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Show Dogs – History and Standards

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Show Dogs

A show dog (often used as a single word ‘showdog’) is a dog which has been specially bred, trained, and/or groomed to conform to the specifications of dog shows. Entry into many dog shows is restricted to purebred dogs registered with the kennel club or breed club sponsoring the show, and dogs are selected by breeding to excel at the particular sport for which they are being shown.

A conformation dog show is arranged to see whether the dogs exhibit the established breed standards for their breed. This type of show helps assess the qualities of an individual purebred dog. During this show, dogs are not compared to each other. A conformation show is also known as a ‘breed show’. Only the external qualities of the dog, like its looks, gait and disposition, are taken into consideration during a breed show.

In a dog conformation show, judges aren’t merely comparing the dogs to each other. Rather, they judge each dog against the parameters of the idealized version of its breed. In other words, when the judge looks at your poodle, Fluffy, he is comparing Fluffy to the written standards of the ideal poodle. The standards address various body parts and attributes, including:

  • Balance: overall appropriate proportions in size
    Eyes: color, size, shape
    Ears: shape, length, position
    Head: shape
    Muzzle: shape, length
    Whiskers: thickness
    Teeth: kind of bite (e.g. level or scissors bites)
    Tail: how it arches and sets (e.g. how high or low)
    Shoulders: bone, muscle
    Legs: muscles, stance, proportionality
    Coat: texture, length
    Color: accepted breed colors


A judge will use his hands to inspect the dog’s body, including its bones and muscles. In addition to assessing physical characteristics like these, judges assess the dog’s walk (gait) and attitude. For instance, criteria might require that the dog’s attitude be cheerful, as for the beagle, or proud, as for the poodle. The American Kennel Club (AKC) has assembled these criteria for each of their recognized breeds. It gathers this information from the clubs and organizations that specialize in those breeds. The dog that the judges think matches its breed’s criteria the best wins the competition.

History of Dog Shows:

In London, The ‘Kennel Club’ (KC) was formed in 1873. The club hosts an annual international championship conformation show for dogs (Crufts). These days, it is organized in the month of March every year, at the National Exhibition Center in Birmingham. According to the Guinness World Records, this is the largest annual dog show in the world. In 1991, the show had nearly 23,000 participants, and was then considered as the world’s largest annual dog show. These days, around 28,000 dogs participate in Crufts each year. It has been estimated that about 160,000 visitors enjoy the show every year. Various competitions are held during Crufts. Dogs and dog owners from all over the world look forward to the main competition, and are always eager to know who wins the ‘Best in Show’ award. Owing to the increasing response of the dog owners, rules about dog show requirements are strictly followed.

On June 28, 1859, a dog show was held in the town of Newcastle, U.K. Only Pointers and Setters participated in this show. The same year, in the month of November, another dog show was held in Birmingham, which included Spaniels as participants. About 80 dogs from 14 classes participated in this show. Since 1860, Hounds started participating. Every year, a dog show is held in Birmingham, and it is considered as the world’s oldest surviving dog show.

Charles Cruft, the general manager of a dog biscuit manufacturing company, traveled worldwide and attended various local dog shows. He realized that there was a need to arrange a dog show that would exhibit higher standards. The show ‘Crufts’ was named after his name. Mr. Cruft arranged his first dog show in 1886, that was named as the ‘First Great Terrier Show’, which had 57 classes and 600 entries. In 1891, the first show which had the name ‘Cruft’ in its name, ‘Cruft’s Greatest Dog Show’, was held at the Royal Agricultural Hall, Islington. This is supposed to be the first dog show for which all breeds were invited to compete. Around 2,000 dogs participated in this show. The show enjoyed a notable response from dog owners with 2,500 entries.

At the end of the 19th century, Crufts received more than 3000 entries. Dog owners from various European countries have participated in the show every year. The ‘Jubilee Show’ held in 1936, had 10,650 entries. Around 80 breeds participated in the show. After the death of Charles in 1938, his widow sold the show to The Kennel Club.

The Kennel Club held the first show in 1948 at Olympia in London. In 1955, the first ‘Obedience Championship’ competition was held. By then, the popularity of the show had increased tremendously. Despite an increase in the entrance fees, there were 13,000+ entries in 1959. They therefore had to change the venue. In 1979, the show was held in the exhibition center ‘Earls Court’. In 1982, the duration of the show was increased to three days. In 1987, they had to again change the duration to ‘four days’, owing to the increasing popularity of the show and increasing number of entries. In 1991, for the first time, the show was held in Birmingham at the National Exhibition Center. Since then, it is being held there.

In the US and Canada, a dog is awarded some points (depending upon the group, number of participants, type of the show, etc.); whenever it wins. The dog has to win certain number of points to get a championship. The number of points required may vary according to the kennel club offering the title.

According to the history of dog shows, ‘The Westminster’ is America’s oldest surviving annual dog show. It was first held in 1876 in the Westminster Hotel in New York city, by a small group of dog lovers. The next year, it was held at Gilmore’s Gardens on Madison Avenue. The Kentucky Derby was first held on May 17th 1875. About 10,000 people watched and enjoyed the race.

The American Kennel Club (AKC) was founded in 1884 in the city of New York. They formulated new laws and regulations. Since 1887, all AKC records are maintained in The National American Kennel Club’s Stud Book. Since the early 1900s, rules of AKC are followed during dog shows.

The Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show will be conducted for the 142nd time beginning Monday, but its origins and how it received its name are not widely known.

The competition, which is billed as the World’s Greatest Dog Show, has cultivated a strong following since it opened in 1877 in New York at Gilmore’s Garden, which later became known as Madison Square Garden. At its inception, the show had over 1,200 dogs entered, and the judges decided on a winner over a three- or four-day period.

Last year, the show had close to 3,000 dogs from all 50 states entered in the competition. The show is now judged over two days.

The show and its name sprang from a hotel that has now been gone for more than a century.

In the 1870s, a group of men met regularly at the Westminster Hotel near Union Square, according to historical accounts. They had such an affinity for the hotel and its bar, as well as for dogs, that they decided to name the show after it.

In William F. Stifel’s book “The Dog Show, 125 Years of Westminster,” he details how the men decided to put on a dog show and name it.

Westminster gets its name from a long gone hotel in Manhattan. … They couldn’t agree on the name for their new club. But finally someone suggested that they name it after their favorite bar. The idea was unanimously selected, we imagine, with the hoisting of a dozen drinking arms.

On March 28, 1877, The Times covered preparations for the first Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show.

The Westminster Kennel Club, of this City, an organization of gentlemen interested in the improvement of the strains of hunting dogs, in the use of which they find their best amusement, are preparing for an extensive bench show to be held at Gilmore’s Garden, on the 8th, 9th and 10th of May.

After the Kentucky Derby, the Westminster Dog Show is the second-oldest continuously run sporting event in American history. This is the 70th year the dog show has been televised.


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