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Dog Show

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In a dog show, judges familiar with specific dog breeds evaluate individual dogs for how well they conform to published breed standards, hence the more accurate term is conformation show (or, sometimes, breed show).

"Dog show" is often used by the general public to refer to any event involving dogs, such as dog sports, but in the dog world it more specifically refers to conformation competitions.

Handlers set up their dogs for judging so that their stance is perfect when the judge views them. Handlers set up their dogs for judging so that their stance is perfect when the judge views them.

Judging and winning at dog shows

For winning in working dog trials and dog sports, see the individual articles, a listing of which can be found at List of dog sports.


Dog-show judges attempt to identify dogs who epitomize the published standards for each breed. This can be challenging, because some judgements must necessarily be subjective. For example, what exactly entails a "full coat" or a "cheerful attitude", which are descriptions that could be found in the breed specifications.

Strictly speaking, a dog show is not exactly a comparison of one dog to another, it is a comparison of each dog to a judge's concept of the ideal specimen as dictated by the breed standard, containing the attributes of a given breed and a list of conformation points. Based on this, one dog is placed ahead of another. All-breed judges must therefore have a vast amount of knowledge, and the ability (or inability) of humans to retain all these details mentally for hundreds of breeds (and to maintain their objectivity despite their personal preferences) is the subject of intense debate, particularly from the fanciers of working dogs. Politics in the purebred dog world can be as vicious as in any other arena; there have been charges of favoritism, nepotism, bribery and even drugging of competitors' animals.

The judge is supposed to remain free from bias on several counts. A canine judge must, for example, disregard personal or public notions about what a cute or good-looking dog is, and judge strictly to the standard. Judges must also assess specimens of all breeds objective, regardless of personal favourites. In some breeds, the males and females of the breed have decidedly different appearances, and it is often the males who have the quintessential look of the breed. The judge must set personal preference asided and decide objectively whether the bitch is a better example of the female of the breed than the dog is an example of the male.


Winning at dog shows differs in many countries. Dogs shown in the United States, for example, have different championship requirements than those in other countries.

Dogs compete at dog shows to earn points towards the title of Champion. Each time a dog wins at some level of a show, it earns points towards the championship. The number of points varies depending on what level within a show the win occurs, how many dogs are competing, and whether the show is a major (larger shows) or minor (smaller shows).

Dogs compete in a hierarchical fashion at each show, where winners at lower levels are gradually combined to narrow the winners until the final round, where Best in Show is chosen.

At the lowest level, dogs are divided by breed. Each breed is divided into classes based on sex and age. Dogs (males) are judged first, in their age classes. Within one breed, there are puppies (dogs under a certain age), mature male dogs (subdivided by age into junior, limit (or intermediate) and open); bitches (female dogs) have corresponding classes.

The winners of all classes in each sex (called Puppy Dog, Limit Dog etc.) compete for Challenge (best) Dog and Challenge Bitch; the individuals who will challenge each other for the accolade Best of Breed. The remaining class winners are joined by the runner-up from the class from which the challenge winner was selected and there are competitions for second place in each gender, called Reserve Challenge Dog and Reserve Challenge Bitch. This is for fairness, as one class may contain a stronger field of specimens of the breed. If the judge believes that this is the case, the Challenge Dog and Reserve Challenge Dog, for example, may both be from the same class.

From the two finalists (Challenge Dog and Challenge Bitch) is selected Best of Breed. The runner-up is deemed Best of Opposite Sex (or Runner-up to Best of Breed). There is then a run-off in which the second best individual in the gender of the winner (the Reserve Challenge) is brought back to stand against the Best of Opposite Sex (the Challenge who did not win) for the title of Reserve Best of Breed. So, if the Best of Breed is the Challenge Bitch, the Reserve Best of Breed may be the Challenge Dog or the Reserve Challenge Bitch.

In multi-breed and all-breed shows, the winners of all breeds within the kennel club's breed groupings then compete. So, for example, all the Terrier Group breed winners compete to determine Best Terrier (sometimes called Best in Group). These are known as the General Specials.

