Credit: Sebastian Duran

Conformation is a competitive dog sport that involves presenting purebred dogs for judging against the respective breed standards in appearance, temperament, and movement.

These judging events are called dog shows. Dog shows measure purebred dogs against the ideal characteristics of the breed, as determined by each purebred dog association.

The real goal of Conformation shows is to maintain and improve each breed. By rewarding the highest-quality dogs who represent the breed’s standards, temperament, and type, each breed’s future is conserved.

At the events, knowledgeable and experienced purebred experts judge the dogs’ physical characteristics, movement/gait, and temperament to determine which dogs measure up most closely to the breed standard.

How a Dog Show Works


Each dog presented to a judge is exhibited (“handled”) by its owner, breeder, or a hired professional. The handler’s role is similar to a jockey, who rides a horse around the track and, hopefully, into the winner’s circle.

Most dogs at Conformation shows are competing for points toward their AKC championships. It takes fifteen points, including two majors (wins of three, four, or five points) awarded by at least three different judges, to become an American Kennel Club “Champion of Record.”

The number of championship points awarded at a show depends on the number of males (“dogs”) and females (“bitches”) of the breed in competition. The larger the entry, the greater the number of points a male or female can win. The maximum number of points awarded to a dog at any show is five points.

Within their respective breeds, males and females compete separately in seven regular classes. The following classes are offered and are divided by sex:

  • Puppy: For dogs between six and twelve months of age who are not yet champions (optional class).
  • Twelve To Eighteen Months: For dogs twelve to eighteen months of age who are not yet champions (optional class).
  • Novice: For dogs six months of age and over who have not previously won, prior to the entry’s closing date, three first places in Novice Class; a first place in Amateur-Owner-Handler, Bred-by-Exhibitor, American-bred, or Open Classes; or who have not earned one or more points toward their championship (optional class).
  • Amateur-Owner-Handler: For dogs at least six months of age who are not champions. The registered owner must handle the dog. The class is limited to exhibitors who have not, at any point in time, been a professional dog handler, AKC-approved Conformation judge, or employed as an assistant to a professional handler (optional class). (effective January 1, 2009)
  • Bred By Exhibitor: For dogs who are not yet champions and are exhibited by their owner and breeder (optional class).
  • American-Bred: For dogs who are not yet champions and were born in the United States from a mating that took place in the United States (mandatory class).
  • Open: For any dog of the breed, at least six months of age (mandatory class).

After these classes are judged, all the first-place dogs compete again to determine the best of the winning dogs. Males and females are judged separately. Only the best male (Winners Dog) and the best female (Winners Bitch) receive championship points. The Winners Dog and Winners Bitch then compete with the champions for the Best of Breed award. At the end of the Best of Breed competition, three awards are usually given:

  • Best of Breed: The dog judged as the best in its breed category.
  • Best of Winners: The dog judged as the better of the Winners Dog and Winners Bitch.
  • Best of Opposite Sex: The best dog who is the opposite sex to the Best of Breed winner.

The Road to Best in Show

Dog shows are a process of elimination, with one dog being named “Best in Show” at the conclusion.

Only the Best of Breed winners advance to compete in the “Group” competitions. Each AKC-recognized breed falls into one of seven group classifications. The seven groups are Sporting, Hound, Working, Terrier, Toy, Non-Sporting, and Herding. Four placements are awarded in each group, but only the first-place winners advance to the Best In Show competition.

Most breeders feel that champion dogs (CH) are more appropriate for breeding than non-champion dogs. The advanced title is Grand Champion (GCH).

For more information about Conformation competition (dog shows), visit these links: