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Understanding A Dog Show
Thousands, if not millions, of people tune in to watch the big televised dog shows, but what they see is only the tip of the iceberg, the group competitions and top shows. Of course, these are exciting competitions as the best dogs of each breed compete for top honors at a dog show. However, much more happens at a dog show before these group competitions begin.
Think of a dog show as a pyramid, divided into three sections:
1. The base and majority of the pyramid is made up of race competitions.
2. The next section, much smaller, is made up of Group Competitions. The many AKC breeds are divided into seven groups. The Best of Breed winner in each breed advances to compete in their group.
3. A small section at the top of the pyramid is the third part of a dog show. This is the best show competition. Only 7 dogs compete, the winning dog in each group competition.
Now, let’s bring it down to the race level.
In breed competition, regardless of breed, individual dogs are judged against a written breed standard, which describes the attributes that the “ideal specimen” of the breed should have. Breed standards include descriptions of head, eyes, pigment, coat, color, bite (i.e., tooth placement), conformation, and movement. In an ideal world, dogs are judged based on the standard and the person showing the dog is ignored. (In the real world, the person at the bottom of the lead can influence a judge’s decision because some judges are prone to award victory to professional manipulators and ignore those who are not.)
So here’s how the classes work. First, the classes are divided by sex. Males compete against males. Females compete against females. The following classes are available for each gender:
Puppy 6-9– Puppies who are not yet champions and who are between six and nine months old compete in this category.
Puppy 9-12– In this category compete puppies that are not yet champions and are between nine and twelve months old.
From twelve to eighteen months– Adults who are not yet champions and who are between twelve and eighteen months old compete in this category.
novelty – To compete in this category, a dog must be six months or older; must have won less than three first places in the novice class; must not have won first place in Bred-by-Exhibitor, American-bred or Open Class; and must not have earned any points for their championship.
Amateur-Owner-Manager– Dogs that are at least six months old and are not champions must be handled in this category by their registered owner. The class is limited to exhibitors who have not at any time been a professional dog handler, an AKC approved conformation judge, or employed as an assistant to a professional dog handler.
Created by exhibitor – This class is for dogs that are shown by their breeder and are not yet champions.
American bred – To enter this class, a non-champion dog must have been born in the United States from a mating that took place in the United States.
open – This class is for any dog of the breed that is at least 6 months old.
Assume that there are at least 4 entries in each of these classes. Starting with the puppy (male) class 6-9, the dogs are called into the ring. The dogs are identified by a number which the exhibitor wears on a sleeve on his left arm. They enter the ring in numerical order. Usually the judge first lines up the dogs, stands back and gives them a quick look. He can stop in front of each dog to look at the head and expression. He then tells the exhibitors to “carry them” around the ring and stand on the examination table. Each dog is placed on the examination table where the judge “passes” them, examines each dog and compares its attributes to the breed standard. Then ask each exhibitor to move their dog. This is often referred to as “down and back” as the judge sends the dog first to judge the dog’s back movement, and then towards him to judge the front movement. Some judges send the dog around the ring to the end of the line so they can judge lateral movement. When all the dogs have finished the movement portion of the trial and are back in line, the judge will stand back and take another look at the dogs before making the placements, sometimes returning to a dog to give it a second look or ask an exhibitor to move a particular dog again. Often, the judges will ask the exhibitors to lead the dogs around the ring one last time. Then the judges make their placements.
Each class has the ability to take four positions, and bows 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 different classes have been judged. The judging routine should be the same for each class.
Next comes the Winners Dog class. The first place finisher in each men’s class is called back to the ring. This time they line up by class in reverse order, with the Open Dog winner first in line and the Puppy 6-9 winner last in line. The dogs are re-judged, but usually not put back on the table for examination. The dog that wins this class is known as the winners dog. He gets a purple ribbon and most importantly points towards his championship. After the winners dog is chosen, the other winners remain in the ring because the judge must choose a dog from the reserve winners (the runner-up). The dog that placed second in the class from which the Winners Dog came returns to the ring to compete for the Reserve. For example, suppose the Winners Dog came from the Bred By Exhibitor class. The dog that placed second in that Bred By Exhibitor class then goes into the ring with the winners of the other classes to be judged against them for the Reserve. The judge then awards a dog from the reserve winners.
The dog classes have now been judged.
Next come the classes for women. (At dog shows, females are referred to as “Dogs”, and this is not used in a derogatory or cursing sense. It simply means “female dog”). The classes are the same and the judging routine is the same. At the end, all Bitch class winners return to the ring and a Winners Bitch and Reserve Winners Bitch are awarded.
Men and women competing in these classes compete for points for 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 maximum points a dog can earn in a show. Points for each show differ for each breed and depend on 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 that lists each show entry by group and 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 given 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 display of the breed. Best of Breed may be awarded to one of the champions being exhibited or to the Winners dog or Winners Bitch, whichever dog the judge deems most worthy.
The best of the winners – This placement is awarded to the Winners Dog or the Winners Bitch, whichever the judge deems more worthy.
The best of the opposite sex – This award is given to a dog of the opposite sex to the dog that won best of breed. (If a female wins Best of Breed, that winner would be a male, and vice versa.)
Select Dog– A male champion who has not won either best of breed or best of the opposite sex, but the judge deems deserving of an award.
Select Bitch– A champion female that has not won either best of breed or best of the opposite sex, but the judge considers deserving of a prize.
Champions compete for breed points, which will be accumulated to give them national rankings. One point is awarded for each dog of the breed registered 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 champion), Best of Opposite Sex (if champion), Select Dog and Select Bitch will also earn points towards a Grand Championship title. Once they achieve this title, accumulating points earns them Bronze, Silver or Gold Grand Champion status.
The best of breed winner of each breed entered in the dog show is now eligible to represent their breed by competing in the group competition. There are seven AKC groups. Since this part of the dog show is regularly shown on television, most people are familiar with what goes on in these groups. The seven groups are
1. Sports– These dogs were bred to hunt game birds both on land and in water. Examples include Cocker Spaniels, Irish Setters, Labradors, Golden Retrievers, Vizslas.
2. Dogs – Dog breeds were bred to hunt other game by sight or smell. Examples include Coonhounds, Beagles, Whippets, Salukis.
3. Working – These dogs were bred to pull carts, guard property and perform search and rescue services. Examples include Boxers, Newfoundlands, Akitas, Bernese Mountain Dogs.
4. Terrier – Terriers were bred to eliminate the properties of animals. Examples include the Skye, Norfolk, Airedale, Welsh and Fox Terrier.
5. Toy – These small dogs were bred to be housemates. Examples include Pomeranians, Shih Tzu, Maltese, Chihuahuas, Pekingese.
6. Not sporty – 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. Livestock – These dogs were bred to help shepherds and ranchers to graze 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 judged against each other because the standards for each breed are different. What the judge is looking for is the dog that best represents the ideal described in his breed standard. From the exhibited dogs, the judge will select four for their placements. Ribbon colors are the same for group placements as for regular classes: blue, red, yellow, and white.
Dogs competing in the group compete for group points towards the national group classification. For example, let’s say there were a total of 233 sheepdogs that entered a show. The winner of this group receives 233 group points. Subtract the number of dogs of the same breed as the winner and the rest of the points go to the dog in second place. Subtract the number of points from that dog’s breed and the remaining points go to the dog in third place, and so on for fourth place.
Finally, the seven group winners are brought into the ring where they compete Best of the show, the highest prize in a dog show. The winner of the Best in Show receives points for the victory, which will go towards the 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.
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