Dog Show Terminology from A-Z - Simply For Dogs
Dog Show Terminology

Dog Show Terminology from A-Z

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In the spirit of full disclosure, this isn’t really dog show terminology from A-Z. Actually, it ends at W. However, I still think it’s a useful glossary for anyone who is interested in showing.

Agility

You could think of this as an obstacle course for dogs. Under the guidance of a handler, dogs complete the course, which consists of walking, weaving through poles, moving through tunnels and around and through other obstacles. The event is scored according to how quickly, and how accurately, the dog and handler complete the course.

All-Breed Club

This term is used to define a group of dog fanciers that are AKC or CKC recognized, and entitled to hold performance events and all-breed shows. A new club receives the designation of “sanctioned,” meaning that it can hold shows, but not pointed shows, until they complete certain qualifying events, at which point they become “licensed” – in other words, permitted to hold “pointed” shows. A “member” club is a licensed club with voting rights. Regardless of designation, all-breed clubs are expected to work toward educating the general public about purebred dogs, responsible dog ownership and good breeding practices.

All-Breed Show

This is a dog show in which purebred dogs are judged according to how closely they conform to their breed’s written standards.

AKC

The American Kennel Club was established in the late 1800s. It is an organization of licensed club that serves several purposes. One of the most important is maintaining a purebred dog registry. The club also sanctions dog shows and other events that promote interest in purebred dogs.

Armband

This doesn’t really mean anything different in dog show terminology than it does anywhere else. An armband is simply a piece of paper that an exhibitor wears on his or her arm, carrying a number corresponding to the one in the show judge’s reference book.

Article

An article is also no different in dog show terminology than in anyone else’s dictionary. It’s an article – an item used in obedience trials, used to test a dog’s ability to retrieve either on command or by identifying scent.

Bait

As a verb, “bait” means to use a toy or an item of food to get a dog’s attention so that he will show animation and expression to the show judge. Used as a noun, it simply means the item used to achieve that result.

Benched Show

If you’re showing, a benched show can be tiring. If you’re a member of the public, though, this is one of the most enjoyable kinds of dog shows to attend. This is because when the dogs are not actually being exhibited, groomed or exercised, owners are required to keep the dogs in an assigned area throughout the show. This is so that people can see the dogs up close, and talk to owners, handlers and breeders.

BIS (Best In Show)

This is the award that every dog owner wants to win – it’s the award given at the end of an all-breed event to the dog that is considered to conform the most closely to its written breed standards.

BJH (Best Junior Handler)

This is the award given to the junior handler who has done the best job of presenting his or her dog.

BOW (Best of Winners)

This competition takes place once the Winners Dog and Winners Bitch competitions have been won (see below). Then, the two dogs are judged to determine which most closely conforms to its breed standards.

Dog Show Terminology

Bitch

Here’s another term that sort of means the same thing in dog show terminology as in other contexts. Whether you’re showing, breeding, or just keeping dogs, a female dog is known as a bitch.

Brace

This term is used to define two dogs, owned by the same breeder, and shown as a pair. This is not a “regular” competition, so points are not awarded. The purpose is for the breeder to be able to show that their dogs have consistent attributes – it’s a testament to the efficacy of their breeding program.

Bred By Exhibitor

This is a conformation class in which breeders have an opportunity to showcase the dogs that they feel represent the best of their breeding program. In this class, the breeder must show the dogs – they may not be taken into the ring by a handler.

Breed

As a verb, this means to cause two animals to reproduce. As a noun, it refers to a sub-set of a particular species. In other words, the species would be “dog.” The breed would be “Rottweiler,” “German Shepherd,” “Miniature Poodle,” etc.

Breed Standard

The breed standard is a written description, created by the parent club for the breed, stating clearly what qualities a perfect example of the breed should have in terms of temperament, physical attributes, and other characteristics.

Campaign (Conformation)

To “campaign” means, in dog show terminology, to compete in numerous shows, with the goal of defeating as many other dogs as possible. Most people who campaign for conformation don’t undertake it lightly, since it requires a huge investment in time and money, an excellent dog, and ideally, the services of a professional handler.

Campaign (Obedience)

This also requires entering a large number of shows. Obedience trials are held at the open and utility levels, with points accumulated over the year. At the end of the calendar year, the AKC and/or CKC recognizes the “Top Ten,” which are the dogs that get the most points in their respective countries.

Canine Good Citizen

This is a temperament certification program administered by the AKC in which dogs and handlers complete a series of exercises like sitting on command, standing to be examined, walking on a lead through a crowd, etc. The goal is to encourage owners to do at least some obedience training. “Canine Good Citizen” is not an official title, but it does indicate that the dog who carries the CGC designation is of good temperament.

