Submitted by Tina Dickel & Marilyn Fox

Note: for the purposes of this article, the word “dog” is gender neutral.


Dog shows” or "conformation" events were developed to help breeders evaluate breeding stock.  Each dog is judged against their individual breed standard, which has been approved by the AKC recognized parent breed clubs.  Ideally, the standard describes the size, color, temperament, correct proportion, structure, and movement of the breed. 

Types of Conformation Dog Shows  
”There are three types of conformation dog shows:

All-breed shows offer competitions for over 150 breeds and varieties of dogs recognized by the AKC. All-breed shows are the type often shown on television.

Specialty shows are restricted to dogs of a specific breed or to varieties of one breed. For example, the Bulldog Club of America Specialty is for Bulldogs only, but the Poodle Club of America's specialty show includes the three varieties of the Poodle - Standard, Miniature and Toy.

Group shows are limited to dogs belonging to one of the seven groups. For example, the Potomac Hound Group show features only breeds belonging to the Hound group.”


The Road to Best in Show
“Dog shows are a process of elimination, with one dog being named Best in Show at the end of the show.

Only the Best of Breed winners advance to compete in the Group competitions.  Each AKC-recognized breed falls into one of seven group classifications. The seven groups are Sporting, Hound, Working, Terrier, Toy, Non-Sporting and Herding. Four placements are awarded in each group, but only the first-place winner advances to the Best in Show competition.” The Giant Schnauzer falls into the Working Group.”


Earning Points to become a Champion:

First, each class dog is judged individually against the breed standard.  The judge usually starts by looking at all the dogs presented by their handlers standing in a “stacked” position. 

A “Stack” is a position where the dog’s front legs are perpendicular to the ground, while the rear legs are stretched slightly out behind them.  The dog should be standing with their weight up over their chest, and their head and neck are presented upward as an extension of their front legs.

Ch. Tanglewood’s Blk Magic Woman – Libby – owned by Marilyn Fox, Tina Dickel & Ed Fojtik


When the judge is ready she will have the group move around the ring and stop, where the first dog is presented individually for a hands-on exam.  She is looking for any disqualifying faults as described by the breed standard.  

Pictured to the right:
Ch. Simmons Demolition Man, CGC - Kobe
Handled by Tina Dickel, Judge is Dawn Vick Hansen
Owned by Tina Dickel, Marilyn Fox & Trish Simmons

If no obvious disqualifying faults are found, the handler is asked to move the dog “down and back”, so the judge can watch the dog’s movement going away and coming back in toward the judge.  At the end of the down and back, the handler should present the dog in a free stack.  Meaning, the handler may not set the dog’s legs or feet, the dog must freely walk into this position.  Then the judge usually asks the handler to move the dog around the ring so that side movement can be observed.  It is important that the handler move the dog at a speed that is appropriate for that dog, usually this should be done at a slow to moderate trot.  After the class dogs are judged, the male and female awarded “Winner’s Dog” and “Winner’s Bitch” are permitted to compete in the breed ring with the finished champions for the following awards – Best of Breed, Best of Opposite Sex, and Best of Winner’s.  A dog is considered to be a “class” dog until it has earned 15 points.  Once these points have been earned, the dog has earned the title of AKC Champion of Record and is often referred to as a finished champion.  The Ch is a prefix to the dog’s registered name. 

This is a very basic explanation of earning points; it is not as simple as accruing 15 total points.  We encourage you to check out this link: to learn more about the complexity of earning points.


We spoke briefly above about the handler’s role in the ring.  Who can be a handler?  The answer is simply – anyone.  You’ll hear people refer to several different types of handlers.  There are Professional Handlers, Breeder/Owner Handlers, and Owner Handlers. 

Professional Handlers are people who are paid by the dog’s owner to handle the dog in the ring.  Besides handling, their services may include grooming, conditioning and training, boarding at their home and traveling great distances with the dog to attend shows.  As you can imagine, Professional handlers can be quite expensive and generally require some sort of contract with an owner regarding how he is to be paid and what services are provided.

A breeder that decides to keep one of her prospects and handle it herself is usually referred to as a Breeder/Owner Handler.  This individual performs all the work that a Professional Handler is paid to do, except a Breeder/Owner Handler may or may not have financial support from another person.

Finally, an Owner Handler is an individual who purchased a dog to show.  The Owner Handler usually does all of the work mentioned above usually without financial assistance from anyone else. 


An Owner Handler should be able to finish their dog.  Training and grooming your dog will take up a fair amount of your free time.  You’ll definitely want to attend some classes to learn how to handle and what will be expected from you in the ring.  Whatever you choose to do, we highly encourage anyone to try handling their own dog.  It’s been a very rewarding experience.

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