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Dog show

In a dog show, judges familiar with specific dog breeds evaluate individual dogs for how well they conform to published breed standards, hence the more accurate term is conformation show (or, sometimes, breed show).

"Dog show" is often used by the general public to refer to any event involving dogs, such as dog sports, but in the dog world it more specifically refers to conformation competitions.

Handlers set up their dogs for judging so that their stance is perfect when the judge views them.
Handlers set up their dogs for judging so that their stance is perfect when the judge views them.

Winning at dog shows

Dogs compete at dog shows to earn points towards the title of Champion. Each time a dog wins at some level of a show, it earns points towards the championship. The number of points varies depending on what level within a show the win occurs, how many dogs are competing, and whether the show is a major (larger shows) or minor (smaller shows).

Dogs compete in a hierarchical fashion at each show, where winners at lower levels are gradually combined to narrow the winners until the final round, where Best in Show is chosen.

At the lowest level, dogs are divided by breed. Each breed is divided into classes based on sex and age. Dogs (males) are judged first, in their age classes. Within one breed, there are puppies (dogs under a certain age), mature male dogs (subdivided by age into junior, limit (or intermediate) and open); bitches (female dogs) have corresponding classes.

The winners of all classes in each sex (called Puppy Dog, Limit Dog etc.) compete for Challenge (best) Dog and Challenge Bitch; the individuals who will challenge each other for the accolade Best of Breed. The remaining class winners are joined by the runner-up from the class from which the challenge winner was selected and there are competitions for second place in each gender, called Reserve Challenge Dog and Reserve Challenge Bitch. This is for fairness, as one class may contain a stronger field of specimens of the breed. If the judge believes that this is the case, the Challenge Dog and Reserve Challenge Dog, for example, may both be from the same class.

From the two finalists (Challenge Dog and Challenge Bitch) is selected Best of Breed. The runner-up is deemed Best of Opposite Sex (or Runner-up to Best of Breed). There is then a run-off in which the second best individual in the gender of the winner (the Reserve Challenge) is brought back to stand against the Best of Opposite Sex (the Challenge who did not win) for the title of Reserve Best of Breed. So, if the Best of Breed is the Challenge Bitch, the Reserve Best of Breed may be the Challenge Dog or the Reserve Challenge Bitch.

In some breeds, the males and females of the breed have decidedly different appearances, and it is often the males who have the quintessential look of the breed. The judge must set personal preference asided and decide objectively whether the bitch is a better example of the female of the breed than the dog is an example of the male.

In multi-breed and all-breed shows, the winners of all breeds within the kennel club's breed groupings then compete. So, for example, all the Terrier Group breed winners compete to determine Best Terrier (sometimes called Best in Group). These are known as the General Specials.

The audience at a dog show is expected to be participatory and vocal, and often applaud the silkiest, fluffiest or more popular breeds while ignorant of the breed requirements. Those who are owners and breeders may cheer for a popular handler or a sympathetic favourite from a particular breeding kennel; the judge is supposed to ignore all attempts to influence the decision.

Finally, the winners from each group compete for Best in Show.

Strictly speaking, a dog show is not exactly a comparison of one dog to another, it is a comparison of each dog to a judge's concept of the ideal specimen as dictated by the breed standard; based on this, one dog is placed ahead of another. All-breed judges must therefore have a vast amount of knowledge, and the ability (or inability) of humans to retain all these details mentally for hundreds of breeds (and to maintain their objectivity despite their personal preferences) is the subject of intense debate, particularly from the fanciers of working dogs. Politics in the purebred dog world can be as vicious as in any other arena; there have been charges of favoritism, nepotism, bribery and even drugging of competitors' animals.

Note: This describes the Australian model; there may be differences in other countries.

Dog Shows in the UK

There are several types of show in the UK. The smallest are the Companion Shows, where there are usually a few conformation classes for pedigree dogs, and several "novelty" classes, such as waggiest tail and handsomest dog, which are open to any dog including crossbreeds.

Then there are Open shows, which are open only to dogs registered with the Kennel Club. Here the dog can gain points towards a Junior Warrant award or a Show Certificate of Merit.

There are also Limited shows, which are open only to members of the Society or Club running the show, and Challenge Certificate winners (see below) cannot enter.

Finally, there are the huge Championship shows, where dogs can gain points towards a Junior Warrant and compete for the highly coveted Challenge Certificate (CC). If the breed is sufficiently numerous, the Kennel Club awards a Challenge Certificate for the Best Dog and Best Bitch. A dog needs three CCs from three different judges to be awarded the title of Champion. The most prestigious Championship show is Crufts, and each dog entered at Crufts has had to qualify by certain wins at Championship or Open show level.

Judging dog shows

Judges attempt to identify dogs who epitomize the published standards for each breed. This can be challenging, because some judgements must necessarily be subjective. For example, what exactly entails a "full coat" or a "cheerful attitude", which are descriptions that could be found in the breed specifications.

Breed standards include such items (conformation points) as:

  • Color of coat
  • Pattern of markings
  • Length and angle of legs
  • Slope of back
  • Height of stop (where the dog's muzzle stops and rises to the top of the skull)
  • Set of ears
  • Shape and color of eyes
  • Color of nose
  • Quantity of wrinkles
  • Health of skin
  • Quality of stride as dog trots around ring
  • Dog's attitude (for example, growling or snapping at the judge isn't acceptable in any breed)
  • Many other qualifiers

Championship titles and registered names

A dog who has earned the Championship title is entitled to use the designation "Champion" (or "Ch") in front of his name, for example, Ch. Emerald's Brightest Sparkle.

Show dogs have a registered name, that is, the name under which they are registered as a purebred with the appropriate kennel club, and a call name, which is how their owners talk to them.

The registered name often refers directly or indirectly to the kennel where the dog was bred; kennel clubs often require that the breeder's kennel prefix form the first part of the dog's registered name. See registered name for a discussion of dogs' names.

Prestigious dog shows

Dog shows take place all year in various locations. Some are small, local shows, while others draw competitors from all around the country or the world. Some shows are so large that they limit entries only to dogs who have already earned their Championships. Therefore, winning Best in Breed or Best in Show can elevate a dog's, a breeder's, or a kennel's reputation to the top of the list overnight. This greatly increases the value of puppies bred from this dog or at the dog's kennel of origin.

Probably the two best-known, largest, and most prestigious annual dog shows are the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show and Crufts.

External links

Last updated: 06-01-2005 22:15:35
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