CKC

The Canadian Kennel Club is much like the AKC, in that its mandate is to encourage responsible dog ownership and maintain a registration system of purebred dogs.

Catalogue

This is the document you can obtain at a dog show, in which you will find the name and number of each dog entered, as well as the name of the owner and/or breeder as well as the handler, along with bloodline information. It also lists the classes in which each dog will participate.

Champion

In AKC competitions, the title of “Champion of Record” is given to a dog that has won 15 total points at licensed shows. A least 6 points must come from major wins under different judges. Once a dog has achieved the “CH” designation, he can compete for “Best of Breed.” CKC requirements are a bit different, with a dog that has earned 10 points under three or more judges receiving the designation.

Classes

You can actually take classes to learn how to handle a dog at show, but the term “classes” has another meaning. In dog show terminology, it’s more commonly used to identify the different divisions in which you will show your dog (e.g. Junior Puppy, Senior Puppy, Canadian Bred, Open, etc.).

Closing Date

This is the final day on which you can submit an entry to the show secretary or superintendent so that you can participate in a dog show. Usually, a show is closed to entries three to four weeks before the show, so that the judging schedule can be arranged, the catalogues printed, the venue booked, etc.

Conformation

This is a term used to describe how well a dog conforms to the written standards of excellence of its breed.

Croup

The dog’s lower spinal area, extending from the rear of the pelvis to the tail root.

Crufts

An international dog show, held each March just outside London, England.

Dog

Used generically, a “dog” is any member of the canine species. For show and breeding purposes though, the term indicates a male animal.

Ex

You may have heard “ex” used in a context related to shows involving animals other than dogs. Farmers often say things like “I’m taking the cattle off to the ex,” meaning “exhibition.” Dog people use the term a little differently – if you hear someone at a dog show saying, “I’m off to ex the dogs,” it means that the dogs are being taken out for exercise, or to go potty.

Ex-Pen

This is a temporary, portable fenced area where people can go to ex their dogs.

Finish

A dog that has won enough points to get his CH designation is said to have “finished.” In obedience dog show terminology, the term is used differently – it’s a movement that a dog makes after being recalled, but before returning to heel.

In conformation competition, to finish means to have won enough points to be awarded the title of Champion of Record. In obedience, a finish is a transitional movement the dog makes between the completion of a recall, and the return to the heel position.

Flyball

This is a relay race for dogs. There are four participants, working in teams of two, and they leap over four hurdles spaced 10 feet apart in order to retrieve a tennis ball. Then, they go back over the jumps, carrying the ball. The team that completes the race first wins.

Futurity

This is a special (non-regular) competition often included in National Specialty shows. The breeder will nominate a litter that he or she believes is going to represent all that is best in their breeding program. The interesting thing here is that the litter is nominated before the bitch has even delivered – sometimes even before the litter has been bred! The breeder makes the nomination based on confidence in the litter’s genetic potential.

Gait

Different breeds have different gaits – it’s simply the best, most pleasing way for a dog to move. Most breeds gait at a jog or a trot.

Garden (The)

This is dog show slang for the Westminster KC’s benched show, held annually in February at Madison Square Garden in New York City.

Get

The “get” refers to a puppy sired by a stud dog.

Groups

This term refers to the way that dogs are categorized as to functional similarities. There are seven groups recognized by the AKC and CKC. They are:

  1. Hound (dogs that track by scent or sight)
  2. Sporting (dogs used to hunt upland game birds)
  3. Non-Sporting (dogs that used to have specific jobs, but are no longer used for their original purpose)
  4. Working (dogs used for guarding, rescue work or pulling)
  5. Herding (dogs used to move livestock – originally part of the working dog group)
  6. Terrier (dogs bred to kill small game or vermin)
  7. Toy (small companion dogs)

Every breed recognized by the AKC and the CKC belongs to one of these groups. The dog that wins BOB (Best of Breed) is entitled to complete in the Group competition, and then the first-place winner in each Group competition goes on to the final competition, BIS (Best in Show).

Handler

This is the person (not necessarily the owner or the breeder) who presents the dog in the show ring.

Judge

In Conformation, this is the official who evaluates how well a dog conforms to its breed standards. Other events also have similar officials.

Judging Schedule

This is a publication that you can get at the dog show that lists the time and location of the classes for each breed, and who will do the judging. The judging schedule is usually free, but if you want really comprehensive information, you’re better off to buy a show catalogue.

Junior

A junior is a person between the ages of 10 and 18 who competes in a dog show with others in the same age group.

