Choosing your Debut

Experienced exhibitors often enter puppies in a point show as young as six months old. Novice handlers might want to wait for a few more months, or even a year until they feel comfortable with the judging routine and their puppies follow directions.

What should you do with your puppy until your first show? Continue the socialization process, attend handling classes, and enter some matches.

What’s a Match?

A sanctioned match sponsored by an all-breed or breed club is an informal show for dogs to compete, but not earn championship points. Think of this show as a practice run before a regular show. Unless the club indicates otherwise, dogs without major points can enter a match.

Anyone can judge a match and often a match judge will give pointers to an exhibitor in the ring to help improve skills.

Match Ribbons and Rosettes

The AKC uses different colors for match ribbons or nonregular classes at point shows:

  • First – Rose
  • Second – Brown
  • Third – Light Green
  • Fourth – Gray
  • Best of Breed – Orange
  • Best of Opposite Sex – Lavender
  • Best in Match – Pink and Green

Warning: Don’t rush into entering your dog at a Regional or National Specialty until you feel that you and your dog are ready. Do consider attending a National or a Regional Specialty the first time without your dog. Observe the scene, meet fellow exhibitors, and plan to participate the following year. 

Premium List

Once you’ve made the decision to enter your first show, you’ll need a premium list. This list is the official announcement of a club’s event. About four to six weeks before show dates, the show superintendent or show secretary publishes this information booklet about upcoming shows. It’s available online, or you can contact the superintendent and request to receive premium lists via mail.

The premium list provides all the information about the club presenting the show, the date, and location of the show, the judges, classes and prizes offered. This booklet also includes the cost to enter the show, directions to the show, the closing date, and the entry forms.

       Tip: To obtain a premium list or find upcoming shows, go online and visit the superintendent’s website.

Filling Out the Entry Form

Once you’ve made the decision to enter a dog show, you’ll need to submit an entry form. You can do this online by filling in the information with a credit card payment, or printing the form and faxing or mailing it to the superintendent. Some superintendents accept phone entries with an additional charge. Other telephone entry services are also available at an extra charge.

Tip: Read the superintendent’s entry policy for the complete rules. Make sure you understand how to change or cancel your entry, or transfer or change the class.

Warning: To give superintendents time to compile the entry paperwork, the date to enter a show closes about 2-l/2 weeks prior to the show date. The time is also specified (usually at noon). The dates and times are firm! No exceptions!

At first glance, the entry form may look confusing, but after entering a few shows, the process goes smoothly. You must use the AKC entry form or a copy of it for each show and for each dog you enter. You are responsible for all the information you submit, so make sure all numbers are correct and you don’t make any mistakes.

After filling in the name of your breed, choose your dog’s sex, and these categories:

Variety:  Only write something in here if you’re showing a breed with a variety–Cocker Spaniel, Beagle, Collie, Dachshund, Bull Terrier, Manchester Terrier, Chihuahua, English Toy Spaniel or Poodle.

Dog Show Class: Choose from the list supplied in the Premium list. Enter an age-appropriate class.

Puppy Class:  If you have a puppy, her age is calculated from birth to the first day of the show you are entering.

Adolescents belong in the 12-to-18-month old class. This class is a good choice for a dog that is not well trained and not quite mature.

Tip: You may enter as many classes for which your dog is eligible, but you must place First in each class to compete in Winners.

Class Division:  Only fill in this section if your breed is divided by color or weight. For example, Dalmatians entered in the Open class are divided by color—Black or Liver. The Bred-by class is not divided.

Warning: Champions cannot be entered in the Puppy class.

Novice Class: Only dogs born in the United States, Canada, or Mexico, who have not won three first places in Novice or a single first place in Bred-by Exhibitor, American-bred, or Open may enter this class. If your Puppy won any championship points from the Puppy class, you cannot enter Novice.

Amateur-Owner-Handler: A class for dogs at least six months old or over, and not a champion. Owners must handle their own dogs. Professional handlers, AKC judges, or assistants to professional handlers may not show in this class.

Bred-by Exhibitor (BBE) Class: A category for any dog 6 months old or over, and not a champion. The dog must be owned or co-owned and handled by the breeder. The AKC awards a medallion to breeder-owners who earn championships on their dogs exclusively from this class.

American-Bred: Known as “Am-Bred,” this class is for all dogs, except champions, six months old or over who were born in the U.S. as a result of a breeding in the U.S.

Tip: If you’re starting out, consider this a good choice if your dog isn’t trained well enough for the Open class.

       Open: For all dogs that are not already champions. Dogs in this class are usually trained and mature.

Additional Class: For Non-Regular classes, such as Veteran Dog or Bitch, Stud Dog, Brood Bitch, Brace, or Sweepstakes.

Registration Number Type:  Fill in your dog’s AKC registration number. This is her permanent registration attached to her record. The dog must be registered with AKC to compete in AKC events.

Foreign Registration number: You may show your dog using her foreign registration number if that registration is with an acceptable foreign registry. She may compete for thirty days with this number. After this time she needs an AKC registration number or a time extension to continue showing.

PAL/ILP number:  If your dog is ineligible for registration, but is a recognized member of an AKC breed, she can participate in AKC companion and performance events.

       Warning: Cancellations of an entry may only take place before entries close.

Tip: If you’re new to the sport, exhibiting your dog as often as you can adds experience and builds confidence.

Breeder: The person who owned the dam of your dog.

Sire: Write in the full registered name of your dog’s sire (father).

Dam: Fill in the full registered name of your dog’s dam (mother).

Actual Owner’s Name: The name of the dog’s owner exactly as it appears on the registration. If the dog is co-owned, list the other owner’s name or names.

Owner’s Address, Phone, Fax, Email: Fill in this information.

Name of Owner’s Agent (if any) at show: If a professional handler is showing your dog, insert this person’s name here. If you are showing the dog yourself, leave it blank.

Signature: Sign your name. If the dog is co-owned, only one signature is required.

Owner-Handler Eligible? Check the box if this applies to you. This is required for competition in the Owner-Handler Series. 

Show Attire

Choosing the right outfit to wear to a dog show presents some challenges. You want to look good, but you also need to walk or run easily around the ring. Showing your dog at her best may require you to crouch, bend over, or kneel, so you’ll need comfortable clothing and sensible, non-slip shoes.

Traditional dog show attire is office professional.

Warning: Torn jeans or shorts are inappropriate. Don’t wear bulky or jangling jewelry or accessories, as they are distracting to the judge.      

Men often wear buttoned jackets, dress shirts and ties, and dress slacks. Women wear a nice pants outfit or a dress or skirt that doesn’t hit your dog’s face when you move.

Your show clothes should have pockets on the right side and large enough to quickly and easily get bait in and out. Keep jewelry to a minimum, as the judge is evaluating the dog and not the handler.

       Tip: Choose clothing colors that show your dog to her best advantage, as you are your dog’s background.

Dog Shows 101

All About the Judging Schedule

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