What to Expect at a Dog Show:  A Beginners Guide

What to Expect at a Dog Show: A Beginners Guide

Dog shows are a good place to go on the weekend. It’s an inexpensive family outing without violence or nudity. It has all the hustle and bustle of a circus; and like a circus there is a lot going on all at the same time. Also, like a circus, each day is a completely new show. A dog show can last from one to three days usually over a weekend.
The umbrella term “dog show” refers to the entire weekend event consisting of one complete dog show per day beginning with class dogs and ending with best in show at the end of the day. All shows are under the umbrella term of “dog show.”

Dog shows can be held indoors or outdoors (rain or shine); can be quite small or very large; can be a showcase for only one breed of dog (a Specialty show) or an All-Breed show; can be limited to a particular dog sport (herding, agility or lure coursing ) or to conformation (dogs are evaluated against their breed standard); or include both Conformation and another sport.

Conformation and obedience shows are open only to dogs registered or listed with the national all-breed club that sponsors the show.

The show may include Temperament Testing, vision testing by a qualified Canine Ophthalmologist and/or Canine Good Citizen testing . These services are open to mixed breed as well as purebred dogs.

Dog shows are run by local dog clubs whose members pay for the costs of the show (renting the facility, buying or renting the equipment, paying the fees and expenses for the judges), staff the show and clean up afterwards. Competitors in the dog show pay an entry fee for each dog for each day and for each competition. (Dogs may compete in Conformation, Obedience, Rally or Agility on the same day. Dogs may also have their eyes checked and/or be temperament tested or tested for Good Citizenship. Each activity carries a fee.) There may also be a parking fee for spectators or for competitors with their overnight campers and RVs who travel distances to compete. All these fees help the club defray the costs of the show.

The larger the show, the more likely vendors of dog-related products will be present to display their wares for sale. These could include all kinds of jewelry, food, bedding, grooming equipment and supplies, and/or clothing with doggie motifs.

Food vendors may also be available.

The most familiar dog show is the All-Breed Conformation Show. Perhaps the best known in America is the Westminster and in England, Crufts. The televised versions of these famous shows rarely show the entire show -there is just too much going on-so the program may follow only one breed of dog, may feature only the Best of Breed competitions, the Groups competitions or only the Best in Show competition.

Conformation shows are the shows where every dog that competes hopes for the elusive title “Best in Show.” Since only one dog can achieve this title, all the dogs entered in the show, whether two hundred or two thousand must win the right to compete for Best in Show.

The first step in the process of winning the Best in Show title is the Breed Competition.

Within any given breed, contestants compete for Best of Breed. Although dogs who have not yet achieved their Championship certificate (CH) may compete with dogs that have, it is not common for an untitled dog to receive Best of Breed.

The breed competition begins with untitled (non-champion) dogs wishing to become Champions.

Dogs compete by gender: males dogs (called dogs) compete first, then the female dogs (called bitches).

Dogs compete in a specific class within their breed.

First are the puppies: dogs who are over six months of age but less than twelve months of age. Next is the intermediate class, where dogs between 12 and 18 months of age compete for winner of their class. This may be followed by the “Bred-By Exhibitor” class, which means the person who is handling the dog in the ring is the person who bred the dog. Another class may be composed of the dogs that were bred in the country where the dog show is held. These dogs would be listed in the catalogue as American-bred or Canadian-bred depending upon the country hosting the show. Since all-breed dog shows are open only to purebred dogs registered in their own countries, only homegrown dogs can compete in this class. Finally, the last class in the breed competition is called “Open” which means it is open to all comers and is usually composed of more mature dogs who are not yet champions.

Class Winners Compete in the Best of Breed (BOB) competition.

All dogs within a class are evaluated by the judge and are ranked first through fourth place. Only the dog that wins the class (first place) may move to the next step, the rest are dismissed from further competition. Winners in each class then compete for Winners Dog or Winners Bitch. The winner’s dog and bitch compete for Best of Winners at the same time they are competing for Best of Breed. The male and female puppy winners, also compete for Best Puppy in Breed in the Best of Breed competition. At the end of this competition there will be one Best of Breed prize, one Best of Opposite Sex prize and one Best Puppy in Breed prize. This is the most exciting time in the breed competition. Class dogs and puppies (not yet champions) have been known to take Best of Breed!

This same process takes place for every breed entered in the show. The number of entries varies from show to show and if there is only one competitor in a breed, it is automatically conferred Best of Breed.

Judging schedule

When you enter the show site and pay your entrance fee, you will receive a judging schedule that tells you what time of the day each breed will be judged and in which ring. (It also gives you the name of the judge.) Usually, but not always, breeds are listed alphabetically within their group designation. The total number of dogs entered in that breed and the total number of dogs entered in the group are also given. If, for example, Toy group judging begins at 9 am in the schedule, all the breeds that follow the first breed listed will be judged in order until all the breeds have been judged. No specified time is given for each breed, just the first one. If the entry is a very large one, a lunch break for the judge and contestants may be scheduled and the time and breed to be judged after lunch will be listed.

The Group competition

The second major level of competition at the dog show is the Group competition. These may be scheduled either at the end of the day or at the completion of judging of all the breeds in the group. All winners of Best of Breed compete in Group.

There are two possible group competitions (depending upon entries): Group and Puppy Group. If a puppy has won Best of Breed, it will compete for Best of Breed as well as for Best Puppy in Breed. If the puppy wins the adult Group, there will be no Puppy Group competition. (In this case, the puppy is eligible to compete for both Best in Show as well as Best Puppy in Show.)

In the United States, purebred dogs are assigned to one of eight groups: Hound, Toy, Terrier, Non-Sporting, Sporting, Working, Herding and Miscellaneous class. If you do not know the group designation of the dog breed you want to watch during the show, you can ask anyone at the Show Secretary’s table or the person staffing the entry table.

Winners of each Group and Puppy Group competitions progress to Best in Show followed by Best Puppy in Show.

What to expect

Dog shows are a place of hustle and bustle. Spectators may or may not have seating available and may need to bring their own. Handlers are going to and from the show ring with their dogs, waiting at ringside with their dogs, coming out of the ring and heading for their set-up or getting their dogs ready to enter the ring. Dogs are exercised (taken to the toileting area), bathed, combed out, powdered, and fluffed to make sure they appear at their very best before a judge. The day begins with tension and hope and ends with tears, resignation, or jubilation.

The noise level is very high, and aisles are frequently crowded. In every case, the dog and its handler have the right of way. Tempers may be fragile. Some competitors are so tense they are not able to take the time to answer questions. Others are more relaxed. When a visitor has a question about a breed or where to find a puppy to buy, the best place to seek out information is at the benching area (where the dogs are prepared for the ring).

Unless it is entered in the dog show, do not bring your own dog to the show.

At dog shows, dogs have the right-of-way. Blocking a dog and handler is considered discourteous and may prevent the team from arriving ringside in time to compete. Some handlers do not appreciate spectators trying to pet their dogs. It’s best always to ask first.

If the dog show also offers obedience or agility competitions, they will have their own judging schedule indicating the judge, times and places for each trial.

The Show Secretary is responsible for the smooth running of the show and is an invaluable resource for answering questions. When in doubt, seek out the Show Secretary.

Welcome to the fascinating world of dog shows. As a first-time visitor, you may feel disoriented and uncomfortable. To make your day more enjoyable wear comfortable clothing and shoes. If you are wearing any kind of perfume or after-shave lotion, please avoid the obedience rings as your scent may interfere with what the dogs are doing. Most people sitting ringside will be happy to answer your questions. On the other hand, they may be new to dog shows, too.

Everyone was once a beginner.