How is a Conformation Dog Show Run?

What most people think of as a "dog show" is really a conformation competition. As the word conformation implies, the dogs and bitches are judged on who best conforms to the Breed Standard.

What is a Breed Standard?

A Breed Standard is a document that describes the ideal, or perfect dog or bitch of any given breed. For example, the AKC Australian Shepherd Breed Standard describes in great detail what the perfect Aussie should be.

At a conformation show, the judge evaluates all the canines he or she sees against that perfect picture described by the Breed Standard. The goal of most of the competitors is to finish their dog or bitch, i.e., to have them achieve their championship. In the AKC, a championship is earned by accumulating 15 points, and must include two majors, which are wins of 3 or more points, and the two majors must be won under different judges. A Champion has been judged to conform exceedingly well to the Breed Standard, and may then use the letters "Ch" in front of the registered name

So how does all of this work?

At a dog show, dogs and bitches compete against others in their breed, and everything is divided by sex. Dogs (males) compete first, followed by bitches (females). Canines who have not attained their championship compete in regular classes. The breakdown of a breed into classes can vary from breed to breed, with some breeds, such as Aussies, having more classes than others. Using Aussies as an example, the classes are as follows:

Unlike some other breeds, the Aussie Open classes are divided by color. In many breeds (Havanese for example) there is just one Open class for dogs, and one for bitches.

Class Judging

Dogs always show first, in class order. The judge will evaluate all of the puppy dogs entered in the 6-9 month puppy dog class, and award ribbons for 1st place through 4th place (blue, red, yellow and white ribbons). The judge will then judge all of the 9-12 month puppy dogs, and again award places first through fourth. This continues through all the classes, until all dogs have been judged. Dogs who have not won their class are usually excused.

It is important to keep in mind that the judge is evaluating each dog, not against the other dogs, but against the mental picture he or she has formed from the Breed Standard. He or she will evaluate them based on movement, both front and back, as well as side gait, and will also physically examine the dog in a standing (stacked) position, to ascertain its structure.

The judge's first place dog is the dog in the ring that best exemplifies the perfection of the Breed Standard. However, all dogs have faults, and there is no perfect dog. And a judge is under no obligation to award a ribbon, or any ribbons. It is entirely possible for a judge to award second, third and fourth place ribbons, but no first place ribbon, because the judge feels that none of the dogs in the ring have come close enough to the perfection of the Breed Standard. While this is a rare occurrence, it has happened.

Winners Dog, Winners Bitch, Earning Points

Once all of the dogs have been judged, all of the class winners are brought back into the ring for Winners Dog. Winners Dog is the dog judged best of all the class winners. The Winners Dog is the only dog who will receive points towards his championship.

The judge will award Winners Dog, who receives a purple ribbon, and once Winners Dog has been awarded, the judge will then award Reserve Winners Dog, who receives a purple and white ribbon. There are no points associated with Reserve Winners Dog, but if for some reason the Winners Dog becomes disqualified, the Reserve Winners Dog will be awarded the points instead.

The number of points is dependent upon the number of dogs of that breed entered into the show who have actually competed (i.e., absences are not counted in the total). Different areas of the country have different point scales based on the number of registered dogs or bitch in that particular breed. In one particular area of the country, nine dogs may be worth 2 points, but in another area it only worth 1 point.

The AKC has an excellent example on their web site of how to determine points awarded to a Winner.

After the dogs compete, the bitches compete in the same manner. All classes are judged, and all class winners return to the ring for the judge to award Winners Bitch and Reserve Winners Bitch. As with the dogs, Winners Bitch is the only bitch to receive points toward her championship. Once Winners Bitch and Reserve Winners Bitch have been awarded, the Best of Breed competition takes place.

Best of Breed

Earlier I mentioned that the goal of most competitors is to earn points towards a championship. For dogs and bitches coming out of the classes, that is their goal. However, in the Best of Breed ring, some competitors have another goal -- to earn Breed points, and possibly All-Breed points, if they continue on to Group competition. Breed and All-Breed points count toward National rankings, which can be found at Canine Chronicle's rankings page. Dogs and bitches that have already earned their championships are called specials and can compete directly in the Best of Breed Ring. They no longer have to compete in the classes and win to get into the Best of Breed competition.

