Winning a Dog Show: Steps for Success for Your Canine Competitor

When judges step into the dog show ring, armed with knowledge and experience, their task is challenging. They must select one winner out of many dogs on one of the biggest stages. Judge Jason Hoke recalls judging the Toy Group at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, sanctioned by the AKC, and the difficulty of choosing just one winner.

Dogs must first compete at the breed level before advancing to the group level. Conformation dog shows are elimination events, with one dog eventually being named “Best in Show.” A dog that wins “Best of Breed” moves on to compete at the group level, and winners then move on to the final round to compete for “Best in Show” and “Reserve Best in Show.” This process can involve whittling down thousands of dogs to find one winner.

The American Kennel Club

These winners are chosen by judges who have extensive experience in the show world and have studied AKC breed standards and purebred dogs. Judges are not comparing dogs directly to each other in the ring, but rather to their respective breed standards to find the best representative of each breed.

Are Dogs at a Dog Show Compared to Each Other?

Each dog must be judged based on how it aligns with its breed standard, not compared directly to other dogs in the ring. To become an AKC-licensed judge, individuals must meet educational requirements and have years of experience showing as a handler.

Pug breed standard illustration vs Pug photo
The American Kennel Club

Continued education and preparation are crucial for judges to excel in their roles. Judging requires not only knowledge of breed standards but also the ability to make quick decisions in the ring.

Before a competition, judges review breed standards and ensure they are familiar with all relevant information. Despite their experience, judging remains a subjective process influenced by personal breeding philosophies and preferences.

American Staffordshire Terrier in the ring at a conformation dog show
Photo by HOTdog
Best Bred By Exhibitor in Show, BBE Terrier Group First, Best of Breed, and Best Bred By in Breed/Variety: GCHG CH Alpine’s Lbk Living On The Road BCAT DS CGC TKN (Pancho), American Staffordshire Terrier; Terrier Group judging at the 2019 AKC National Championship presented by Royal Canin, Orlando, FL.

Visualizing the Picture-Perfect Dog

Judges evaluate dogs based on how well they embody their breed standard and potential for breeding. Evaluating dogs in the ring requires assessing individual dogs rather than comparing them directly to each other.

English Springer Spaniel in conformation dog show
©American Kennel Club and HOTdog
Sporting Group Third and Best of Breed: GCHS CH Random Legacy Dylan Du ReventionSpringersh Spinger Spaniel; 2017 AKC National Championship presented by Royal Canin, Orlando, FL.

More Than a Beauty Contest

A dog show goes beyond appearance and is a place to evaluate dogs for breeding purposes. Judges play a crucial role in influencing breeding decisions and how dogs are presented in future shows.

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Winning a Dog Show: Steps for Success for Your Canine Competitor