Conformation Shows: An Overview
Showing dogs is a sport in which the thrill of competition combines with the joy of seeing beautiful dogs. Here is an overview of the three types of Conformation Shows: All-Breed, Specialty and Junior Showmanship.
At an all-breed dog show, the focus lies in the dog's conformation, or overall appearance and structure. Judges examine the dogs and rank them in accordance to how close each compares with a mental image of the "perfect" dog as described in the breed's official standard.
Structure, temperament and movement are assessed, as well as the dogs' abilities to perform the function for which the breed was developed. The official written standards are maintained by each breed's parent club and published in the AKC's Complete Dog Book.
Dogs are judged in a process of elimination that results in the selection of one Best of Breed dog, all of which then compete against each other for Best in Show, the ultimate award.
Specialty shows are limited to dogs of a specific breed (i.e. the Siberian Club of New York or the American Bloodhound Club) or grouping of breeds (i.e. terriers or toys), in which only the designated breed/s may compete.
Junior showmanship, or junior handling classes, are offered at most all-breed and specialty dog shows. The competition allows young fanciers, the future of the sport, to compete in arenas that measure the handlers' skills-not the dog's qualities. The dog's merit, in theory, is not a consideration in the junior's evaluation. However, most successful competitors present finished champions, or dogs worthy of that distinction.
Judges conduct the junior competition in a manner similar to that of conformation breed judging. Juniors will stack their dogs (pose their dogs to best advantage), present them to the judge, move them in prescribed patterns; and they may be asked questions about their dogs to demonstrate knowledge of the specimen.
Many professional handlers and dog breeders begin their careers in the junior showmanship ring. However, many juniors pursue other career paths and use the experience gained competing in junior showmanship to help them achieve their goals in other arenas. Participation in junior showmanship can open up many fields, and the friendships made among the participants last a lifetime. The lessons learned by young people can be applied to situations in and out of the show ring.
Junior showmanship is open to exhibitors between the ages of 10 and 18. A junior handler can only exhibit dogs owned by the junior handler, or his or her father, mother, brother, sister, uncle, aunt, grandfather or grandmother, including the step- and half- relations; or by a member of the junior handler's household.
Successful competition demands dedication from the junior handler, and the support of a caring adult. Most juniors come from families that exhibit dogs, or they have another adult that supports their efforts. Junior showmanship can be fun and rewarding, but it can be stressful. Juniors need support and guidance, but the experience can be a positive endeavor for dog-loving youths.