Thousands, if not millions of people, tune in to watch the large televised dog shows, but what they see is only the tip of the iceberg, the Group and Best in Show Competitions. To be sure, these are exciting competitions, as the top dogs in each breed vie for the highest honor at a dog show. However, much more happens at a dog show before those group competitions even begin. Think of a dog show as a pyramid, divided into three sections:
1. The base and the majority of the pyramid is composed of the Breed Competitions.
2. The next section, much smaller, is composed of the Group Competitions. The many AKC breeds are divided into seven groups. The Best of Breed winner from each breed moves forward to compete in his/her group.
3. A tiny little section at the very top of the pyramid is the third part of a dog show. This is the Best in Show Competition. Only 7 dogs compete, the winning dog from each group competition.
Now, let’s take it down to the breed level. In Breed Competition, no matter what the breed, the individual dogs are judged against a written breed standard, which describes the attributes the “ideal specimen” of the breed should possess. The breed standards include descriptions of head, eyes, pigment, coat, color, bite (i.e., placement of teeth), structure, 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 on the end of the lead can sway a judge’s decision because some judges are prone to award the win to professional handlers and ignore those who aren’t
Let’s say that there are at least 4 entries in each of those classes. Starting with the puppy dog (male) 6-9 class, the dogs are called into the ring. The dogs are identified by a number the exhibitor wears on an armband on his/her left arm. They go into the ring in numerical order. Generally, the judge first lines the dogs up, stands back and takes a quick look at each. S/he may stop in front of each dog to look at head and expression. Then s/he tells the exhibitors to “take them around” the ring and to stop at the examination table. Each dog is placed on the exam table where the judge “goes over” them, examining each dog and comparing its attributes to the breed standard. Next s/he asks each exhibitor to move his/her dog. This is often referred to as a “down and back,” since the judge sends the dog away first to judge the dog’s rear movement, then back toward him to judge the front movement. Some judges then send the dog around the ring to the end of the line so they can judge the side movement. When all the dogs have finished the movement portion of the judging and are back in line, the judge will stand back and give another look at the dogs before making the placements, sometimes returning to a dog to give a second look or asking an exhibitor to move a particular dog again. Often judges will ask the exhibitors to take the dogs around the ring one last time. Then the judges make their placements.
Now the judging of the Dog classes is done.
Next come the classes for the females. (At dog shows, the females are referred to as “Bitches,” and it is not used in a derogatory sense or in the sense of a curse word. It simply means a “canine female.”) The classes are the same and the judging routine is the same. At the end, all the winners of the Bitch classes come back into the ring and a Winners Bitch and Reserve Winners Bitch are awarded.
The males and females competing in these classes are competing for points toward their championship titles. To become a champion, a dog must earn 15 points. Of the 15 points, two of the dog’s wins must be major wins. A “major” is a 3, 4, or 5-point win. Five points is the most points a dog can win at one show. The points at each show differ for each breed and are dependent upon the number of dogs of each sex in each breed competing that day. AKC revises its point schedule annually and the schedule is printed in each show’s catalog, a book listing each entry in the show by group and by breed.
The final class for each breed is the Best of Breed class. The 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 presented if there are enough dogs in the class for all awards to be given: