The Ultimate Guide To Dog Shows

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Also known as Conformation Events, Dog Shows are exciting competitions that you would enjoy seeing in real life or on TV.

Admiring those beautiful canines trotting around looking all proud is worth any dog lovers’ time.

But if you’re hoping to watch, join, or hopefully judge a dog show, you’re at the right place!

What are Dog Shows?

Showing dogs were initially used as a way to evaluate canines for breeding. But the real purpose of dog shows is to measure each pooch on how closely they conform to the standard of their own breed.

Even though some people think these events are like a beauty pageant for all types of dogs, it’s not.

The American Kennel Club’s (AKC) Breed Standards describe:

“Characteristics that enable the breed to perform the job or function for which it was bred.”

And that includes their physical structure, bones, and muscles, teeth, coat, temperament, as well as gait.

The closer the dog’s qualities are to the breed specification also means that it will be able to produce litters that would meet the standard.

It’s the reason why crossbreeds and spayed/neutered purebreds are not eligible to compete in Conformation Events.

How do Dog Shows work?

Dog Shows are actually simple – it’s a process of elimination where the last dog left undefeated would be the best of the best.

Canines who enter Conformation Events compete toward the American Kennel Club Championship. A dog would need 15 points and two major wins to become a Champion of Record. But first, let’s discuss the three basic types of dog shows.

  1. Specialty Shows are events focusing on a single breed with varieties such as the Poodle who comes in three sizes: Toy, Miniature, and Standard.
  2. Group Shows are limited to the breeds that belong to one of the seven groups: Sporting, Working, Herding, Hound, Terrier, Toy, and Non-Sporting.
  3. All-Breed Shows are events that are open to more than 190 breeds and varieties recognized by the AKC.

The Classes in a Dog Show

All types of Conformation Events begin with the breed level competition. It’s where all dogs who entered are divided by gender, then further divided into seven classes:

Puppy Class
This is for pups that are between 6 to 12 months. Sometimes, clubs would further divide this class into puppies who are 6-9 months and 9-12 months of age.

12 to 18-Month Class
Are for dogs who are at least 12 months old and only under 18 months. Like the Puppy Class, this can also be divided further into 12 to 15 months and 15 to 18 months, depending on the club.

Novice Class
Dogs under this class have either:

  • Not previously won three 1st places in the Novice Class
  • Got 1st place in Amateur-Owner-Handler, Bred-By-Exhibitor, American-Bred, or Open Classes
  • Have not earned one or more points leading to their championship

Amateur-Owner-Handler Class
This class is for dogs who are handled by registered owners who were never:

  • A professional dog handler
  • An AKC-approved conformation judge
  • Employed to be an assistant to a professional handler

Bred-By-Exhibitor Class
Is the class for canines who are owned and handled by its breeder.

American-Bred Class
Are for dogs whose dam and sire were paired or mated in the US and was born in America as well. This is a required class.

The judge inspects German Spitz in a dog show

Open Class
This is also a required class that any pooch may enter. It’s also the only regular class that Champs are eligible to compete in.

There are other classes that some dog shows may offer such as:

Non-Regular Classes
These are held after the seven regular classes have been judged. Winners of Non-regular classes aren’t permitted to compete for Championship points. Specialty dog shows mostly hold these events.

The most common example of this is the Veterans Class – for dogs who meet a minimum age requirement provided by the club, which varies with the breed.

Most of the time, dogs who are seven years old and above are allowed to enter, and the winners of the Veterans are eligible to contend for the Best of Breed.

Special Attractions
Clubs may also include special attractions in conjunction with specialty, group, or all-breed shows. Those activities are:

  • Best Puppy Competition
    This is where the Puppy Class Winners in each variety or breed has an opportunity to be named the Best Puppy in Show.The first place winners in Puppy Class will reenter the ring for the Best of Breed/Variety judging to determine the Best Puppy for that specific breed or variety.Then the victors will join this sideshow competition until one of them gets the Best in Puppy Show award.
  • National Owner-Handled Series
    Where owner-handler exhibitors are recognized and celebrated. They’d compete in the regular classes with the NOHS Best of Breed award at the end of judging.

This is also a non-regular competition that is primarily held at specialty dog shows.

It’s designed to recognize Puppy Sweeps (outstanding pups and young dogs) and Veteran Sweeps (older dogs). All the class divisions, requirements, and conditions are established but with a separate judge for this specific competition.

Don’t expect any championship points here, but the winners will get a portion of the entry fees as their prize for their placements.

If you’re wondering if there are any dog shows for mutts or mixed breeds, you can find lots of local fun matches or games that are arranged by dog training facilities or groups. Although they’re not sanctioned by the AKC, these events for crossbreeds is for the best interest of all dogs and owners to teach their four-legged buddies anything they are capable of doing.

