About Dog Shows

How Dog Shows Work

AKC-registered dogs can compete in many events, including Dog Shows and instinct and trainability tests, such as Obedience Trials, Canine Good Citizen tests, Field Trials, Agility Trials, Rally, and other events. The Progressive Dog club offers dog shows, Obedience Trials and a Canine Good Citizen Test each year; visit the Progressive Dog Shows page for dates and details.

Dog shows (conformation events) are intended to evaluate breeding stock. The dog’s overall appearance and structure, (conformation) an indication of the dog’s ability to produce quality puppies, is judged.

Which Dogs May Participate

To compete, a dog must: be registered with the American Kennel Club and be at least 6 months old. Also, he or she must not have disqualifications within the written standard for its breed. A particular show must offer classes for that breed. Spayed or neutered dogs are not eligible to compete in conformation classes at a dog show, but they may compete in Obedience Trials and other performance events.


Judges, experts on the breeds they judge, 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. They then give awards according to how closely each dog compares to the judge’s mental image of the “perfect” dog as described in the breed’s Official Standard. The standard describes the characteristics that let the breed perform the function for which it was bred. Standards include specifications for structure, temperament and movement. The official written standard for each breed is maintained by the breed’s National Club. These Standards may be found on the AKC Website as well as each breed’s National Club web site.

How Does a Dog Show Work?

Each dog 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 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 AKC Champion. The number of championship points awarded at a show depends on the number of dogs in each sex of each breed. The larger the entry, the greater the number of points. The most a dog can win at any show is 5 points.

Males and females compete separately within each breed in several regular classes such as Puppy (dogs between 6 and 12 months old); Bred by Exhibitor (dogs shown by their owner and breeder) and Open (any dog, at least 6 months of age).

All first place class winners compete again to see which is the best of the winning dogs. Males and females are judged separately. 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 Best of Breed. Best of Breed Competition offers three awards: Best of Breed – the dog judged as the best in its breed; Best of Winners – the dog judged as the better of the Winners Dog and Winners Bitch; Best of Opposite Sex – the best dog of the opposite sex to the Best of Breed winner.

The Road to Best in Show

Dog shows are a process of elimination, with one dog being named Best in Show at the end of the show. Only Best of Breed winners go on to compete in the Group competitions. Each AKC breed falls into one of seven groups: Sporting, Hound, Working, Terrier, Toy, Non-Sporting and Herding. There are four placements in each group, but only the first-place winner goes on to Best In Show competition. Finally, the seven group winners compete for Best in Show, the highest award at a dog show.

More information about AKC Dog Shows and Performance Events can be found on the AKC website.

Your First Dog Show

If you are attending your first Dog Show, remember to ask the owner/handler before petting a dog,. Also, if an exhibitor is getting ready to go into the ring for judging, they probably will not want to have a conversation. After they have been judged however, most exhibitors are happy to talk about their dogs and answer any questions you may have. Above all, enjoy yourself!!

Dog Show Reference Downloads:

AKC Events Information

AKC Road to Best in Show illustrated

AKC Guide to Showing Your Dog

AKC Mentor Program: find a dog show mentor

Become an AKC Mentor

Links to articles on more dog show topics

Before You Visit a Dog Show

On the Day of Your Dog Show Visit

How to Get Started Showing Dogs

Can I Show My Dog?

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