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Understanding Dog Shows (Specialty)
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About Dog Show Competitions


There are various types of dog related events designed to look at the physical attributes of a dog and to test working abilities. When most people say "Dog Show," they are referring to a Conformation Show. If you have ever seen the Westminster Kennel Club show or Crufts (from the United Kingdom), they are examples of very large Conformation shows.

Dogs in some rings are of the same breed, dogs in others are not. So many dogs look alike. How does the judge tell the difference? Let us look at a typical Conformation dog show.

Orginally, dog shows were developed to highlight Sporting breeds. In early United States dog shows, there were two groupings: Sporting and everything else, or Non-Sporting. Sporting dogs were dogs bred to help the huntsman while Non-Sporting encompassed all other breeds. Eventually, Non-Sporting would be divided into various groups such as Hounds, Herding, Working, Terriers, Toy, and Non-Sporting.


The first level of competition in a Conformation Show is the classes. None of the dogs in the classes are champions of record.

Dogs will start in one of several classes including but not limited to: Puppy 6-9 Months; Puppy 9-12 Months; Puppy 12-18 Months; Novice; Bred By Exhibitor; American Bred; Open.

These classes are divided by gender so all males (called dogs in the dog show world) will compete in their classes. Then all the bitches (females) will compete.

There may be other subdivisions based on size or coat type within a breed. Some breeds have different varieties based on coat type, color or size.

The best dogs from each class will compete for Winners Dog and the best bitches from the classes will compete for Winners Bitch.

Class judging is done dog against dog, and dog against the Standard. The dog (or bitch) in each class that comes closest to the standard over all the others, will win the class. The class winners will compete against each other for Winners Dog and Winners Bitch. There are championship points awarded for Winners Dog or Winners Bitch. The number of points is determined by the number of overall dogs or bitches defeated. A dog becomes a champion after accumulating 15 points, including two majors (a win of three points to five points).

Best of Breed

The Best of Breed competition is not divided by gender. All dogs (in this case, either gender) in this class are champions of record as well as Winner's Dog and Winner's Bitch. From this class there will be Best of Winners (chosen from the WD or WB), Best Opposite Sex (the opposite gender from Best of Breed) and Best of Breed. Best of Breed can be Winners Dog or Winners Bitch.


From Best of Breed we go to the Groups. Groups are collections of dogs that do similar jobs.

In the American Kennel Club, there are seven groups: Sporting, Hound, Working, Terrier, Toy, Non-Sporting and Herding. For example, the Herding Group is dogs of various breeds that were bred to work livestock. The Terrier Group is the various breeds often developed to hunt vermin.

Here, the judge has to decide what dog comes closest to its particular standard as compared to the other breeds and their standards. Is the Rough Collie closer to its standard than the Belgian Shepherd is to its standard? From the various breeds in the Group, will come the Group Winner.

Best in Show

Now we come to the biggie! Best in Show! The seven group winners go back into the ring to compete. As with the Groups, the dogs are judged based on how close they are to their individual standard as compared to the others. It can sometimes come down to which dog just seems to "want" the win. What dog is really enjoying himself and playing up on that day? The dog that fits their standard the closest in the judge's mind will take Best in Show.

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