International Kennel Club
of Chicago
How a Dog Show Works...
...and other mysteries of the universe to the uninitiated
Courtesy of Angela Major, 1997


Think of an AKC dog show as a process of elimination, with many opportunities for winning (and losing!) at different levels along the way. With nearly 150 recognized breeds able to enter and compete, there are usually between 500 and 3000 dogs entered at any given show. Only ONE dog at each show will be awarded the coveted "Best In Show" award, but many others will win their classes, earn points by going "winners," go on to win their breeds, and continue on to compete and win in their respective groups on their quest for "The Best."

Let's say you have a 14 month old fabulous Golden Retriever bitch. It is now about one month before the all-breed show, and you received your premium list from the Superintendent. In it, you find the show date, location, judges' names, entry forms, prices, etc. And THERE IT IS...the name of the judge your breeder/mentor told you to enter under at any cost! You notice that the closing date for entries is just two weeks away, so you begin to fill in your entry form....Hmmmm what class do you enter her in? (Yep, you can only pick ONE regular breed class.)

Well, you know that first you have to compete with other dogs of the same breed and sex in the classes. The regular classes that are offered are:

  • Puppy bitch 6 months to under 9 months ("6 to 9")

  • Puppy bitch 9 months to under 12 months ("9 to 12")

  • Junior bitch 12 months to under 18 months ("12 to 18")

  • Novice bitch (for yet unpointed bitches)

  • Bred by Exhibitor bitch ("Bred-By" - shown by breeder)

  • American Bred bitch ("AmBred" - bred & whelped in the USA)

  • Open bitch (open to all at least 6 mos old, but usually containing fully mature bitches)

  • Best of Breed (for finished champions and that day's Winners Dog and Winners Bitch only)

She's obviously too old for the puppy classes, but that Junior bitch 12-18 class is looking interesting. You could opt to enter in Novice, but your breeder mentioned that the Novice class usually contains mostly dogs that are either not trained sufficiently yet, or perhaps not seriously competitive in terms of physical maturity. Since your dog was bred and whelped in the USA, the AmBred class is a possibility, but again - this class is more popular with breeds that have a high number of imported dogs, such as Rottweilers, German Shepherd Dogs, Shiba Inu, etc. Since there aren't a lot of imports in your breed, you know you'd probably be the only one in your AmBred class, and you'd really like to get the practice and have the judge's opinion of your bitch compared to other exhibits. The Open class is certainly a possibility, but you've watched a few of these huge classes with those fully mature, well muscled and coated bitches, and there's a fairly good chance that those Amazons will make your little darling look like a real geek instead of the lovely example of an adolescent she is. Lets go with the 12-18 class, where there will be a good entry and she'll be compared against others her own age and maturity level. Good plan. ;-) You finish your entry form, write out the apx. $20 entry check and chase your mailman down the street so it will be delivered as soon as possible.

The weeks have flown by and you've been conditioning, grooming, going to handling classes, practicing, and cooking bait until your kitchen reeks of liver and garlic. You're both READY. Friday morning before work, you pack your van with your grooming table, dryers, tack box, dog food, water, camping chairs,first-aid kit, show clothes, etc - everything you need to take to a show. At 5:00 you race home, throw the spouse and kids in the car and take off down the highway. Small detour to return home to grab the dog and throw her in the crate.(Think I'm kidding?! Its been done - the worst part is when they stand there in the kennel smiling at you as if to say "didja forget something??!" Argh!) You drive 7 hours to the show city, arriving at o'dark-thirty and pour yourself into bed for a good solid 5 hours of sleep.

You dream of following your Golden through the best day of her breeder's life...

The alarm sounds at 4:30 am. "This could be THE day..." you mumble to yourself as you let the shower beat you into consciousness. As usual, there's a large entry of Goldens. The judging schedule which the superintendent sent you shows that you have an 8:00am ring time - which means you'll leave the motel at 5:30 to get to the show grounds by 6:00 in order to grab a good set-up space and start grooming. Forget breakfast - it will turn on you at that early hour.

