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Rhodesian Ridgeback in show ring

Showing dogs is a great sport where the thrill of competition is combined with the joy of seeing beautiful dogs. Dog shows are one of many types of AKC dog events in which AKC-registered dogs can compete. These events, which draw more than three million entries annually, include dog shows and tests of instinct and  train-ability, such as obedience trials, Canine Good Citizen® tests, field trials, agility trials, lure coursing, hunting tests, herding trials, tracking tests, and coon-hound and earthdog events.

Dog shows (conformation events) are intended to evaluate breeding stock. The size of these events ranges from large all-breed shows, with over 3,000 dogs  entered, to small local specialty club shows, featuring a specific breed. The dog’s conformation (overall appearance and structure), is an indication of the dog’s ability to produce quality puppies.

There are three types of conformation dog shows:
All-breed shows offer competitions for over 175 breeds and varieties of dogs recognized by the AKC. All-breed shows are the type often shown on television. Specialty shows are restricted to dogs of a specific breed or to varieties of one breed. For example, the Bulldog Club of America Specialty is for Bulldogs
only, but the Poodle Club of America’s specialty show includes the three varieties of the Poodle – Standard, Miniature, and Toy.
Group shows are limited to dogs belonging to one of the seven groups. For example, the Potomac Hound Group show features only breeds belonging to the Hound group.

To be eligible to compete, a dog must:
• be individually registered with the American Kennel Club
• be 6 months of age or older
• be a breed for which classes are offered at a show
• meet any eligibility requirements in the written standard for its breed

Spayed or neutered dogs are not eligible to compete in conformation classes at a dog show, because the purpose of a dog show is to evaluate breeding stock.

Judges examine the dogs, then give awards according to how closely each dog compares to the judge’s mental image of the “perfect” dog described in the breed’s official standard.

The standard describes the characteristics that allow the breed to perform the function for which it was bred. These standards include specifications for structure, temperament and movement. The official written standard for each breed is maintained by the breed’s national club and is included in The Complete Dog Book published by the AKC, and can be found on the AKC website www.akc.org.

The judges are experts on the breeds they are judging. They examine (“go over”) each dog with their hands to see if the teeth, muscles, bones and coat texture conform to the breed’s standard. They view each dog in profile for overall balance, and watch each dog gait (“move”) to see how all of those features fit together in action. Judges award first through fourth places in each class, and give a ribbon to each dog receiving an award. The color of the ribbon is determined by the
type of award the dog has won.

To learn more see the American Kennel Club's A Beginner's Guide to Dog Shows
You can also see more links on our Education page.


The best place to start is by joining a local club, whether an all-breed kennel club or a breed specific specialty club. A listing of clubs by state is available on our website www.akc.org or through our customer service department by calling (919)-233-9767. Local clubs will have information on training classes for the show ring, and for obedience and agility classes. Even if the show ring is not your ultimate goal, the relationship that training forms between you and your dog will be very rewarding to you both. Local clubs also have “Fun Matches” where you and your dog can test your skill in the ring.

Handling your dog is an exceptional and enjoyable experience. From the grooming table to the show ring, you and your dog will develop a bond. While training classes offer the best hands-on way to practice for the show ring, attending shows and observing your breed is also a great way to gain understanding of what judges and other competitors do.

If you do not wish to handle your dog yourself, or have a friend or family member do it, you may contact a professional handler who charges a fee for showing your dog.

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 for many years to come.