Dog with ribbon at dog show

You don’t have to be the owner of a purebred show dog to enjoy dog shows. These events are fun for any pet lover to watch, either in person or on television. Here’s a breakdown of everything you need to know, so you and your pup can follow along.

What Is a Dog Show?

The most popular type of dog show is an all-breed conformation show, in which purebred dogs are judged for how well they conform to the American Kennel Club‘s (AKC) breed characteristics. This in-depth set of standards ranges from weight and color to gait and personality.

Each competitor is placed into one of seven classes, depending on age and experience, among other factors; male and female dogs compete separately within each class. The dog and handler jog around the ring in front of the judge, who examines each animal’s appearance. During this time, the dog is expected to be calm and well-behaved.

Prizes are awarded for first through fourth place within each class and sex. Next, the male and female winners compete against each other and all participating champion dogs for the title Best of Breed. Those winners then compete for Best in Group (e.g., Sporting, Terrier, Toy) and finally for Best in Show. Each award comes with championship points, which can affect the class in which the dog competes at the next show.

Why Should I Attend a Show?

A dog show affords the opportunity to see unusual breeds up close. How often do you encounter a dog with floor-length dreadlocks or pups who are completely bald except for a sprout of perfectly coiffed hair around the face? Komondors and Chinese Cresteds are only two of the many unique dog breeds you’ll see en masse at a dog show. Some shows even have a Meet the Breeds program, which allows you to get up close and personal with the competitors and their owners after judging.

If you’re in the market for a purebred dog, a dog show can be a good opportunity to speak with breeders. They can advise you on whether that type of dog is appropriate for your lifestyle and may also be able to recommend groomers and veterinarians.

And if you have eyes only for your own pets, you can still find entertainment at dog shows. Beyond the rings, a wide array of vendors sells a variety of items, including books, handmade clothes, collars, leashes and pet treats. Representatives from major pet food companies are also usually available to answer questions about feeding and nutrition.

Dog Show Do’s and Don’ts

Going to a dog show promises a fun time for adults and children alike; however, it is a serious event for those whose dogs are in the show. Follow these basic rules of etiquette to make sure your fun doesn’t interfere with the competition:

Don’t pet the dogs without asking. With so many adorable dogs around, it can be difficult to resist scratching their heads and giving them kisses. But handlers have spent hours grooming their dogs to perfection, so always ask for permission before touching an animal. And don’t be offended if the answer is a polite “no.” When the dog has completed showing, handlers are usually more than happy to let their pups accept a pat.

Don’t distract the handlers. Handlers and breeders are often extremely busy preparing their dogs and themselves to show. From grooming to getting to the correct ring in time to keeping the dog focused, these professionals have a lot to think about. When they’re done competing, however, feel free to go over and ask questions; most are very friendly and happy to offer advice.

Don’t bring your pet to the show. You may be excited to introduce your dog to other dogs of the same breed, but most shows have strict rules against spectator dogs. Even the most perfectly behaved pet can become overwhelmed at a show and be a distraction to competitors.

Do wear comfortable shoes. Dog shows are held in big spaces with hard, concrete floors (that can withstand thousands of dogs’ worth of slobber and potty accidents), and you may find yourself walking long distances.

Do purchase a catalog. Usually available for a small fee at the entrance, these books help spectators follow along with a list of dogs competing (arranged by breed and class) and the judging time and ring number of each breed.

Do have a great time! If you’re a true dog lover, attending a dog show can be an educational and exciting time. You will have the opportunity to meet leading experts in dog care and to learn everything you need to know about keeping your own pet looking and feeling her best.

Talk the Talk

Here’s a rundown of basic dog show lingo.

Best of Opposite: The title given to a dog who is the best of the opposite sex of the dog named Best of Breed.

Champion: In AKC competitions, a dog who has earned at least 15 points, including two majors from two separate judges. (Champions compete in their own class.)

Gait: The way the dog moves around the ring.

Handler: The person (owner, breeder or professional handler) who walks the dog around the ring.

Major: A win that earns the dog at least three points.

Winner’s Dog, Winner’s Bitch: The male dog and female dog, respectively, who are named the best of their sex of all classes. (These dogs compete against each other and the champions for Best of Breed.)

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