Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Dog Shows 101

Hello, and welcome to class! No barking, sniffing or scratching while class is in session! I figured I talk about our dog show weekends enough that I should probably explain a little more about the general idea of dog shows. Dog showing is sort of a cult hobby and can seem intimidating to someone from the outside. This is a long post so grab a cup of tea and settle down or bookmark it for later reading. I tried to keep each section as brief as possible and still give a good overview. I've included many links to sites that have even more info so if there's a topic you're interested to learn more about, click away!

I am by no means a fountain of knowledge but I have been training and competing for several year. If you have questions, don't be afraid to ask! If I get a few questions, I will do a follow-up post with Q&As so speak up!

What is a title?
You may hear people talk about putting titles on their dog. A title is an award given for earning so many points and/or qualifying scores in a certain class or sport. You can earn titles in almost every type of event including conformation, obedience, agility, tracking and more. Titles are offered not only by the AKC but by several different organizations for specific sports not offered by the AKC like Freestyle, weight pulling, carting and more! In Conformation shows, when a dog earns a Champion title, you can include the letters Ch. before their name. Obedience titles like CD (Companion Dog) are awarded for earning three scores of 170 or more out of 200 in the Novice class and those letter follow the dogs name.

ARCH Sullivan's Travellin Pants CD RE CGC has a Companion Dog (CD) title in Obedience, a Rally Excellent (RE) title in AKC Rally, a Rally Champion (ARCH) title in APDT Rally, and a Canine Good Citizen (CGC) certificate awarded by the AKC. When you earn a new title in a venue/sport, you replace the lower title's letters with the higher title's letters so that you only have one title per sport/venue behind the dog's name. It is a given that if the dog has the higher title, it had to win the lower title first so you do not need to state both.

I have not included information about all the titles that can be earned in each sport since each organization offers its own series of titles. However, I have ONLY included sports which offer titling events. There are other activities (backpacking, skijoring, therapy work, etc.) that you can enjoy with your dogs that don't offer this element of competition. This post is about sports and that implies some sort of competition.

Common Sports

If you watch dog shows on tv like the Westminster Kennel Club dog show or the Eukanuba National Championship on Animal Planet, you are watching a Conformation dog show. Conformation dog shows exist to evaluate breeding stock. Dog are judged based on their....conformation, that is, how they are built, how they move and how well they conform to their breed standard. Each dog is not judged against the others; every single dog is judged against the description of a perfect example of its own breed. This is the same as in rabbit shows, cattle shows, etc. Sully does not compete in conformation shows because, although he is purebred and we assume he was AKC registered, when you adopt a dog through a rescue agency you rarely get the AKC paperwork. Sully has an ILP (now called a PAL) number which is given to a dog that is obviously an AKC registered breed but does not have a pedigree to prove it. Also, he's neutered and altered animals cannot compete in conformation with the exception of veterans classes.

There are two types of confirmation shows that occur: All-breed shows and specialties.

Just as the name implies, these shows are open to all breeds (currently registered with the AKC). These shows are run in tiers, first your dog competes in its breed class against others of the same breed. The winner of Best of Breed continues to its Group. All AKC breeds are categorized into 8 groups: Sporting, Hound, Working, Terrier, Toy, Non-Sporting, Herding and Miscellaneous. Which group of dog is your dog in? The winner of each group then competes for Best in Show.

A Specialty show is a conformation show just for one breed. Most breeds of dogs have national clubs and regional clubs such as the Pembroke Welsh Corgi Club of America (national club) and the Lakeshore Pembroke Welsh Corgi Club (regional). Both of these types of clubs hold specialties. To win a national specialty is a great honor and quite a merit to a dog's quality.

Junior Showmanship

At most (but not all) conformation shows, they also offer Junior Showmanship. In this class, the dog is not judged at all. The handler, under 18 years of age, is judged based on how well they present the dog and their knowledge of the breed and general dog care. This class helps develop young people into better handlers so that they aren't lost when they enter the breed ring in a conformation show. I teach showmanship to the 4-Hers in the spring and competed in it when I was young but it was never a favorite activity for me. At the higher levels of competition, Junior Showmanship can take on the air of a beauty pageant, with lots of fake smiles, pantyhose and VERY crisp, precise movements. That's not what it is meant to be and that's not the way I teach it. We do a lot of patterns (moving the dog in front of the judge) and stacking (posing the dog) but we also discuss lots of health, breed, and dog care topics to prepare them for any questions the judge may ask. The UKC also offers a program called Total Junior which includes not only Showmanship but also other sports such as obedience, agility and more, sort of like a versatility class to get young people involved in the whole dog world.
The real meat of the dog show for me! Obedience competition can seem boring. There isn't any emphasis on time limit or pizazz, it's about accuracy and precision. Handlers may give one command OR hand signal for most exercises and any extra commands are points taken off. Points are also taken off for any deviation from perfection including tight leash, the dog being out of position, not completing portions of the exercise (example-not sitting when they should) and more. A non-qualifying score (NQ, essentially a failing grade) is given for things like dogs breaking their stay, fouling the ring (pooing or peeing), or if more than 50% of the points for any exercise are lost. Other organizations also offer obedience trials with slight variations in the exercises required. The United Kennel Club (UKC) offers obedience. St. Hubert's Companion Dog Sports Program (CDSP), Australian Shepherd Club of American (ASCA) and the American Mixed Breed Obedience Registration (AMBOR) are three that offer obedience for all dogs including mixed breeds. For those in Canada, the Canadian Kennel Club (CKC) is your local option.

