All About Dog Shows

You may have watched the Westminster Kennel Club or the AKC/Eukanuba Invitational on television, but you can find dog shows large and small in every part of the United States. Like Westminster, these shows are licensed by the American Kennel Club (AKC), which approves sites and dates, licenses judges, and establishes the various rules under which the shows are held.

You might consider a dog show as a giant elimination contest. It begins with hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of AKC-registered purebred dogs-puppy and adult, veteran and novice, champion and wannabe. Their owners and exhibitors are just as varied as their dogs. This is one of the few sports in which a competitor can rub shoulders with people of such different appearance, income level, and skill. There are professional handlers, who earn their living showing dogs for others, breeder-owner-handlers who may be just as skilled, and people taking their dogs into the ring for the first time. If you're a novice, or if your first dog doesn't quite make the grade, remember that the professional handler and top breeder also once started at the bottom.

The first level of competition is for dogs of a particular breed that have not yet earned championship titles. They compete in various classes that are divided by sex, with dogs (males) competing before bitches (females). These classes are usually puppy (perhaps divided by age); novice (for inexperienced dogs); bred-by-exhibitor (for dogs shown in the ring by their breeders); American-bred (born in the United States); and open (open to all, including puppies and foreign-born dogs, but generally entered by the most mature and well-trained dogs). The first place winners of these classes compete for Winners Dog and Winners Bitch-the only two dogs of their breed that receive championship points at this particular show. The number of points awarded (anywhere from one to five of the fifteen needed) is based on the number of dogs entered in each sex that actually compete). A dog must earn at least two majors (three to five point wins) under two different judges, and earn at least one point under a third judge, to be awarded its championship. A dog must thus defeat significant competition in the opinion of several judges to be deemed worthy of the title champion (CH). After awarding Winners Dog and Winners Bitch, the judge then selects the second-best in each sex, designated Reserve Winners Dog and Reserve Winners Bitch. These "runners-up" would be awarded the championship points if the Winners Dog or Winners Bitch should later be disqualified for some reason.

The Winners Dog and the Winners Bitch then compete with the dogs of their breed that have already earned AKC championships for Best of Breed. The Best of Breed winner advances to compete in one of seven groups, with the Shih Tzu being in the Toy Group. Two other awards are given in the breed ring following Best of Breed judging. The first, Best of Opposite Sex to Best of Breed, honors the best bitch if a dog goes Best of Breed, or vice versa. The better of Winners Dog and Winners Bitch is awarded Best of Winners. If more points were awarded in Winners Dog and a bitch goes Best of Winners, she receives the same number of points as the dog instead of those she earlier earned, and vice versa. If the Best of Winners also goes Best of Breed, the number of champions competing is added to the number of dogs already defeated to determine the number of championship points awarded that day.

In the group ring, as in the breed ring, the dogs are not judged against one another, but in terms of how close they come to a written description of the perfect dog of their breed. The ideal Shih Tzu is described in the Shih Tzu Breed Standard.

Any dog placing first through fourth in its group, if not yet a champion, is awarded the largest number of points given that day in any of the breeds it defeated. The first place winners of each of the seven groups then advance to Best in Show, where just one dog is declared the best of all the dogs competing on that day.

For more information on how a dog show works, go to The events section of the AKC website also has information on the regulations for competing in performance events such as obedience, agility, and rally, where dogs are judged on how well and how fast they perform specified tasks rather than on how they look. Elsewhere on this web site, there is an article about specialty shows, in which only a single breed competes. The AKC web site lists upcoming shows of all kinds, and gives the winners of shows that have already taken place. The dog show superintendents who take care of the nuts and bolts of running the dog shows-from fencing and matting and tents to entries and record-keeping and ribbons-have their own web sites. One of the most interesting is On this site, you can go to show information, then locate shows by date or state. You can even make show entries online.

So welcome to the wonderful world of dog shows. We hope to see you watching Shih Tzu at ringside soon somewhere in the United States. Exhibitors will be most willing to answer your questions in the grooming area or at ringside after judging. Like competitors in any sport, they are too focused on the challenge ahead right before they take there dogs into the ring. And the dogs, you will notice, are enjoying the competition and all the attention as much as human athletes!