A conformation show, also referred to as a breed show, is a kind of dog show in which a judge, familiar with a specific dog breed, evaluates individual purebred dogs for how well the dogs conform to the established breed type for their breed, as described in a breed's individual breed standard.
Such shows are useful to breeders as a means of evaluating dogs for breeding purposes. A conformation championship from a recognised national kennel club is generally considered a reasonably objective indication of merit, as it indicates that the dog has been found to be a superior example of its breed by a number of different judges on a number of separate occasions. Many breeders consider championship a prerequisite for breeding.
A conformation dog show is not a comparison of one dog to another but a comparison of each dog to a judge's mental image of the ideal breed type as outlined in the individual breed's breed standard. Dog show judges attempt to identify dogs who epitomise the published standards for each breed. This can be challenging, because some judgements must necessarily be subjective. As an example, what exactly entails a "full coat" or a "cheerful attitude," descriptions found in breed standards, can only be learned through experience with the breed that has that particular requirement.
Judges are generally certified to judge one or several breeds, usually in the same group, but a few "all-breed" judges have the training and experience to judge large numbers of breeds.
Dogs compete at dog shows to earn points or certification towards championship titles.
The Kennel Club (UK) system, which is also used by the Australian National Kennel Council and in other countries, is considered the most difficult to earn a title under. At certain shows designated as Championship shows, the top bitch and dog in each breed will be awarded a Challenge Certificate, with three CCs needed to become a champion. The number of CCs on offer for each breed is decided by the Kennel Club in advance, so opportunities to gain a title are limited.
In the US and Canada, 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). The exact number of points needed to gain a championship varies depending on the kennel club offering the title.
Fédération Cynologique Internationale sponsors international shows that differ from other shows in that dogs first receive individual written descriptions of positive and negative qualities from the judge, and only dogs with high ratings go on to compete against other dogs in the class. A dog must receive four international Certificat d'Aptitude au Championnat International de Beauté (CACIB) to qualify for a Championship; one must be won in the dog's own country, and at least two in other countries under at least three different judges.
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, usually from among specials, dogs that have already completed their championships and are competing for group and best in show wins. At the lowest level, dogs are divided by breed. Each breed is divided into classes based on sex and, sometimes, age. Males (dogs) are judged first, then females (bitches). At the next level they are divided by group. At the final level, all dogs compete together under a specially trained all breed judge.
Best of Breed
Best of Breed is the title given to the dog who has been judged the best representative specimen of its breed at a conformation show. Dogs compete in a hierarchical fashion at each show, where winners at lower levels compete against each other at higher levels, narrowing the winners until the final round, where Best in Show is chosen.
Some kennel clubs divide some breeds into varieties based on specific traits (for example, collies may be judged in rough-coated and smooth-coated varieties), and the corresponding title is Best of Variety. In AKC all-breed shows, for example, Best of Variety and Best of Breed are equivalent titles, as the varieties are judged one at a time as though they were separate breeds, and the winner of each variety goes on to compete in the group ring against the other variety winners (as well as all the other breeds in its group). In single-breed shows, however, the Best of Variety winners may compete for Best of Breed. The term "Best of Breed or Variety" is often used to encompass both titles.
Each breed or variety 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. At some events, usually single-breed or novelty shows, there may be a baby puppy class (typically under three months old) which is usually contested after the adult classes as a ploy to keep spectators interested. Baby puppies are not eligible for Best of Breed and are judged largely on their 'cuteness' factor, as young puppies from many breeds look very much alike and their conformation to their breed's Standard is most likely not yet evident.
