From the American Kennel Club:
“Conformation” is the official name for “dog shows.” While they may seem glamorous, the true purpose of conformation showing is to evaluate breeding stock. The dog’s conformation—his overall appearance and structure—is an indication of the dog’s ability to produce quality purebred puppies, and that is what is being judged in the ring. That’s why mixed-breeds and spayed or neutered purebreds are not eligible to compete. Many times a new exhibitor will get started in dog shows by finding a mentor, usually the breeder they acquired their puppy from. Many AKC clubs also offer handling classes to teach owners how to present their purebred dog to a judge at a dog show.
GETTING STARTED SHOWING YOUR DOG
Congratulations! You have purchased an AKC registered purebred dog, an addition to your family that has brought a new dimension to your life. But aside from being your best friend, he is quite a handsome animal. You've attended dog shows and it looks like something you and your dog would both enjoy. If you'd like to give it a try here's what to do.
Join the World of AKC Dog Shows!
WHO CAN PARTICIPATE
Any dog registered with the American Kennel Club that is 6 months or older on the day of the show and of a breed for which classes are offered in the premium list is eligible to be entered at a dog show.
Spayed or neutered dogs are not eligible to compete in conformation classes at a dog show, nor are dogs with disqualifying faults as per their breed's standard.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
If you've attended a dog show, you've already taken an important step in getting involved in the sport of showing your dog. If you haven't yet attended a show make an effort to do so.
To find out about AKC dog events in your area, you can check the Event Calendar, where you can search by date and by type of event.
You can also use the AKC's online Club Search to find out about any dog clubs in your area. Local clubs host dog events and typically offer guidance and resources for interested dog owners. Many offer weekly classes in dog training and handling and can provide information about a variety of dog sports.
LEARNING TO SHOW YOUR DOG
While visiting the show, inquire at the club table or club tent about breed handling or conformation handling (showing a dog in the show ring). Classes are sponsored by the club. The classes are usually held on weeknights and will teach you the basics of handling your dog. It would also be to your benefit to ask how you may go about joining the club as you are new to the sport and would like to get involved. A list of clubs nationwide is available from the AKC. Dog clubs are involved in many activities besides putting on a dog show and they all welcome new members who want to lend a hand. You'll meet new people and share their knowledge and experiences. The club may also have information about match shows in your area. These are fun shows that are used for practice and training of both dogs and novice exhibitors. While these shows award no points toward an AKC title, they are a great place to "get your feet wet" before entering a real show.
HIRING A PROFESSIONAL
If you don't wish to handle your dog yourself, you may contact a professional handler to show your dog. Professional handlers charge a fee for showing dogs, so before hiring a handler make sure you obtain a schedule of the fee. Talk to several handlers, get copies of their rate schedules and visit their facilities. Observe them both in and out of the ring before making up your mind which handler to choose. You will be entrusting them with your dog's care, so make sure you are entirely comfortable before doing so. If there is something you don't understand, make sure the prospective handler answers all of your questions before entering into any agreement.
How a Dog Show Works
Each dog presented to a judge is exhibited (“handled”) by its owner, breeder, or a hired professional.
Most dogs in competition at conformation shows are competing for points toward their AKC championships. It takes fifteen points, including two majors (wins of three, four or five points), awarded by at least three different judges, to become an American Kennel Club “Champion of Record”.
The number of championship points awarded at a show depends on the number of males (“dogs”) and females (“bitches”) of the breed actually in competition. The larger the entry, the greater the number of points a male or a female can win. The maximum number of points awarded to a dog at any show is 5 points.
Males and females compete separately within their respective breeds, in three regular classes: Bred by Exhibitor, American-Bred, and Open.
After these classes are judged, all the dogs that won first place in a class compete again to see who is the best of the winning dogs. Males and females are judged separately. Only the best male (Winners Dog) and the best female (Winners Bitch) receive championship points. The Winners Dog and Winners Bitch then compete with the champions for the BEST OF BREED award. At the end of the Best of Breed Competition, three awards are usually given:
Best of Breed – the dog judged as the best in its breed category.
Best of Winners – the dog judged as the better of the Winners Dog and Winners Bitch.
Best of Opposite Sex – the best dog that is the opposite sex to the Best of Breed winner.
You are entering a sport that will bring many hours of enjoyment and education to every member of your family. You will make many friends in the sport, and will enjoy your dog and your new hobby to the fullest extent. Good luck!
Information provided by the American Kennel Club