After paying your $3 parking fee and circumnavigating the show building three times looking for the unloading zone, BINGO!... you find a great space WITH an electrical outlet near the rings. After several trips back and forth hauling your retinue into the building, you park the van and return to get to work. Thirty minutes or so before your ring time, you wander over to the ring, and pick up your armband from the Ring Steward. You spend 15 minutes or so familiarizing yourself with how the judge is running her ring, and what kind of dogs she is putting up. You've noticed that there are five bitches in the class ahead of you, and knowing that a judge is only allowed about two minutes per dog, you go get your dog as this class enters, and stand by ringside in plenty of time to enter your class on time.


The judge finishes with all of the male class dogs and winners and begins with the females. She places the 6-9 and 9-12 bitches in the order that she judges their respective merits, and awards a 1st through 4th place winner in each class. You notice that the first and second place winners hang around outside near the ring. You'll find out why later. Right now, you're checking your lead and collar and thinking through where you need to go and how you're going to get there. Its YOUR turn!

The ring Steward calls in your 12-18 class by saying "May I have 12-18 month Golden Retriever Junior Bitches in the ring in catalog order please?!"Since you have the lowest number, you gait in first as she calls out your number. On your way in, you make sure that the Judge and Steward can easily read your armband, as they check off who has shown up for this class. Arriving at your destination, you stack your dog where you have seen the previous class line up. Your adrenaline is pumping, but you remain calm and collected - stacking "one...two...three...four...TA-DA!" just as your handling class instructor has had you do a hundred times before. The judge begins going down the line-up, getting a first impression of the dogs. She goes over your dog, examining its headpiece, expression, dentition, and overall structure from head to tail - and then some. You stand as she asks you to take your dog down to the corner and back. You gait your bitch in a smooth, straight line away from and back to the judge, so she can see how cleanly your dog tracks going away and coming in. Without running into the judge, you stop about 6 feet away and free-bait your bitch to show animation and expression, and to give the judge the best view possible of your dog's attributes. Your little girl hits an absolutely perfect stack and baits with ears up and tail wagging. The judge cracks an ever-so-subtle smile as she ask you to take your dog around to the end. Both your dog's and your lights are turned ON today. You continue to show your dog as the judge goes over the other dogs and puts them through their movement exercises. You notice that she is moving the dogs order around, but all are still behind you as she asks you all to take your dogs around together for a last comparison. Your heart leaps out of your chest as she points to YOUR DOG and says "You're Number One..." You're sure she told the other's what their placements were, but you didn't hear a THING after "One." You line up in front of the placement numbers as the judge hands you your blue ribbon. You and the 2nd place 12-18 winner watch as the other classes are judged.

As soon as the Open Bitch class is placed, you prepare to go back in the ring with the other first place winners from the Golden Bitch classes, and compete for WINNERS BITCH. You quickly go over in your mind the explanation of what Winners means...  The  class (aka "unfinished" or "non-champion") bitch who has defeated all other class bitches of that breed at that show is the ONE female of that breed to be awarded points towards her championship . The first place winners from each of the bitch classes in that breed that day**, compete for Winners Bitch.  **This would be the 1st place 6-9 month Puppy Bitch, the 1st place 9-12 Puppy Bitch, the 1st place 12-18 Junior Bitch, the 1st place Novice Bitch, the 1st Place Bred-by Bitch, the First place Am-Bred Bitch, and the 1st place Open Bitch. After one Winners Bitch is selected, the bitch who originally took 2nd place to her in the classes is asked to come in and compete with the remaining bitches for "Reserve Winners Bitch." The winner of the "Reserve" is like a "runner-up" and is only awarded points if, in the future, the Winners Bitch is found to be disqualified for some reason and the award is disallowed.

