Article: Dog Sports » Conformation Showing
Conformation shows, also referred to as breed shows, are a kind of dog show in which a judge familiar with a specific dog breed evaluates individual purebred dogs for how well the dogs conform to the established breed type for their breed, as described in a breed’s individual breed standard.
A conformation dog show is not a comparison of one dog to another but a comparison of each dog to a judge’s mental image of the ideal breed type as outlined in the individual breed’s breed standard. Dog show judges attempt to identify dogs who epitomize the published standards for each breed. This can be challenging, because some judgements must necessarily be subjective. As an example, what exactly entails a “full coat” or a “cheerful attitude”, descriptions found in breed standards, can only be learned through experience with the breed that has that particular requirement.
Judges are generally certified to judge one or several breeds, usually in the same Group but a few “All-Breed” judges, have the training and experience to judge large numbers of breeds.
The first modern conformation dog show was held in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, England in June 1859, and the only breeds scheduled were pointers and setters.
Dogs compete at dog shows to earn points or certification towards championship titles.
The Kennel Club (UK) system, which is also used by the Australian National Kennel Council and in other countries, is considered the most difficult to earn a title under. At certain shows designated as Championship shows, the top bitch and dog in each breed will be awarded a Challenge Certificate, with three CCs needed to become a champion. The amount of CCs on offer for each breed is decided by the Kennel Club in advance, so opportunities to gain a title are very limited.
In the US and Canada, each time a dog wins at some level of a show, it earns points towards the championship. The number of points varies depending on what level within a show the win occurs, how many dogs are competing, and whether the show is a major (larger shows) or minor (smaller shows). The exact number of points needed to gain a championship varies depending on the kennel club offering the title.
Fédération Cynologique Internationale sponsors international shows that differ from other shows in that dogs first receive individual written descriptions of positive and negative qualities from the judge, and only dogs with high ratings go on to compete against other dogs in the class. A dog must receive four international Certificat d’Aptitude au Championnat International de Beauté to qualify for a Championship; one must be won in the dog’s own country, and at least two in other countries under at least three different judges.
Dogs compete in a hierarchical fashion at each show, where winners at lower levels are gradually combined to narrow the winners until the final round, where Best in Show is chosen, usually from among specials, dogs that have already completed their championships and are competing for group and best in show wins. At the lowest level, dogs are divided by breed. Each breed is divided into classes based on sex and, sometimes, age. Males (dogs) are judged first, then females (bitches). At the next level they are divided by group. At the final level, all dogs compete together under a specially trained all breed judge.
Dog Shows Around the World
Dog shows in Australia
Within one breed, there are puppies (dogs under 6 months), mature male dogs (subdivided by age into junior, limit (or intermediate) and open); bitches (female dogs) have corresponding classes.
The winners of all classes in each sex (called Puppy Dog, Limit Dog etc.) compete for Challenge (best) Dog and Challenge Bitch; the individuals who will challenge each other for the accolade Best of Breed (except dogs that are entered in “The import Register” or “Any Variety Not Separately Classified” classes, in these classes the dogs compete for “best import” or “best A.V.N.S.C.”). The remaining class winners are joined by the runner-up from the class from which the challenge winner was selected and there are competitions for second place in each gender, called Reserve Challenge Dog and Reserve Challenge Bitch. This is for fairness, as one class may contain a stronger field of specimens of the breed. If the judge believes that this is the case, the Challenge Dog and Reserve Challenge Dog, for example, may both be from the same class.
From the two finalists (Challenge Dog and Challenge Bitch) is selected Best of Breed, best import, or best A.V.N.S.C. The runner-up is deemed Best of Opposite Sex (or Runner-up to Best of Breed). There is then a run-off in which the second best individual in the gender of the winner (the Reserve Challenge) is brought back to stand against the Best of Opposite Sex (the Challenge who did not win) for the title of Reserve Best of Breed. So, if the Best of Breed is the Challenge Bitch, the Reserve Best of Breed may be the Challenge Dog or the Reserve Challenge Bitch.
In multi-breed and all-breed shows, the winners of all breeds within the kennel club’s breed groups then compete. So, for example, all the Terrier Group breed winners compete to determine Best Terrier. The winner of “best import” is not allowed to compete for best in group, but is allowed a lap of honour around the main ring before group judging starts (sometimes called Best in Group). These are known as the General Specials.
The audience at a dog show is expected to be participatory and vocal, and often applaud the silkiest, fluffiest or more popular breeds while ignorant of the breed standards. Those who are owners and breeders may cheer for a popular handler or a sympathetic favourite from a particular breeding kennel. But of course the judge is supposed to ignore all attempts to influence the decision.
