Dog Shows 101

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.

At Westminster, males and females compete separately within their respective breeds, in three regular classes:  Bred by Exhibitor, American-Bred, and Open.

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.

Information provided by the American Kennel Club

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 the 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 competition.

Judging And Standards

Each breed’s parent club creates a STANDARD, a written description of the ideal specimen of that breed. Generally relating form to function, i.e., the original function that the dog was bred to perform, most standards describe general appearance, movement, temperament, and specific physical traits such as height and weight, coat, colors, eye color and shape, ear shape and placement, feet, tail, and more. Some standards can be very specific, some can be rather general and leave much room for individual interpretation by judges. This results in the sport’s subjective basis: one judge, applying his or her interpretation of the standard, giving his or her opinion of the best dog on that particular day. Standards are written, maintained and owned by the parent clubs of each breed.

Benched Shows

The Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show is one of the few benched dog shows in this country. Originally, most shows were “benched” in some fashion, where the entered dogs were required to be in assigned areas (on benches) at all times when not being judged in the ring. This allowed for interaction of dogs and their owners with spectators and other owners and breeders as an educational process.

Breeds & Varieties

At Westminster, the first level of competition is in the Breed or Variety.  By February 2017 there will be a total of 202 breeds and varieties.  A variety is a division of a breed based on coat, color or size.  Each variety competes separately in the Group.  The following breeds are divided into varieties:

    • Cocker Spaniels (3):  Black, ASCOB, Parti Color
    • Bull Terriers (2):  Colored, White
    • English Toy Spaniels (2): Blenheim & Prince Charles, King Charles & Ruby
  • COAT
    • Dachshunds (3): Longhaired, Smooth, Wirehaired
    • Chihuahuas (2):  Long Coat, Smooth
    • Collie (2): Rough, Smooth
  • SIZE
    • Beagles (2): Not exceeding 13”, Over 13” But Not Exceeding 15”
    • Manchester Terriers (2): Standard, Toy
    • Poodles (3):  Miniature, Standard, Toy


SPORTING: These are gun dogs that were developed to assist the hunter, and generally have high energy and stable temperaments. Pointers and Setters point and mark the game, Spaniels flush the bird, Retrievers recover the game from land or water.

HOUND: Hounds were originally classified as Sporting dogs, but were assigned their own group in 1930. These dogs are hunters that bring down the game themselves, or hold it at bay until the hunter arrives, or locate the game by tracking it by scent. Sighthounds hunt by sight, Scenthounds by tracking with their superior olfactory senses.

WORKING: These dogs are generally intelligent and powerfully built, performing a variety of tasks, including guarding homes and livestock, serving as draft animals, and as police, military and service dogs.

TERRIER: “Terrier” comes from the Latin word, terra (ground) as these determined and courageous dogs must be small enough and agile enough to “go to ground” to pursue their quarry (rats, foxes, and other vermin). All but the Australian Terrier and the Miniature Schnauzer were developed in the United Kingdom.

TOY: Toy dogs were bred to be companions for people. They are full of life and spirit and often resemble their larger cousins (e.g., Pomeranian as a Nordic breed, the Papillon a little Spaniel, and the Toy Poodle the smallest variety of the Poodle).

NON-SPORTING: The AKC originally registered dogs as either Sporting or Non-Sporting. Hounds and Terriers split off the Sporting Group, Toys and Working from the Non-Sporting, and later, Herding from the Working Group. The remaining dogs, with a great diversity of traits not fitting any of the above, comprise the Non-Sporting Group.

HERDING: This group split off from the Working Group in 1983. Herding is a natural instinct in dogs, and their purpose is to serve ranchers and farmers by moving livestock from one place to another.


BEST OF BREED (BOB): The dog selected or the award made by a judge to that dog chosen as the best representative of the Breed. Similarly, Best of Variety (BOV) is the same award given to the best representative of a Variety exhibited that day (see VARIETY). In either case, those dogs selected BOB and those selected BOV each advance to group competition.

BEST OF OPPOSITE SEX (BOS): The dog selected as the best in competition of the opposite sex of the BOB or BOV winner. This dog does not advance.

VARIETY: A division of a breed based on coat, color, or size. For example, Poodles (size: Standard, Miniature, Toy), Cocker Spaniels (color: Black, Parti-color, ASCOB); Collies (coat: Rough, Smooth).

AWARD OF MERIT (AOM): At the discretion of the judge, an additional award made to outstanding entries that are not judged to be either BOB / BOV or BOS.

BEST IN SHOW (BIS): The award or the dog selected from among the seven finalists as the best dog among all entries.

CHAMPION (CH): A title or the dog that has earned a certain number of points (15) in competition with wins in AKC shows.

BREEDER: The owner of the dam when she was bred to produce the dog.

BREEDER-OWNER-HANDLER: An individual who bred, owns and handles that dog. Similarly, an Owner-Handler is someone who handles a dog that they also own.

BREEDER-JUDGE: Someone licensed to judge dogs of their breed.

PROFESSIONAL HANDLER: Someone who handles a dog for a fee.

ALL ROUNDER: An individual licensed to judge every breed.
STANDARD: The written description of the traits and movement of the ideal specimen of a breed, generally based on form and function. Each parent club creates and maintains their breed standard. Judges are to judge dogs by comparing them to the standard for their breed.

CONFORMATION: The structure and physical characteristics of a dog.

STACK: The pose itself or the posing of the dog by a handler in its natural stance for the judge’s examination.

GAIT: The action of movement of the dog. Generally speaking, a sound and balanced gait usually indicates proper conformation and structure.

BREED TYPE: The manifestation of those unique traits and characteristics of a dog that distinguish it as a particular breed.

BENCHED SHOW: A show where dogs are required to be on assigned benches while not being shown. This allows all concerned – spectators, breeders, handlers and owners – the opportunity to interact, ask questions, and share information about the various breeds.

LIMITED ENTRY: Where the entry is governed by certain parameters set by the club, such as total number of dogs or champions only; or in Junior Showmanship, a certain number of qualifying wins for the handler.

CATALOG: The compilation by breed of all dogs entered in the show, listing armband numbers, birthdates, sire and dam, breeders and owners.