"Oh, COOL!" you say to yourself...."This one is for the POINTS!" as you gait into the ring and stack your dogs in reverse class order, with the Open Bitch in first and the 6-9 bitch pulling up the rear. The judge checks a few points on each dog, moves them individually, then gaits them together. You nearly faint when she points to YOUR dog and announces "Winners Bitch!" You bunny-hop over to the placement numbers and show the judge your armband number again as she gives you the WB ribbon and records the number in her judge's book. The other 1st place winners stay in the ring, and the bitch that took 2nd place to you in your 12-18 class comes in and takes your place in the line-up to compete for Reserve. The steward congratulates you and mentions that it was worth 3 points today!  A  MAJOR!?!!...Yippee!!

The finished Golden Retriever Champions of both sexes have lined up and are ready to enter the ring for the Best of Breed competition. Usually the male "specials" are put in the front of the line, the bitch specials behind them, then the Winners Dog followed by the Winners Bitch pull up the rear. Again, you gait in and line up, stacking your dog as professionally as you are able. Each dog is examined and moved. The judge can then select either a male or female from any of this group to be "Best of Breed." She will then pick a dog of the opposite sex to the one she chose as BOB to be awarded "Best of Opposite Sex." In addition to these two awards, she will select from between the Winners Dog and the Winners Bitch for the "Best of Winners" award. Around the ring you go, ending where you began to line up in a free stack. The judge pulls you out and asks you to stack your dog "over there." Dumbfounded, you do as you're told. [NEVER argue with a judge, I always say ;-)] She pulls out a beautiful male special and stacks him behind you. "Around together!" the judge commands and you take off barely touching the floor, with the special in hot pursuit. Your bitch is reaching and driving effortlessly and simply dusts the beautiful male special on efficient ground coverage. (All of that roadwork paid off!) The Earth suddenly slows its movement to a crawl as you see the judge out of the corner of your eye point to your bitch and say "BEST of Breed and Best of Winners!" and point to the male special as Best Opposite Sex! "OhmyGawd!" your breeder screams as she leaps over the chain. You try to compose yourself as you profusely thank the judge after she quietly tells you that this is the finest example of a correct Golden Retriever she has seen in years. This is a fairly good day, I'd say.

Now the waiting begins. As BOB, your bitch will represent your breed in the GROUP judging later this afternoon. You check with the superintendent as to what order the groups will be judged and find that your group; Sporting, will go in first. You give your dog a huge hug and an extra cookie then put her into her crate to rest, get a drink, and unwind a bit with her favorite chewy toy. Now's a great time for you to grab a bite to eat and relax too! You pull up your chair to the nearest ringside and watch as the other breeds complete their breed competition. You pay special attention to that Lab judge over there who is going to judge the Sporting Group. Hmmmm...he seems to be putting up moderate, balanced dogs with excellent movement and pleasing heads... Oh, goodie...;-). You move over to watch the all-breed Junior Handling competition to see if you can pick up any last minute handling ideas from the Open Senior class participants.


As one of the larger and faster moving breeds in the Sporting Group, you politely wiggle your way towards the front section of the line to get a good position where you can easily show your Golden bitch's floating sidegate; her greatest virtue. You enter the ring, gaiting in with the BOB winners from all of the other Sporting breeds that day. Right behind you is a drop-dead gorgeous, top winning Gordon Setter, a very strong Yellow Lab, then there's that great handler with his beautiful English Springer w-a-a-y down the back of the line with the other smaller dogs. This is one big, competitive group of dogs, but you know you can handle it and your bitch is *just* the style of dog you've seen this group judge put up all afternoon. Again, each breed is examined and moved as the judge compares each dog to its own written standard of the ideal specimen of that breed. After some juggling around, moving a couple of dogs together, the judge pulls you out, with the Gordon behind you, then the Springer, and the parti-colored Cocker (where'd THAT come from? - I thought for SURE he'd pull the Lab - oh well!). You see your breeder, your friends and family, and all the other Golden exhibitors on their feet cheering as you are sent around the ring and the judge points to YOUR dog as GROUP I with the Gordon winning GII the Springer GIII, and that little Cocker (?!) Group IV. HALLELUIAH!!! It can't POSSIBLY get any better than this....can it???

