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Your Guide to Conformation for Kennel Club Dog Shows

Written by Anna Hollisey


gorgeous American Spaniel being judged at dog show

That confident strut, the glossy coat, shiny teeth, and enchanting eyes – Best in Show is a real charmer. Have you ever watched a dog show and thought, “my girl could do that!”? Well, if you’re thinking about entering your dog in a Conformation show, here’s all the stuff you need to know. 

What is Conformation?

There are two main kinds of dog show: the just-for-fun dog show at the town fair (with categories like “Dogs who Look Like Their Owners”)… and the shows which are known as Conformation events. 

What’s it mean? In a literal sense, ‘conformation’ means conforming to a certain standard. In the case of dog shows, this means that your dog should meet the breed standard. 

Now, we should remind you that there’s a place in this world for dogs of all shapes, sizes, and parentage. We’ve no time for prejudice: today’s mixed breeds are the forerunners of future purebreds – of course, that’s how most of our traditional breeds began. 

But in the world of dog shows, very strict rules apply. Judges use the AKC’s official breeds list to identify and measure canine competitors. This isn’t the platform for originality or distinctive eyebrows: the prize-winners are simply the dogs who meet the breed’s standards most closely. 

Can You Show Your Dog in a Conformation Event? 

If you want to take your dog to an AKC Conformation event, they must be:

  1. A breed which is recognized by the American Kennel Club. Here’s the official breed list.
  2. Registered with the American Kennel Club. You should have a certificate with the official AKC seal on it. 
  3. At least 6 months old, and fully vaccinated.
  4. Free from ‘disqualifying faults’ (see below) and intact (not spayed or neutered).

An AKC Breed

The American Kennel Club maintains a list of registered breeds in the US. Did you know that it adds new breeds all the time? In January 2024, the Lancashire Heeler was unveiled as the latest breed to become ‘official’. So you never know which unusual breeds will be competing in ten years’ time! 

Registered with the AKC

You’ll have received a registration form from the breeder when you bought your dog. Haven’t sent it off yet? AKC says that processing time is only a few days

Vaccinated and healthy

Your dog should be vaccinated, fit and healthy so they’re ready to compete in the show. They’ll be meeting new friends and working long days – so make sure all their treatments are up to date and don’t risk taking an unwell dog. 

Disqualifying faults

You can find the standard for your dog on the breed organization’s website. This will usually describe any disqualifying features (such as a nose which is the wrong color). For example, here are the standards for the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Labrador Retriever, and the German Shepherd Dog

What’s It Like at a Conformation Show? 

Conformation dog shows can be either mixed breed or single-breed (club shows). At a mixed dog show, breeds are organized by category:

  • Hound
  • Terrier
  • Working
  • Sporting 
  • Non-sporting
  • Herding
  • Toy

Conformation dog shows are quiet and calm, as dogs proceed to walk and stand for the judging. The judges will feel and visually examine each dog – they’re looking for features which are classic to the breed. They’re so experienced that they know what angles, sizes, colors and measurements to expect. The ‘Best in Breed’ is awarded to the dog who matches the breed standard the most closely.

Want to Learn More About Conformation Events?

Do you think your dog could become a champion? Obviously they’re exceptionally handsome… but do their features conform with the breed’s standard? Consult the breed club or organization and compare your dog against the published standard. If you think your dog could be a winner, pay a visit to a dog show to see how it all works. Try a course of Conformation training classes to teach your dog how to behave with other dogs in a ring. It’s also worth learning how to groom your dog so that you have them perfectly prepped on show day. 

Further Reading

A champion starts with heritage – that’s why you should first choose a responsible breeder/learn/dog-lifestyle/how-to-find-a-responsible-dog-breeder. Did you know that more show champions are male than female? Read more about whether to choose a boy or girl dog/learn/dog-lifestyle/male-dog-or-female-dog--which-one-is-right-for-you. When you’re ready to begin training, read our blogs about dog training techniques/learn/dog-training/top-dog-training-techniques and grooming your dog at home/learn/dog-lifestyle/how-to-groom-your-own-dog