A Beginner's Guide to Dog Shows
The AKC offers a wide variety of resources to assist everyone from
the first-time puppy buyer to the experienced dog fancier. All
exhibitors are required to be familiar with these rules prior to
entering a dog show. To order the rule book, contact Customer Service
at 919-233-9767 or via email at OrderDesk@akc.org. Copies of this rulebook may also be purchased at our online store.
The following information is intended as a general description of dog
shows and is not intended as complete information about any aspect of
showing. For complete information, see the Rules Applying to Dog Shows.
This is the AKC
The American Kennel Club was established in 1884 to
promote the study, breeding, exhibiting and advancement of purebred
dogs. It is the largest not-for-profit purebred dog registry in the
The AKC approves and maintains the official records of over 15,000 sanctioned and licensed events each year.
The AKC has approximately 500 member clubs and over 4,000 affiliated
clubs. These clubs are more than show-giving entities. They are public
service, educational organizations whose activities benefit their
entire community. Some AKC club activities include public education
through presentations at schools, fairs, libraries, shelters,
hospitals, rescue leagues, scouts and 4-H; training classes; and health
AKC registration means a dog, its parents, and its ancestors are
purebred. It does not indicate health or quality. Dogs registered with
the AKC can have their offspring registered and compete in AKC events.
The World of Dog Shows
Showing dogs is a great sport where the thrill of competition is
combined with the joy of seeing beautiful dogs. Dog shows are one of
many types of AKC dog events in which AKC-registered dogs can compete.
These events, which draw over three million entries annually, include
dog shows and tests of instinct and trainability, such as obedience
trials, Canine Good Citizen tests, field trials, agility trials, lure
coursing, rally, hunting tests, herding trials, tracking tests,
coonhound and earthdog events.
Dog shows (conformation events) are intended to evaluate breeding
stock. The size of these events ranges from large all-breed shows, with
over 3,000 dogs entered, to small local specialty club shows,
featuring a specific breed. The dog's conformation (overall appearance
and structure), an indication of the dog's ability to produce quality
puppies, is judged.
Types of Conformation Dog Shows
There are three types of conformation dog shows:
All-breed shows offer competitions for over 150
breeds and varieties of dogs recognized by the AKC. All-breed shows are
the type often shown on television
Specialty shows are restricted to dogs of a specific
breed or to varieties of one breed. For example, the Bulldog Club of
America Specialty is for Bulldogs only, but the Poodle Club of
America's specialty show includes the three varieties of the Poodle -
Standard, Miniature and Toy.
Group shows are limited to dogs belonging to one of
the seven groups. For example, the Potomac Hound Group show features
only breeds belonging to the Hound group.
Which Dogs May Participate
To be eligible to compete, a dog must:
- be individually registered with the American Kennel Club
- be 6 months of age or older
- be a breed for which classes are offered at a show
- meet any eligibility requirements in the written standard for its breed
Spayed or neutered dogs are not eligible to compete in conformation
classes at a dog show, because the purpose of a dog show is to evaluate
The Role of the Judge
Judges examine the dogs, then give awards according to how closely
each dog compares to the judge's mental image of the "perfect" dog
described in the breed's official standard.
The standard describes the characteristics that allow the breed to
perform the function for which it was bred. These standards include
specifications for structure, temperament and movement.
The official written standard for each breed is maintained by the breed's national club and is included in the The Complete Dog Book published by the AKC.
The judges are experts on the breeds they are judging. They examine
("go over") each dog with their hands to see if the teeth, muscles,
bones and coat texture conform to the breed's standard. They view each
dog in profile for overall balance, and watch each dog gait ("move") to
see how all of those features fit together in action.
How a Dog Show Works
Each dog presented to a judge is exhibited ("handled") by its owner,
breeder or a hired professional. The role of a handler is similar to
that of a jockey who rides a horse around the track and, hopefully,
into the winner's circle.
Most dogs in competition at conformation shows are competing for
points toward their AKC championships. It takes fifteen points,
including two majors (wins of three, four or five points) awarded by at
least three different judges, to become an American Kennel Club
"Champion of Record."
The number of championship points awarded at a show depends on the
number of males ("dogs") and females ("bitches") of the breed actually
in competition. The larger the entry, the greater the number of points
a male or a female can win. The maximum number of points awarded to a
dog at any show is 5 points.
