AKC Conformation Shows
The official term for dog shows is conformation — as in, the act of conforming or producing conformity. While a dog show may look like a beauty pageant, it’s not. Dogs are not being compared to each other; they’re being measured by how closely they conform to the standard of their particular breed. Why? Because the closer a dog’s appearance is to the breed’s standard, the better that dog’s ability will be to produce puppies that meet the standard. It’s also the reason why mixed breeds and spayed or neutered purebreds are ineligible to compete in conformation.
Our family was showing Toy breeds at the AKC National Championship Show in Orlando 2017, 2019 and 2020.
You may be familiar with All-Breed and Group Dog Shows as they are the type commonly shown on television, where all AKC breeds can compete. These events are a process of elimination where the judges select one dog from each breed to advance to the Group competition. Once a winner is chosen to represent each of the 7 Groups, they go head-to-head for Best In Show.
As an example, the Bulldog Club of America Specialty only allows Bulldogs to enter. In the Conformation ring, each dog is judged individually against its unique breed standard and whichever the Judge deems closest to meeting it, will win it all. Specialties usually have a large number of dogs entered and crowds of spectators cheering them on.
In a stress-free and relaxed environment, this event provides the opportunity for puppies to socialize with people and other dogs at an optimal time of their development. The puppies competing in 4-6 Month Beginner Puppy competitions are hoping to earn points toward a Certificate of Merit, which is an introductory title to AKC conformation events. Once a winner for each breed has been chosen, they compete to win their respective Group (Toy, Working, etc.) and then the Best 4-6 Month Puppy In Show is awarded! It's adorable!
FSS Open Shows also allow clubs, judges, and stewards to gain the experience needed for licensed events. Miscellaneous Class and FSS breeds are considered equivalent to a Group, just like Sporting or Toy. The winner of the Miscellaneous Class & FSS Groups will go on to compete for Best in FSS Open Show. While no points are earned towards a Championship, Certificate of Merit points may be earned. These shows provide clubs a great opportunity to welcome new exhibitors to the sport as well as get people involved in their club.
Learn the Basics
First things first: The official term for dog shows is conformation — as in, the act of conforming or producing conformity. While a dog show may look like a beauty pageant, it’s not: Dogs are not being compared to each other; they’re being measured by how closely they conform to the standard of their particular breed. Why? Because the closer a dog’s appearance is to the breed’s standard, the better that dog’s ability will be to produce puppies that meet the standard. It’s also the reason why mixed breeds and spayed or neutered purebreds are ineligible to compete.
Six months or older on the day of the show
Recognized breed by the AKC
NOT spayed or neutered
No disqualifying faults, as stated by their breed’s parent organization.
In sound health and up-to-date on vaccinations.
The size of conformation events range from large all-breed shows, with over 3,000 dogs entered, to small local specialty club shows that feature only one breed. Each dog is exhibited (“handled”) by its owner, breeder or hired professional (“handler”). Most dogs compete for points toward their AKC championships. It takes 15 points to become an AKC “Champion of Record.” The maximum number of points awarded at an event is five. Males and females compete separately within their respective breeds. Learn more about the judging process here.
Lastly, make sure to review the AKC Code of Sportsmanship to learn more about the core values of participants in AKC Sports and Events.
Attend a Show in Person
We can’t stress enough how important it is for you to get familiar with what actually happens at a conformation event. Go to a show, or several, and familiarize yourself with what happens in the show ring, and to experience the energy and camaraderie between the spectators in the stands and the competitors (also called “exhibitors”). It’ll also give you an idea of whether you want to show your dog yourself, or hire a professional (“handler”).
Join an AKC Club Near You
We encourage newcomers to get involved with their local AKC Club. Not only do they offer invaluable resources and training classes, you’ll meet new people with similar interests who are more than willing to share their knowledge and lend a hand.
Prep Your Dog – and Yourself
A conformation class will prepare you and your dog for your first experience – and for your best chances at winning. Classes are often conveniently held on weeknights and focus on how to handle your dog in the show ring. Contact a local AKC Club to ask about training opportunities.
In addition, your dog should know basic behavior like how to walk on a leash on your left side and how to stack. He should also be very comfortable around other dogs. On top of taking classes, we encourage you to visit dog parks to practice his socialization skills. Finally, before your first show, your pet should be well-groomed—think trimmed nails, tangle-free fur, and no dirt.