White Poodles show their tricks to the jury during the world dog show in Amsterdam

Dog Show Winners

After every regular class, judges will be awarding the placements and their ribbons.

For the 1st Place Winner would get a blue ribbon, while the 2nd Place is awarded a red one. The 3rd placer would be given a yellow ribbon, and the 4th would get white.

At the end of judging for all classes, every dog who got First Place will compete in the Winners Class. This is where the judge will pick the best example for its breed, which would be given a purple ribbon, receive Championship points, and will be awarded Winners Dog.

Then those who got Second Place from its original class to the Winners Dog will compete with the remaining First Class Winners to get the Reserve Winners Dog award that comes with a purple and white ribbon.

The same process would be repeated for the female dogs (bitches), except their award would be called Winners Bitch and Reserve Winners Bitch.

The Winners Dog and Bitch would then compete for the Best of Breed title. This is where they would be judged with dogs who have already earned their Championship, as well as first place winners of non-regular classes like the Veterans Class.

At the end of the Dog Show Breed competition, the five awards that are given are:

  • Best of Breed (gold and purple ribbon) – Best in its breed.
  • Best of Winners (white and blue ribbon) – the better of the Winners Dog and Bitch.
  • Best of Opposite ( red and white ribbon) – best dog and opposite sex of the winner.
  • Select Dog (light blue and white ribbon)
  • Select Bitch (light blue and white ribbon)

*The Select Dog and Bitch are recognized as the next best after Best of Breed and Best of Opposite.

Dog Show Group or Categories

Once the competition at Specialty Shows is done, the Groups and All-Breed Shows begin. It is where the Best of Breed will have to compete in toward getting the Best in Show, the highest award in a dog show!

And there are seven groups that are made up of breeds who are categorized based on their similar function.

This group includes canines that are bred for hunting game birds on land and in water. Examples of those dogs are the Labrador Retriever, Pointer, and the Irish Setter.

These dogs – such as the Beagles, Doxes, and Greyhounds – are bred to hunt game by scent or sight.

Dogs bred to pull carts, perform search and rescue services, and guard properties like the Saint Bernard, Dobermann Pinscher, and Boxer belong to this group.

The breeds that are included here are bred to rid properties of vermin like rats. Some of those dogs are the Cairn, Airedale, and the Scottish Terrier.

Based on the name of the group, this is where dogs that are bred to be household companions are placed in. Famous Toy breeds include the Pug, Pomeranian, and of course, the Chihuahua.

This is where breeds of various sizes and functions are placed in, which mostly consists of companion dogs like the Dalmatian, Bulldog, and Poodle.

Canines such as the German Shepherd, Collie, and the English Sheepdog, belong to the group of dogs who are bred to help ranchers and shepherds in herding their livestock.

Here’s a video that would show how dog show competitions work:

Final Awards in a Dog Show

For the group competition, a judge will award four placements for each category.

The First Place Winner will be awarded a blue ribbon or a rosette. The Second Place will be given a red ribbon, while the Third placer will get a yellow, and the Fourth will receive a white.

Then the first placer for each group will advance to compete in the All-Breed Show.

From those seven group winners, the judge will select Reserve in Best Show (1st Place) and Best in Show (Champion).

Top dogs all over the country can have more than 50,000 points in a given year, but to get the highest title, one canine must be judged first as the best of many dog shows. The Best in Show is traditionally awarded a white, red, and blue ribbon. But the host club can also choose a combination of colors.

If it seems easy enough, but the sport of showing dogs encompasses lots of activities where a few of them have nothing to do with “showing” per se. That’s why we’ll give you a glimpse of what a dog fancier’s life is like.

To give you a visual of how dog show ribbons look, take a look at this video:

The World of Dog Fancy

By definition, Dog Fancy involves the appreciation, promotion, or breeding a canine. It is comprised of hobbyists and professionals who invest everything in the sport of showing dogs in judged competitions.

Aside from altering their living arrangements to accommodate their lovely pets, dog fanciers collect and value chain link fences more than crates. They buy quality kibble, snacks or treats, and other things their pooch might need.

Dog fanciers drive different kinds of trailers, motorhomes, or vans to travel about 50 weekends year after year to attend Conformation Shows. In fact, they attend events every weekend!

Those who are extremely enthusiastic about their dogs would be evident once you see them.

They proudly wear shirts that proclaim that their furry buddy is a king or a queen, and they meet their friends at events to celebrate each other and their pooches.

Fanciers also engage in field activities such as hunting or herding and are equipped with appropriate accessories such as gears, guns or pistols, and even their own flock of sheep.

And lastly, they may have one dog they bring to compete every year in one activity or more. They may also have a household that’s centered around many dogs with litters from the original Star of the family, and working their way through different levels of competition.

