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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 competition and the best shows. These are sure to be exciting competitions as the best dogs of each breed compete for top honors at the dog show. However, there is a lot more going on at a dog show before these group competitions even begin.
Think of a dog show as a pyramid divided into three parts:
1. Breed competitions form the base and most of the pyramid.
2. Another part, much smaller, consists of group competitions. Many AKC breeds are divided into seven groups. The Best of Breed winner from each breed advances to compete in their group.
3. The small part at the very top of the pyramid is the third part of the dog show. This is a Best in Show competition. Only 7 dogs compete, the winning dog from each group competition.
Now let’s boil it down to the breed level.
In a breed competition, regardless of breed, individual dogs are judged against a written breed standard that describes the characteristics an “ideal specimen” of the breed should have. Breed standards include description of the head, eyes, pigment, coat, color, bite (i.e. tooth placement), structure and movement. In an ideal world, every dog is judged to a standard and the person showing the dog is ignored. (In the real world, the person at the end of the leash can influence the judge’s decision, as some judges tend to award the win to professional handlers and ignore those who are not.)
So here’s how the courses work. First, classes are divided by gender. Males compete against males. Females compete with females. The following classes are available for each gender:
Puppy 6-9– Puppies that are not yet champions and are between six and nine months of age compete in this class.
Puppy 9-12-Puppies who are not yet champions and are between nine and twelve months of age compete in this class.
Twelve to eighteen months– Adults who are not yet champions and are between twelve and eighteen months of age compete in this class.
Novice – To compete in this class, a dog must be 6 months of age or older; must obtain less than three first places in the novice class; must not win first place in Bred-by-Exhibitor, American-bred or Open Class; and may not win any points towards their championship.
Amateur-owner-handler– Dogs that are older than six months and are not champions must be kept in this class by their registered owner. Class is limited to exhibitors who have not at any time been a professional handler, AKC approved judge, or employed as a professional handler’s assistant.
Bred by exhibitor – This class is for dogs that are shown by their breeder and are not yet champions.
American breeding – To be included in this class, a dog that is not yet a champion must be 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 older than 6 months.
Let’s say there are at least 4 items in each of these classes. Starting with the junior dog (dog) 6-9 class, the dogs are called into the circle. Dogs are marked with a number that the exhibitor wears on a band on his left arm. They enter the ring in numerical order. Generally, the judge first lines up the dogs, stands back, and takes a quick look at each one. He may stop in front of each dog to look at the head and expression. He then tells the exhibitors to “walk” them around the circle and stop at the testing table. Each dog is placed on the testing table, where the judge “walks” them, examines each dog and compares its characteristics with the breed standard. He further invites each exhibitor to move his dog. This is often referred to as “down and back” because the judge sends the dog away first to judge the dog’s rear movement, then back to him to judge the front movement. Some judges then send the dog around the circle to the end of the line to judge lateral movement. When all dogs have completed the movement portion of the judging and are back in line, the judge will stand back and look at the dogs again before placing them, sometimes returning to the dog for a second look or asking the exhibitor to move a particular dog again. Often the judges will ask the exhibitors to walk the dogs around the ring one last time. Then the judges will determine their positions.
Each class has a choice of four placements and ribbons are awarded for each. First place = blue ribbon, second = red, third = yellow and fourth = white.
The next class will be Puppy 9-12 and so on until all the dogs in the different classes have been judged. The assessment procedure should be the same for each class.
Next is the class of dog winners. The first place winner of each male class is called back to the ring. This time they will 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 again judged, but usually not put back on the table for the trial. The dog that wins this class is referred to as the winning dog. He gets a purple ribbon and most importantly points towards his championship. After the winner’s dog is chosen, the other winners remain in the ring as the judge must choose the reserve winner’s (runner-up) dog. The dog that took second place in the class that gave rise to the winning dog returns to the ring to compete for reserve. For example, let’s say the Winners Dog came from the Bred By Exhibitor class. Then the 2nd place dog in that Bred By Exhibitor class comes into the ring with the winners from the other classes to be judged against them in the reserve. The judge will then award the Reserve Winners Dog.
