Thousands, if not millions of people, tune in to watch the large televised dog shows, but what they see is only the tip of the iceberg, the Group and Best in Show Competitions. To be sure, these are exciting competitions, as the top dogs in each breed vie for the highest honor at a dog show. However, much more happens at a dog show before those group competitions even begin.
Think of a dog show as a pyramid, divided into three sections:
1. The base and the majority of the pyramid is composed of the Breed Competitions.
2. The next section, much smaller, is composed of the Group Competitions. The many AKC breeds are divided into seven groups. The Best of Breed winner from each breed moves forward to compete in his/her group.
3. A tiny little section at the very top of the pyramid is the third part of a dog show. This is the Best in Show Competition. Only 7 dogs compete, the winning dog from each group competition.
Now, let’s take it down to the breed level.
In Breed Competition, no matter what the breed, the individual dogs are judged against a written breed standard, which describes the attributes the “ideal specimen” of the breed should possess. The breed standards include descriptions of head, eyes, pigment, coat, color, bite (i.e., placement of teeth), structure, and movement. In an ideal world, the dogs are each judged against the standard and the person showing the dog is ignored. (In the real world, the person on the end of the lead can sway a judge’s decision because some judges are prone to award the win to professional handlers and ignore those who aren’t.)
So, here is how the classes are run. First, the classes are divided by sex. The males compete against the males. The females compete against the females. For each sex the following classes are available:
Puppy 6-9– Puppies that are not yet champions and that are between six and nine months of age compete in this class.
Puppy 9-12-Puppies that are not yet champions and that are between nine and twelve months of age compete in this class.
Twelve-To-Eighteen Months– Adults that are not yet champions and that are between twelve to eighteen months of age compete in this class.
Novice – To compete in this class, a dog must be six months of age or older; must have won less than three first places in the Novice Class; must not have won a first place in Bred-by-Exhibitor, American-bred, or Open Class; and must not have won any points toward their championship.
Amateur-Owner-Handler– Dogs that are at least six months of age and that are not champions must be handled in this class by their registered owner. The class is limited to exhibitors who have not, at any point in time, been a professional dog handler, an AKC approved conformation judge, or employed as an assistant to a professional dog handler.
Bred By Exhibitor – This class is for dogs that are exhibited by their breeder owner and that are not yet champions.
American-Bred – To enter this class, a dog that is not yet a champion has to have been born in the United States from a mating which took place in the United States.
Open – This class is for any dog of the breed that is at least 6 months of age.
Let’s say that there are at least 4 entries in each of those classes. Starting with the puppy dog (male) 6-9 class, the dogs are called into the ring. The dogs are identified by a number the exhibitor wears on an armband on his/her left arm. They go into the ring in numerical order. Generally, the judge first lines the dogs up, stands back and takes a quick look at each. S/he may stop in front of each dog to look at head and expression. Then s/he tells the exhibitors to “take them around” the ring and to stop at the examination table. Each dog is placed on the exam table where the judge “goes over” them, examining each dog and comparing its attributes to the breed standard. Next s/he asks each exhibitor to move his/her dog. This is often referred to as a “down and back,” since the judge sends the dog away first to judge the dog’s rear movement, then back toward him to judge the front movement. Some judges then send the dog around the ring to the end of the line so they can judge the side movement. When all the dogs have finished the movement portion of the judging and are back in line, the judge will stand back and give another look at the dogs before making the placements, sometimes returning to a dog to give a second look or asking an exhibitor to move a particular dog again. Often judges will ask the exhibitors to take the dogs around the ring one last time. Then the judges make their placements.
Each class has the possibility of four placements, and ribbons are awarded for each. First place = blue ribbon, Second = red, Third = Yellow, and Fourth = white.
The next class would be Puppy 9-12 and so on until all the male dogs in the various classes have been judged. The judging routine should be the same for each class.
Next comes the Winners Dog class. The first place winner of each male class is called back into the ring. This time they line up by class in reverse order, with the Open Dog winner being first in line and the Puppy 6-9 winner being last in line. The dogs are again judged, but usually not put back on the table for examination. The dog that wins this class is referred to as the Winners Dog. He gets a purple ribbon and, most importantly, the points toward his championship. After the Winners Dog is chosen, the other winners remain in the ring because the judge has to choose a Reserve Winners Dog (the runner up). The dog that took second place in the class that the Winners Dog came from comes back into the ring to compete for Reserve. For example, let’s say the Winners Dog came from the Bred By Exhibitor class. Then the dog that took 2nd in that Bred By Exhibitor class comes into the ring with the winners from the other classes to be judged against them for Reserve. Then the judge awards a Reserve Winners Dog.
Now the judging of the Dog classes is done.
