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How A Dog Show Works

How a Dog Show Works

What most of us think of as a “dog show” is formally known as “conformation” because it is meant to evaluate how well each dog conforms to its breed standard. The purpose of conformation shows is to evaluate breeding stock. Breeders are showing off their dogs to other breeders as potential dams and sires.

If you are attending a dog show as a spectator and want to understand what’s going on in the ring, or would like to get started in showing and want to learn more about the process, here is a brief primer on what happens at the show.


The judges are experts on the breeds they are judging. Many are breeder-judges: They also breed that type of dog themselves. An AKC-licensed judge has passed an exam on the breed standard. Some are licensed to judge only a particular breed; others may judge a group (e.g., terriers). All-breed judges have passed an exam that permits then to judge any breed.

The exhibitors are the people showing the dogs. The exhibitor may be the dog’s owner, its breeder, or a hired professional called a handler.

Each dog to be shown is individually registered with the AKC, at least 6 months of age, and neither spayed or neutered.


Plan on a long day. If you want to talk to breeders, you have to arrive well in advance — the closer they get to show time, the busier they will be and the less time they will have for you. Staying late means you can catch the breeders after their turns in the ring.

Of course, there will be a lot of barking.

You will hear the word “bitch” a lot; it’s the proper term for a female dog, and you will have to get used to it.

  • If you are a spectator, buy a catalog. The catalog has information on each dog entered: its registered name, sire and dam, date of birth, its breeder, and its owner. This is everything you need to know if you decide that you’d like to get a puppy from a particular dog or breeder. The catalog also has the ring number and judging time for each breed or class. If you’re at an all-breed show, look for the breed(s) you want to see and determine which ring is which.

  • If you are showing your dog, find the show secretary or the club/catalog table to pick up a judging program. Check the judging time and ring number for the dog(s) you are exhibiting. Don’t assume you know the judging time — times get changed! Determine which ring is which. Find the grooming area and a place to set up.

If there is a vendor hall, take a stroll through it. It’s a paradise for bull terrier lovers, who rarely find items with our dogs on them. If there is a raffle or silent auction, buy some tickets or place some bids — these are usually fundraisers for the host club and who knows? You may win something!

Most of all: Talk. This is your big chance to meet people who share your interest in your breed, who can answer your questions, who can laugh at your stories or share your sorrow over a beloved pet’s crossing the Rainbow Bridge.


The ring steward will call entered dogs to the ring for each class, or category, of competition. The exhibitors will take up places around the edge of the ring. Usually the judge will have the entire group walk their dogs around the ring so s/he can get a first look at the dogs.

Then, one by one, the exhibitors will bring their dogs up to the bench to be shown to the judge. The exhibitor will “stack” or pose the dog to show it to its best advantage. (Many show dogs have been trained since puppyhood to stack automatically!)

The judge will examine the dog to see how closely it conforms to the breed’s official standard. The standard describes the characteristics— body structure, movement, temperament — that make the breed function as it was intended. Each breed’s standard is determined by its national club and registered with the AKC.

The judge will go over each dog with their hands to feel its muscles, bones, and coat. He’ll open the dog’s mouth to look at its teeth. He’ll look at the dog in profile, straight on, and from behind, checking how its body is structured. Then he’ll have the exhibitor walk the dog around the ring to see how the dog moves. This procedure will be repeated for each dog.

The judge will choose a winner in each class. Dogs and bitches compete separately.

Each of the winners in each class will compete again to be named Winners Dog and Winners Bitch. The judge also may award a Reserve Winners Dog and Reserve Winners Bitch. The Winners Dog and Winners Bitch both earn points toward their AKC Championship titles.

The Winners Dog and Winners Bitch join Champion dogs to compete for Best of Breed. The awards out of this competition are Best of Breed; Best of Opposite Sex, the best dog of the opposite sex to the Best of Breed dog; and Best of Winners, the better of the Winners Dog and the Winners Bitch.

If this is an All-Breed Show, the Best of Breed goes on to compete in the Group (e.g., Terrier). At the Group level, placements are first, second, third, and fourth. The first-place Group winners go on to compete for Best in Show. The dog named Best in Show is the dog that best meets its breed standard compared to all the other dogs entered!

Sources: A Beginner’s Guide to Dog ShowsHow Stuff

Showing Your MBT

Showing Your MBT

Excerpted from

Whether or not you have attended dog shows, if it looks like something you and your dog would both enjoy, here’s what to do.