A Dog Show Fancy would include:

  • Judges who are licensed by the AKC (or their country’s registry) to select the best dog’s at each show and are compensated for their services.
  • Professional Handlers who condition, groom, train, oversee, transport, present, and promote dogs to judges and are also paid for their services.
  • Exhibitors (owners or breeders) are those who condition, train, groom, as well as promote and present dogs and invests all their time and money doing what they do best.
  • Breeders that are dedicated and artfully create generations of quality show dogs to sell.
  • Kennel Club members (including the four groups above) that host and operate the venues of the dog show, and rarely receive remuneration.
  • Breed Clubs with members who are unpaid but promotes an individual breed.

There are subsidiary groups that earn income from dog fancy, and they are:

  • Vets who take care of show dogs
  • The Dog Show Media that provides advertising and information
  • Journalists, Writers, and Reporters who write everything about dog shows.
  • Artists and Photographers who specialize in show dogs
  • Suppliers of veterinary, nutritional, and accessories used in dog shows.
  • Training and Boarding kennels operated by show dog handlers.

It’s no wonder that Conformation Events make the perfect place for passionate dog lovers because there are so many activities that there’s something for everyone, both dog and keeper.

How Can You and Your Canine Friend Enter a Dog Show?

Every dog owner would think that their dog is the best, and you can make that true, whether nationwide or international. It’s up to you on how much time and money you’re willing to invest in getting your furry pal to the top.

Border Collie jumping on a hurdle in a dog show's agility test

Qualities of a show dog

Determine if your pooch is eligible to participate in Conformation Events. Your dog must be six months or older and is AKC registered.

Then you would have to prepare your dog for the ring. It’s not just the basic training like socialization and learning tricks, but you can participate in AKC clubs or training facilities that offer conformation handling classes for owners and their dogs.

You both have to learn important things such as:

The proper posing of a dog in a standing position for the judge’s exam. Depending on your dog’s breed, he’ll be examined on either a table, ramp, or the ground.

Where the movement of the dog around the ring is checked if it’s at the appropriate speed for his specific breed. Usually, canines are gaited on the left side of their handler so the judge can always see the dog.

Aside from those two, you’d also learn in training on how your dog’s mouth or bite will be examined by judges, what gaiting patterns to know how to free stack and other helpful tricks and hints of the dog show trade.

An Afghan Hound is gaiting on the left side of the handler

Apply what you and your furry buddy learned

Once you and your dog have learned everything you know during classes and training, it’s time to put it to the test by joining Match Shows. It’s a place of opportunities to socialize with fellow dog owners, seasoned handlers, and even judges who can provide feedback that you’ll want to have before competing.

Even if there are no Champion Points awarded, these matches are great for practicing in an informal yet educational setting.

You can also get a mentor if you want. It’s usually recommended to be taught by a breeder or an experienced exhibitor on how to show your dog.

Find someone who’s near you and who’d likely attend the same events is an incredible resource. That person can also guide you through your first competition and support your dog throughout his career.

Enter an actual event, and it’s showtime!

Once you’re ready and confident for your very first dog show, it’s time to enter an event.

Do this in advance as entries typically close about 2 ½ weeks before the date of the show. You can use the AKC Search to find one in your area.

Review the Premium List of the show which contains all the information about the event such as entry fees, the judge’s panel, and the clubs.

After selecting the appropriate class for your dog to compete in, a superintendent will send you a judging program after the entries close. It will have the schedule and which ring each breed will be shown.

The day of the show

The time has come! And speaking of time, it means being punctual is important.

In fact, arrive in advance of your ring time so you can set up and prepare, pick up your number from the ring steward, and wait for your dog’s class to be called. It’s better than rushing around and causing delay for everyone else.

Once it’s your turn to be in the ring with your dog, it’s the start of your dog show journey!

And when you’re done, it’s best to stay and watch the rest of the event. Observe how professional handlers, breeders, and the other exhibitors are doing and learn from them. After all, most of them have been participating in these shows for years.

They are the best resources of what you need to learn when it comes to dog shows.

Rules: Judging Criteria

Dogs don’t win these events by going muzzle to muzzle to compete with each other. Whenever a judge enters the ring, they are judging each canine against a written standard describing the ideal dog for their particular breed.

These standards are created by the breed’s national breed club of a country.

Every official will apply their interpretation of the standard and would give their opinion on which dog best represents its breed.