AKC Obedience is divided into three classes, and like grade school you must pass the first level to move on to the next and so on. In the first level, Novice, your dog has to execute a heeling pattern as instructed by the judge. This requires a loose leash and automatic sits at each stop (no command can be given to the dog to sit). Your dog must stand and stay off leash as you walk 6 feet away and accept touching from the judge without moving. The recall off leash is from around 30 feet away complete with a finish (the dog sits nicely in front you and, at your command, walks to heel position at your left side). These exercises are preformed individually, with no other dogs in the ring besides yours. But there are two exercises that are performed as a group with all the dogs in the ring at the same time, the long sit and the long down. Competitors line up their dog along one side of the arena in a sitting positions, remove their leashes and command them to stay. Handlers walk to the other side of the arena, leaving the dogs for one minute during which they should not move. The down is the same except dogs are left in a down position for three minutes.

After obtaining three qualifying scores (170/200) in Novice, dogs can move on the Open. Open includes heeling, a longer long sit and long down and more complicated exercises like retrieving articles, executing both a high jump and a broad jump on command and a drop on recall. Identical to the Novice recall except that after being called to the handler, the dog must drop into a down at the handler's command.

The third level of AKC obedience is Utility which involves some of the same exercises but even greater difficulty. The heeling pattern and stand for exam are preformed with only hand signals, no verbal commands. The handler must provide scent articles (dumbbells) for the scent discrimination. All but one of the articles are laid out in the ring. The handler handles one of them to mark it with their scent. The judge places this article in amongst the others and the dog must discern which one has the handler's scent on it. This exercise is performed twice, once with leather articles and once with metal. Utility also includes a more complicated jumping exercise in which the dog is directed by the handler to one jump or the other and must also retrieve over this same set up of jumps.

Yes, I have elaborated a little more here than with some of the other sports. But I think Obedience is a great activity and one not enough people take up! It seems people who take a beginner class tend to either stop once their dog has stopped chewing on shoes and pulling on the leash or are dazzled by the speed and brightly colored obstacles of agility and totally ignore traditional obedience. Which is fine for some, but I want to encourage anyone thinking about competing with their dog to think about obedience! Their is grace in a heeling pattern. There is joy in a dog whipping around during a figure eight to stay abreast with the handler! There is just as much excitement waiting out those anxiety-fraught three minutes on the long down as there is running around a ring pointing at jumps, panting and yelling.
Sully and I also compete in Rally, in both AKC and APDT (Association of Pet Dog Trainers). Rally is an awesome sport that combines obedience exercises with a more free-flowing ring experience. Rally courses are composed of a series of numbered signs set up in a formation throughout the ring. Handler and dog start at the *Start* sign and continue on to each sign in sequence, performing whatever obedience exercise the sign says. In rally, you are allowed to talk to you dog continuously, as much as you want! You can praise them and give them attention commands, you can sing to them or call their name. But when you come to a sign, the dog must perform the required actions on your command. Examples of some rally signs are:

Halt-Sit-Down: Dog must sit when the handler stops at this sign, then handler gives the dog the command to down and the dog must drop into a down positions and remain there until the handler moves on to the next sign

270 degrees right turn: Handler turns in a tight circle 270 degrees and continues on to the next sign

Call Dog Front–Finish Left–HALT: While heeling, the handler calls the dog to come sit in front of them (they can take a few steps backwards to allow the dog to turn and come in). With the dog in a sitting position, the handler gives the dog the command to finish to the left and the dog gets up and walks to the handler's left and sits in heel position.

Serpentine Weave Once: Dog and handler enter a series of four cones set in a line. They zig-zag together, in and out of the cones and continue on to the next sign.