Finally, the winners from each group compete for Best in Show.
Dog shows in the UK
There are several types of show in the UK. The smallest are the Companion Shows, where there are usually a few conformation classes for pedigree dogs, and several “novelty” classes, such as waggiest tail and handsomest dog, which are open to any dog including crossbreeds. These shows are usually held to support a charity or other good cause.
Then there are Open shows, which are open only to dogs registered with the Kennel Club. There are many Open Shows that are held all around the country. Here the dog & handler can gain experience and the dog can gain points towards a Junior Warrant award or a Show Certificate of Merit.
There are also Limited shows, which are open only to members of the Society or Club running the show, and Challenge Certificate winners (see below) cannot enter.
Finally, there are the huge Championship shows, where dogs can gain points towards a Junior Warrant and compete for the highly coveted Challenge Certificate (CC). If the breed is sufficiently numerous, the Kennel Club awards a Challenge Certificate for the Best Dog and Best Bitch. A dog needs three CCs from three different judges to be awarded the title of Champion one of which must be awarded when the dog is over 12 month old. The most prestigious Championship show is Crufts, and each dog entered at Crufts has had to qualify by certain wins at Championship or Open show level.
The Kennel Club also operates a separate show open only to mixed-breeds, Scruffts, which judges its contestants on character, health, and temperament with people and other dogs.
Dog shows in the US
There are seven classes per breed in American Kennel Club dog shows: Puppy (sometimes divided between 6-9 Month and 9-12 Month), Twelve-To-Eighteen Months, Novice (6 months and older, and having won no previous championship points), Amateur Owner Handler (Where the Owner is exhibiting the dog and has not received funds for showing any other dog), Bred By Exhibitor (where the person handling the dog is an owner and breeder of record), American-Bred, and Open. The American-Bred and Open classes are mandatory for each show, while the others are optional. In some cases one or more of these classes may be divided by color, height, weight, or coat type.
First through fourth place are awarded in each class. The winners of all classes in each sex compete for Winners (best) Dog and Winners Bitch. These wins are awarded points toward a Championship, based on the number of dogs in each sex competing in the classes. The remaining class winners are joined by the runner-up from the class from which the Winner was selected and there are competitions for second place in each sex, called Reserve Winners Dog and Reserve Winners Bitch. If for any reason the Winner is determined to be ineligible for the points on that day, they would instead be awarded to the Reserve Winner (a bit like the First Runner-Up in the Miss America pageant).
Once the Winners and Reserves are chosen, the Best of Breed competition begins. This group consists of any dog or bitch that has finished its Championship, plus the Winners Dog and Winners Bitch. The dog or bitch that the judge feels best represents the breed standard on that day is awarded Best of Breed; the best animal of the opposite gender is awarded Best of Opposite Sex; and the better of the Winners Dog or Winners Bitch is awarded Best of Winners. (The Winners Dog or Bitch can be awarded Best of Breed or Best of Opposite Sex, as well.) In a Specialty show, the Best of Breed is also called Best in Specialty.
Part of the AKC hound group at a show in Houston, Texas
In multi-breed and all-breed shows, the winners of all breeds within the kennel club’s breed Groups then compete for Group placements. So, for example, all the Terrier Group Best of Breed winners compete for Group First, Group Second, Group Third, and Group Fourth. Finally, the seven Group First winners compete for Best in Show.
In the American Kennel Club, a dog needs 15 points to become a Champion, with each win gaining anywhere from zero to five points depending on the number of dogs competing and the area where the show is held. At least two wins must be a set of three or more points (“majors”), under two different judges; at least one additional win under a third judge is also required. Additional points may be awarded to the Best of Winners, or a class dog that goes Best of Breed or Best of Opposite Sex, again depending on the number of dogs competing.
The rules for the United Kennel Club (US) use a different system. A championship requires a combination of points (for example, winning the class earns 10 points in non-variety breeds, 5 in variety breeds) and competition wins (including group placements and Best In Show/Reserve Best in Multi-Breed Show).
Dog shows in Canada
Canadian Kennel Club shows are nearly identical to American Kennel Club dog shows, with the exception of a “Canadian-Bred” class replacing the AKC’s “American-Bred”. The main difference is the number of points required for a Championship, and the way those points are calculated.
Under the Canadian Kennel Club rules, 10 points are needed for a Championship, with wins awarded by at least three different judges, and at least one “major” win of two or more points. Region is not a factor in determining points for a win in Canada – the point schedule is the same across the country.
