What happens in a dog show

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Couple with dog at a dog show
Couple With Dog At A Dog Show

A dog show is a competitive dog sport that involves the presentation of purebred dogs to be judged for conformity to their respective breed standards. Some people think of dog shows as beauty pageants for dogs while others recognize them as an essential step to improving each breed.

Why Are There Dog Shows?

Also called conformation trials or breed shows, dog shows are designed to display purebred dogs with the ideal characteristics of their respective breeds. These standards are determined by each breed's official parent association and upheld by organizations like the American Kennel Club or the United Kennel Club. Ultimately, the goal is to maintain and even improve each breed so that future lines remain of the highest quality.

Dog show judges determine the best specimens of each dog breed. Many dog breeders prefer to breed dogs that have placed in dog shows so the puppies will have the most desired traits of that dog breed. These puppies are often healthier, more desirable, and worth more money.

What Happens During a Dog Show?

During conformation shows, dogs are presented in the ring by their handlers. The handler may or may not be the owner of the dog. Dog owners often hire professional handlers to show their dogs. Handlers generally have a lot of experience in dog shows and know how to make the dogs look their best in the show ring.

brown and white short coated dog
brown and white short coated dog

In the ring, the dogs are judged by knowledgeable and experienced purebred dog experts. These judges look at the dogs' physical characteristics, movement/gait, and temperament. Then, they determine which dogs measure up most closely to their respective breed standards.

Dog Show Awards

During a dog show, the dogs first compete alongside dogs of the same breed. The winner is given the title Best of Breed and goes on to compete for Best of Group. Groups are breeds that share similar traits. The AKC divides dog breed into seven groups:

  • Herding
  • Hounds
  • Non-Sporting
  • Sporting
  • Terriers
  • Toys
  • Working

Other kennel clubs have similar types of groups.

dog near flower
dog near flower

The winners of Best in Group go on to compete for Best in Show, where one final champion dog is determined.

Champion dogs are considered better breeding stock than non-champion dogs because they are proven ideal specimens of their breed. For this reason, their offspring generally have a higher monetary value.

Several placements are awarded during most dog shows:

  • Best of Breed is the title given to the dog that best represents its breed standard according to the judge of that round. During this round, dogs are shown with others in the same breed.
  • Best in Variety is awarded in lieu of Best in Breed when a dog breed has several varieties of the same breed. One example is the Poodle, which has miniature, standard, and toy varieties.
  • Best of Opposite is awarded to a dog of the opposite sex of Best of Breed or Best in Variety that best represents the same breed as determined by the same judge. This indicates that the pair is ideal for breeding.
  • Best in Show denotes the overall winner of the dog show. This dog is selected from all of the Best in Group winners of that show. Best in Show is the highest distinction in a conformation dog show.
  • Award of Merit may be given at the discretion of the judge to outstanding entries that did not win Best of Breed or Best in Show.
Dogs lined up for competition
Dogs Lined Up For Competition

Dog Show Terminology

Whether or not you are a fan of dog shows, you may have heard some terms that leave you guessing. Some of them might be easy to figure out but others are not so obvious. Here are some of the terms commonly used in dog shows with explanations of their meanings:

person walking near dog on green field surrounded with tall and green trees during daytime
person walking near dog on green field surrounded with tall and green trees during daytime

All Rounder

describes a dog show judge who is licensed to judge all breeds.


is an object used to get and keep a dog's attention in the show ring, such as a treat or toy. Some shows do not allow bait to be used.

Benched Show

(or bench show) refers to a dog show where dogs are assigned to separate benches when they are not in the showing ring. Spectators can approach each bench to learn more about the dog. The Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show is one of the few benched shows in the United States.


is the term used to describe an intact female dog (not spayed). An intact male is simply called a dog.

tan German shepherd
tan German shepherd

Breed Standard

is a written description of the ideal physical, functional, and temperamental traits of a specific breed. This is the standard against which all dogs of that breed are judged. The breed standard is created and enforced by the parent club for each breed.

Champion (Ch.)

is a title for a dog that has earned a certain number of points competing in AKC shows.


describes the structure and physical traits of a dog and how well they conform to the breed standard. Dog shows are also often called conformation shows.


refers to the mother of a litter of puppies.

white puppy at beach
white puppy at beach
adult short-coated brown dog besides green plant photo
adult short-coated brown dog besides green plant photo


is used in the dog show world to describe an intact male canine (not neutered). An intact female canine is called a bitch.


refers to the movement of the dog and may also be called action. A competing dog's gait is judged when the dogs are walking and running around the ring. This helps to display proper or improper structure and conformation.


describes the person who shows the dog in the ring. This is not always the dog's owner; it is often a professional handler that is paid to show dogs. An excellent handler is well-paid because a good performance can mean the difference between a win and a loss.


refers to the position a dog stands in while being shown. Certain dog breeds have their own special positions. Most breeds stand so all four paws are aligned.