Fun & Games

Conformation Dog Shows

When it comes to showcasing the beauty, grace, and breed-specific standards of dogs, few events can compare to the exhilarating world of conformation dog shows. These shows bring together topnotch pedigrees, expert handlers, and passionate dog enthusiasts, providing a platform to evaluate and celebrate the finest examples of each breed.

Written by: The Dog Journal 


Imagine a graceful Afghan Hound strutting confidently, its long, flowing coat catching everyone’s eye with its majestic beauty. Or a lively Beagle, wagging its tail with joy, showcasing its distinctive features and spirited personality. Dog shows are a wonderful celebration of the unique traits and talents that make each breed special.

At the core of dog shows are the dogs themselves, along with their devoted handlers. These talented individuals spend countless hours training and grooming their canine partners, ensuring they are in top form for the big event. It’s a testament to the strong bond between humans and dogs, as they work together to showcase the best of each breed. Judges, who are experts in specific breeds, carefully examine the dogs, evaluating their appearance, structure, movement, and temperament. They have the challenging task of selecting winners based on how closely they match the breed standards. It’s a meticulous process that requires a keen eye and deep knowledge of each breed.


The first recorded conformation dog show took place in 1859 in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, England. Organized by the Newcastle and District Canine Society, this historic event marked the beginning of a tradition that would captivate dog enthusiasts for years to come. The show, known as the “First Great Exhibition,” aimed to evaluate and recognize the best examples of various dog breeds. It attracted an impressive array of purebred dogs, each vying for recognition and accolades. The judging criteria focused on the physical attributes and adherence to breed standards, as defined by the newly established kennel clubs.

Although the specifics of the show have not been extensively documented, it is believed that the event included breed-specific classes, where dogs were evaluated based on their appearance, structure, movement, and other relevant qualities. The judges, likely experts in specific breeds, carefully examined each dog, taking into account their overall conformation and adherence to breed standards. The show was a resounding success, paving the way for the establishment of more organized dog shows and the refinement of breed standards. It laid the Fun & Games foundation for the conformation dog shows we know today, where purebred dogs from around the world gather to compete and showcase their breed’s excellence.

This inaugural conformation dog show in 1859 marked a significant milestone in the history of dog shows, shaping the way we appreciate, evaluate, and celebrate the extraordinary world of purebred dogs. 

The American Kennel Club (AKC) began hosting conformation dog shows soon after its establishment in 1884. As the primary national kennel club in the United States, the AKC took on the role of organizing and overseeing these shows to promote purebred dogs and establish breed standards. In the early years of the AKC, conformation dog shows were relatively informal affairs, often held in conjunction with other events such as agricultural fairs or exhibitions. However, as the popularity of dog shows grew, the AKC recognized the need for more structured and standardized competitions.


In 1924, the AKC introduced the concept of point system scoring for conformation shows, which awarded points based on the number of dogs defeated in each breed and group. This system allowed for consistency and fairness in evaluating dogs across different shows and helped determine champions within each breed. Over the years, the AKC has expanded its involvement in conformation dog shows, establishing a network of AKC-licensed clubs and events throughout the country. Today, the AKC hosts a wide range of conformation shows, including prestigious national and regional championships, as well as breed-specific specialty shows. 

These AKC-hosted shows continue to play a vital role in recognizing and promoting the finest examples of each breed, providing a platform for breeders, handlers, and dog enthusiasts to showcase their dogs’ conformation and compete for prestigious titles. The AKC’s commitment to promoting responsible breeding practices and preserving breed standards is reflected in the organization and execution of these shows.

The Process of an AKC Champion title

The process for a dog to earn an AKC Champion title involves successfully competing and accumulating a certain number of championship points. Here’s a general overview of the steps involved:

Eligibility: To be eligible for an AKC Champion title, a dog must be registered with the American Kennel Club and belong to a breed recognized by the AKC.