Any dog registered with the American Kennel Club

  • that is 6 months or older on the day of the show, and

  • of a breed for which classes are offered in the premium list

is eligible to be entered at a dog show.

Spayed or neutered dogs are not eligible to compete in conformation classes at a dog show, nor are dogs with disqualifying faults as per their breed’s standard.


If you’ve attended a dog show, you’ve already taken an important step in getting involved in the sport of showing your dog. If you haven’t yet attended a show make an effort to do so.

To find out about AKC dog events in your area, you can check the Event Calendar, where you can search by date and by type of event. Dog shows are advertised in local newspapers, on posters in local shops, and on radio and television. Many times a phone number is given that you may call to get more information on the time your breed will be judged. But, if possible, plan to spend the day and watch not only your breed’s judging, but others as well. You’ll find attending a dog show to be a great way to spend a day.

You can use the AKC’s online Club Search to find out about any dog clubs in your area. Local clubs host dog events and typically offer guidance and resources for interested dog owners. Many offer weekly classes in dog training and handling and can provide information about a variety of dog sports.


While visiting the show, inquire at the club table or club tent about breed handling or conformation handling (showing a dog in the show ring). Classes are sponsored by the club. The classes are usually held on weeknights and will teach you the basics of handling your dog. It would also be to your benefit to ask how you may go about joining the club as you are new to the sport and would like to get involved.

Dog clubs are involved in many activities besides putting on a dog show and they all welcome new members who want to lend a hand. You’ll meet new people and share their knowledge and experiences.

The club may also have information about match shows in your area. These are fun shows that are used for practice and training of both dogs and novice exhibitors. While these shows award no points toward an AKC title, they are a great place to “get your feet wet” before entering a real show.


If you don’t wish to handle your dog yourself, you may contact a professional handler to show your dog. Professional handlers charge a fee for showing dogs, so before hiring a handler make sure you obtain a schedule of the fee. Talk to several handlers, get copies of their rate schedules and visit their facilities. Observe them both in and out of the ring before making up your mind which handler to choose. You will be entrusting them with your dog’s care, so make sure you are entirely comfortable before doing so. If there is something you don’t understand, make sure the prospective handler answers all of your questions before entering into any agreement.


So now you’re on your way. You are entering a sport that will bring many hours of enjoyment and education to every member of your family. You will make many friends in the sport, and will enjoy your dog and your new hobby to the fullest extent. Good luck!


Deciphering Titles and Show Results

To the uninitiated, the world of conformation shows can be a sea of acronyms. What do all of those letters mean?


  • CH: Champion of Record, or Champion for short. Indicates a dog or bitch who has won a total of 15 points at licensed AKC shows. At least 6 of these points must have come from “Major” wins (see “Points”) under different judges. “CH” becomes part of the dog’s registered name. Only Champions may compete in Best of Breed competitions.

  • GCH: Grand Champion. Indicates a Champion who has won a total of 25 points points at licensed AKC shows in Best of Breed, Best of Opposite Sex to Best of Breed, or Select Dog/Bitch. At least 9 points must have come from Major wins under three different judges, with at least one more point from a fourth judge. In addition, the dog must have defeated at least one other Champion at three shows.

Types of Shows

  • All-Breed Show: Open to all AKC-recognized dog breeds.

  • Specialty Show: A show open only to dogs of a particular breed (e.g., miniature bull terriers for MBTCA) or varieties of a breed (e.g., white bull terriers and colored bull terriers for BTCA).

  • Benched Show: An all-breed show in which all the entered dogs must stay in an assigned “benching area” for the duration of the show (except when being exercised, groomed, or exhibited) so spectators can visit the dogs and talk to the breeders, owners, and handlers. The most famous example is the Westminster Kennel Club show held each February in New York City.


The dogs entered into a show are divided into groups called classes. There are eight “regular” classes:

  • Puppy 6 to 9 months

  • Puppy 9 to 12 months

  • 12 to 18 months

  • Novice: Dogs or bitches that have not won points yet

  • Bred by Exhibitor: Dogs or bitches owned by the breeder and shown by the breeder or a member of the breeder’s immediate family

  • American-Bred: Dogs and bitches whelped in the US from a mating that took place in the U.S.