Loin

The area of the body between the last rib and the beginning of the pelvis. (In human terms, this would be the waist). The lower portion of the loin is known as the “tuck-up.”

Major

A “major” is a significant win, meaning that a dog has defeated many other dogs in a particular show, and earned three to five points toward its championship.

National

This is a specialty show, hosted annually by the parent club for any particular breed. This is generally considered to be a very prestigious event.

Novice A/B

The Novice classes are basic level obedience events. Dogs that achieve three “legs” (qualifying scores) of 170-200 points (including at least half of the available points for each exercise) receive the designation of “Companion Dog.” The A class is for exhibitors who have not yet achieved CD designation for their dog; the B class is for those who have.

Novice Junior

This is a class for people ages 10-14 who have not yet won three legs. A class can be held even if there is only one competitor, but although points may be awarded, it will not qualify as a win.

Novice Senior

This is a class for people ages 14-18 who have not yet won three legs. Again, if there is only one competitor in the class, the competitor will get points, but not a win.

Obedience

Obedience trials are performance events wherein dogs and handlers are required to complete a number of exercises proving the dog’s ability to respond to commands – in other words, to obey. Scoring is done on a scale of 0-200 points overall, and dogs must achieve three legs of at least 170 in the Novice class in order to earn the CD (Companion Dog) designation. Then, the dog can compete in the Open class and earn the CDX (Companion Dog Excellent) title.

UD (Utility Dog) is the next highest level, followed by UDX. To earn the designation of Utility Dog Excellence, the dog must earn 10 qualifying scores in Open B and Utility B. OTCH (Obedience Trial Champion) is the highest possible designation. The AKC requires 100 points collected over the various competitions to earn this title. In Canada, the dog must successfully complete three UD legs.

Occiput

This is the bony part of the dog’s head, located toward the back of the top part of the skull. If formed properly, the occiput creates a slightly dome-like appearance to the skull. If not properly developed, it can create an unattractive protuberance.

Parent Club

Also known as the National Breed Club, this is the national organization that is officially charged with overseeing subsidiary breed clubs. The parent club determines the written standards for a breed.

Pastern

This is the part of the dog’s leg between the paws and the lower arm – in humans, it would be the wrist in the front, and the sole of the foot in the rear.

Patella

This is the dog’s rear knee joint. It consists of muscle, ligaments and bones. You may have heard the term “patellar luxation” – this is a loosening of the tendons which causes the kneecap to slip and makes it difficult for the dog to move properly. It can be the result of an injury, or it can be hereditary. Usually, it can be surgically corrected.

Post Sternum

This is the dog’s breastbone, located in the middle of the chest. In most working, sporting and herding dogs, a post sternum that protrudes a bit is considered desirable, since it suggests a large chest cavity that will allow the heart and lungs plenty of room to expand.

Premium List

This is a publication that is sent to potential exhibitors, stating the date and location of a dog show, the club that is holding the show, the classes and awards (premiums) and information on the judges. Premium lists also include information on fees as well as entry forms.

Produce

This is pronounced “praw-dooce” and simply means the offspring, or litter, of a brood bitch.

Regional

This term refers to a group of states identified by the AKC as having similar entry numbers, used to calculate point schedules.

Reserve Winners

See “Winners Bitch” and “Winners Dog.”

Ring Steward

The ring steward assists the judges in getting handlers and dogs in and out of the rings. A ring steward will also check in exhibitors, call the classes, get the trophies and ribbons ready to distribute, and more. In short, the ring steward is the person tasked with making sure that everything goes smoothly.

Roadwork

Roadwork is any sustained exercise used to condition a dog. Vigorous walking, biking or jogging are examples of roadwork.

Secretary

The secretary is an official licensed by the AKC or CKC, tasked with coordinating the dog show. The secretary is responsible for coordinating printed materials, receiving entries, making sure that any materials or equipment needed are acquired, and keeping records and generating reports.

Set Up

This is the area where you keep and groom your dogs when you’re not actually in the ring. The most coveted set ups are those that have electrical outlets and are close to the show ring.

Side Gait

This refers to the dog’s movement as it appears from the side. A judge will look at the dog’s side gait to see how well it tracks, drives off the hind legs and reaches with the front legs.

Special

This is dog show slang for an actively campaigned Champion of Record.

Specialty

This is a dog show that’s dedicated to a single breed – in other words, one held by a specialty club. These shows are a great opportunity for fanciers of a particular breed to get together, talk, share tips, and just generally get to know others who share their passion. A big win at a specialty can gain an exhibitor a lot of respect from other aficionados of the breed, and can also present valuable opportunities for those looking to expand their breeding program.

