How Dog Shows Work… and Why They Matter to Pet Owners

Zuzu is ready to stand for exam in the “Open Bitch” class at the 2019 BMDC of Watchung Specialty. *Handler: Heather Bremmer

Here’s a riddle: Many (if not most) weekends, dog shows are a pointless exercise, and yet I would propose the dog show is a critical element of any responsible breeding program. Take this weekend, for example. Pointless! And yet my two girls brought home three blue ribbons, a red ribbon, and two ribbons that were half purple/half white.

In recording this I might say, “Another weekend in the books. Both girls won class Saturday. Zuzu went Reserve Winner to the Major/BOB. Sunday, Madi won class again and also went RW to the Major out of her 6-9 puppy class.”

What the heck does all that mean? Head spinning yet? Geez, should you even say, “Congratulations?”

It took me quite a while to understand what I was looking at when I began to take Zuzu to dog shows. I’d drop her off for grooming and then I was told to hide (she used to get upset when she saw me) until after she was done. Problem was, for the first couple months I couldn’t figure out when she was done! Sometimes she would come in second and my handlers would wave me over to come get her with that whole “What took you so long?” look. I began to put two and two together and I’d head over to get my girl if she didn’t win… only to be confused when sometimes they would frantically wave me off and say, “She might have to go back in!” What? I just saw her get the axe with my own two eyes!

But eventually it all began to make sense… how it worked, the whole rhythm of the day, when we were still in the mix and when we could go home… and why this matters in a breeding program.

I’ll try to give you a basic Dog Shows For Dummies (like me) rundown here: Dogs who don’t yet have a Champion title show in classes. These are broken down by gender (boys = dogs and girls = bitches) and age (puppy 6 and under 9 months, puppy 9 and under 12 months, dogs/bitches 12 and under 18 months, Bred by Exhibitor, Open Dogs/Bitches, etc.)

ONLY the first place winner of each class above (by gender) will compete for “Winner’s Dog” or “Winner’s Bitch”… but the second place dog in each class needs to stay ringside. The WD and WB will be awarded a purple ribbon and points towards their championship, and will move on to compete for Best of Breed along with the dogs/bitches who HAVE earned their Champion title. Once a dog/bitch is selected Winner, the judge will then select a Reserve Winner. The Reserve Winner does get a purple and white winner’s ribbon (and sometimes a nice rosette or prizes), but does not advance any further, and no points are awarded towards a title. The second place dog from whichever class the Winner’s Dog or Bitch came from will come back in the ring at this point for a chance to take home the reserve ribbon. Thus, it’s possible for the winner and the reserve winner to both come out of the same original class, allowing the judge to reward a particularly strong group.

Finally, all dogs (both male and female) who have “finished” (earned their Champion title) compete in the breed/winners ring (including Champions of Record seven years and older, classified *”veterans”.) One will be selected “Best of Breed”… this can be a male or female, and it could be the unfinished Winner’s Dog or Winner’s Bitch. The judge will then name a Best Opposite (best male or female, opposite gender of the breed winner), a Select Dog (basically 2nd place) and a Select Bitch. Finally, the judge will choose either the WD or WB for a separate designation, “Best of Winners”. *Any time a veteran is moving in the show ring, spectators applaud.

The Best of Breed (whether male or female) goes on to compete later in the “group ring”. In the case of the Bernese Mountain Dog, the breed winner will compete against the BOB winners of all breeds in the working group. (This is where television coverage BEGINS for major dog shows, which is why you only see ONE Berner on televised dog shows, and frequently for only one or two minutes.) Finally, the winner of each group competes with the six other group winners for BEST IN SHOW.

Learning young… Madi is starting to get the hang of life from the back of an SUV. So much of a show day is waiting and waiting and waiting. It’s exhausting for the dogs. At eight months, this is just about becoming acclimated to the atmosphere and rhythms of dog shows, though Madi surprised us and took her first Winner’s Bitch distinction at seven months old.

That is an extremely brief look at the inner workings of a dog show. As in any “sport” there are subtleties that may seem blurred or even absent to the newbie, but come more clearly into focus with time.

Back to this weekend… pointless! We came home with three blue ribbons, a red, and two purple/white beauties…. zero points. It can be frustrating, maddening, controversial, expensive, heartbreaking. In other words, it’s a lot of fun. And it’s important. Take a look at two-year-old Zuzu’s record folder…

Fifteen months of work has yielded 12 points (we lost two points due to a registration error), three titles, and some nice ribbons for Zuzu. Soon we hope to add CH to her titles. The green ribbons are qualifying scores in Obedience and Rally. Zuzu has Canine Good Citizen, Rally Novice, and Trick Dog Novice titles. One more green ribbon will earn her an Obedience title. For now… she’s Trailbound Having A Wonderful Life CGC RN TKN

Zuzu has been a nice first show dog for me. She’s not going to compete at Westminster, but the girl has given me a lot of effort. We’ve logged so many hours in the car. And the reward has been this… every blue ribbon (win in class), every purple and white ribbon (reserve winner), every purple ribbon (winner), or blue and white ribbon (best of winners) has been a judge saying, “It is my opinion that this dog is the best example of the breed standard (in her class or group) standing before me today.” This opinion doesn’t always come with CH points, but it is recorded in the color of the ribbon nonetheless.

To be declared a Champion of Record, dogs have to win 15 points, in front of multiple judges, with two “majors” (a win of 3, 4, or 5 points based on the number of dogs/bitches present on the day of competition).

Fortunately for all the puppy buyers out there… there are a healthy number of these CH titles earned! And here’s where you come into play: When you buy a puppy that has been bred out of show lines… you’re buying a house built to code. It has been inspected by a variety of judges who have repeatedly looked at Mom and Dad (and before them grandmas and grandpas) and have said, “Yes to this one. This is good building material. A good foundation. This is sturdy. This will serve its people well.”

Madi on the move in her Puppy 6 and Under 9 Months Class.

Published by: When Life Goes to the Dogs

It was my youngest daughter who introduced me to the Bernese Mountain Dog. That first boy, Hero, set in motion all kinds of crazy love. And now, at the end of the day, I often find myself asking... what do these dogs have that is so special? I'm raising three Berners now, navigating the world of social media for dogs, holistic health and raw feeding. Sherman has become a therapy dog; Zuzu may soon follow in his footsteps. Madi, as I like to say, is still cooking. I guess we all need something to put our hands to that makes us feel like we've made a difference in this world. Believe it or not, these dogs help me do just that.

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One thought on “How Dog Shows Work… and Why They Matter to Pet Owners”

  1. Firstly, congratulations! Zuzu is gorgeous! I’m planning to write a post about my experience with dog shows and I really enjoyed reading your perspective!


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