AKC and APDT Rally differ slightly in their scoring and the exercises that can come up on a course. In both you may retry a station (with a point deduction) if you think you performed it poorly or incorrectly. In APDT you can give your dog treats at certain points on the course (when the dog has fully completed an exercise and is in a stationary position). The AKC views Rally as a stepping stone to Obedience while APDT considers it a goal within itself. APDT also allows mixed-breed dogs to compete in Rally, as do the Australian Shepherd Club of American, St. Hubert's Companion Dog Sports Program (CDSP), and the American Mixed Breed Obedience Registration (AMBOR). In Canada, your Rally options are the Canadian Kennel Club (CKC) and Canadian Association of Rally Obedience (CARO).

Agility is quite a popular sport and several venues exist in which dogs can compete. AKC offers agility in three flavors.
*Standard-This class includes all the obstacles including jumps, tunnels, weave poles, dog walk, the A-frame, and seesaw. Judge sets the course and obstacles must be run in that order.
*Jumpers with Weaves-This class only includes jumps, tunnels and weave poles. Obstacles must be run in the order set by the judge.
*FAST (Fifteen and Send Time)- This class includes all obstacles in standard, each assigned point values. Handlers try to rack up as many points as possible by having their dogs perform the obstacles. Also included in the course is a 2 or 3 obstacle sequence which the dog must complete while the handler stays behind a marked line (Send Bonus)

Sully and I do not compete in agility. I have never been too interested in it, I am not nearly coordinated enough to be competitive in it so I don't know a whole lot about the other venues. I know that around here, in addition to AKC, we also have UKC (United Kennel Club), NADAC (North American Dog Agility Council), and TDAA (Teacup Dog Agility Association) trials. We are starting to see a fewCPE (Canine Performance Events) events. DOCNA (Dogs on Course North America),Australian Shepherd Club of American, and USDAA (United States Dog Agility Association) are big in other areas of the US but not here in the Midwest. Agility Association of Canada (AAC) is the Canadian option.

Lesser-Known Sports (that are open to all breeds):

Tracking requires the dog to use his natural ability to scent to find objects placed on a pre-laid trail. Any breed of dog can track! A track is laid by the hosting organization using human footsteps and an object or objects are placed along this track for the dog to find. Dogs must be on a long leash and well out in front of the handler. Depending on the level, tracks can include turns, a variety of ground surfaces (short grass, tall grass, cement, gravel) and can also vary in the age of the track (how long it has been since the person walked the path). Taking tracking to the next level, Search and Rescue dogs save lives! The American Rescue Dog Association is just one organization that offers training and certification. You might think the dogs that perform this great service are owned by police or fire departments but in actuality most are owned and trained by private individuals who are volunteers. The Australian Shepherd Club of America and the Canadian Kennel Club are two other organizations that offer tracking events.

Flyball/Scent Hurdles
Flyball is a team sport so you and your dog join other handlers/dogs and train together to compete together. In flyball, dogs race through a straight course of jumps to a box that pops out a tennis ball. After catching the ball, the dogs race back to their handler over the same jumps. One dog from each of two teams race at the same time. Flyball is chaotic, noisy and hectic!
This is another sport that I have never been interested in but we have a lively group at our training club that competes in NAFA (North American Flyball Association) tournaments. There is also a second organization that holds tournaments called UFLI (United Flyball League International). Scent Hurdles are a variation on Flyball popular in Canada where instead of catching a tennis ball, the dog must choose one of several scent items and race back with it.

Dog dancing! Freestyle is moving with your dog to music! These movements can involve heeling, weaving through your legs, jumping over or through your arms, bowing, pawing, prancing in time with the music, backing up and more. Sully and I attended a workshop in Chicago hosted by the World Canine Freestyle Association (WCFO) last year. The hardest part about freestyle for me is that you have to make up your own routine, there are no "set" movements that must be preformed. There are also other organizations like the Canine Freestyle Federation (CFF) and Musical Dog Sports Association (MDSA). WCFO and CFF host both live and video competitions. MDSA hosts only video competitions. In a video competition, you record your routine and mail it in to be judged against other routines from all over the world.

Disc Dog
International Disc Dog Handlers Association (IDDHA) and Skyhoundz are two of many organizations that hold disc dog competitions. Disc Dog is a popular spectator sport and more competitions are held in conjunction with Pet Expos, fairs and other larger expositions, some are open to entry by the public and some are invitational. There are two main types of Disc Dog Competition: Toss and Fetch, in which you try to get in as many catches in 60 seconds with points being awarded for greater distance and catching the disc mid-air and Freestyle in which the team performs a routine judged on difficulty, showmanship, etc.

