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Understanding A Dog Show
Thousands, if not millions, of people tune in to watch television’s major dog shows, but what they see is only the tip of the iceberg, the Best in Show Group and Competition. To be sure, these are exciting competitions, as the best dogs in each breed compete for top honors at a dog show. However, a lot more happens at a dog show before those group races begin.
Think of a dog show as a pyramid, divided into three sections:
1. The base and most of the pyramid consists of race races.
2. The next, much smaller section consists of Group Competitions. Many AKC breeds are divided into seven groups. The best of breed winner from each breed advances to compete in his/her group.
3. A tiny little part at the top of the pyramid is the third part of the dog show. This is the best competition in the show. Only 7 dogs compete, the winning dog from each group race.
Now, let’s break it down to the breed level.
In the Breed Competition, regardless of breed, individual dogs are judged against a written breed standard, which describes the attributes that the “ideal champion” of the breed should possess. Breed standards include descriptions of head, eyes, pigment, coat, color, bite (ie tooth placement), conformation and movement. In an ideal world, the dogs are each judged against the standard and the person showing the dog is ignored. (In the real world, the person at the end of the lead can influence a judge’s decision, because some judges are inclined to give the win to professional drivers and ignore those who are not.)
So here’s how the classes go. First, classes are divided by gender. Men compete with men. Women compete with women. The following classes are available for each sex:
Puppies 6-9– Puppies that are not yet champions and are between six and nine months old compete in this class.
Puppies 9-12– Puppies that are not yet champions and are between nine and twelve months old compete in this class.
Twelve to eighteen months– Adults who are not yet champions and who are between twelve and eighteen months old compete in this class.
initial – To compete in this class, a dog must be six months of age or older; must have won less than three first places in the beginner class; must not have won a first place in the Bred-by-Exhibitor, American-bred or Open Class; and must not have earned any points toward their championship.
Amateur-Owner-Translator– Dogs that are at least six months old and are not champions must be handled in this class by their registered owner. The class is restricted to exhibitors who have not, at any point in time, been a professional dog handler, an AKC approved conformation judge, or have not been employed as an assistant to a professional dog handler.
Bred by Exhibitor – This class is for dogs that are exhibited by their breeder and are not yet champions.
American educated – To enter this class, a dog that is not yet a champion must have been born in the United States from a mating that took place in the United States.
open – This class is for any breed dog that is at least 6 months old.
Let’s say there are at least 4 entries in each of those classes. Starting with the puppy (male) class 6-9, the dogs are called to the ring. Dogs are identified by a number that the exhibitor wears on a band on his/her 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/she can stop in front of each dog to look at the head and expression. He/she then tells the exhibitors to “pass” the ring and stand on the examination table. Each dog is placed on the exam table where the judge “walks” them through, examining each dog and comparing its attributes to the breed standard. He/she then asks each exhibitor to move his/her dog. This is often called “down and back”, as the judge moves the dog away first to judge the dog’s back movement, then back towards him to judge the front movement. Some judges then send the dog around the ring to the end of the lane so they can judge lateral movement. When all the dogs have finished the movement portion of the judging and are back in line, the judge will stand back and look at the dogs before making the decision, sometimes turning to a dog to give it a second look or asking an exhibitor to move a particular dog again. Often the judges will ask the exhibitors to take the dogs around the ring one last time. Then the judges make their decisions.
Each class has the possibility of four placements and ribbons 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 winner of 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. Dogs are judged again, but usually not put back on the table for examination. The dog that wins this class is called the Winning Dog. He gets a purple ribbon and, more importantly, points toward his championship. After the Winners Dog is chosen, the other winners remain in the ring because the judge must choose a backup (second) winning dog. The dog that placed second in the class it came from Winners 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 second place dog in that “Bred By Exhibitor” class goes into the ring with the winners from the other classes to be judged against them for Reserve. Then the judge awards a reserve winning dog.
The Dog classes are now judged.
Next come the women’s classes. (At dog shows, females are referred to as “Butches” and it is not used in a derogatory sense or as a curse word. It simply means a “female dog.”) The classes are the same and the judging routine is the same . At the end, all winners of the Bitch classes return to the ring and a Winners Condition and Reserve Winners Chest are awarded.
The men and women competing in these classes are competing for points towards their championship title. To become a champion, a dog must earn 15 points. Out of 15 points, two of the dog’s wins must be big wins. A “major” is a win by 3, 4 or 5 points. Five points is the most points a dog can earn in a show. Points at each show vary for each breed and depend on the number of dogs of each sex in each breed competing that day. The AKC revises its points schedule each year, 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 race is the best class of the race. 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 to award all awards:
Best of breed– This is the dog rated as the best exhibition of the breed. Best of Breed may be awarded to one of the champions being exhibited or awarded to Winners Dog or Winners Bitch, whichever dog the judge deems most worthy.
Best of Winners – This placement is awarded to either Winners Dog or Winners Bitch, whichever the judge deems more worthy.
The best of the opposite sex – This award is given to the dog that is the opposite sex of 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 champion male who won neither Best of Breed nor Best of the Opposite Sex, but the judge feels he deserves an award.
Choose Whore– A champion female who won neither Best of Breed nor Best of Opposite Sex, but the judge sees her as deserving of an award.
Champions are competing for race points, which will be accumulated to give them national rankings. One point is awarded for each dog of the breed that participated in the competition. So if there are 20 Lhasa Apsos entered in a show, the breed winner will receive 20 breed points. Best of Breed (if Champion), Best Opposite Sex (if Champion), Selected Dog and Selected Bitch will also earn points towards the Grand Championship title. Once they earn that title, an accumulation of points earns 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 his/her 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 TV, most people are familiar with what goes on in these groups. All seven groups are
1. Sporty– 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 scent. Examples include Coonhounds, Beagles, Whippets, Salukis.
3. Working – These dogs are bred to pull carts, guard property and perform search and rescue services. Examples include Boxers, Newfoundlands, Akita, 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 house companions. Examples include Pomeranians, Shih Tzu, Maltese, Chihuahuas, Pekingese.
6. Not sports – This diverse group includes dogs that vary in size and function. Many are considered companion dogs. Examples include Lhasa Apso, Dalmation, Poodle (Standard and Miniature), Keeshonden, Lowchen, Shiba Inu.
7. Grazing – These dogs were bred to help shepherds and herders herd and/or guard their livestock. Examples include Briards, Collies, Old English Sheepdogs, Corgis, German Shepherds.
It is important to understand that in group competition, 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 its breed standard. From the dogs to be exhibited, the judge will select four for his placements. The ribbon colors are the same for group placements as they are for regular classes: Blue, Red, Yellow, and White.
Dogs competing in groups are competing for group points towards the national group ranking. For example, let’s say there were a total of 233 Herding dogs entered in a show. The winner of that group gets 233 group points. Subtract the number of dogs of the same breed as the winner and the remaining points go to the second place dog. Subtract the number of points in that dog’s breed and the remaining points go to the third place dog, and so on for fourth place.
Finally, the seven group winners enter the ring to compete Best in Show, the highest prize at a dog show. The best in show winner receives points for the win, which will go toward the national ranking. Therefore, if a show had a total entry of 2,000 dogs, the top winner in the show receives 2,000 points. If a show had an entry of 300 dogs, the top winner in show gets 300 points.
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