Your breeder literally carries you back to your setup as you rest up for what's to come. As the winner of the Sporting Group, you will represent all Sporting Dogs in the Best In Show competition at the end of the day. Again, you exercise your bitch and put her up to rest. You grab a soda and return to the Group rings to watch the remaining dogs compete in their respective groups. Luckily, the groups are being judged in group number order today:

  • Sporting (dogs used for hunting waterfowl and upland game birds; ie retrievers, pointers, setters, spaniels)

  • Hound (dogs who track by sight or scent)

  • Working (guard, pulling and/or rescue dogs)

  • Terrier (dogs who were bred to kill vermin)

  • Toy (dogs who were bred strictly as small companions to people)

  • Non-Sporting (dogs whose original job no longer exists, or who no longer are used for their original function)

  • Herding (Dogs bred to gather and move livestock - formerly part of the Working Group)


As the last group enters the ring, you exercise your bitch and put her up on the grooming table to completely re-groom her. This is THE BIG ONE, and everything needs to be perfect. You re-check your tack, make sure that YOU are as well groomed as your dog, do a quick breath check, stuff your pockets with bait, run to the restroom just ONE more time, then waltz over to the BIS ring to join the Group I winners from the other groups to compete for BEST IN SHOW. After a bit of good natured jockeying around for best possible position, you hit the ring entrance at exactly the optimum gaiting speed for your bitch. That German Shepherd Dog's handler ahead of you is floored to see such a young dog in the BIS ring - let alone one that looks like she might be able to out-move him with her effortless extended trot. You hit your mark in the line-up and stack her perfectly, showing her lovely outline and typey headpiece. You look up to check the judge, and see that there has been a judge change. Its....its....its your breed judge from earlier that day! "THANK YOU, JESUS!" you whisper under your breath. Your heart is beating a thousand times a minute, but you can think of nothing other than the task at hand; becoming an invisible framework to show your dog to her best advantage. You place each foot deliberately and present this dog as if it were a piece of priceless artwork. As the judge goes over her, the dog rocks herself up onto her front, showing off her beautiful, balanced angulation and front assembly. You drop your left hand to the ground and the bitch holds her tail perfectly as the judge examines her topline and rear assembly. As you perform your down-and-back, you look down to see her tracking perfectly and moving with the confidence and joy which only a dog that LOVES to show can exhibit. She lands squarely in front of the judge and baits for the new squeaky toy you just bought which she so desperately wants. And you feel all is right with the world as you journey around the huge BIS ring together - a real team moving in perfect synchronization. This feels so wonderful, it really doesn't matter what the judge does. Well, um....OK, it MATTERS, but this feels pretty marvelous and this is an experience you'll never forget, and many times dream of recreating.

You take time to play with your dog as you wait for the others to be judged, but as the last dog is moved, you begin to stack your bitch in preparation for the final judging. The judge pulls out that dog-gone German Shepherd Dog and moves him. Rats. You heart sinks. He really IS lovely, and that handler is doing a wonderful job showing him. She sends him back to his place ahead of you. As you re-set that right front foot, you hear her say, "May I see the Golden Retriever move again please?"..............."Who? Me?!" hear yourself say as you spring to your feet and gather your lead. You take her around the ring and hear the beat of the low, thunderous applause of the crowd as she flies by them. The judge signals you to return to your position. She walks slowly back to the Steward's table and scribbles something in her book. Time is standing absolutely are sweating bullets and looking towards your friends for additional strength as she and the show chair saunter back to the center of the ring, with the huge red, white, and blue ribbon and a trophy in their hands. She asks for everyone to go around one more time, and the crowd goes wild as she points to YOUR  DOG and says the words you will NEVER forget; "I'LL TAKE THE GOLDEN RETRIEVER FOR BEST IN SHOW!"

Copyright 1997, BlackHills Goldens & GSP, Eugene, OR USA. All rights reserved. No part of these pages may be reproduced or copied without express written permission of the author. Copying any material or photographs for personal, commercial, internet or other use or publication anywhere else is specifically prohibited. Permission to quote one or two sentences for purposes of review is granted where full credits and URL are cited.

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