Going to a Dog Show

If you’re looking for a great way to spend the day with well-groomed and well-trained canines and the people who love and care for them, dog shows fit the bill. Licensed and Member kennel clubs and breeds clubs throughout the U.S. sponsor dog shows.

In rain or shine, shows are held indoors in arenas, outdoors on grassy or asphalt surfaces, or a combination of both venues. In addition to seeing many breeds and meeting breeders, you’ll find food and plenty of pet product vendors.

Tip: Before taking your dog to her first show, visit a few shows without your dog to observe the scene. These fact-finding trips give you some idea of what to expect at dog shows. 

Finding Shows

Sponsored by AKC member kennel clubs, dog shows are held mostly on the weekends across the U.S. For a complete listing of shows, check this site Championbreeder.com and the AKC.org website’s Events Calendar.

To locate a dog show near you, search the local show superintendent’s website, contact kennel and breed clubs, and ask friends who show dogs.

Remember: Count on driving a distance to visit a dog show. That’s because large recreational venues aren’t available in every city.

Show Superintendent

AKC-licensed show superintendents handle all the details of the all-breed or large show. They print and distribute premium lists containing information about upcoming shows, including the location, judging panels and classes and trophies offered.

A few weeks before the show, owners enter the show by submitting their dogs’ names and information with the superintendents.

After the show entry dates close, the superintendents categorize the entries and schedule the day’s events. They publish a catalog of the breed classes, and the dogs entered and distribute the catalog on the morning of the show. When the show ends the superintendents collect the results and forward them to AKC.

Tip: If you have questions or information at the show, visit the superintendent’s table. The staff responds to exhibitors’ and spectators’ questions or concerns.

Show Secretary

For smaller all-breed or specialty shows, many clubs will hire a show secretary to process the entries, process the paperwork, and publish the results. Often less expensive to hire than a show superintendent, this individual may be a member of the club or someone else.

The Schedule

The shows start with class dog judging around 8:00 or 9:00 in the morning, with Group judging following in the early or mid-afternoon. At the conclusion of Group judging Best in Show takes the stage.

To find out the time and ring number for breed judging, check the superintendent’s judging schedule online. It’s usually available about a week before the show. You’ll also find this information at the superintendent’s table on the day of the show.

Warning: If you have your heart set on watching a breed, arrive at the ring at the scheduled time, as judging begins promptly and proceeds quickly.

Benched and Unbenched Shows

At their inception, all dog shows were benched, with dogs staying the entire day. Grouped by breed on partitioned stalls, this public display gave spectators a chance to see the dogs up close and personal and meet the dogs’ breeders and owners.

Gradually this setup changed to unbenched, or a show-and-go format. The dogs must remain on the show grounds during judging, and once their ring time ends, they may leave. They are not required to remain in any specific area before or after judging.

Only six benched dog shows exist today:

  • The Westminster Kennel Club
  • The Golden Gate Kennel Club in San Francisco
  • The International Kennel Club of Chicago
  • The Detroit Kennel Club
  • The Kennel Club of Philadelphia’s National Dog Show

Check Out Meet the Breeds

Some kennel clubs sponsor Meet the Breeds in conjunction with a dog show. From Akitas to Xoloitzcuintlis, this event gives spectators the opportunity meet many breeds in individual booths and talk to owners about breed ownership. Club representatives decorate these areas to depict each breed’s attributes as a family pet, as well as their country of origin and traditional function.

Seeing a Show

Visiting your first show as a spectator without your dog gives you the opportunity to talk to breeders and ask questions about their breeds, observe how the show runs and see the equipment handlers use. Many breeders, owners, and handlers will happily answer you as long as you don’t approach them while they’re busy preparing their dog for the ring.

       Tip: Always ask handlers if it’s a convenient time to ask them a question. Before ring time most handlers are busy prepping their dogs.

Inside the ring the dogs perform three skills:

  • Standing in place for the judge’s examination.
  • Stacking–the handler places the dog in the formal show position, or free baiting–the dog walks into the show pose independently.
  • Gaiting (walking, trotting or jogging) individually and with the other dogs in the class at an appropriate pace.

Observe these conformation routines:

  • The judging procedure and the judge’s exam.
  • How the handler presents the dog to the judge. Does the handler hold the dog’s tail up, or leave it alone?
  • Is the exam done on a table, a ramp, or on the ground?
  • What the handler does with the dog when not being examined.
  • The type and size of collars and leads the dogs are wearing.
  • During the gaiting patterns, does the handler walk or run alongside the dog in the ring?
  • Your breed’s grooming style inside and outside the ring.

Show dogs need training before they can accept and perform these procedures.

Grooming and Crating Area

Although every show setup varies, many clubs designate certain areas for grooming and crating and want exhibitors to adhere to a few rules.

Warning:  Before entering your dog in a show, read the premium list to learn about the grooming and crating requirements.

Warning: Never leave your dog or your personal possessions unsupervised in the crating area or on the show grounds.

Chief Ring Steward

The chief ring steward invites experienced stewards to serve at the show and schedules their ring assignments. It’s the chief ring steward’s responsibility to assign more than one steward to a ring if a judge has a large judging assignment and to oversee the stewards.

Ring Steward

The ring steward, or dog show ring manager, assists judges and exhibitors and juggles multiple duties to assure the judging proceeds efficiently.      

Familiar with the judging procedure, the breeds, and the rules, the ring steward keeps the judging program on schedule. This individual does not participate or influence the judging process.

The steward hands out the armbands to exhibitors, announces the classes entering the ring and records the armband numbers of the exhibitors inside the ring, the absentees, and the class placements.

It’s also the steward’s responsibility to arrange the ribbons and awards for the judge to distribute, call for a photographer or ring clean up, the AKC representative, or any emergency situation.

Tip: The ring steward is a great resource and answers questions about ring procedures, judging schedule, AKC rules, and points awarded. 

The Judge’s Job

Breeders and experts in the breeds they pass judgment on, judges examine each dog and place it according to how close each dog compares with the judge’s mental image of the ideal dog as described in the breed’s standard.

The judge looks at the teeth, muscles, bones and coat texture to verify they conform to the standard and evaluates each dog’s profile for general balance and observes how the dog moves.

Dog Shows 101

Doing Some Homework

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