Males and females compete separately within their respective breeds,
in seven regular classes. The following classes are offered, and are
divided by sex:
Puppy - For dogs between six and twelve months of age, that are not yet champions (optional class).
Twelve-To-Eighteen Months - For dogs twelve to eighteen months of age, that are not yet champions (optional class).
Novice - For dogs six months of age and over, which
have not, prior to the date of closing of entries, won three first
prizes in the Novice Class, a first prize in Bred-by-Exhibitor,
American-bred, or Open Classes, nor one or more points toward their
championship (optional class).
Amateur-Owner-Handler – For dogs that are at least
six months of age that are not champions. Dogs must be handled in the
class by the registered owner of the dog and is limited to exhibitors
who have not, at any point in time, been a professional dog handler,
AKC approved conformation judge, or employed as an assistant to a
professional handler (effective January 1, 2009) (optional class).
Bred By Exhibitor - For dogs that are exhibited by their owner and breeder, that are not yet champions (optional class).
American-Bred - For dogs born in the United
States from a mating which took place in the United States, that are
not yet champions (mandatory class).
Open - For any dog of the breed, at least 6 months of age (mandatory class).
After these classes are judged, all the dogs that won first place in
a class compete again to see who is the best of the winning dogs.
Males and females are judged separately. Only the best male (Winners
Dog) and the best female (Winners Bitch) receive championship points.
The Winners Dog and Winners Bitch then compete with the champions for
the Best of Breed award. At the end of the Best of Breed Competition,
three awards are usually given:
Best of Breed - the dog judged as the best in its breed category.
Best of Winners - the dog judged as the better of the Winners Dog and Winners Bitch.
Best of Opposite Sex - the best dog that is the opposite sex to the Best of Breed winner.
The Road to Best in Show
Dog shows are a process of elimination, with one dog being named Best in Show at the end of the show.
Only the Best of Breed winners advance to compete in the Group
competitions. Each AKC-recognized breed falls into one of seven group
classifications. The seven groups are Sporting, Hound, Working, Terrier,
Toy, Non-Sporting and Herding. Four placements are awarded in each
group, but only the first-place winner advances to the Best In Show
The Seven Groups in All-Breed Shows
Sporting - These dogs were bred to hunt game birds
both on land and in the water. The breeds in this group include
Pointers, Retrievers, Setters and Spaniels.
Hounds - These breeds were bred for hunting other
game by sight or scent. These breeds include such dogs as Beagles,
Bassets, Dachshunds and Greyhounds.
Working - These dogs were bred to pull carts, guard
property and perform search and rescue services. Among the breeds in
this group are the Akita, Boxer, Doberman Pinscher and St. Bernard.
Terrier - This group includes breeds such as the
Airedale, Cairn Terrier and Scottish Terrier. Terriers were bred to rid
property of vermin such as rats.
Toy - These dogs were bred to be household
companions. This group includes little dogs such as the Chihuahua,
Maltese, Pomeranian and Pug.
Non-Sporting - This diverse group includes the Chow
Chow, Bulldog, Dalmatian and Poodle. These dogs vary in size and
function, and many are considered companion dogs.
Herding - These dogs were bred to help shepherds and
ranchers herd their livestock. The Briard, Collie, German Shepherd Dog
and Old English Sheepdog are some of the breeds in this group.
Finally, the seven group winners are brought into the ring where they compete for Best In Show, the highest award at a dog show.
Each dog that receives an award is given a ribbon by the judge. The
color of the ribbon indicates the type of award the dog has won.
Blue - awarded for first place in any regular class.
Also awarded to the winner of each group competition, usually in the
form of a "rosette".
Red - awarded for second place in each class. Also
awarded for second place in each group competition, usually in the form
of a "rosette".
Yellow - awarded for third place in each class. Also
awarded for third place in each group competition, usually in the form
of a "rosette".
White - awarded for fourth place in each class. Also
awarded for fourth place of each group competition, usually in the form
of a "rosette".
Purple - awarded to the winners of the Winners Dog
and Winners Bitch classes. Since these are the classes in which
championship points are earned, these ribbons are highly coveted.
Purple and White - awarded to the Reserve Winners; that is, the runners-up to the winner of the Winners Dog and Winners Bitch classes.
