Conformation dog show competition comes in 4 varieties based on the types of kennel clubs that have organized to host them. There are national breed specialty clubs focusing on a single breed, like the American Bloodhound Club; regional single breed specialty clubs such as the Dalmatian Club of Northern California; group clubs for breeds belonging to one of 7 AKC groups (Sporting, Hounds, Working, Terriers, Toys, Non Sporting and Herding Groups), such as the Terrier Association of Oregon; and all-breed dog clubs like Dog Fanciers Association of Oregon and the Tualatin Kennel Club.

The underlying goal of all AKC purebred dog events is to preserve and advance purebred dogs.The best known AKC dog events are conformation dog shows where breeding stock is evaluated. In this venue, dogs are graded according to how well they conform to individual breed standards that have been established over many years by breed experts and approved by the AKC parent club for each breed. Breed standards describe distinctive elements of breed type, including overall appearance, structure, gait, temperament and many other important breed characteristics.

Dogs with a high degree of conformance are awarded points toward their championships. Ones that earn 15 championship points including two major wins are awarded the title of AKC Champion. Dogs that earn a championship are considered for use in breeding programs aimed at breed improvement, the goal of breed enthusiasts who participate in dog shows.

Dog show judging doesn’t end with the awarding of championship points, however. The highest award given in breed competition is to the dog or bitch awarded Best of Breed. This can be awarded to a class dog that is entered in the show in order to win points toward a championship, or to a dog that is already a champion and entered in the Best of Breed (sometimes called specials class) with the hope of winning Best of Breed and being able to compete in his Variety Group and perhaps, even in Best-in-Show. Here’s a diagram to help explain how dog show competition works.

Road to Best in Show

As you can see, dog show judging is a series of elimination rounds. There are many exciting wins along the way, but at the end of the day, only one dog can be named Best in Show. This is the highest honor that can be won in breed competition at an AKC dog show, an accomplishment that many dedicated breeders spend a lifetime working to achieve. Best in Show not only recognizes outstanding breed type and overall quality and soundness, it also recognizes the working partnership between handler and dog and the special presence some dogs have called showmanship .

When people refer to dog shows, they are usually referring to the conformation part of the show. That makes sense because breeding for quality, sound and healthy purebred dogs is the basis for every other aspect of the sport.