Dock Jumping
Like disc dog, dock jumping is a popular spectator sport, showing up on Animal Planet and at many Pet Expos and fairs. Dogs longjump into a tank of water that has measurements on the side and the jump is measured from the dock to the point where the tail enters the water. (Handlers usually through a toy or bumper into the water for the dog to chase.) Dock Dogs and Splash Dogs are two organizations that hold competitions, often at boat shows, country music concerts and Sportsman's Expositions. The UKC just added it to their lineup of sports in 2008 and the offer another challenge, the Ultimate Vertical, in which dogs jump off the dock and try to grab a toy suspended above the water. This point is raised with each round until only one dog can reach it.

Weight Pulling
Weight Pulling may seem like a sport for pitbulls and mastiffs but any breed can compete in weight pulling! Most pulling groups have many different divisions and winners are determined by the percentage of body weight pulled, not total weight. The UKC offers competitions as do several other pulling-specific organizations like the American Pulling Alliance and the International Weight Pulling Association. Yes, there are corgis competing in weight pulling!

Lesser-Known Sports (that are open only to certain breeds):

Of course I'll start with herding! Dogs herd sheep, cattle, or ducks through a course of obstacles (depending on the level, these can be gates, pens, bridges and more). AKC herding is only open to herding breeds and a few others such as Schnauzers, Rottweilers and Kerry Blue Terriers. Different breeds herd differently. Some breeds are meant to keep the herd or flock in a tight group and move them forcefully along, others work wide and keep the flock a little looser and move it at a more gentle pace, mainly guarding and maintaining order. The American Herding Breed Association holds competitions as do several individual breed groups like Collie and Border Collie clubs.

Hunting/Hound/Retriever/Pointer Trials
Both AKC and UKC offer a wide variety of hunting and field trials. I don't know a thing about these and I don't particularly care to learn. It's my blog and I'll skip some sports if I want to.

Terriers compete in a sport called earthdog in which they burrow into tunnels laid by the competition host and find their way through the maze to a caged rat.

Terrier Racing
The other terrier-only sport is terrier racing, offered by the UKC. Terriers and Dachshunds race around a track after a lure just like in greyhound races. This sport differs from Greyhound racing (which I do not consider a sport worth mentioning here) in that it is a sport of private pets, for fun not for gambling.

Schutzhund/Working Dog Sport
Open only to protection-type breeds such as Bouvier des Flandres, Doberman Pinschers, German Shepherd Dogs, and Rottweilers, (AKC) Working Dog Sport is a combination of obedience, protection and scent discrimination. The UKC version of this sport is open to all breeds and varies slightly in the classes offered and required exercises. The United Schutzhund Clubs of America also organizes competitions.

I lumped these all together because they all require the dog to pull something using a harness but unlike weight pulling, these sports emphasize obedience and ability to maneuver the load. Rottweiler, Bernese Mountain Dog and Newfoundland breed clubs all hold competitions specific to their own dogs in drafting, which requires pulling a cart through a series of obstacles and performing basic obedience-type moves while in harness. Sledding is of course usually done with Northern breeds and races are held in several states, not just Alaska.

Water Rescue
Breed clubs for dogs such as Newfoundlands and Portuguese Water Dogs hold competitions testing their dogs' unique talents in the water from helping retrieve lost paddles, bringing life vests and equipment to someone in the water and dragging a human to shore.

Lure Coursing
Lure Coursing is a racing sport where sighthounds such as Greyhounds, Afghan Hounds and Whippets chase a lure (usually a white plastic bag) as it is dragged through a series of pulleys, twisting and turning in a set pattern, or course. The AKC offers races as do many breed clubs for sighthound breeds. The American Sighthound Field Association is a national organization which also holds events.

Next week, I will post my follow-up with answers to any questions posed. So if you have some questions about dog sports/dog shows, ask away. You can leave a comment here, or email me. If you don't want me to post your questions but still want to ask, just email me and let me know that. I am not a dog expert (but I pretend to be one at class each spring :) and have not competed in every single one of these venues but I will do my best to at least give you a good answer or direct you to someone who knows more than me about a certain topic. Or a good book, I know lots of good dog books!


  1. That's a lot of information!!! Zowie! If a person wanted to compete in any of those things with their corgi, does the corgi have to be intact, or can it be spayed/neutered?

  2. Warning: This comment has nothing to do with dog shows. But wow, I had no idea there was so much to it! Great post!

    Anyway, I was lucky enough to receive a blog award the other day, and I wanted to pass it along to you. It's here!

  3. I had no idea there were that many different kinds of competitions. We've been talking about having the kiddo and Caesar join 4H (I'm an alum and want her to join for a lot of reasons) where one of the local clubs has a dog agility program for kids. Caesar's part Jack Russell, so he's a furball full of energy and metal springs (I'm sure there are springs in that pooch.) We watch their competitions at the state fair every year and it looks like a lot of fun.

  4. Oh boy, we have not gotten to Serpentine Weaves yet. Looks fun! Great post :)

  5. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.