The audience at a dog show is expected to be participatory and vocal, and often applaud the silkiest, fluffiest or more popular breeds while ignorant of the breed requirements. Those who are owners and breeders may cheer for a popular handler or a sympathetic favourite from a particular breeding kennel; the judge is supposed to ignore all attempts to influence the decision.

Finally, the winners from each group compete for Best in Show.

Note: This describes the Australian model; there may be differences in other countries.

Dog shows in the UK

There are several types of show in the UK. The smallest are the Companion Shows, where there are usually a few conformation classes for pedigree dogs, and several "novelty" classes, such as waggiest tail and handsomest dog, which are open to any dog including crossbreeds. These shows are usually held to support a charity or other good cause.

Then there are Open shows, which are open only to dogs registered with the Kennel Club. There are many Open Shows that are held all around the country. Here the dog & handler can gain experience and the dog can gain points towards a Junior Warrant award or a Show Certificate of Merit.

There are also Limited shows, which are open only to members of the Society or Club running the show, and Challenge Certificate winners (see below) cannot enter.

Finally, there are the huge Championship shows, where dogs can gain points towards a Junior Warrant and compete for the highly coveted Challenge Certificate (CC). If the breed is sufficiently numerous, the Kennel Club awards a Challenge Certificate for the Best Dog and Best Bitch. A dog needs three CCs from three different judges to be awarded the title of Champion one of which must be awarded when the dog is over 12 month old. The most prestigious Championship show is Crufts, and each dog entered at Crufts has had to qualify by certain wins at Championship or Open show level.

Championship titles and registered names

A dog who has earned the Championship title is entitled to use the designation "Champion" (or "Ch") in front of his name, for example, Ch. Emerald's Brightest Sparkle.

Show dogs have a registered name, that is, the name under which they are registered as a purebred with the appropriate kennel club, and a call name, which is how their owners talk to them.

The registered name often refers directly or indirectly to the kennel where the dog was bred; kennel clubs often require that the breeder's kennel prefix form the first part of the dog's registered name. See registered name for a discussion of dogs' names.

Prestigious dog shows

Dog shows take place all year in various locations. Some are small, local shows, while others draw competitors from all around the country or the world. Some shows are so large that they limit entries only to dogs who have already earned their Championships. Therefore, winning Best in Breed or Best in Show can elevate a dog's, a breeder's, or a kennel's reputation to the top of the list overnight. This greatly increases the value of puppies bred from this dog or at the dog's kennel of origin.

Probably the two best-known, largest, and most prestigious annual dog shows are the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show and Crufts.

History of dog showing

The control of points awarded to dogs in most countries is maintained by a national pedigree registry in that country. The Kennel Club of Great Britain is generally recognized as one of the first organizations, if not the first, to register purebred dogs. A second historic registry is the American Kennel Club. France, Italy, and other countries began to maintain important kennel club registries in the 19th century.

Establishing and maintaining a separate breed of dog and, therefore, separate breeding stock and separate registries, from the 14th to 21st century, was not always only a matter of looks or fashion. Dogs have been man's partner for thousands of years. Centuries ago, owners required certain skills and behaviors of some dogs, and many breeds that are recognized today reflect the different jobs that owners historically required dogs to do. A man living in the desert might have needed a dog that could run in sand and last a few days without water or food--that would probably mean a dog with large paws, like a camel, and a very sparse coat to deal with the heat. A man living in polar regions might need a dog that could swim icy waters, run in ice and snow, and survive that region, which would likely mean a lot of coat and a sturdier frame to survive swimming and plodding through snow.

Today, there are dogs who will search the ruins of a bombed building or an avalanche in an effort to find survivors; others assist the blind or the disabled; still others serve as a first defense line to sniff out bombs or drugs. These dogs can do these jobs because they preserve traits historically required of dogs for performing their jobs. A dog standard is a blueprint that describes the physical attributes that a dog breed must have to do its job.

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