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Conformation is a competitive dog sport that involves presenting purebred dogs to be judged 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 the purebred dog association.

The real goal of conformation shows is to maintain and improve each breed so that the breed's future is maintained with the highest quality with regard to the breed standards, temperament and type.

At the events, the dogs are judged by knowledgeable and experienced purebred experts. These judges look at 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

(source: www.AKC.org)

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

Most dogs in competition 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 actually in competition. The larger the entry, the greater the number of points a male or a female can win. The maximum number of points awarded to a dog at any show is 5 points.

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

  • Puppy
    For dogs between six and twelve months of age, that are not yet champions (optional class).
  • Twelve-To-Eighteen Months
    For dogs twelve to eighteen months of age, that are not yet champions (optional class).
  • Novice
    For dogs six months of age and over, which have not, prior to the date of closing of entries, won three first prizes in the Novice Class, a first prize in Bred-by-Exhibitor, American-bred, or Open Classes, nor one or more points toward their championship (optional class).
  • Amateur-Owner-Handler
    For dogs that are at least six months of age that are not champions. Dogs must be handled in the class by the registered owner of the dog and 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 (effective January 1, 2009) (optional class).
  • Bred By Exhibitor
    For dogs that are exhibited by their owner and breeder, that are not yet champions (optional class).
  • American-Bred
    For dogs born in the United States from a mating which took place in the United States, that are not yet champions (mandatory class).
  • Open
    For any dog of the breed, at least 6 months of age (mandatory class).

After these classes are judged, all the dogs that won first place in a class compete again to see who is 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 that 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 end of the show.

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 winner advances to the Best In Show competition.

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

More information about conformation competition (dog shows):