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AKC dog show conformation classes explained

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This past weekend at the Land O’Lakes Kennel Club dog show at the River Centre, I got to have fun introducing a 10-year-old and a 40-year-old to the wonderful world of dog shows. Sharing my love of animals and the related venues with someone is one of my favorite moments! My horse mentor, Fran Reker liked this quote, Don't judge each day by the harvest you reap, but by the seeds that you plant.~Robert Louis Stevenson

Once I started explaining to these two what was going on at the show, there were other folks that joined in the peanut gallery – of course everyone is welcome! Because we were sitting near the group rings, these questions were mostly about conformation showing.

Let’s start with the word. It is spelled “conformation” and is directly related to how well the dogs conform to the established breed type or breed standard. It is not “confirmation” like rite of initiation in Christian churches or in a different direction, hotel reservations.

In conformation classes there are a number of classes available at most dog shows. This will be explained using AKC classes, but there are other kennel clubs that also offer dog shows. Males and females compete separately within their respective breeds, in seven regular classes. The following classes are offered, and are divided by sex.

Puppy - For dogs between six and twelve months of age, that are not yet champions. This class is sometimes broken into more age groups which are designated as 6-9 month – puppy, 9-12 month puppy and 12-18 month puppy. The dogs entered in these classes are not yet champions. This is an optional class.

Twelve-To-Eighteen Months - For dogs twelve to eighteen months of age, that are not yet champions. This is also an optional class.

Novice - For dogs six months of age and over, which have not – before the entry closing date -- won 3 first prizes in the Novice Class, a first prize in Bred-by-Exhibitor, American-bred, or Open Classes, nor one or more points toward their championship. This is an optional class.

Amateur-Owner-Handler – For dogs that are at least six months of age that are not champions. This is a class for owners that have never been a professional dog handler, an AKC approved conformation judge, or employed as an assistant to a professional handler. This is an optional class.

Bred By Exhibitor – This is a class for dogs that are exhibited by their owner and breeder, that are not yet champions. This is an optional class.

American-Bred - For dogs born in the United States from a mating which took place in the United States, that are not yet champions. This is a mandatory class.

Open - For any dog of the breed, at least 6 months of age. This is a mandatory class.

After these classes are judged, all the dogs that won first place in a class compete again to see who the best of the winning dogs is. 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.

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