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How a Dog Show Works

Each dog at a dog show is presented to a judge by either its owner, breeder, or a hired professional. This person is known as the exhibitor or the handler of the dog.

The purpose of conformation shows (also known as dog shows) is to evaluate breeding stock. Judges select winners based on their ability to contribute and improve the next generation of dogs. Dogs start out in the classes competing for points toward their AKC championship title. Dogs win points based on the number of dogs defeated. The more dogs entered, the more points per win. 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.

At Westminster, all of the entrants are AKC champions of record and therefore compete in the Best of Breed class. In this class there are two top awards:

Best of Breed – The dog judged that is judge Best of Breed that day.

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. Only the Best of Breed winners advance to compete in the Group competitions. Each breed falls into one of seven groups: Sporting, Hound, Working, Terrier, Toy, Non-Sporting, and Herding. Four placements are awarded in each group. Only the group winners advance to the Best in Show competition. From among these seven dogs the judge selects the Best in Show winner.

Judging and Standards

When a judge enters the ring, she is judging each dog against a written standard describing the ideal dog. She is determining which dog comes closest to the ideal in each breed. The standards are created by the breed’s national breed club in this country. Dogs were originally bred to do specific jobs whether hunting, guarding, tracking, or companionship. The standard describes how a dog should look in order to carry out its job. They describe things like 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. Each judge, applying their interpretation of the standard, gives their opinion on that day on which dog best represents its breed.

Bench Shows

The Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show remains one of the few benched dog shows in this country. Originally, all dog shows were “benched” or assigned areas (on benches) at all times when not being judged in the ring. This allowed for the interaction of dogs and their owners with spectators and other owners and breeders as an educational process. Westminster is proud to continue this tradition for the public’s enjoyment and education about purebred dogs.

Breeds and Varieties

At the 145th Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, there will be 209 breeds and varieties eligible to compete in the initial round of judging. There are several breeds that are further divided into varieties 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 can either bring down the game themselves, or hold it at bay until the hunter arrives, or locate game by tracking it by scent. Sighthounds hunt by sight. Scent hounds track 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 for 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). 

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 is 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) or Best of Variety (BOV): the dog judged as the best in its breed or variety. This dog advances to the Group competition.

Best of Opposite Sex (BOS): the best of the dogs that are the opposite sex to the BOB winner.

Select Dog and Select Bitch (SEL): After the judge awards the BOB and BOS winners, the champion dog and champion bitch judged next best are awarded Select Dog and Select Bitch.

Grand Championship Points (GCH): With the addition of class entries in their respective sexes, winners at Westminster awarded by the breed judge (Best of Breed, Best of Opposite Sex, Select Dog and Select Bitch) are awarded points toward the AKC’s Grand Championship title. For details, see grandchampionship.

Awards of Merit (AOM): At the discretion of the judge at Westminster, an Award of Merit may be made to outstanding entries that are not judged to be either BOB / BOV, BOS or SEL.


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).

Breeder: The owner of the dam (mother) when she was bred to produce this dog.

Breeder-Owner-Handler: An individual who bred, owns and handles that dog.

Owner-Handler: Someone who handles a dog that they also own.

Judge: An individual licensed by the American Kennel Club (AKC) to judge dogs.

Breeder-Judge: Someone licensed by the AKC to judge dogs of their breed.

All Rounder Judge: An individual licensed by the AKC to judge every breed.

Professional Handler: Someone who handles a dog for a fee.

Conformation: The structure and physical characteristics of a dog.

Stack: The pose itself by a dog or the posing of the dog by a handler in its natural stance.

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 that particular breed.