color, bite (i.e., tooth placement), 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 initiative can influence a judge’s decision because some judges are prone to awarding the victory to professional handlers and ignoring those who are not.)
So, this is how the classes are conducted. First, the classes are divided by sex. Males compete against males. Females compete against females. The following classes are available for each sex:
Puppy 6-9– Puppies who are not yet champions and who are between six and nine months old compete in this class.
Puppy 9-12-Puppies that are not yet champions and that are between nine and twelve months old compete in this class.
Twelve to eighteen months– Adults who are not yet champions and who are between twelve and eighteen months old compete in this category.
Beginner – To compete in this class, a dog must be six months of age or older; must have earned less than three first places in the beginners class; must not have won a first place in the Bred-by-Exhibitor, American-Bred or Open Class; and he must not have earned any points for his championship.
Hobbyist-owner-manager– Dogs that are at least six months old and that are not champions must be handled in this class by their registered owner. The class is limited to exhibitors who have not been, at any time, a professional dog handler, an AKC approved conformation judge, or an employee as a professional dog handler’s assistant.
Raised by exhibitor – This class is for dogs that are showcased by their owner breeder and are not yet champions.
Raised in America – 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.
Opened – 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 puppy class (male) 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 places the dogs in line, stands back, and takes a quick look at each one. You can stop in front of each dog to look at the head and expression. He then tells the exhibitors to “take them around” the ring and stop at the examination table. Each dog is placed on the examination table where the judge “checks” them, examines each dog and compares its attributes to the breed standard. Next, ask each exhibitor to move their dog. This is often referred to as “down and back” as the judge sends the dog first to judge the rear movement of the dog and then towards him to judge the forward movement. Then some judges send the dog around the ring to the end of the line so they can judge the lateral movement. When all the dogs have finished the movement portion of the assessment and are back in line, the judge will step back and look at the dogs again before performing the locations, sometimes returning to a dog for a second look or asking to an exhibitor who would move a particular dog again. Often times, the judges will ask the exhibitors to take the dogs around the ring one last time. Then the judges make their investments.
Each class has a chance 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 the male dogs in the various classes have been judged. The assessment routine must be the same for each class.
Then comes the Winners Dog class. The first place winner of each male class returns to the ring. This time they are lined up by class in reverse order, with the Open Dog winner being first in line and the Puppy 6-9 winner being last in line. The dogs are re-judged, but are not normally placed 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, the points for his championship. Once the winning dog is chosen, the other winners remain in the ring because the judge has to choose a winning reserve dog (the second). The second-place dog in the class that the Winners Dog came from returns to the ring to compete for the Reserve. For example, let’s say the winning dog comes from the Bred By Exhibitor class. Then the second-place dog in that class Bred By Exhibitor enters the ring with the winners of the other classes to be judged against him by Reserve. The judge then awards a winning reserve dog.
Now the evaluation of the kinds of dogs is done.
Then come classes for women. (At dog shows, females are called “Bitches”, and it is not used in a derogatory sense or in the sense of an expletive. It simply means “female canine”). The judging routine is the same. At the end, all the winners of the Bitch classes return to the ring and a winning Bitch and a reserve winning Bitch are awarded.
The men and women who compete in these classes compete for points toward their championship titles. To become a champion, a dog must earn 15 points. Out of the 15 points, two of the dog’s victories must be major victories. A “major” is a 3, 4 or 5 point win. Five points is the highest number of points a dog can earn in a show. Points at each show differ for each breed and depend on the number of dogs of each sex in each breed competing that day. AKC reviews its points program annually and the program is printed in each program’s catalog, a book that lists each entry in the program by group and by race.
The final class for each race 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 generally awarded if there are enough dogs in the class for all prizes to be awarded:
Best of breed– This is the dog judged as the best show of the breed. The Best of Breed can be awarded to one of the champions on display or awarded to the Winning Dog or Winning Bitch, the dog the judge deems most worthy.
Best of winners – This placement is awarded to the winning dog or the winning bitch, whichever the judge deems more worthy.
The best of the opposite sex – This award is given to a dog of the opposite sex to the one that won the Best of Breed award. (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 opposite sex, but the judge considers him worthy of an award.
Select bitch– A champion woman who has not won either Best of Breed or Best Opposite Sex, but the judge considers that she deserves an award.
Champions compete for race points, which will increase to give them national rankings. One point is awarded for each breed of dog entered in the contest. So if there are 20 Lhasa Apsos entered in a show, the race winner will get 20 race points. Best of Breed (if a champion), Best opposite sex (if a champion), Select Dog, and Select Bitch will also earn points toward a Grand Championship title. Once they obtain that title, the accumulation of points grants them the status of Great Champion Bronze, Silver or Gold.
The Best of Breed winner from each breed entered in 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, Labradors, Golden Retrievers, Vizslas.
2. Hounds – Hound breeds were bred to hunt other game animals by sight or smell. Examples include Coonhounds, Beagles, Whippets, Saluki.
3. Working – These dogs were bred to pull carts, guard property, and perform search and rescue services. Examples include Boxers, Newfoundlands, Akita, Bernese Mountain Dogs.
4. Terrier – Terriers were bred to get rid of vermin. Examples include Skye, Norfolk, Airedale, Welsh, and Fox Terriers.
5. Toy – These little dogs were bred to be housemates. Examples include Pomeranians, Shih Tzu, Maltese, Chihuahuas, Pekingese.
6. Not sporty – This diverse group includes dogs that vary in size and function. Many are considered companion dogs. Examples include the 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 Sheepdog, Corgis, German Shepherd.
It is important to realize that in group competition, dogs are not judged against 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 displayed, the judge will select four for their locations. The ribbon colors are the same for group locations as they are for regular classes: blue, red, yellow, and white.
Dogs competing in the group compete for group points towards the national group rankings. For example, let’s say there were a total of 233 herding dogs entered into a show. The winner of that group receives 233 group points. Subtract the number of dogs of the same breed as the winner and the remainder of the points goes to the second-place dog. Subtract the number of points in that dog’s breed and the remaining points go to the third-place dog, and so on for the fourth-place dog.
Finally, the seven winners of the group are taken to the ring where they compete for Best in the show, the highest award in 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.