Now the judging of dog classes is done.
Women’s courses follow. (At shows, bitches are referred to as “bitches” and this is not used in a derogatory or slurred sense. It simply means “bitch dog.”) The classes are the same and the judging routine is the same. At the end, all female class winners return to the ring and the female winner and alternate female winner are awarded.
Men and women competing in these classes compete for points toward their championship titles. To become a champion, a dog must score 15 points. Out of 15 points, two of the dog’s wins must be major wins. “Major” is a 3, 4 or 5 point victory. Five points is the most points a dog can get at one show. Points at each show vary for each breed and are dependent on the number of dogs of each sex in each breed competing that day. The AKC revises its point schedule annually, and the schedule is printed in each show’s catalog, a book listing each show entry by group and breed.
The last class for each breed is the Best of Breed class. The male winner and the female winner 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 to award all the awards:
Best of breed– This dog is judged to be the best exhibit of the breed. Best of Breed may be awarded to one of the Champions Exhibited or awarded to the Winners Dog or Winners Bitch, whichever dog the judge deems most suitable.
The best of the winners – This placement is awarded to either the winner’s dog or the winner’s bitch, whichever the judge deems most appropriate.
The best of the opposite sex – This award is given to a dog that is of the opposite sex to the dog that won Best of Breed. (If a woman wins Best of Breed, that winner would be a dog, and vice versa.)
Select Dog– A champion who did not win the title of Best of Breed or Best of Opposite Sex, but in the judge’s opinion deserves the award.
Select Bitch– Champion female who did not win either Best of Breed or Best of Opposite Sex, but in the judge’s opinion deserves an award.
Champions compete for breed points that will award them a national ranking. A point is awarded for each dog of the breed entered in the competition. So if there are 20 Lhasa Apsos entered at the show, the breed winner gets 20 breed points. Best of Breed (if champion), Best Opposite Sex (if champion), Select Dog and Select Female also earn points toward the Grand Championship title. Once they earn this title, the accumulated points will earn them bronze, silver or gold grand champion status.
The Best of Breed winner from 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 it is this part of the dog show that is usually shown on television, most people know what goes on in these groups. The seven groups are
1. Playing 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. Hounds – Hound breeds were bred to hunt other game by sight or smell. Examples include coonhounds, beagles, whippets, salukis.
3. Work – 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 rid property of vermin. Examples include Skye, Norfolk, Airedale, Welsh and Fox terriers.
5. Toy – These small dogs were bred to be household companions. Examples include Pomeranian, Shih Tzu, Maltese, Chihuahua, Pekingese.
6. Unsportsmanlike – This diverse group includes dogs that vary in size and function. Many of them are considered social dogs. Examples include Lhasa Apso, Dalmation, Poodle (standard and miniature), Keeshonden, Lowchen, Shiba Inu.
7. Grazing – These dogs were bred to assist shepherds and ranchers with herding and/or guarding their livestock. Examples include Briards, Collies, Old English Sheepdogs, Corgis, German Shepherds.
It is important to note that in group competition dogs are not judged against each other as 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 selects four for their placements. Ribbon colors are the same for group placement as for regular classes: blue, red, yellow, and white.
Dogs competing in a group compete for points in the group towards the national group evaluation. Let’s say, for example, that a total of 233 herding dogs were entered for the show. The winner of this group will receive 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 in that breed of dog and the rest of the points will go to the dog in third place and so on to fourth place.
Finally, the seven group winners are brought into the ring to compete for Best in Show, the highest award at the dog show. The winner of Best in Show will receive points for winning, which will advance to the national ranking. So if the show had a total of 2,000 dogs, the Best in Show winner will receive 2,000 points. If the show had 300 dogs entered, the Best in Show winner gets 300 points.
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