The winners of all classes in each sex compete for Challenge Dog and Challenge Bitch; the individuals who will challenge each other for the accolade Best of Breed. (In AKC shows, these dogs are referred to as Winners Dog and Winners Bitch.) 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 sex division, called Reserve Challenge Dog and Reserve Challenge Bitch. (In AKC shows, these are called Reserve Winners Dog and Reserve Winners Bitch, but they do not advance further). 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. There is then a run-off in which the second-best individual in the sex division of the winner (the Reserve Challenge from the same sex division as the BOB) is brought back to stand against the Best of Opposite Sex (the Challenge who did not win) for the title of Runner-up to Best of Breed. So, if for example the Best of Breed is the Challenge Bitch, the Runner-up to Best of Breed may be the Challenge Dog or the Reserve Challenge Bitch if, in the judge's opinion, the competing bitches were superior to the competing dogs.
In AKC shows, dogs that have already earned their championships are generally not judged as part of the class competition (unless a dog attained championship after it was entered), so Winners Dog and Winners Bitch are typically non-champions. Winners Dog and Bitch are judged against all entered champions for Best of Breed. During this competition, Best of Winners (the better of Winners Dog or Winners Bitch) is chosen, as well as Best Opposite Sex (the best dog of the sex opposite to the Best of Breed).
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 (females may be smaller, have less 'coat' and feminine or less pronounced features. The judge must set personal preference aside 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 groups then compete (referred to by some clubs as General Specials). So, for example, all the Terrier Group breed winners compete to determine Best Terrier (sometimes called Best in Group or, in AKC shows, where the top four specimens are recognised, Group First or Group 1). The group winners (in some countries nicknamed "The Magnificent Seven") go on to compete for Best in Show. In large shows, there are so many competitors that General Specials must be held on a different day, for which the Best of Breed winners must return.
The value of titled dogs and their progeny increases greatly with the attainment of a title. Because of the subjective nature of judging and the politics involved in any judged competition, some breeders feel that it is next to impossible for dogs in their chosen breed to win Best in Group or Best in Show. For these reasons, Best of Breed is the often the most highly coveted title among fanciers.
Best of Breed is a common buzzword used in high-tech industries, where a product is claimed to be the best in its category. A Best of Breed strategy in choosing software means to purchase software from different vendors to obtain the best-of-breed offering for each application area, an approach to acquiring HRIS capabilities where the company will pick the best application to support each functional area of HR. Thus, the technology architecture combines the best-fit products from multiple vendors.
Within one breed, there are puppies (dogs under 6 months), 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 (except dogs that are entered in "The import Register" or "Any Variety Not Separately Classified" classes; in these classes the dogs compete for "best import" or "best A.V.N.S.C."). 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, best import, or best A.V.N.S.C. 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 multi-breed and all-breed shows, the winners of all breeds within the kennel club's breed groups then compete. So, for example, all the Terrier Group breed winners compete to determine Best Terrier. The winner of "best import" is not allowed to compete for best in group, but is allowed a lap of honour around the main ring before group judging starts (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 standards. Those who are owners and breeders may cheer for a popular handler or a sympathetic favourite from a particular breeding kennel. But of course the judge is supposed to ignore all attempts to influence the decision. Finally, the winners from each group compete for 'Best in Show'.
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. These shows are usually held to support a charity or other good cause.
There are Open shows, which are open only to dogs registered with the Kennel Club. There are many Open shows that are held all around the country. Here the dog and handler can gain experience and 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, one of which must be awarded when the dog is over 12 months old.
First held in 1891, the most prestigious Championship show is Crufts, and each dog entered at Crufts has to qualify by certain wins at Championship show level. The highest profile dog show in British culture, Crufts is the largest show of its kind in the world. It is held annually over four days in early March at the National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham, England. The main competition is for the Best in Show award.
There is no Champion Class in the United Kingdom and all Champions (including those from countries which the Kennel Club recognises) must be entered into the Open Class; exceptions are dogs or bitches which are still eligible for an age class (i.e., Puppy or Junior, as some countries allow puppies to become Champions (e.g., the USA)). This is one of the reasons that the UK title is so difficult to achieve. Not only are opportunities very limited, but youngsters have to compete against established Champions for Best Dog or Best Bitch.