  • Open: Any dog or bitch 6 months of age or older

  • Amateur/Owner Handler: Any dog or bitch 6 months of age or older shown by the owner who is not a professional handler

Non regular classes include

  • Futurity: Puppies from a litter nominated before they were born. Usually held at national specialty shows, Futurity competitions showcase a breeder’s expertise in researching, planning, and caring for a litter of puppies.

  • Sweepstakes: “Sweeps” recognize outstanding young dogs and puppies. The top-placing dogs in Sweepstakes may receive a portion of the show’s entry fees as prizes. Sweepstakes are the only classes where money prizes are normally awarded.

  • Veterans: A competition for dogs who are at least 7 years old. A chance for senior dogs to show they still have it!


Show Placements

  • BIS: Best in Show

  • BISS: Best in Show Specialty

  • BOB: Best of Breed

  • BOS: Best of Opposite Sex

  • BOW: Best of Winners

  • WD/WB: Winners Dog/Winners Bitch

  • RWD/RWB: Reserve Winners Dog/Reserve Winners Bitch

  • SD/SB: Select Dog/Select Bitch

  • AOM: Award of Merit

  • BSW: Best in Sweepstakes

  • BOSSW: Best of Opposite Sex in Sweepstakes

  • BVSW: Best Veteran in Sweepstakes

  • BOSVSW: Best Opposite Sex Veteran in Sweepstakes

  • G1: Terrier Group First Place

  • G2: Terrier Group Second Place

  • G3: Terrier Group Third Place

  • G4: Terrier Group Fourth Place

  • GBIS: Best in Show at Terrier-Only Show

  • BJH: Best Junior Handler

Click here to learn how these titles are conferred at a show.

Sources: Nipkissing Kennel ClubAKC.orgBasset Hound Club of America

Judging the MBT

Judging the MBT

By Anita Bartell

In contrast to many newly recognized breeds, the Miniature Bull Terrier presents a relatively familiar face to the dog show fancy.

Essentially, the Mini is a smaller version of the Bull Terrier, and those who are thoroughly grounded in the salient features of that breed should have little difficulty in readjusting their sights for size. (Consequently, AKC Bull Terrier judges are automatically eligible to judge Minis). Aspiring judges less well versed in the nuances of type will find attendance at specialty shows and educational seminars (both Mini and Standard Bull) enlightening. Successful breeders and experienced judges are a good source of information, and nothing beats hands-on contact with quality dogs. The standard provides clear guidelines; it covers the fundamentals concisely, does not bog down in forgettable minutiae, and can be referred to with confidence. It may be helpful, though, to elaborate on several key points.

Correct breed type evolved through painstaking selection for desired traits; in the Mini, it has been difficult to achieve and even tougher to maintain. Promotion and preservation of type, therefore, is of the highest priority and should be the guiding principle behind every judicial decision.

The standard focuses considerable attention on head. As with the larger Bull Terrier, the Mini’s head is its trademark. Admittedly, even a superb head cannot “carry” an otherwise unworthy dog but, without solid virtue in this area, a Mini is not competitive no matter how sound or showy.

The components of a good head, in profile, are downface, the unbroken, convex arc from occiput to nose; Roman finish, the added downward turn of the nostrils; depth; and strength of underjaw. From the front, a good head requires fill, the pack of bone under the eye; width, continuation of strength on through the foreface to end of muzzle; level or scissor bite; and expression, a function of eye and ear properties.

The head is frequently compared to an egg, a useful analogy, not only in reference to contour, but also as descriptive of the requisite smooth, full, unblemished surface. The egg-shaped bone structure of the head provides the framework for expression, which is the essence of breed character. The small, dark, triangular eye, deeply and obliquely set; and the thin, pointed ears held erect and close together atop the skull, combine to create an aura of good-humored mischief. Proper expression has been variously described as keen, wicked, piercing, varminty, and inquisitive. It is all of these. A scissors or level bite is highly desirable, especially since undershot jaws and crooked teeth are not unusual. But, as one illustration of the principle of type priority, an excellent head with an off bite will take precedence over a mediocre one with a scissors.

A first-class head is a valuable commodity and should carry significant weight in the decision-making process. Bull Terrier guru Raymond Oppenheimer summed it up when he wrote, “Don’t forget the necessity to preserve head quality. It will vanish like a dream if you do.”

