The AKC offers a wide variety of resources to assist everyone from the first-time puppy buyer to the experienced dog fancier. Many publications are free, including the Rules Applying to Dog Shows. All exhibitors are required to be familiar with these rules prior to entering a dog show. To order the rule book free of charge, contact Customer Service at 919-233-9767 or via email at OrderDesk@akc.org. Copies of this rulebook may also be purchased at our online store. The following information is intended as a general description of dog shows and is not intended as complete information about any aspect of showing. For complete information, see the Rules Applying to Dog Shows.
The American Kennel Club was established in 1884 to promote the study, breeding, exhibiting and advancement of purebred dogs. It is the largest not-for-profit purebred dog registry in the nation.
The AKC approves and maintains the official records of over 15,000 sanctioned and licensed events each year.
The AKC has approximately 500 member clubs and over 4,000 affiliated clubs. These clubs are more than show-giving entities. They are public service, educational organizations whose activities benefit their entire community. Some AKC club activities include public education through presentations at schools, fairs, libraries, shelters, hospitals, rescue leagues, scouts and 4-H; training classes; and health clinics.
AKC registration means a dog, its parents, and its ancestors are purebred. It does not indicate health or quality. Dogs registered with the AKC can have their offspring registered and compete in AKC events.
Showing dogs is a great sport where the thrill of competition is combined with the joy of seeing beautiful dogs. Dog shows are one of many types of AKC dog events in which AKC-registered dogs can compete. These events, which draw nearly two million entries annually, include dog shows and tests of instinct and trainability, such as obedience trials, Canine Good Citizen tests, field trials, agility trials, lure coursing, rally, hunting tests, herding trials, tracking tests, coonhound and earthdog events.
Dog shows (conformation events) are intended to evaluate breeding stock. The size of these events ranges from large all-breed shows, with over 3,000 dogs entered, to small local specialty club shows, featuring a specific breed. The dog’s conformation (overall appearance and structure), an indication of the dog’s ability to produce quality puppies, is judged.
There are three types of conformation dog shows:
All-breed shows offer competitions for over 150 breeds and varieties of dogs recognized by the AKC. All-breed shows are the type often shown on television
Specialty shows are restricted to dogs of a specific breed or to varieties of one breed. For example, the Bulldog Club of America Specialty is for Bulldogs only, but the Poodle Club of America’s specialty show includes the three varieties of the Poodle – Standard, Miniature and Toy.
Group shows are limited to dogs belonging to one of the seven groups. For example, the Potomac Hound Group show features only breeds belonging to the Hound group.
To be eligible to compete, a dog must:
Judges examine the dogs, then give awards according to how closely each dog compares to the judge’s mental image of the “perfect” dog described in the breed’s official standard.
The standard describes the characteristics that allow the breed to perform the function for which it was bred. These standards include specifications for structure, temperament and movement.
The official written standard for each breed is maintained by the breed’s national club and is included in the The Complete Dog Book published by the AKC.
The judges are experts on the breeds they are judging. They examine (“go over”) each dog with their hands to see if the teeth, muscles, bones and coat texture conform to the breed’s standard. They view each dog in profile for overall balance, and watch each dog gait (“move”) to see how all of those features fit together in action.
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 six regular classes. The following classes are offered, and are divided by sex:
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:
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.
Finally, the seven group winners are brought into the ring where they compete for Best In Show, the highest award at a dog show.
Each dog that receives an award is given a ribbon by the judge. The color of the ribbon indicates the type of award the dog has won.
Blue – awarded for first place in any regular class. Also awarded to the winner of each group competition, usually in the form of a “rosette”.
Red – awarded for second place in each class. Also awarded for second place in each group competition, usually in the form of a “rosette”.
Yellow – awarded for third place in each class. Also awarded for third place in each group competition, usually in the form of a “rosette”.
White – awarded for fourth place in each class. Also awarded for fourth place of each group competition, usually in the form of a “rosette”.
Purple – awarded to the winners of the Winners Dog and Winners Bitch classes. Since these are the classes in which championship points are earned, these ribbons are highly coveted.
Purple and White – awarded to the Reserve Winners; that is, the runners-up to the winner of the Winners Dog and Winners Bitch classes.
Blue and White – awarded to the dog that wins Best of Winners; that is, the better of the Winners Dog and Winners Bitch winners.
Purple and Gold – awarded to the dog judged “Best of Breed” in each breed competition. This is highly coveted because it allows advancement to the Group competition.
Red and White – awarded to the Best of Opposite Sex. This means the best dog of the breed that is the opposite sex of the Best of Breed winner.
Red, White and Blue – only one of these is awarded, at the end of each show. It is given to the ultimate award winner, the Best In Show.
The best place to start is by joining a local kennel club, whether an all-breed kennel club or a breed-specific specialty club. A listing of clubs by state can be found on our Club Search page or through our customer service department by calling (919) 233-9767.
Local clubs will have information on training classes for the show ring, and for obedience and agility classes. Even if the show ring is not your ultimate goal, the relationship that training forms between you and your dog will be very rewarding to you both. Local clubs also have “Fun Matches” where you and your dog can test your skill in the ring.
Handling your dog is an exceptional and enjoyable experience. From the grooming table to the show ring, you and your dog will develop a bond. While training classes offer the best hands-on way to practice for the show ring, attending shows and observing your breed is also a great way to gain understanding of what judges and other competitors do.
If you do not wish to handle your dog yourself, or have a friend or family member do it, you may contact a professional handler who charges a fee for showing your dog.
You’re on your way! You are entering a sport that will bring many hours of enjoyment and education to every member of your family. You will make many friends in the sport, and will enjoy your dog and your new hobby for many years to come.
The AKC offers youngsters 10 to 18 years of age the opportunity to compete with others their own age at various AKC events. Juniors competing in conformation events are judged on how they present their dogs.
Angulation – Angles created by bones meeting at their joints.
Baiting – Using liver or some treat to get the dog’s attention and have him look alert.
Bench Show – A dog show at which the dogs are kept on assigned benches when not being shown in competition, so they can be viewed and discussed by attendees, exhibitors and breeders.
Exhibitor – A person who brings a dog to a dog show and shows it in the appropriate class.
Fancier – A person who is especially interested, and usually active, in some phase of the sport of purebred dogs.
Gait – The way a dog moves, movement is a good indicator of structure and condition.
Groom – To brush, comb, trim or otherwise make a dog’s coat neat.
Handler – A person or agent who takes a dog into the show ring or who works the dog at a field trial or other performance event.
Heel – A command to a dog to keep close beside its handler.
Match Show – A usually informal dog show at which no championship points are awarded.
Miscellaneous Class – Transitional class for breeds attempting to advance to full AKC recognition.
Pedigree – The written record of a dog’s family tree of three or more generations.
Points – Credits earned toward a championship.
Soundness – Mental and physical well-being.
Stacking – Posing the dog’s legs and body to create a pleasing picture.