Conformation is the beauty contest of the dog world. Think of the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show televised each February at Madison Square Gardens in New York City, or the National Dog Show on Thanksgiving Day. But conformation shows happen all over the world, all year long, and go beyond simple looks.
What Is A Conformation Dog Show?
The earliest record of a dog show dates to June 1859 in England, with only 60 hunting dogs (Pointers and Setters) shown. These exhibitions evaluated dogs based on looks and ability to function.
Today the sport of dogs has grown to include more than 200 separate breeds (depending on the registering body), and expanded beyond pedigree-only dogs to embrace mutts in a variety of shaggy competitions. But a conformation dog show is exclusive to purebred dogs.
What Dogs Compete?
To compete the dogs must be a purebred registered with the sponsoring organization’s kennel club. Purebred dogs adopted through shelters or “rescued” are not eligible unless their registration paperwork remains intact.
How Are Dogs Judged?
Show judges are experts in the breeds they judge. They may be qualified to judge only specific breeds, specific types, or be qualified as an “all breed judge.”
The judge must know what constitutes the breed “ideal.” That includes the coat type and color, size, way the dog moves, temperament, and other specifics designated by the breed standard. Dogs destined for the dog show ring should be trained and properly socialized to accept handling by strangers in strange environments.
Dogs are judged against the standard. The dog that comes closest to the judge’s mind’s eye vision of perfection is awarded the win. Besides looks, the dog’s health, ability to move, and even personality must be up to snuff. Many judges say that winning dogs have an attitude that “asks” for the ribbon.
Types of Conformation Shows
Not every breed will be entered in all shows. Different types of shows offer entry to different selections of breeds. A “specialty show” features only those dogs of a designated breed or breeds. The room may contain a hundred Pugs, for example.
A group match features all the breeds that belong to a general “type” of dog. For instance, a group match might specify the Toy group, which includes the Chihuahua, Pug, Pekingese, Yorkshire Terrier and Toy Poodle (to name only a few). The American Kennel Club (AKC) divides the groups by function and purpose for which the dogs were bred, or by size.
- Sporting Group consists of Labs, Setters, Spaniels, pointers, retrievers.
- Hounds includes sighthounds like Greyhounds, Beagles, Foxhounds—any breeds with “hound” in the name (plus a few surprises).
- Working group includes the sled dogs, draft dogs, and dogs such as Akita and Doberman.
- Terrier group consists of nearly any breed with ‘terrier’ in the name plus the Miniature Schnauzer.
- Toys are by size--the little guys—from Chihuahuas to Maltese.
- Non-sporting examples include Chow Chow, Dalmation, Bichon, Lhasa Apso, and Boston Terrier
- Herding are all the shepherds, sheepdogs, and cattle dogs.
- Miscellaneous Class is sort of a stepping-stone category for dogs that have not yet been accepted into one of the other groups, but which may in the future.
The United Kennel Club (UKC) is another very large registry of purebred dogs. The UKC recognizes many of the same breeds plus additional ones, or calls them by different names. For instance, the UKC recognizes the American Pit Bull Terrier—while the AKC calls the same breed the American Staffordshire Terrier.
The UKC groups breeds slightly differently with eight groups based on purpose: Gun Dogs, Scenthounds, Herding Group, Guarding Dogs, Sighthounds, Terriers, Companion Dogs and Northern Breeds.