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. For example, what exactly entails a "full coat"
or a "cheerful attitude", which are descriptions that could be found in the breed specifications.
Strictly speaking, a dog show is not exactly a comparison of one dog to another, it is a comparison of each dog to a judge's concept
of the ideal specimen as dictated by the breed standard, containing the attributes of a given breed and a list of conformation points. Based on this, one dog is placed ahead of another. All-breed judges should therefore have a vast amount of
knowledge, and the ability (or inability) of humans to retain all these details mentally for hundreds of breeds (and to maintain their objectivity despite their personal preferences) is the subject of intense debate, particularly from the fanciers
of working dogs. Politics in the purebred dog world can be as vicious as in any other arena; there have been charges of favoritism, nepotism, bribery and even drugging of competitors' animals.
The judge is supposed to remain free from bias on several counts. A canine judge must, for example, disregard personal or public notions about what a cute or good-looking dog is, and judge strictly to the standard. Judges must also assess
specimens of all breeds objectively, regardless of personal favorites. In some breeds, the males and females of the breed have decidedly different appearances, and it is often the males who have the quintessential look of the breed. The judge
must set personal preference aside and decide objectively whether the dog is a better example of the female of the breed than the dog is an example of the male. In practice it is widely claimed that all-breed judges are more likely to "put
up" the dog who has been widely "campaigned," who is presented by a well-known professional handler, whose photograph appears in full-page advertisements in monthly dog magazines, and whose record of previous wins is known by all.
Such a dog is said to represent a safe and unassailable choice even though a superior but less well-known dog may be present. Similarly, the dog that either through his innate behavior, his training, or his handler's skill, appears in the ring
to embody what is called "showmanship" (flashy gait, alert expression, always standing in a correct "show stack"), is claimed to be quite likely (at least in the U.S. and Canada though it may be less so in Europe) to win over
a less showy specimen who actually conforms more closely to the breed standard. "Judging the wrong end of the lead," putting up the professional handler or the attractive young lady owner, is also perceived to be a not-uncommon outcome.
Thus the stated ideals of objective assessment, of judging strictly to the breed standard, are thought at times to be honored more in theory than in practice. When asked, however, judges assert that they award the win to the dog they feel is
the best example of the breed, and so accusations of ring politics remain unsubstantiated and, at times, unfounded.
Dogs compete at dog shows to earn points towards the title of Champion. 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). As well, the number of points needed to attain a Champion title varies by country.
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. 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).
Dog shows in Australia
Within one breed, there are puppies (dogs under a certain age), 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 groupings 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 judgeing 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 requirements. Those who are owners and breeders may cheer for a popular handler
or a sympathetic favourite from a particular breeding kennel; 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 (AKC)
There are seven classes per breed in AKC dog shows: Puppy (sometimes divided between 6-9 Month and 9-12 Month), Novice, 12-18 Months, Bred By Exhibitor (where the person handling the dog is an owner and breeder of record), American-Bred,
Novice (not used in all breeds), and Open. 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.
In multi-breed and all-breed shows, the winners of all breeds within the kennel club's breed groupings 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 AKC, 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.
Dog shows in Canada
Canadian dogs shows are nearly identical to AKC 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.
In Canada, 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.
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".
Probably the two best-known, largest, and most prestigious annual dog shows are the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show in the US, and Crufts in the UK.