A retriever being judged in all its standard for its breed

Judges measure each dog against parameters, not merely comparing them. The standards address every body part and attributes, including:

  • Overall proportions in size (balance)
  • Weight
  • Size
  • Eyes (size, shape, and color)
  • Ears (shape, length, position)
  • Head (shape)
  • Muzzle (length and shape)
  • Whiskers (thickness)
  • Teeth (bite; level or scissors)
  • Tail (how it arches and sets; how high or low)
  • Shoulders (bone and muscle)
  • Legs (muscles, stance, and proportionality)
  • Coat (texture, length)
  • Color (accepted breed colors)

Officials will also assess the dog’s attitude. Others have a criterion where it’s required as a Beagle has to be cheerful while a Poodle must be proud.

A White Shepherd Dog's mouth or bite is being checked by a dog show adjudicator

The AKC assembled these criteria for each type of dog they recognize by gathering information from organizations and other clubs who specializes in the specific breed.

Do you want to be an official in Conformation Events?

How to Become a Dog Show Judge

Dog Show Judges are badge-sporting examiners that are confident and poised at what they do. You’ll find the dressed conservatively in sensible skirts or sports jackets. But they aren’t good at what they do because they’re born into it, they’re made.

To be a judge, liking dogs isn’t enough; you have to be experienced and accomplished.

It is the ultimate price that the judges paid to be where they are now. The first breeds they are allowed to apply for are the ones they have experience with, so they are usually breeders.

The AKC requires:

  • Breeders who have at least 12 years of experience in their breed, having bred, and raised at least five litters at home
  • Breeding or owning four champions or more from the same litter
  • Passed tests on Dog Anatomy and Ring Procedure
  • Have been a Ring Steward at a maximum of 6 shows
  • Was able to judge the breed at 6 Sweepstakes, Match, or Open Shows
  • Attended a day-long basic-judging institute and has complied with occupational eligibility requirements

But breeders aren’t the only possible candidates for the judge’s badge, retired professionals and amateur handlers, as well as those who own stud-dogs, can apply. They would need to have a tenure of 15 years (minimum), and achieve specific milestones like owning a dog that sired at least 4 champions.

A groomed Pomeranian on a dog show platform

The process

If you’re applying to become a judge and the AKC verified that you passed the criteria, then you’ll move on to the interview with their field representative.

The interviewer would discuss the basics of the breed, like the origins and standard, as well as the ins and outs of the procedure in the ring. Things like what to do when a dog starts limping, or a dog’s armband number is wrong.

Following the rules in a highly competitive sport such as dog showing is important as it helps give clarity for everyone at all times.

Dog shows even make laws about politeness. An example of this is, if Exhibitors are heard using profanity, they’re risking their dog-showing privileges suspended.

If you passed the interview, you would have to pass your judging assignments and good reports from field representatives so you can apply for regular status. You’d start with judging a breed you are knowledgeable of, and soon expand your territory to other breeds if you want to.

When and where are dog shows held?

This would depend on what dog show you’re specifically going to watch or join. If you’re asking about famous Conformation Events, we’ll discuss that later on. But technically, there are shows during weekends.

You can look at the AKC for different types of shows happening at different months of the year.

There’s also an option to write the superintendent of the event you’re interested in to be put on their mailing list so you can receive Premium Lists of future shows. It will contain the location of where the show is going to be held, the judges, the officers, the show chairman, closing date, and even instructions if you’re planning to join the show.

Aside from the AKC home page, the Moss Bow also has information about dog shows such as results of completed events.

Dog Shows in the US

Whether you’re joining a show, wanting to watch one on tv, or hoping to see an event near you, luckily, there are three national dog shows in America every year.

The American Kennel Club (also known as the Eukanuba National Championship), Westminster Kennel Club Annual Dog Show, and the National Dog Show. Let’s discuss them further.

The Westminster Kennel Club (WKC) Dog Show

A Brittany dog in a stacking position in the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show

Let’s start with the oldest of the three. The Westminster show dates back to 1877 and has a rich history of being the most prestigious dog event in the US. It’s held annually at Madison Square Garden of New York City every mid-February.

Generally, there are about 2,500 entrants, but anyone who gets in the show is either invited or has a Championship status. If not, your dog should’ve at least won 3-, 4-, or 5- point major award.

This dog show is broadcasted live on national TV and is usually rebroadcast during the week after the date of the show.

The National Dog Show (Presented by Purina)

Initially called The Kennel Club of Philadelphia, the National Dog Show started in Pennsylvania around 1879.

Now, it has an average of 2,000 entrants every mid-November at the Greater Philadelphia Expo Center in Oaks, Pennsylvania.

You’d usually see this dog show on NBC, where it’s broadcasted nationwide on Thanksgiving Day after Macy’s Parade. And this is also sanctioned by AKC.

The AKC/Eukanuba National Championship

The Hounds group in the AKC dog show

First held in 2001, this is the newest of the top 3 dog shows in the US, this AKC event is held in mid-December and has been held in Orlando, Florida. But keep in mind that their competitions have different locations.

