Dog Show Competition

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zoe-picShowing dogs is a great sport where the thrill of competition is combined with the joy of seeing beautiful dogs. A dog show is only one of nine different types of AKC dog events in which AKC-registered dogs can compete. Other AKC events include tests of instinct and trainability, such as field trials or herding tests.

At a dog show, the main consideration is the dog’s conformation or overall appearance and structure. Dog shows, specifically conformation shows, are events in which purebred dogs compete against each other based on their breeds’ standards.

There are two types of conformation dog shows – specialty and all-breed. The first modern conformation dog show was held in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, England, in June 1859, and the only breeds scheduled for that show were Pointers and Setters.

Specialty shows are limited to dogs of a specific breed or grouping of breeds – for example, the Bulldog Club of America Specialty is for Bulldogs only. An All-Breed dog show, on the other hand, is open to over 130 breeds recognized by the AKC.

There are six different regular classes in which dogs may be entered into a dog show. The following classes are provided for male and female dogs separately in each breed entered at the show.

  • Puppy – Six-to-nine or nine-to-twelve months.
  • Twelve-To-Eighteen Months
  • Novice – Never won a blue ribbon in any of the other classes, or has won less than three ribbons in the novice class.
  • Bred By Exhibitor – The exhibitor is also the breeder.
  • American-Bred – Dogs parents were mated in America and the dog was born in America.
  • Open – Any dog of that breed.

After all of the classes are judged, all the dogs that won first place in each class competes again to see who is the best from the previous winners. This is also done separately for male and female dogs. A Reserve Winner award is given in each sex to the runner-up.

The winners then go on to compete with the champions for the title of "Best Of Breed." 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 best between male and female winners.
  • "Best of Opposite Sex" – the best dog that is the opposite sex of the Best of Breed winner.

Only the "Best of Breed" (male OR female) winners advance to compete in the group competition.

Each AKC-recognized breed falls into one of seven group classifications. Four placements are awarded in each group, but only the first-place winner advances to the Best In Show competition.

The AKC originally registered dogs as either Sporting or Non-Sporting. Hounds and Terriers split off the Sporting Group, Toys and Working from the Non-Sporting, and later, Herding from the Working Group. The remaining dogs, with a great diversity of traits not fitting any of the above, comprise the Non-Sporting Group. Today, the seven groups in All-Breed Shows include:

Sporting Group

These dogs were bred to hunt game birds both on land and in the water. These gun dogs generally have high energy and stable temperaments. Pointers and Setters point and mark the game, Spaniels flush the bird, and Retrievers recover the game from land or water.

Hounds Group

Hounds were originally classified as Sporting dogs, but were assigned their own group in 1930. These dogs are hunters that bring down the game themselves, or hold it at bay until the hunter arrives, or locate the game by tracking it. Sighthounds hunt by sight, Scenthounds by tracking with their superior olfactory senses. These breeds include such dogs as Beagles, Bassets, Dachshunds and Greyhounds.

Working Group

These dogs are generally intelligent and powerfully built, performing a variety of tasks, including guarding homes and livestock, serving as draft animals (pulling carts, etc.), as police, military and service dogs, and for search and rescue. Among the breeds in this group are the Akita, Boxer, Doberman Pinscher and St. Bernard.

Terrier Group

“Terrier” comes from the Latin word, terra (ground) as these determined and courageous dogs must be small enough and agile enough to “go to ground” to pursue their quarry (rats, foxes, and other vermin). This is the largest group, with breeds including the Airedale, Bull Terrier and Scottish Terrier. All but the Australian Terrier and the Miniature Schnauzer were developed in the United Kingdom.

Toy Group

These dogs were bred to be the prized companions of royalty. This group includes little dogs such as the Chihuahua, Maltese, Pomeranian and Pug. They are full of life and spirit and often resemble their larger cousins (e.g., Pomeranian as a Nordic breed, the Papillon a little Spaniel, and the Toy Poodle the smallest variety of the Poodle).

Non-Sporting Group

This group of dogs have a great diversity of traits not fitting any of the other groups, and includes the Chow Chow, Bulldog, Dalmatian and Poodle. These dogs share certain attributes but don’t fit into the mold of other dog groups.

Herding Group

This group split off from the Working Group in 1983. Herding is a natural instinct in dogs, and their purpose is to serve ranchers and farmers by moving livestock from one place to another. Among this group are the Briard, Collie, German Shepherd Dog and Old English Sheepdog.

And then finally, the seven group winners are brought into the ring where they compete for “Best In Show” – the highest award at an AKC dog show!


Each dog that receives an award is given a ribbon by the judge. The color of the ribbon denotes the type of award the dog has won.

Blue – awarded for first place in any regular class. Also awarded for the winner of each group competition, usually in “rosette” form.

Red – awarded for second place in each class. Also awarded for second place in each group competition, usually in “rosette” form.

Yellow – awarded for third place in each class. Also awarded for third place in each group competition, usually in “rosette” form.

White – awarded for fourth place in each class. Also awarded for fourth place in each group competition, usually in “rosette” form.

Purple – awarded to the winners of the opposite sex of any regular class. Since these are the classes in which championship points are earned, they are highly coveted.

Purple and White – awarded to the “Reserve Winner,” meaning the runner-up winner (male OR female) of any regular class.

Blue and White – awarded to the dog that wins “Best of Winners,” which is the best of both male AND female winners of any regular class.

Purple and Gold – awarded to the dog judged “Best of Breed” in each breed competition. This is highly coveted because it is the ticket to advance into the group competition.

Red and White – awarded to the “Best of Opposite Sex.” This award is given to the best dog in 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 goes to the ultimate award winner – the “Best In Show!”


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