Most competitive events sponsored by the AKC are dog shows, where the accent is on conformation.
There are three types of dog shows: Specialty, Group, and All-breed.
Specialty shows are limited to dogs of a single breed.
Group shows are limited to a particular AKC group.
All-breed shows, as the name indicates, are for all AKC breeds.
To be eligible to enter, a dog must be registered with the AKC (American Kennel Club) and at least six months old on the day of the show. Spayed or neutered dogs are only eligible to be shown in the Stud Dog or the Brood Bitch class.
Dogs with disqualifying faults as described in their breed standard are ineligible.
The six regular classes are as follows:
Puppy Classes: normally subdivided into 2 classes according to their age.
6 to 9 months old and 9 to 12 months old.
12 to 18 Months Class:
Novice Class: dogs that have no points toward their championship and have not yet won three first places in the Novice Class; or dogs that have not yet won first place in any but the Puppy Class.
Bred by Exhibitor Class: dogs must be owned or co-owned by any one of the breeders of record or their spouse and they must be handled by the breeder of record or a member of their immediate family.
American Bred Class: as the name implies, the dog must have been bred in the USA.
Open Class: dogs entered here may be divided according to size, weight or type and/or color of their coat.
Show dogs are competing for the points needed for them to become an AKC Champion.
To become an official AKC champion of record, a dog must earn a total of 15 points. These points are awarded based on the number of dogs in actual competition. The more dogs that compete on any single day directly affects how many points are awarded that day. The number of dogs required for total points awarded varies with the breed, sex and geographical location of the show. The AKC makes up a schedule of points each year to help equalize competition from breed to breed and area to area. Dogs can earn from zero to five points at any show. To earn one point the dog must beat at least one other dog of its breed, if there is only an entry of one dog, no points will be awarded. A win of three, four or five points is called a major. The 15 points required for a championship must be awarded by at least three different judges, and must include two majors won under different judges.
There is no intersex competition in these classes; dogs compete against other dogs, and bitches against other bitches. Only one male (dog) and one female (bitch) of each breed can win the points at a show.
Judging in every breed proceeds along the same lines.
After being examined, dogs are placed according to how well that day's judge thinks that they conform to their own breed standard. In each class the dogs are evaluated and placements are made for first, second, third and fourth. Only the first-place winner in each class remains in competition; the others are eliminated.
Judging always begins with the Puppy Dog classes, followed by 12 to 18 months, Novice Dogs, Bred-by-Exhibitor Dogs, American-Bred Dogs and finally the Open Dog classes.
The first place winners from each class are brought back to compete against one another. This is called Winners class. The dog selected best of all the classes is Winners Dog. He is the male that receives the points at the show. Next, the dog that placed second to the Winners Dog in his original class is brought into the ring to compete with the other class winners for Reserve Winners Dog. The Reserve Winners Dog will receive the points if for any reason the Winners Dog is disallowed by the AKC.
The same process is repeated in bitches, resulting in a Winners Bitch, the female that receives the points at the show, and a Reserve Winners Bitch is also selected.
Next, the Best of Breed / Variety class is judged.
(A Variety exists when there are two or more varieties of a breed. Such breed divisions are approved by the AKC and may be according to height, weight, color, or type of coat)
All dogs and bitches entered that already have earned their championship enter the ring for this class, joined by the Winners Dog and Winners Bitch. The judge then selects one Best of Breed/Variety winner and then chooses between the Winners Dog and Winners Bitch which he considers to be Best of Winners. If either of the Winners Dog or Winners Bitch is selected Best of Breed, it automatically becomes Best of Winners. (The Best of Winners gets the higher number of points, too. If the points at the show for the defeated Winner were higher than those of the Best of Winners, the Best of Winners now gets the same number of points.) The judge finishes the breed judging by selecting a Best of Opposite Sex to the Best of Breed/Variety.
At all-breed shows, this process of elimination takes place in every breed.
The next step is the Group judging. There are seven Groups categorized at all-breed shows. These Groups are the Hound, Sporting, Working, Non-Sporting, Herding, Toy, and Terrier groups.
Each Best of Breed/Variety winner will now compete against the other Best of Breed/Variety winners within its Group. In the Group judging, the judge's job is to pick the dog that most embodies the standard for its breed. Four placements are awarded in each Group, but only the first-place winner remains in competition.
Finally, the seven Group winners are brought into the ring and a Best in Show winner is selected.