The Kennel Club also operates a separate show open only to mixed-breeds, Scruffts, which judges its contestants on character, health, and temperament with people and other dogs.
The rules for the United Kennel Club (UKC) use a different points system than in the USA. A championship requires a combination of points and competition wins. Points are awarded at breed level for each win; for example, winning the class earns 10 points in non-variety breeds and 5 in variety breeds, even if there are no other dogs to beat in the class. Competition Wins are wins over at least one other dog, whether in their own breed (such as going Best Fe/male or Best of Winners) or higher level (placing above at least one other dog in the group or Best/Reserve Best in Multi-Breed show). A championship requires a total of 100 points and three competition wins.
There are seven classes per breed in American Kennel Club dog shows:
- Puppy (sometimes divided between 6–9 months and 9–12 months)
- Twelve-To-Eighteen Months (those that fall in this age-range are eligible)
- Novice (dogs over six months old are eligible as long as they have not won any points yet, have not yet won three first place prizes in this class and have not won first prizes in the Bred-By-Exhibitor, American-bred or Open classes)
- Amateur Owner Handler (where the owner is exhibiting the dog and has not received funds for showing any other dog)
- Bred-By-Exhibitor (where the person handling the dog is an owner and breeder of record.)
- American-Bred (This class is reserved for dogs conceived in the U.S.)
- Open (Any dog that is over six months old can enter into this class. Champions are not allowed in any of the other classes and are only permitted to enter this class, although in most cases they skip the class competition entirely and are entered directly in Best of Breed.)
The American-Bred and Open classes are mandatory for each show, while the others are optional. In some cases, one or more of these classes may be divided by color, height, weight, or coat type.
With the males going first, the judges inspect each of these classes individually, and award ribbons for first through fourth place. At this stage, first-place winners do not get any points. First-place winners from the male classes then come together to compete for Winners Dog (WD).
Females then go through this same process of competition within classes, then the winners of each class compete for Winners Bitch (WB).
The Reserve Winners award goes to the runners up for Winners Dog and Winners Bitch. Only Winners Dog and Winners Bitch get points toward championship. The number of points awarded varies and depends on how many dogs of its breed and sex are shown regionally. The more dogs defeated, the greater the point-reward (with five being the highest).
Next comes the award for Best of Breed (BOB). Dogs that have earned the points necessary to be champions can enter this race with the Winners Dog and Winners Bitch. After judges award Best of Breed, they give out an award for Best of Winners (BOW) which is only between the Winners Dog and Winners Bitch. Finally, the judges determine the Best of Opposite Sex, which is for the best dog of the opposite sex of the Best of Breed.
A dog can actually earn extra points during these awards, depending on the number of dogs of its sex and champions that were competing against it. Afterward, the Best of Breed winner may advance to group showing. In a breed specialty show, the Best of Breed is also called Best in Specialty.
In multi-breed and all-breed shows, the winners of all breeds within the kennel club's breed groups then compete for Group placements. For example, all the Terrier Group Best of Breed winners compete for Group First, Group Second, Group Third, and Group Fourth. Finally, the seven Group First winners compete for Best in Show. Beginning July 3, 2012, the final judge at all AKC all-breed shows will also award a "Reserve Best in Show."
In the American Kennel Club, a dog needs 15 points to become a Champion, with each win gaining anywhere from zero to five points depending on the number of dogs competing and the area where the show is held. At least two wins must be a set of three or more points ("majors") under two different judges; at least one additional win under a third judge is also required.
Canadian Kennel Club shows are nearly identical to American Kennel Club dog shows, with the exception of a "Canadian-Bred" class replacing the AKC's "American-Bred". The main difference is the number of points required for a Championship, and the way those points are calculated.
Under the Canadian Kennel Club rules, 10 points are needed for a Championship, with wins awarded by at least three different judges, and at least one "major" win of two or more points. Once a Championship is completed, dogs may earn points toward their Grand Championship.
