Dogs floating around a ring, some with flamboyant hairstyles prancing about might make modern dog shows look like nothing more than beauty pageants for dogs. In truth, however, a dog show is a process of judging the dogs to determine which one conforms most closely to a written standard… thus the reason we call it a “conformation” dog show.
In the 1800s, dogs served man in specific ways, as hunters to help bring home food, as shepherds of flocks, or as guardians of the home and property. As a natural course, men would gather, informally at first, to boast about and then to test their dogs’ abilities, often at field trials and coursing matches. The fittest were used to propagate more of the same, and thus began the selective breeding of dogs for desired characteristics.
Eventually people began to gather more formally to compare breeding stock; indeed, by the time that first dog show was held in England in 1859, the livestock judging was an established part of the country gentleman’s life. That first event was held as an addition to a longstanding poultry show.
As canine competitions became more popular in England, a kennel club (KC) was established to register dogs, maintain a printed stud book, and create guidelines for and record the results of field trials and dog shows. These activities were no less popular in the New World, and the United States followed the lead of Great Britain in establishing a national kennel club, known today as the American Kennel Club (AKC).
As each type of dog became recognized as a pure breed, fanciers established clubs to look out for the best interests of that breed. Standards were written to describe each breed in detail, including physical characteristics that allowed them to perform their function, as well as their temperaments.
A dog who herded sheep on an open plain all day must be built for stamina, have a thick coat to help protect him from attacks by predators, and must be able to think and work independently. One that coursed hare in the desert must see at long distances, run on hot sand over a long course, turn on a dime, and have a temperament to live a fairly solitary existence with his master.
Climate and topography, as well as the function required of the dog, contributed to the written requirements, or standard, for each breed.
Although in our modern society a dog is no longer needed to point game for his master’s supper or to herd flocks in from pasture, the breed standards that were created in the late 19th and early 20th centuries are still used today as a basis of comparison for every breed. Today’s competition is still a comparison of breeding stock against the written breed standards established so long ago.
AKC Conformation Shows
The size of events ranges from large shows, with hundreds of dogs entered, to small specialty club shows, with only German Shepherd Dogs. The dog's conformation (overall appearance and structure), an indication of the dog's ability to produce quality puppies, is judged. The dogs closest to the Breed Standard (written word picture of the German Shepherd Dog) on that day should be rewarded with wins and placements.
Each dog presented to a judge is exhibited ("handled") by its owner, breeder or a hired professional.
Most dogs in competition at conformation shows are competing for points toward their AKC championships. It takes fifteen points, including two majors (wins of three, four or five points) awarded by at least three different judges, to become a Champion. The number of championship points awarded at a show depends on the number of German Shepherd Dogs in competition. The larger the entry, the greater the number of points a male or a female can win. The maximum number of points awarded to a dog at any show is 5 points.
Males and females compete separately within their respective breeds, in seven regular classes. The following classes are offered, and are divided by sex:
Puppy - For dogs between six and twelve months of age, that are not yet champions (optional class).
Twelve-To-Eighteen Months - For dogs twelve to eighteen months of age, that are not yet champions (optional class).
Novice - For dogs six months of age and over, which have not, prior to the date of closing of entries, won three first prizes in the Novice Class, a first prize in Bred-by-Exhibitor, American-bred, or Open Classes, nor one or more points toward their championship (optional class).
Amateur-Owner-Handler – For dogs that are at least six months of age that are not champions. Dogs must be handled in the class by the registered owner of the dog and is limited to exhibitors who have not, at any point in time, been a professional dog handler, AKC approved conformation judge, or employed as an assistant to a professional handler (effective January 1, 2009) (optional class).
Bred By Exhibitor - For dogs that are exhibited by their owner and breeder, that are not yet champions (optional class).
American-Bred - For dogs born in the United States from a mating which took place in the United States, that are not yet champions (mandatory class).
Open - For any dog of the breed, at least 6 months of age (mandatory class).
After these classes are judged, all the dogs that won first place in a class compete again to see who is the best of the winning dogs. Males and females are judged separately. Only the best male (Winners Dog) and the best female (Winners Bitch) receive championship points. The Winners Dog and Winners Bitch then compete with the champions for the Best of Breed award. At the end of the Best of Breed Competition, three awards are usually given: Best of Breed - the dog judged as the best in its breed category. Best of Winners - the dog judged as the better of the Winners Dog and Winners Bitch. Best of Opposite Sex - the best dog that is the opposite sex to the Best of Breed winner.