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 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 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 contest.
Now, let’s get down to the level of race.
In breed competition, regardless of breed, 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., 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 the victory to professional handlers and ignoring those who are not.)
So this is how the classes run. First, the classes are divided by gender. Males compete against males. The females compete against the 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 category.
Puppy 9-12-In this category compete puppies that are not yet champions and that are between nine and twelve months old.
Twelve to eighteen months– Adults who are not yet champions and who are between twelve and eighteen months old compete in this class.
Beginner – To compete in this class, a dog must be six months of age or older; must have earned fewer than first three places in the Rookie Class; must not have earned a first place in Bred-by-Exhibitor, American-bred, or Open Class; and he must not have earned any points for his championship.
Hobby owner– 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, at some point, have not been professional dog handlers, AKC approved conformation judges, or employed as assistant professional dog handlers.
raised by exhibitor – This class is for dogs that are exhibited by their breeder owner and that are not yet champions.
American – To enter this class, a dog that is not yet 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 the puppy (male) of class 6-9, the dogs are called to the ring. 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 lines up the dogs first, steps back, and takes a quick look at each one. S / he can stop in front of each dog to look at the head and expression. Then, he tells the exhibitors to “take them around” the ring and to stop at the examination 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. Then 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 dog’s rear movement and then towards him to judge the front 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 making the placements, sometimes returning to a dog for a second look or asking for a 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 placements.
Each class has a choice of four locations 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 males of the various classes have been judged. The assessment routine must be the same for each class.
Then comes the winning dog class. The first place winner of each male class is called back to the ring. This time they are lined up by class in reverse order, with the Open Dog winner being the first in line and the Puppy 6-9 winner being the last in line. The dogs are re-judged, but are not normally put back on the table for testing. 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. After choosing the winning dog, the other winners remain in the ring because the judge has to choose a reserve winning dog (the runner-up). The second-place dog in the class that the Winning Dog came from returns to the ring to compete for the Reserve. For example, suppose the Winning Dog comes from the class Bred by Exhibitor. 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 them for the 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 sense or in a bad word sense. It just means “female canine.”) The testing routine is the same. In the end, all female class winners return to the ring and are awarded a Winning Female and a Reserve Winning Female.
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 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. The points in 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 show’s catalog, a book that lists each entry in the show by group and by breed.
The final class for each race is the Best of Breed class. The Winning Dog and 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 specimen of the breed. The Best of Breed may be awarded to one of the exhibited champions or the Winning Dog or Winning Female, whichever dog the judge deems most worthy.
The best of the winners – This placement is awarded to the Winning Dog or the Winning Female, whichever the judge considers more worthy.
The best of the opposite sex – This award is given to the dog that is of the opposite sex to 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 considers him worthy of an award.
Select bitch– A champion female who has not won either Best of Breed or Best of Opposite Sex but the judge considers her worthy of an award.
Champions compete for race points, which will increase to give them national rankings. One point is awarded for each breed dog entered in the competition. So if there are 20 Lhasa Apso entered in a show, the race winner will get 20 race points. Best of Breed (if champion), Best Opposite Sex (if champion), Select Dog, and Select Bitch will also earn points toward 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 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 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 rid the property 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, 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 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 sheepdogs entered in 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 rest of the points go 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 fourth place.
Finally, the seven group winners step into the ring where they compete for Best of 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 an exhibition had an entry of 300 dogs, the winner of Best in Show receives 300 points.