At a Conformation Show, (or Breed Show), dogs of each breed compete, and are judged against the AKC Standard for their breed. The AKC Standard is written by the parent club for each breed, and lays out exactly what the breed is supposed to look and act like, in terms of appearance, structure, movement and temperament.
A "Specialty" is a show whose entry is limited to dogs of one specific breed, (or group of breeds such as all Terriers). Specialties generally have large entries, and if you're interested in learning about a specific breed, this is a good place to start.
An "All-Breed" show is open to all breeds recognized by the AKC. Dogs compete first among their own specific breed, and the "Best of Breed" winner will move on to competition within its group. (The AKC recognized breeds are "grouped" into seven categories: Herding, Sporting, Working, Toy, Hound, Terrier and Non-Sporting). Winners of each group will compete for "Best in Show".
There are some "All-Breed" shows that are also "Benched". A "Benched" show requires that dogs be on exhibit at their benches for the duration of the show, leaving the bench only to compete or to be exercised. These shows provide spectators the chance to see the competitors up close and speak with their owners and handlers.
Only AKC Registered dogs and bitches that have no disqualifying faults as defined by their individual breed standard and AKC regulations may compete at AKC approved conformation shows. The dogs may be shown by their owners, amateur or professional handlers.
Each breed will be evaluated by an AKC-Licensed judge. These judges have met AKC certification requirements and are considered qualified to judge the breeds which they have been assigned.
Competition is broken down into several "classes". Dogs and bitches that have not attained the Champion title compete for points towards their championship in puppy (sometimes divided by age into 6-9 months and 9-12 months), 12-18 months, Bred By Exhibitor, Novice, American-Bred and Open classes. Dogs and bitches compete separately. After the winners have been chosen from each dog class, the winners of each class enter the ring once again, to compete for "Winners Dog". Winners of the Bitch classes will compete for "Winners Bitch". Only the "Winners Dog" and "Winners Bitch" will be awarded points towards their championship. A "Reserve Winners Dog" and Reserve Winners Bitch" will also be chosen, and, similar to the Miss America Pageant, will receive the Championship points, only if for some reason it is later determined that the Winners Dog or Winners Bitch was ineligible for those points.
Championship Points are awarded based on the number of dogs or bitches competing the day of the show. 15 points must be accumulated to attain the title of Champion. Of those 15 points, the dog must have two "Major" wins (shows where the points awarded were 3, 4 or 5). The two major wins must be under separate judges. Point schedules are determined by the AKC based on geographical region of competition, and number of dogs competing in each region.
In addition to the dogs and bitches that are competing for Championship points, there will be a class of dogs and bitches that are already Champions, called the "Best of Breed" class. In the Best of Breed class, champion dogs and bitches compete together. The Winners Dog and Winners Bitch of the day are also eligible to compete in this class. A dog or bitch will be selected as the winner and awarded the "Best of Breed" ribbon; "Best of Opposite Sex" will be awarded to a dog or bitch of the opposite sex of the Best of Breed winner. Also, a "Best of Winners" ribbon will be awarded to either the Winners Dog or Winners Bitch, whichever the judge determines to be the better of the two. Sometimes additional championship points can be earned by the Winners Dog or Winners Bitch - for example, if the Winners Bitch is selected over the Winners Dog as Best of Winners, and the number of points awarded to the Winners Dog was greater than those awarded to the Winners Bitch, as Best of Winners, she will receive the same number of points that Winners Dog was awarded. It is also possible for Winners Dog or Winners Bitch to be selected as Best of Breed or Best of Opposite Sex.
The Best of Breed winners for each AKC-recognized group compete against each other and 1st through 4th place will be awarded. The seven Group winners will then compete against each other for "Best In Show", quite a prestigious win, when you consider the process of elimination to get there, and the number of competitors, which can be upwards of 3,000 dogs at large All-Breed shows.
JUDGING THE DOGS
Judges will examine each dog in a class, and evaluate it relative to the AKC Breed Standard. The AKC Breed Standards strive to describe the ideal "Type" of dog for each breed. "Type" is what makes a Rottweiler a Rottweiler and a Poodle a Poodle.
The judge will be first looking for any disqualifying faults that would preclude the exhibit from competition. Examples of disqualifying faults for Rottweilers include more than one missing tooth, overshot or undershot bite, white hair etc.
After determining that the exhibit does not have any disqualifying faults, the judge will "go over" the dog, checking eye color, mouth pigmentation and dentition, head type, physical structure and condition. The judge will then have the handler move the dog, and examine its movement coming, going and from the side.
Ideally, the judge will select as the winner in each class, the dog that most closely meets the description of the breed as given in the AKC Breed Standard. Second through Fourth place will also be awarded.