Blue and White - awarded to the dog that wins Best of Winners; that is, the better of the Winners Dog and Winners Bitch winners.
Purple and Gold - awarded to the dog judged "Best of
Breed" in each breed competition. This is highly coveted because it
allows advancement to the Group competition.
Red and White - awarded to the Best of Opposite Sex.
This means the best dog of the breed that is the opposite sex of the
Best of Breed winner.
Red, White and Blue - only one of these is awarded, at the end of each show. It is given to the ultimate award winner, the Best In Show.
How Do I Get Started Showing My Dog?
The best place to start is by joining a local kennel club, whether an
all-breed kennel club or a breed-specific specialty club. A listing of
clubs by state can be found on our Club Search page or through our customer service department by calling (919) 233-9767.
Local clubs will have information on training classes for the show
ring, and for obedience and agility classes. Even if the show ring is
not your ultimate goal, the relationship that training forms between
you and your dog will be very rewarding to you both. Local clubs also
have "Matches" where you and your dog can test your skill in the ring.
Handling your dog is an exceptional and enjoyable experience. From the
grooming table to the show ring, you and your dog will develop a bond.
While training classes offer the best hands-on way to practice for the
show ring, attending shows and observing your breed is also a great
way to gain understanding of what judges and other competitors do.
If you do not wish to handle your dog yourself, or have a friend or family member do it, you may contact a professional handler who charges a fee for showing your dog.
You're on your way! You are entering a sport that will bring many
hours of enjoyment and education to every member of your family. You
will make many friends in the sport, and will enjoy your dog and your
new hobby for many years to come.
The AKC offers children 9 to 18 years of age the opportunity to
compete with others their own age at various AKC events. Juniors
competing in conformation events are judged on how they present their
Tips for the First-Time Exhibitor
- Make sure your dog is registered with the AKC.
- Be sure your dog is current on all inoculations.
- Learn the proper techniques for grooming and for presenting your dog in the ring.
- Join your breed's Parent Club, or a Local Specialty and/or All-Breed club in your area.
- Become familiar with the AKC rules and regulations for dog shows.
- Attend some dog shows to observe your breed being judged and
how others present your breed. Get a Judging Program at the show
to find out ring number and judging time.
- Use the knowledge of your breeder.
- Don't be afraid to ask questions.
- Attend handling classes with your dog.
Tips for the First-Time Spectator
- If the grooming area is open to spectators, visit it and
talk with professional groomers to get tips on keeping your dog
looking his best.
- However tempting, do not pet a dog without asking for
permission first. The dog may have just been groomed in
preparation for being judged.
- At each dog show, you will find vendors and information
booths. Many club booths offer helpful information to the general
- Wear comfortable shoes - you'll be doing a lot of walking.
Unless you bring a chair or arrive early, be prepared to stand
most of the time, as seating is usually limited.
- If you are considering getting a purebred dog, talk to the
breeders and exhibitors - they are experts in their breeds
- If you bring a baby stroller to a dog show, be careful that
you do not run over any dog's tail, and that your child does not
grab or poke the dogs it can reach. Avoid having them near ring
entrances, which are especially crowded. Some shows prohibit baby
Dog Show Terms
Angulation - Angles created by bones meeting at their joints.
Baiting - Using liver or some treat to get the dog's attention and have him look alert.
Bench Show - A dog show at which the dogs are kept
on assigned benches when not being shown in competition, so they can be
viewed and discussed by attendees, exhibitors and breeders.
Exhibitor - A person who brings a dog to a dog show and shows it in the appropriate class.
Fancier - A person who is especially interested, and usually active, in some phase of the sport of purebred dogs.
Gait - The way a dog moves, movement is a good indicator of structure and condition.
Groom - To brush, comb, trim or otherwise make a dog's coat neat.
Handler - A person or agent who takes a dog into the show ring or who works the dog at a field trial or other performance event.
Heel - A command to a dog to keep close beside its handler.
Match Show - A usually informal dog show at which no championship points are awarded.
Miscellaneous Class - Transitional class for breeds attempting to advance to full AKC recognition.
Pedigree - The written record of a dog's family tree of three or more generations.
Points - Credits earned toward a championship.
Soundness - Mental and physical well-being.
Stacking - Posing the dog's legs and body to create a pleasing picture.