The dogs who made the top 25 in each breed, based on the points they earned during the year at AKC-accredited shows, can qualify for this Conformation Event.

Other Dog Shows

Curious about the other events outside of the US? There are so many that you can easily search by country, region, state, and city. But these events that we would mention are worth learning about.

World Dog Show

Held annually and internationally, this event is sponsored by the Federation Cynologique International (FCI).

Featuring conformation shows and other canine sports, this event can get so large that entries are limited to dogs who have already earned their championships. One of the greatest dog shows ever was in Leipzig, Germany that was held in December 2017.

It covered more than 20,000 dogs from over 300 breeds competing for Championship trophies and titles.

The show was held in a large and modern exhibition center that’s 80,000 square meters. It was able to accommodate handlers comfortably while providing ample space for the judging rings. Anyone who attended the show even enjoyed culinary treats and a shopping paradise!

Other dog shows have diving or long jump competitions


The international championship in the UK called Crufts was initially held in 1891. It was only officially recognized around 1991 because it was the world’s largest and most prestigious dog show according to the Guinness Book of Records. The event had a total of 22,973 dogs who actually performed that year.

They had another dog show that ran for four days at the NEC or National Exhibition Center in Birmingham. It was known as the largest animal event held at the NEC with more than 160,000 human visitors in 2008.

Their winner of “Best in Show” received an award that is similar to the Silver Keddel Memorial Trophy and a cash prize of $200.

AKC Registered Breeds by Group

All the breeds that are registered with AKC are categorized into groups which are based on their functions and characteristics that they are bred for.

And here is a complete chart of all the dogs under each category they belong to.


Australian Cattle Dog

Australian Shepherd

Bearded Collie


Belgian Malinois

Belgian Sheepdog

Belgian Tervuren


Berger Picard

Border Collie

Bouvier des Flandres


Canaan Dog

Cardigan Welsh Corgi


Entlebucher Mountain Dog

Finnish Lapphund

German Shepherd Dog

Icelandic Sheepdog

Miniature American Shepherd

Norwegian Buhund

Old English Sheepdog

Pembroke Welsh Corgi

Polish Lowland Sheepdog



Pyrenean Shepherd

Shetland Sheepdog

Spanish Water Dog

Swedish Vallhund


Afghan Hound

American English Coonhound

American Foxhound



Basset Hound


Black and Tan Coonhound


Bluetick Coonhound


Cirneco Dell’ Etna


English Foxhound

Grand Basset Griffon Vendeen



Ibizan Hound

Irish Wolfhound

Norwegian Elkhound


Petit Basset Griffon Vendeen

Pharaoh Hound


Portuguese Podengo Pequeno

Redbone Coonhound

Rhodesian Ridgeback


Scottish Deerhound


Treeing Walker Coonhound


TOY Group


Brussels Griffon

Cavalier King Charles Spaniel


Chinese Crested

English Toy Spaniel


Italian Greyhound

Japanese Chin


Manchester Terrier

Miniature Pinscher




Poodle (Toy)