The Best of Breed competition determines the best dog or bitch of that particular breed. Competition is between any champions (specials) who are entered, and Winners Dog and Winners Bitch. The Best of Breed competition is not divided by sex. Dogs and bitches compete in the ring at the same time.

The judge will award three ribbons in a Best of Breed ring:

  1. Best of Breed, a Purple and Gold ribbon, to the dog or bitch who best exemplifies the Breed Standard in the judge's evaluation,
  2. Best of Winners, a Blue and White ribbon, to the dog or bitch judged the better of Winners Dog and Winners Bitch.
  3. Best of Opposite Sex, a Red and White ribbon, to the best dog or bitch of the opposite sex of the Best of Breed winner. Thus, if a dog wins Best of Breed, the best bitch in the ring will be awarded Best of Opposite Sex and vice verse.

Once Best of Breed has been awarded, the day is over for all Australian Shepherds except the Best of Breed Winner.

How Points Are Awarded After Best of Breed

The Best of Breed Winner has picked up "Breed Points", one point for every Aussie dog or bitch that he or she defeated that day. These points count toward National breed rankings. If you hear someone speak of the "#1 Aussie in the country", this is what they are referring to. The Best of Opposite Sex winner also earns Breed points, but they are based on the number of dogs or bitches of his or her same sex, including specials, that he or she defeated. Finally, the Best of Winners dog or bitch has possibly picked up more class points. If the other Winner earned more class points than the Best of Winners, then the Best of Winners is awarded that same number of points, based on the fact that he or she was judged better than the winner of those class points.

Only the Best of Breed goes on to compete in the Group.

Group Competition

In the AKC, there are seven groups of breeds: Sporting, Non-Sporting, Hound, Terrier, Toy, Working and Herding.

After all the Best of Breed winners are determined in a given group, the Group competition for that group will begin. All Best of Breed winners come into the group ring, and are evaluated just as they were evaluated in the breed competition. Again, the judge is not comparing dogs and bitches to one another, but comparing each individual dog or bitch to the perfect picture dictated by the breed standard. Because groups are large, the judge will often make a "cut", excusing dogs he has eliminated from the competition, and concentrating on a smaller number of dogs to make his or her final placements.

After making his or her determinations, the judge will award four ribbons within the group: Group First through Group Fourth (again, blue, red, yellow and white). Unlike regular classes placements, there are All-Breed points that are awarded for each Group placement, but again, only one dog, the Group First winner, will advance to the Best In Show competition.

How All-Breed Points Are Awarded

At the Group level, each dog that places, first through fourth, is awarded All-Breed points that are counted for national rankings. Assuming the Australian Shepherd placed first in the group, the Shetland Sheepdog second, the German Shepherd third, and the Bearded Collie fourth, the points would be awarded in this manner:

The Australian Shepherd would receive All-Breed points, one for every dog or bitch that competed in the breeds that comprise the Herding group. The Shetland Sheepdog, finishing second in the group, would receive one point for every dog or bitch that competed in the breeds that comprise the Herding group with the exception of all Australian Shepherds. The German Shepherd would receive points for every Herding Group dog or bitch with the exception of all Aussies and Shelties. And finally, the Bearded Collie would receive points for every Herding group dog or bitch with the exception of all Aussies, Shelties and German Shepherds.

Best in Show

After all the groups have finished, the seven group winners compete for Best in Show. Again, evaluation is made against the breed standard, not against the other dogs or bitches in the ring. One dog or bitch is named Best in Show, and receives All-Breed points equal to the number of competitors in the entire show. The Best in Show ribbon is red, white and blue. There are no other placements awarded in the Best in Show ring. The dog or bitch who wins Best In Show is entitled to use the letters BIS in front of its registered name, indicating it is a Best in Show winner.