A Spectator's Guide to Dog Shows

Dog with ribbon at dog show
In all-breed conformation shows, purebred dogs are judged for how well they conform to the AKC's breed characteristics.

You don’t have to be the owner of a purebred show dog to enjoy dog shows. These events are fun for any pet lover to watch, either in person or on television. Here's a breakdown of everything you need to know, so you and your pup can follow along.

What Is a Dog Show?

The most popular type of dog show is an all-breed conformation show, in which purebred dogs are judged for how well they conform to the American Kennel Club's(AKC) breed characteristics. This in-depth set of standards ranges from weight and color to gait and personality.

Each competitor is placed into one of seven classes, depending on age and experience, among other factors; male and female dogs compete separately within each class. The dog and handler jog around the ring in front of the judge, who examines each animal’s appearance. During this time, the dog is expected to be calm and well-behaved.

Prizes are awarded for first through fourth place within each class and sex. Next, the male and female winners compete against each other and all participating champion dogs for the title Best of Breed. Those winners then compete for Best in Group (e.g., Sporting, Terrier, Toy) and finally for Best in Show. Each award comes with championship points, which can affect the class in which the dog competes at the next show.

Why Should I Attend a Show?

A dog show affords the opportunity to see unusual breeds up close. How often do you encounter a dog with floor-length dreadlocks or pups who are completely bald except for a sprout of perfectly coiffed hair around the face? Komondors and Chinese Cresteds are only two of the many unique dog breeds you’ll see en masse at a dog show. Some shows even have a Meet the Breeds program, which allows you to get up close and personal with the competitors and their owners after judging.

If you’re in the market for a purebred dog, a dog show can be a good opportunity to speak with breeders. They can advise you on whether that type of dog is appropriate for your lifestyle and may also be able to recommend groomers and veterinarians.

And if you have eyesonlyfor your own pets, you can still find entertainment at dog shows. Beyond the rings, a widearray of vendors sells a variety of items, including books, handmade clothes, collars, leashes and pet treats. Representatives from major pet food companies are also usually available to answer questions about feeding and nutrition.

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