Shih Tzu

Silky Terrier

Toy Fox Terrier

Yorkshire Terrier


American Eskimo Dog

Bichon Frise

Boston Terrier


Chinese Shar-Pei

Chow Chow

Coton De Tulear


Finish Spitz

French Bulldog


Lhasa Apso


Norwegian Lundehund



Shiba Inu

Tibetan Spaniel

Tibetan Terrier



American Water Spaniel

Boykin Spaniel


Chesapeake Bay Retriever

Clumber Spaniel

Cocker Spaniel

Curly-Coated Retriever

English Cocker Spaniel

English Setter

English Springer Spaniel

Field Spaniel

Flat-Coated Retriever

German Shorthaired Pointer

German Wirehaired Pointer

Golden Retriever

Gordon Setter

Irish Red and White Setter

Irish Setter

Irish Water Spaniel

Labrador Retriever

Lagotto Romagnolo

Nederlandse Kooikerhondje

Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever


Spinone Italiano

Sussex Spaniel



Welsh Springer Spaniel

Wirehaired Pointing Griffon

Wirehaired Vizsla


Airedale Terrier

American Hairless Terrier

American Staffordshire Terrier

Australian Terrier

Bedlington Terrier

Border Terrier

Bull Terrier

Cairn Terrier

Cesky Terrier

Dandie Dinmont Terrier

Glen of Imaal Terrier

Irish Terrier

Kerry Blue Terrier

Lakeland Terrier

Manchester Terrier

Miniature Bull Terrier

Miniature Schnauzer

Norfolk Terrier

Norwich Terrier

Parson Russell Terrier

Rat Terrier

Russell Terrier

Scottish Terrier

Sealyham Terrier

Skye Terrier

Smooth Fox Terrier

Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier

Staffordshire Bull Terrier

Welsh Terrier

West Highland White Terrier

Wire Fox Terrier



Alaskan Malamute

Anatolian Shepherd Dog

Bernese Mountain Dog

Black Russian Terrier




Cane Corso


Doberman Pinscher

Dogue de Bordeaux

German Pinscher

Giant Schnauzer

Great Dane

Great Pyrenees

Greater Swiss Mountain Dog





Neapolitan Mastiff


Portuguese Water Dog



Siberian Husky

St. Bernard

Standard Schnauzer

Tibetan Mastiff



Belgian Laekenois

Dogo Argentino

Dutch Shepherd

Lancashire Heeler


Peruvian Inca Orchid

Portuguese Podengo

Russian Toy

Foundation Stock Service

American Leopard Hound

Appenzeller Sennenhund

Australian Kelpie

Australian Stumpy Tail Cattle Dog

Basset Fauve de Bretagne

Bavarian Mountain Scenthound

Biewer Terrier


Bracco Italiano

Braque du Bourbonnais

Braque Francais Pyrenean


Carolina Dog

Catahoula Leopard Dog

Caucasian Shepherd Dog

Central Asian Shepherd Dog

Croatian Sheepdog

Czechoslovakian Vlack

Danish-Swedish Farmdog

Deutscher Wachtelhund

Drentsche Patrijshond


Estrela Mountain Dog


French Spaniel

German Longhaired Pointer

German Spitz


Hanoverian Scenthound





Kai Ken

Karelian Bear Dog

Kishu Ken


Lapponian Herder

Mountain Cur

Perro de Presa Canario


Portuguese Pointer

Portuguese Sheepdog


Pyrenean Mastiff

Rafeiro do Alentejo

Romanian Mioritic Shepherd Dog

Russian Tsvetnaya Bolonka


Segugio Italiano


Slovakian Wirehaired Pointer

Slovensky Cuvac

Slovensky Kopov

Small Musterlander Pointer

Spanish Mastiff


Swedish Lapphund

Taiwan Dog

Teddy Roosevelt Terrier

Thai Ridgeback



Transylvanian Hound

Treeing Tennessee Brindle

Working Kelpie

Yakutian Laika

Best Show Dog Breeds

Here are the ten most common breed winners of Best in Show for the Westminster Kennel Club.

  1. Wire Fox Terrier
  2. Scottish Terrier
  3. English Springer Spaniel
  4. Smooth Fox Terrier
  5. Airedale Terrier
  6. American Cocker Spaniel
  7. Boxer
  8. Doberman Pinscher
  9. Standard Poodle
  10. Sealyham Terrier

Dog Show Tips

Whether you’re a Spectator or an Exhibitor, you should know these tips whenever you’re in and around a dog show.

Chow Chow on a grooming table, getting ready for its time on the ring

Tips for First-Time Exhibitor

  • Make sure your dog is AKC-registered.
  • Be sure your canine is current on all vaccines.
  • Learn the proper techniques of grooming and presenting your dog in the ring.
  • Join your breed’s Parent Club, Local Specialty, and All-Breed club around your area.
  • Become familiar with all the rules and regulations for AKC dog shows.
  • Attend dog shows to observe how your dog’s breed is judged and how others present the same type of canine. Get a Judging Program at the show to find out schedules and ring numbers.
  • Apply the knowledge you learned from your breeder.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask any questions.
  • Attend handling classes or training with your dog

Here are 5 steps that you can do to help you win your first or next dog show:

Tips for First-Time Spectator

  • If the area for grooming is open to spectators, socialize and talk with professional groomers to know tips on maintaining your dog’s best look.
  • Don’t just pet a dog without asking for permission! The dog may have just been prepared and groomed in preparation for judging.
  • At each dog show, you’ll find vendors and information booths that are willing to provide help for the general public.
  • Wear your most comfortable shoes. Unless you bring your own chair or arrive early, be prepared as seating is usually limited.
  • If you are planning to get a purebred dog, talk to breeders and exhibitors.
  • If you’re bringing a baby stroller to a dog show, be careful to not run over any dog’s tail, and that your little one does not grab or poke any of the dogs within his or her reach. Avoid crowded areas and be informed since some shows don’t allow baby strollers.

Can Show Dogs be a good pet or a working dog?

Most people who like dogs, especially those who own one or more, would remind you that these canines are called “Man’s Best Friend” for a reason.

owner-handler showing love to his canine star

Dogs are lovable and amazing not just because of how they look or what they can do, but because of what they have inside – the way they show their love for their human no matter the age, and that they’re willing to be there for you, and even sacrifice their lives to protect their family.