Next come the classes for the females. (At dog shows, the females are referred to as “Bitches,” and it is not used in a derogatory sense or in the sense of a curse word. It simply means a “canine female.”) The classes are the same and the judging routine is the same. At the end, all the winners of the Bitch classes come back into the ring and a Winners Bitch and Reserve Winners Bitch are awarded.
The males and females competing in these classes are competing for points toward their championship titles. To become a champion, a dog must earn 15 points. Of the 15 points, two of the dog’s wins must be major wins. A “major” is a 3, 4, or 5-point win. Five points is the most points a dog can win at one show. The points at each show differ for each breed and are dependent upon the number of dogs of each sex in each breed competing that day. AKC revises its point schedule annually and the schedule is printed in each show’s catalog, a book listing each entry in the show by group and by breed.
The final class for each breed is the Best of Breed class. The Winners Dog and Winners Bitch compete with the champions for the Best of Breed award. At the end of the Best of Breed Competition, these awards are usually presented if there are enough dogs in the class for all awards to be given:
Best of Breed– This is the dog judged as the best exhibit of the breed. The Best of Breed may be awarded to one of the champions being exhibited or awarded to the Winners Dog or Winners Bitch, whichever dog the judge deems most worthy.
Best of Winners – This placement is awarded to either the Winners Dog or the Winners Bitch, whichever the judge deems most worthy.
Best of Opposite Sex – This award is given to dog that is the opposite sex of the dog that won Best of Breed. (If a female wins Best of Breed, this winner would be a male, and visa versa.)
Select Dog– A champion male that has not won either Best of Breed or Best of Opposite Sex but the judge finds deserving of an award.
Select Bitch– A champion female that has not won either Best of Breed or Best of Opposite Sex but the judge finds deserving of an award.
The champions are competing for breed points, which will accrue to give them national rankings. A point is given for each dog of the breed entered in the competition. So, if there are 20 Lhasa Apsos entered in a show, the breed winner will get 20 breed points. Best of Breed (if a champion), Best Opposite Sex (if a champion), Select Dog and Select Bitch will also earn points toward a Grand Championship title. Once they earn that title, an accumulation of points earns them a Bronze, Silver, or Gold Grand Champion status.
The Best of Breed winner from each breed entered at the dog show is now eligible to represent his/her breed by competing in the Group Competition. There are seven AKC groups. Since it is this portion of the dog show that is usually shown on TV, most people are familiar with what happens in these groups. The seven groups are
1. Sporting– These dogs were bred to hunt game birds both on land and in the water. Examples include Cocker Spaniels, Irish Setters, Labradors, Golden Retrievers, Vizslas.
2. Hounds – Hound breeds were bred for hunting other game by sight or scent. Examples include Coonhounds, Beagles, Whippets, Saluki.
3. Working – These dogs were bred to pull carts, guard property and perform search and rescue services. Examples include Boxers, Newfoundlands, Akita, Bernese Mountain Dogs.
4. Terrier – Terriers were bred to rid property of vermin. Examples include the Skye, Norfolk, Airedale, Welsh, and Fox Terriers.
5. Toy – These small dogs were bred to be household companions. Examples include Pomeranians, Shih Tzu, Maltese, Chihuahuas, Pekingese.
6. Non-Sporting – This diverse group includes dogs that vary in size and function. Many are considered companion dogs. Examples include the Lhasa Apso, Dalmation, Poodle (Standard and Miniature), Keeshonden, Lowchen, Shiba Inu.
7. Herding – These dogs were bred to help shepherds and ranchers herd and/or guard their livestock. Examples include Briards, Collies, Old English Sheepdogs, Corgis, German Shepherds.
It is important to realize that in the Group Competition, the dogs are not being judged against each other because the standards for each breed are diverse. What the judge is looking for is the dog that best represents the ideal described in its breed standard. From the dogs being exhibited, the judge will select four for his placements. Ribbon colors are the same for group placements as they are for the regular classes: Blue, Red, Yellow, and White.
Dogs competing in the group are competing for group points toward national group rankings. For instance, let’s say that there were a total of 233 Herding dogs entered in a show. The winner of that group receives 233 group points. Subtract the number of dogs of the same breed as the winner and the remainder of points goes to the second place dog. Subtract the number of points in that dog’s breed and the remainder of points goes to the third place dog, and so on for the fourth place.
Finally, the seven group winners are brought into the ring where they compete for Best In Show, the highest award at a dog show. The Best in Show winner receives points for the win, which will go toward national rankings. Therefore, if a show had a total entry of 2000 dogs, the Best in Show winner receives 2000 points. If a show had an entry of 300 dogs, the Best in Show winner receives 300 points.