Showing in Conformation Classes: The dog owner or handler must enter the dog in conformation shows, which are events specifically designed for evaluating a dog’s adherence to breed standards. These shows are typically organized by AKC-licensed clubs. The dog competes against other dogs of the same breed in various classes based on their age and experience level. 

Winning Points: To earn points towards the Champion title, the dog must defeat a certain number of dogs of its own breed at each show. The number of points awarded depends on the number of dogs defeated and the region where the show takes place. The dog with the highest number of points in its breed at a show receives the highest point value.

Major and Minor Points: Points are further classified into major and minor points. Major points are awarded when a dog defeats a certain minimum number of dogs of its breed, depending on the total entry of that breed at the show. Minor points are awarded for defeating fewer dogs than required for a major win. 

Specialty Shows: Specialty shows are conformation shows that focus exclusively on a particular breed or group of breeds. Dogs that win at specialty shows earn higher point values, known as “majors,” which can significantly contribute to achieving the required number of points for the Champion title.  

Accumulating Points: The dog must accumulate a total of 15 points, including a minimum of two major wins (those awarded at specialty shows or shows with a larger entry). These points must be earned under at least three different judges.  

Time Frame: The points must be earned within a specific time frame, which varies depending on the breed and the number of dogs in that breed registered with the AKC. This time frame can range from six months to two years.  

Application for the Title: Once the required points have been earned, the owner or handler can submit an application to the AKC for the Champion title. The application includes documentation of the dog’s wins, points earned, and other necessary information.

Upon approval, the AKC will officially recognize the dog as an AKC Champion and add the title to the dog’s registered name. Achieving an AKC Champion title is a significant accomplishment that recognizes the dog’s adherence to breed standards and the dedication of its owner or handler in exhibiting and promoting the breed’s excellence.

In conformation dog shows, both owners and professional handlers may handle the dogs, depending on the preferences and circumstances of the individual owner and dog. Many dog owners choose to handle their own dogs in conformation shows. They take pride in showcasing their dog’s qualities and enjoy the experience of exhibiting their beloved pet. Owner handling allows for a close bond and connection between the owner and the dog in the show ring.

Some owners may opt to hire a professional handler to present their dog in the show ring. Professional handlers have extensive experience and expertise in handling dogs in conformation shows. They are skilled in showcasing the dog’s strengths, movement, and overall presentation to maximize their chances of success. Professional handlers may work with multiple dogs and have a deep understanding of various breeds and the intricacies of the show ring. It’s worth noting that the American Kennel Club (AKC) allows both owners and professional handlers to compete in conformation shows, and dogs are judged solely on their merits and adherence to breed standards, regardless of who is handling them.

Popular AKC Shows

One of the most popular shows in the United States is The AKC National Championship, formerly known as the AKC/Eukanuba National Championship, was first held in 2001. It was initially a collaboration between the American Kennel Club (AKC) and the pet food company Eukanuba, hence the original name. The event aimed to showcase the top dogs in the country and provide a prestigious platform for competition and celebration of purebred dogs. Over the years, the event has gained popularity and significance within the dog show community, becoming the largest and most prominent annual AKC show. In 2020, the event was renamed the AKC National Championship to reflect the sole sponsorship and involvement of the AKC. 

Another popular show is The Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, commonly referred to as the Westminster Show, is one of the most prestigious and well-known dog shows in the world. The Westminster Kennel Club was established in 1877 in New York City, making it one of the oldest kennel clubs in the United States. The club’s initial purpose was to organize a dog show that would showcase purebred dogs and promote responsible dog ownership. The first Westminster Dog Show took place in 1877, making it the second-longest continuously held sporting event in the United States (after the Kentucky Derby). Originally held at Madison Square Garden in New York, this show features a variety of breeds and quickly gained popularity. In the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, dogs do not receive cash prizes for their placements or victories. Instead, the recognition and prestige of winning at the Westminster Show come in the form of titles, ribbons, trophies, and the honor of being crowned Best in Breed, Best in Group, or ultimately, Best in Show.

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