A dog show is a dog encyclopedia come alive. Even small shows feature dozens of breeds - a few of these, a handful of those, and one or two of something else. Spectators can marvel at the shapes and sizes and colors of man’s best friend and incidentally learn something about the dog fancy, that loose-knit group of people whose lives revolve around dogs and dog shows.
Behind the pomp and circumstance of the show is serious purpose - the production of physically and mentally healthy dogs to preserve the integrity of breeds and provide companions to work and play with human families. But canine conformation shows are often scornfully (and mistakenly) dismissed as beauty contests and are easily misunderstood. Spectators see dogs that are bathed and dried and combed and brushed and primped and preened until they shine, then paraded around a ring in front of a judge who hands out ribbons without a word of explanation - a process guaranteed to leave them wondering why the white Akita in ring six got the first place or the cute Dachshund puppy in ring one got promising.
Dog shows are confusing to the casual observer. It's often tough to follow the schedule, understand the judging process, or figure out why one dog was chosen over another. Questions abound: What makes that fawn-colored Great Dane a winner? Why are some breeds divided by size or color and others not? And just what is the judge looking for when he looks at a dog’s mouth, feels its ribs, or watches it gait around the ring?
Breed conformation - a combination of skeleton, muscle structure, body shape, and coat type that is unique to each breed - is spelled out in a document known as the breed standard. The standard is written by the breed club of the country where the dog originated and submitted to the FCI - Fédération Cynologique Internationale; only those breeds with approved standards can compete in FCI events. Each standard spells out the characteristics that define the breed. Descriptions of head shape; eye color; ear shape and size; height and weight; length of body; coat texture, length, color, and patterns; foot shape; and type of gait paint a word-picture of the breed. After reading the standard, an observer should be able to pick out the sometimes subtle differences between similar breeds, see that the Shetland Sheepdog something else than a Collie in miniature, and recognize the different types of spaniels, retrievers, and terriers. But even though it describes the ideal specimen of a particular breed, a standard is open to interpretation. What looks like rich color, moderate angulation, or appropriate ear set to one person may not seem so to others. In addition to differences in interpretation, an observer might consider one dog to have a near-perfect head for the breed but be lacking in balance or size or coat type, while another dog might have a less-than-perfect head but better depth of chest, spring of ribs, and coat color. When the observer is at ringside, he can pick and choose the type of dog he likes and no one cares. When the observer is a judge in the ring, he must know the standard, be adept at selecting the dog that best meets the standard in that class, and make his decision in a matter of minutes.
Conformation shows are divided into classes for puppies and adult dogs, males first, then females. The final class in a breed determines the best of breed. The classes according FCI rules are:
The qualifications which can be given are: excellent (ex), very good (vg), good (g),
sufficient (suff), disqualified (disq.) in all classes except Puppy class, where the
qualifications are: very promising (vp), promising (p), unpromising? (not sure about the
The decisive date in respect of age is the day before the Show.
Breeders show their dogs for many reasons, chief among them to prove and promote their breeding programs. The agenda is to produce dogs that meet the breed standards, and good breeders justifiably take pride in their ability to do so. A championship is one criteria for a good breeding dog; others include good health, appropriate breed temperament, and working ability - the intelligence and physical attributes to hunt, herd, pull a cart, aid law enforcement, do search and rescue, guard, compete in obedience or agility, and/or become a treasured companion.
On our Links page you will find a link to the calandar of FCI dog shows in Europe.