As of January 1, 2013 to reach a Grand Championship, 20 points are needed with two "majors". Next is the Grand Excellent Championship which may be awarded to dogs who accumulate 100 points and have won at least one best in show. Region is not a factor in determining points for a win in Canada—the point schedule is the same across the country.
In Colombia dog shows are maintained and organised by the Association Colombian Kennel Club (Asociacion Club Canino Colombiano). Their conformation shows follow the rules of the International Federation of Kennel Clubs. (Fédération Cynologique Internationale). According to the ACCC, only purebred dogs recognised by the FCI are allowed to participate. Purebreds of Colombian origin must be registered to the ACCC and therefore they must hold an LOC number (Number in the Colombian Book of Origins).
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 of 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 price of puppies bred from this dog or at the dog's kennel of origin.
In the United Kingdom, the international championship show Crufts was first held in 1891. Since its centenary year in 1991, the show has officially been recognised as the world's largest and most prestigious dog show by the Guinness Book of Records, with a total of 22,991 dogs being exhibited that year. 22,964 dogs were exhibited in 2008, 27 short of the previous record. Crufts is held over 4 days at the National Exhibition Centre (NEC) in Birmingham and it is the largest annual event held at the venue, with an estimated 160,000 visitors in 2008. The winner of the title of "Best In Show" receives a replica of the solid silver Keddall Memorial Trophy and a surprisingly small cash prize of £100.
American dog shows
The largest and most prestigious dog show in America is the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, which was established in 1877 and is held annually at Madison Square Garden in New York City. The 2008 show had a total entry of 2,627 dogs, making the event the second-largest continuously held sporting event in America.
The other two major American dog shows are the National Dog Show (which is televised on Thanksgiving Day by NBC, usually after the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade) and the AKC/Eukanuba National Championship.
World Dog Show
The World Dog Show is sponsored by the Fédération Cynologique Internationale for international championships in conformation and other dog sports. The location rotates between member countries. The 2008 show was held in Stockholm, Sweden, the 2009 in Bratislava, Slovakia and the 2010 show in Herning, Denmark.
The practice of breeding dogs for conformation showing has become a subject of intense debate. Some critics state that conformation shows lead to selecting of breeding dogs based solely upon appearance, which is seen by some as being detrimental to working qualities and at worst as promotion of eugenics.
In the United States some working dog breed organisations, such as the American Border Collie Association and the Jack Russell Terrier Club of America, have put a considerable amount of effort in the fight to keep their breeds from being recognised by the AKC and some other kennel clubs, as they fear that introduction of their breeds to the show ring will lead to decreasing numbers of working dogs with adequate qualities.
In August 2008, BBC1 televised a documentary film titled Pedigree Dogs Exposed, which investigated the subject of health issues affecting pedigree dogs in the United Kingdom, with a particular emphasis on dogs bred for showing. The programme provoked an unprecedented response from both the public and the dog-breeding community, with widespread criticism directed at the kennel club. Since the broadcast, the BBC has withdrawn its television coverage of Crufts dog show in 2009, with other sponsors and partners also withdrawing their support, including Pedigree Petfoods, the RSPCA, PDSA and the Dog's Trust. In response to the programme, the Kennel Club in the UK announced a review of all breed standards, with the long-term goal being to eradicate hereditary health concerns. Most notably, they will impose a ban on breeding between dogs that are closely related and will impose greater monitoring to prevent unhealthy dogs from being entered for and winning awards at dog shows.
A bench show is a show which requires dogs to be on display in an assigned location (show bench) during the entirety of the show except when being shown in the ring, groomed for showing, or taken outside to eliminate. The purpose is for spectators and breeders to have an opportunity to see all the entered dogs. In the more common unbenched shows, dogs are required to be present only at assigned ring times.
- Championship (dog)
- Conformation (dog)
- List of dog diseases
- List of dog sports
- Junior showmanship
- Dog health
- Dog type
- Canine reproduction
- Purebred dog
- Novelty show
- World's Ugliest Dog Contest
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