Those who love their dogs know that they’re just perfect the way they are, whether they won or not.

You can still have lots of fun and competitive activities and sports just as an exercise or bonding time such as flyball.

In fact, show dogs can even perform better in their actual tasks as companion, service, or working dogs.

Glossary: Dog Show Terminologies

You should know that, just like any event or competition, dog shows have their own unique vocabulary.

For you to enjoy watching dog shows better, we’ve prepared a list of common terms you’d hear in and out of the ring. Let’s start with the basics:

Bitch – a female canine.

Dog – a male canine.

Since these events are for exhibiting breeding stock, it’s vital to have a distinction between dog genders.

Articles – Cotton gloves and metal objects (often dumbbells) that are used in scent discrimination exercises in the utility level obedience.

Bait – a bite-size treat used by handlers to get a canine’s attention inside the ring, and to demonstrate expression to judges.

Benched show – an event where all dog entrants are assigned benching space and are required to stay for the length of the show when they’re not being groomed, exercised, or shown. It’s for spectators to find an example breed any time, not just during the breed’s ring schedule. (Rare show)

Brace – a competition between two dogs of the same breed are shown by one handler at a time. This is a pair that is judged on overall quality and similarity.

Campaign – when a champion dog being shown at the Best of Breed and Group level (called special) is being “heavily specialed” is also known as being “campaigned”.

Chipped – Microchipped; bionic dogs identified with an electronic ID chip.

CGC (Canine Good Citizen) – a certificate and title give to dogs who passed minimal standards for “good behavior.”

Choke – a metal or nylon collar with a tension that tightens so the dog can’t back out and get loose.

Crate – another term for a cage.

Dam – A dog’s equivalent to the word mother; while the father is called a Sire.

Ex – short for ‘exercise,’ a euphemism for taking a dog out to perform its eliminatory functions.

Fancier/Fancy – someone with an active interest for dog shows; can be owners, handlers, judge, or breeders. Fancy is the worldwide group or community of these enthusiasts.

Finish – in obedience, it’s a command which sends the dog to sit at the exhibitor’s side; or to finish a Championship or other title.

Flexi – a popular kind of spring-loaded leash used for exercising dogs.

Greyhound – a breed of dog; a kind of metal comb.

Handler – the person who shows canines in the ring; professional handler. May also train, groom, and board their charges, or pick the dog up at the ringside from the owner.

Junior – a junior handler; competitive classes in different age divisions offered for young people who are judged on their handling skills, not their dog.

Futurity – another non-regular set of classes (like Sweepstakes) that don’t contribute point totals or make a dog eligible for the ‘winners’ class. For futurities, the mother of a litter is nominated, and a fee is paid before she whelps a litter, the litter is entered in its first 6 months of life, and individuals are entered at the normal time for show entries; builds up a sum of money – virtually the only way that money can occasionally be won.

Lead – a thinner leather leash used only in show rings to help handlers guide dogs.

Martingale – a type of show lead.

Owner-handler – that actual owner of the dog is the same person who would show or present the canine in the ring. A breeder-owner-handler is a person that bred the dog and didn’t purchase it. A mark of prestige is if the dog wins impressively without the benefit of a professional handler.

Pin Brush – a type of brush with straight wire teeth.

Pooper Scooper – equipment used to pick up the excrement of a dog.

Resco – a type of show lead.

Rig – anything from a minivan, with seats out, to a hightop van with roof air, awning and crate Benching, to Greyhound Bus size motor homes.

Ringsiding – Delivering your dog to a professional handler just before going into the ring. But the handler doesn’t groom, train, board, or carry this dog in their ‘rig’.

Slicker – a type of brush short bent wire teeth.

Snood – an elasticized cylinder of cloth, slips over the head to keep a dog’s ears out of food and water; often a fashion statement.

Special – Champion of Record, being shown at the Best of Breed, Group, Best in Show level.

Specialty – Show given for just one breed that is sponsored by a ‘breed club.’

Standard – the description of a breed that enables breeders and judges to evaluate the quality of an individual dog; AKC Breed Standard.

Stripper – a blade for plucking the coat, usually for terriers.

Sweepstakes – special classes held in conjunction with Specialty shows and some others, for 6- to 18-month old puppies and young adults; not a regular class and doesn’t have a ‘winners’ class, no points are awarded for competition.

Tack box – whatever you carry all your grooming gear in.

Water Hole – a water bowl designed to keep a dog’s ears and whiskers dry.

Wheels – a flat, wheeled dolly that’s made to transport crates, grooming tables, and other gears in from your car.

Ex-Pen – are wire panels joined to make a lightweight, moveable enclosure about 4 by 4 and of varying height. It allows dogs crated for a period of time to get out and stretch their legs without a lead on.