Dog shows in Colombia
In Colombia dog shows are maintained and organized by the Association Colombian Kennel Club (Asociacion Club Canino Colombiano). Their conformation shows follow the rules of the international Federation of Kennel Clubs. (Fédération Cynologique Internationale). According to the ACCC only purebred dogs recognized by the FCI are allowed to participate. Purebreds of Colombian origin must be registered to the ACCC and therefore they must hold an LOC number (Number in the Colombian Book of Origins)
Prestigious Dog Shows
Dog shows take place all year in various locations. Some are small, local shows, while others draw competitors from all around the country or the world. Some shows are so large that they limit entries only to dogs who have already earned their Championships. Therefore, winning Best in Breed or Best in Show can elevate a dog’s, a breeder’s, or a kennel’s reputation to the top of the list overnight. This greatly increases the price of puppies bred from this dog or at the dog’s kennel of origin. On the down side, these prestigious wins can sometimes also increase the popularity of a breed, as many people decide they want a dog “just like that cute one I saw winning on TV”.
In the United Kingdom, the international championship show Crufts was first held in 1891. Since its centenary year in 1991, the show has officially been recognised as the world’s largest and most prestigious dog show by the Guinness Book of Records, with a total of 22,973 dogs being exhibited that year. 22,964 dogs were exhibited in 2008, 27 short of the previous record. Crufts is held over 4 days at the National Exhibition Centre (NEC) in Birmingham and it is the largest annual event held at the venue, with an estimated 160,000 human visitors in 2008. The winner of the title of “Best In Show” receives a replica of the solid silver Keddall Memorial Trophy and a surprisingly small cash prize of £100 ($200).
Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show
The largest and most prestigious dog show in America, the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, was established in 1877 and is held annually at Madison Square Garden in New York City. The 2008 show had a total entry of 2,627 dogs making the event the second largest continuously held sporting event in America.
World Dog Show
The World Dog Show is sponsored by the Fédération Cynologique Internationale for international championships in conformation and other dog sports. The location rotates between member countries. The 2008 show was held in Stockholm, Sweden, and the 2009 World Show was in Bratislava, Slovakia. In 2010 the show will be in Herning, Denmark.
Criticism of Dog Showing
The practice of breeding dogs for conformation showing has become a subject of intense debate. Some critics state that conformation shows lead to selecting of breeding dogs based solely upon appearance, which is seen by some as being detrimental to working qualities and at worst as promotion of eugenics.
In the United States some working dog breed organizations, such as the American Border Collie Association and the Jack Russell Terrier Club of America, have put a considerable amount of effort in the fight to keep their breeds from being recognized by the AKC and some other kennel clubs, as they fear that introduction of their breeds to the show ring will lead to decreasing numbers of working dogs with adequate qualities.
In August 2008, BBC1 televised a documentary film titled Pedigree Dogs Exposed, which investigated the subject of health issues affecting pedigree dogs in the United Kingdom, with a particular emphasis on dogs bred for showing. The programme provoked an unprecedented response from both the public and the dog-breeding community, with widespread criticism directed at the Kennel Club. Since the broadcast, the BBC has withdrawn its television coverage of Crufts dog show in 2009, with other sponsors and partners also withdrawing their support, including Pedigree Petfoods, the RSPCA, PDSA and the Dog’s Trust. In response to the programme, the Kennel Club in the UK announced a review of all breed standards, with the long-term goal being to eradicate hereditary health concerns. Most notably, they will impose a ban on breeding between dogs that are closely related and will impose greater monitoring to prevent unhealthy dogs from being entered for and winning awards at dog shows.
- “Regulations Part 5 Show”. Australian National Kennel Council. October 2010.
- “Regulations”. Fédération Cynologique Internationale.
- “A Beginner’s Guide to Dog Shows”. American Kennel Club.
- American Kennel Club. “Points Schedule”.
- American Kennel Club. “Counting Points at Dog Shows”.
- New FAQ
- Canadian Kennel Club. “Championship Points Earned at Canadian Dog Shows”.
- “Reglamento de Exposiciones – ACCC [Show Regulations – ACCC]” (in Spanish). Asociación Club Canino Colombiano. March 2011.
- “Championships”. Fédération Cynologique Internationale.
- “World Dog Show 2010”. World Dog Show 2010.
- Westminster Eugenics Show National Review Online
- “Jack Russell Terrier Club of America – JRTCA”. Jack Russell Terrier Club of America.
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