Stack

To “stack” is to have your dog stand in a way that best displays his most positive attributes. With most breeds, the forelegs are “stacked” to align with the withers, and the pasterns are aligned at an angle of 90 degrees to the surface on which the dog is standing.

Depending on the judge’s requirements, exhibitors may be able to “hand stack” the dog – in other words, to manually position the dog – or they may have to “free stack.” Free stacking means that you cannot handle the dog – you have to use verbal commands, lead correction body language or bait in order to convince the dog to “self-stack.”

Standard

The “standard” is the official, written description of what constitutes the perfect conformation attributes of a particular breed. The standard is written by the parent club, approved by the Kennel Club, and then interpreted by the show judge.

Stifle

This is the curved part of a dog’s hind legs, consisting of the patella (knee) and thigh. The “bend” in the stifle determines how much flexibility the dog will be able to use when driving off the hind legs.

Stop

This is the juncture between the back of the dog’s muzzle and the beginning of the skull. A long-muzzled dog doesn’t have much in the way of “stop,” whereas a short-muzzled dog has considerably more.

Superintendent

The superintendent is an official, or a professional management company, licensed by the Kennel Club to manage the show. The superintendent works in conjunction with, or as a substitute for, the secretary.

Sweepstakes

A sweepstakes is a non-regular class, sometimes featured at specialty shows, designed to recognize superior puppies and young dogs. Entrants often receive monetary prizes. In fact, a sweepstakes is the only class where entrants can win money.

Tack

In the dog world, “tack” means the same as it does in horse shows. It refers to the tools and products that you use to groom your dog, as well as to equipment like leads and collars.

Tack Box

Any container used to hold your tack when it’s not in use.

Topline

This is the part of your dog’s spine that extends from the top of the shoulder blades to the tail root.

Veterans

This is a non-regular class, but one that has become very popular at dog shows. Most people retire their show dogs at a fairly young age. Some are given to “forever” homes. Males might be sold for stud. Some people, though, keep their retired show dogs as family pets, and in dog show terminology, these animals are referred to as “veterans”.

Veterans are seven years or older, well past their “best before” date for actual competition. Veteran classes are comprised of dogs who are still healthy, vigorous, and who still love the glamor of the show ring – and for the people who love them and want to honor them.

Westminster KC

See “Garden (The)” above. This is the most prestigious dog show in the world, the second oldest sporting event in America (second only to the Kentucky Derby), and also a huge social event.

Withers

The withers represent the point where your dog’s shoulder blades meet. They are vital when it comes to effective movement – if the withers are too tight or too loose, the dog can have a sloppy gait, or carry its head poorly. The withers are also the point where your dog’s height is measured.

Whelp

This is a term that relates to pregnancy and birth. When a bitch is pregnant, she is “in whelp.” When she is actually delivering the litter, she is “whelping.”

Winners Bitch

At the end of the bitch classes at a dog show, the first-place winners from each class will compete for the title of Winners Bitch. So, the winners in the 6-9-month puppy bitch class, the 9-12-month puppy bitch class, the 12-18-month junior bitch class, the novice bitch class, the bred-by bitch class, and the open bitch class will all compete for Winners Bitch. The Winners Bitch will be awarded points. There will also be a “Reserve Winners Bitch” chosen, but no points will be awarded to her unless, for some reason, the first-place bitch ends up being disqualified.

The Winners Bitch then competes against the Winners Dog for “Best of Winners.”

Winners Dog

The competition is the same as for Winners Bitch. Just read the above, and substitute “dog” for “bitch,” and vice versa where appropriate.

The Final Word

This is by no means an exhaustive glossary of dog show terminology – the acronyms alone can keep you reading for quite some time – but if you’re interested in showing, this should be enough to get you started. For a full list of dog show acronyms, click here.

If you think you’d like to get into showing, the best thing you can do is start by visiting dog shows and talking to exhibitors. Most of the time, they’ll be very happy to talk with you about showing, breeding, and of course their specific dogs!

Just as a word of caution, though, please be polite – don’t approach owners or handlers as they’re about to enter the ring. That’s not when they want to talk with you. Also, don’t touch the dogs or offer them treats unless you have permission.

So, are you ready to learn more? Find a dog show in your area. Go and meet the dogs. Meet the owners and the handlers. Get all the information you need. See if you can find a mentor – someone who’s an old hand at showing and would enjoy showing you the ropes.

You might find out that showing isn’t for you. However, you can still meet new people and learn new things. And even if you just end up being a spectator at dog shows, I hope that this post about dog show terminology will serve to enhance the experience for you.

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