Classes – the categories in conformation events showing which dogs entered and haven’t had a Champion title yet.

Puppy – canines who are 6 months to 1 year of age

Novice – a dog who has not won points at a dog show

12-18 months – a class which is usually available at Specialty Shows (check premium list)

Bred By Exhibitor – owned and handled by the breeder.

American Bred – dogs born in the United States.

Open – any dog eligible to show under AKC rules.

Veteran – a non-regular class, available if stated in a premium list, usually at Specialty Shows; age varies with the breed (often 7 years and older).

CH – Champion of Record; a dog which has earned an AKC Championship in conformation.

DC – Dual Champion (FC and CH).

TC – Triple Champion (CH, FC, OTCH).

Conformation – a structured competition to determine soundness and the degree to which the dog conforms to its breed standard. No rigorous training required; basically good manners and special tricks of the trade that helps the dog move and stand to look his best.


CD – Companion Dog; the lowest obedience competition title. Includes sitting, heeling, lying down, come stay, and stand exercises.

CDX – the intermediate obedience title, Companion Dog Excellent; includes companion dog exercises but includes jumping over hurdles, broad jumps, and retrieving over jumps.

UD – Utility Dog; the highest level of obedience; does what CD and CDX do, but includes scent discrimination. Good training for drug sniffing, as well as search and rescue dogs (See ‘Articles’).

UDX – Utility Dog Excellent.

OTCH – Obedience Trial Champion.

TD – Tracking Dog; involves scent discrimination in the field.

TDX – Tracking Dog Excellent.

VST – Variable Surface Tracker, good training for drug sniffers, and search & rescue dogs.

Obedience – a competition that involves heeling, commands, jumping over hurdles, finding an article scented by the handler, and much more. May easily be mastered in steps of increasing difficulty, without the use of special equipment or unreasonable time involvement. Many levels may be enjoyed for years.


FC – Field Champion; Field Trial (sporting) or Lure Coursing (sight sounds).

AFC – Amateur Field Champion; dogs who won a trial handled by an amateur.

NAFC – National Field Champion; dogs who won a trial competition with amateur and professional handlers.

JH – Junior Hunter; 4 qualifying legs at the beginning level.

SH – Senior Hunter; more qualifying legs at the intermediate level.

MH – Master Hunter; qualifying legs at the highest level of difficulty.

Hunting – Dogs tested on pointing, retrieving, flushing, quartering, and general steadiness that involves the sound of a starter’s pistol, as well as retrieving on land and in water. Different breeds – retriever, pointers, and setters, etc., specializing in one or more of these skills with months or years of training, a very large time commitment.


(Non-trial level designations)

HT – Herding Tested; involve a dog’s ability to move sheep and change their direction while being responsive to the handler’s control.

PT – Pre-Trial Tested.

(Trial level designations)

HS – Herding Started; ability to gather and move sheep through gates and chutes with the handler working close to the dog.

HI – Herding Intermediate; same as the HS ability but with a somewhat higher level, with part of the course being run with the handler at a moderate distance from the dog.

HX – Herding Excellent; a dog that works well at all times, even when the handler is away.

Herding – dogs that are tested on instinct and training; ability to gather, contain, and drive sheep (takes months or years of training to work with sheep). Travel usually requires just sheep access and training.


JC – Junior Courser.

SC – Senior Courser.


NA – Novice Agility.

OA – Open Agility.

AX – Agility Excellent.

MX – Master Agility.

Agility – tests a dog’s physical ability and speed while going over a course with elevated walks, A-frames, teeter-totters, tunnels, jumps, and more; the canine version of the US Marine obstacle course. A great way to introduce young dogs to obedience, control, and responsiveness to commands and attention to detail.

JUNIOR EARTHDOG (Terriers – Go-To-Ground)

JE – Junior Earthdog.

SE – Senior Earthdog.

ME – Master Earthdog.

If you have any stories you want to share with us about your experience with dog shows, let us know about it by commenting on the box below.

2 replies on “The Ultimate Guide To Dog Shows”

  • Brigette Gheno says:

    Start by going to a dog show and watching obedience classes. Get a copy of the AKC obedience rules, then find a reputable dog training club that is geared towards competition. Just because you have a really good dog that works off leash does not mean you are ready for competition. Educate yourself first so that you don’t embarrass yourself in the ring. Of course your dog needs to have an AKC registration number to even enter.

  • Erika Brady says:

    I like that you mention purchasing a puppy that is already AKC registered from a reputable breeder. When choosing a breeder, it would probably be helpful to research online so you can read reviews. It would also be a good idea to find a professional that specializes in the breeds that you want, such as Boston Terrier or German Shepherd puppies, so you can ensure they can give you the type of AKC registered show dog you’re looking for.

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