As important as head is in defining type, it is still just one part of what must be a harmonious whole. Another famous breeder, noting the emphasis on heads, reminds us that a dog also has “two ends and a middle piece.” The body must be sturdy, smooth in outline and well knit. Each part flows evenly into the next in a series of complementary curves from the proud arch of neck on through a well-laid shoulder and firm topline to a slight rise over the loin and down again through the low-set, finely tapered tail. The curves continue in the underline with a hint of forechest, followed by depth of brisket, sweeping back into a gentle tuck-up. Muscular hindquarters and tight, round cat-feet complete the symmetry. Viewed from above, there should be a slight but definite “waist” dividing the capacious spring of rib from the hindquarters.

Oblique shoulder and pelvic angulation create the impression of a short back which, along with moderate length of leg, give a Mini the required square appearance, a very important point. Far too many dogs today are long in back and short on leg, a configuration that lends a dumpy, dwarfish air entirely foreign to the compact, stylish ideal. Upright shoulders and straight stifles, common problems in the breed, are major culprits contributing to the long-backed look. They also affect movement, since they restrict reach and drive. Generally speaking, the well-constructed Mini will move well for, in the matter of gait, function usually follows form. Certainly, movement is the final exam for construction and a point-worthy dog should pass with honors.

Size is the primary factor which sets the Mini apart from his “big brother.” Recommended height at the shoulder is between 10 and 14 inches, and every effort should be made to reward typey Minis that conform to these limits. There should be few, if any, debatably undersized adults, but a number of the better contemporary specimens stand at or near the 15-inch mark. Since there is no height disqualification, a certain amount of flexibility is allowed. Once again, correct type is a priority. Thus, a superior 14 1/2- to 15-inch Mini should defeat a mediocre dog whose most outstanding virtue may be its height. This flexibility must be exercised with discretion and only when the larger dog is the best available. Incidentally, it is vital to fine-tune the eye to the nuances of size, as there will be no in-ring measurement.

One of the pitfalls attending miniaturization of a larger breed is loss of substance often accompanied by a tendency towards toyishness. The appeal of the Mini stems in great part from the fact that it is a “little big dog” which packs the heft and vitality of the Bull Terrier into a pint-sized frame. Bone should be relatively heavy, and the body robust and muscular. Naturally, substance will be in proportion to size, but a delicate, fragile looking dog is atypical. You may be able to scoop a Mini up with one hand but when you do, you’ll know you’ve got an armful! Substantial, however, is not a euphemism for coarse. In his original incarnation as a busy varmint hunter, the Mini needed quickness and agility as well as strength. In professional sports terms, he is Air Jordan, not Fridge Perry.

Unlike the Bull Terrier, Minis of all colors will be shown together, and there will be one representative in the Terrier Group. At specialties, Open classes may be divided into colored and white. Colored Minis come in a rainbow of hues; brindle, red fawn, tricolor, and black brindle are the most common. Symmetrical white markings on a colored are flashy and aesthetically pleasing, but solid colors are equally acceptable.

In whites, color on the head and skin pigmentation are allowed. Excessive type is the bottom line. Coat texture is smooth and harsh, with a healthy gloss. The skin should be a snugly fitting jacket.

In this era of widespread anti-dog sentiment, sound temperament is the one element of the Mini’s makeup that is not negotiable. Beauty these days must be more than skin deep. The average Mini has a cheerful, outgoing, fearless, emotionally stable disposition, qualities that make him a good citizen and a great companion. A vicious, aggressive, nervous, or timid dog ought not to be considered for placement. His sense of humor and natural ebullience can sometimes lead to clownish antics in the ring but any “acting up” should always be completely good-natured. Minis just want to have fun!

One breed idiosyncracy deserves mention. The Mini is given to low, throaty vocalizations as a form of greeting and communication. This should never be mistaken for a growl. The fact that the sound is usually accompanied by vigorous wagging, not only of the tail, but of the entire body, should help dispel any anxiety on the part of the uninitiated.

Miniature Bull Terriers look their best when exhibited on a loose lead and free baited. With proper training and encouragement, they will stack themselves. It is to be hoped that a recent trend toward stringing them up by neck and tail will be nipped in the bud.

Point status has been a long time coming for the Mini. This year will indeed be a Happy New Year for fanciers as the breed enters regular competition. We are sure the dog world will find this active little dynamo a delightful addition to the Terrier Group.

This article first appeared in the January 1992 issue of the AKC GAZETTE and may not be duplicated without permission.

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