Guide to Dog Shows

If you have ever come across a dog show on television, you may have been confused as to exactly what was happening. Dog shows have a long tradition of excellence but have only recently gained national audiences, particularly with the television contracts they've been able to sign. Watching a dog show without knowing the rules, regulations, and history can lead to confusion, but the concept is fairly simple. By and large, dog shows are competitions in which purebred dogs compete against one another according to their breed standards. Essentially, the goal of each dog show is to find the dog that best conforms to its breed's guidelines for perfection. "Perfection" is not a fixed term, and the standards by which perfection is measured can change from association to association, but the object of the shows remains the same.

Dog show judges are some of the most knowledgeable people in the world about the standards for each dog breed. It is important to note that the judges do not necessarily compare the dogs to one another. Rather, they compare how close each dog is to the ideal for its breed, which is why these events are called shows, rather than dog competitions. During the shows, judges are looking at each dog's weight, eyes, muzzle, and many other characteristics. Judges may be asked to do this for all breeds or a specific breed depending on whether the show is an all-breed or specialty show. There are about 1,500 all-breed shows in the United States every year, with the most popular being the famous Westminster show, while there are approximately 2,000 independent shows every year in the U.S. These smaller competitions do serve a bigger purpose within the larger dog show environment. Winning these shows can mean being able to move on to the bigger shows, and further winning can lead to being able to compete in the Westminster dog show.

There are three classes allowed in competition: bred by exhibitor, which are dogs handled by their owner; American-bred, which are dogs bred in the U.S.; and open, which includes any breed. There are also seven groups of dogs in the large all-breed shows like the Westminster dog show. These include sporting, hound, working, terrier, toy, non-sporting, and herding. Of the sporting breeds, the golden retriever and cocker spaniel are some of the most popular. The beagle, dachshund, and greyhound are the more popular hounds. The largest breeds typically belong to the working group, including the Great Dane and St. Bernard. Typically bred for fox-hunting, the terrier group has the cairn terrier and West Highland white terrier. The smallest breeds belong to the toy group, with the Chihuahua and Maltese, while the non-sporting group includes the American Eskimo and dalmatian. Finally, the herding group includes the Australian shepherd and collie among its most popular breeds.

With more than 3,500 shows around the country, not every dog show gives every award, but the awards at the Westminster dog show are given within each group, and then major awards are given for remarkable dogs regardless of group. There is a Best of Breed ribbon, a Best of Opposite Sex ribbon, Best of Winners, and a variety of others. What most people tend to remember, however, is the Best in Show. This dog is deemed to have been the most "perfect" dog, or the one that most represented its standard, of any dog in the entire competition.

Being crowned Best in Show at Westminster is considered the biggest accomplishment a dog and its owner can attain in dog shows. There is national attention paid to the dog, and many "celebrity" appearances are in store for the dog, including opening the New York Stock Exchange, talk shows, etc. After the initial attention, though, the dogs often go on to do other things. While they continue to receive vet services from a leading veterinarian, they can live in the lap of luxury or go on to serve. For instance, some go on to be therapy dogs. Their strict training and calm demeanor make them perfect for this line of work. Most often, however, they are put to "work" breeding. A champion purebred has literally been deemed a dog that is close to perfection, and people look to capitalize on that perfection by buying the puppies created by these winners.

Here is some more information on dog shows: