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Elements Of A Dog Show Explained

Updated on October 8, 2008

Dogs make wonderful pets. They also make good trophies.

Ever watched the Eukanuba dog show on Animal Planet? All those gorgeous (and not so gorgeous) canines parading around the ring, their glossy coats flowing in their wake, judges scrutinizing their every movement. Dog shows are extremely complicated in their judging, but they are way too much fun to watch and even participate in.

Here are a few things you should know about dog shows and just how those weird scores are tallied.

This English Springer's ears are tied back to preserve the grooming.
This English Springer's ears are tied back to preserve the grooming.


Grooming is EVERYTHING! Literally. If your dog isn't spotless, snarl-less, and well maintained, you stand no chance.

For a dog to get good marks for grooming, they must meet these requirements:

  1. Hair must be fully brushed, with no tangles or snarls, and with no foreign material in the coat.
  2. Nails must be well maintained. They should be cut and filed, so as not to scratch a judge. They can be painted.
  3. Teeth must be brushed. No plaque build up, no unhealthy gums. Exceptions are after an owner gives a dog a treat for performing a trick.

While smaller dog shows are a little more lenient with grooming, the big dog competitions (lol, I made a funny!) are a helluva lot stricter. They'll usually give you a list of requirements that must be met before your dog can even enter the competition.


A dog's health is of utmost importance. If your dog is not healthy, he will not be allowed to show.

Big shows have veterinarians on staff to evaluate a dog's health and its eligability in the show. If he's a healthy boy, he's moved on to the next evaluation. If he's got even the slightest medical issue, he's gone. This can range from skin conditions to ear infections, to irregular bowel movements. They can't have puppies pooping on the palisade!

If a dog is on any medication for a problem, the vet must be made aware of this immediately. Owners cannot wait until the last minute as the vet's about to say, "Nope, Max here can't show," to pipe up and interject that Max is on such-and-such meds for such-and-such condition. Depending on the condition and the medication, the dog may be allowed to show.

Breed Capacity

Shows only allow so many of each breed to show, to make it fair to other breeds. This number is generally small. After all, they only have so much time for a show, and there are a lot of dog breeds to cover.

Most competitions will have a mini-comp within the breeds. If your dog passes, he'll continue on to more evaluations. If he doesn't, there's always next year.

To pass the mini-comp, a dog has to first qualify for the full competition. They're not going to bother with a full eval for a mini-comp, but you'll still want your dog in pristine shape to really make him stand out from the crowd.

You've made it into the competition. Now what?

Now comes the fun part. Showing your dog.

Judges look for grooming quality, health, obedience, and endurance. The first two have already been covered, but what about obedience and endurance? How do they test these things?


They test obedience by making the dog follow simple commands.

Well, not They, exactly. You.

As long as your dog knows how to sit, stay, heel, shake, and maybe even roll over/play dead on your command, you should be fine. But even the slightest hesitance to follow these commands will hurt your score. If Max doesn't obey at all, you're screwed.


This is also somewhat an obedience test. Max has to complete an obstacle course. The course consists of jumps, climbers, tunnels, running poles, a doggy balancing beam, and a teeter-totter. If he takes too long, it'll hurt your score. If he jumps off a climber or the teeter-totter, it'll hurt your score. If he doesn't quite make the jump, it hurts your score.

Training for this is simple, since all of the equipment is easy to build at home or buy. The jump obstacles are simple; a small bike-tire-looking-thing he has to jump through, and a pole or board he has to jump over. The climber's just two pieces of wood with little 2x2's on them for maneuverability, shaped as a triangle. The tunnel's just like the ones they use in elementary school P.E. class obstacle courses. It looks like a big dryer hose. Running poles are flexible tubes/piping that he has to be able to weave in and out of. The balancing beam has to be big enough for the dog's feet to fit on (meaning it's pretty wide to compensate for those giant horse-sized dogs). I'm not entirely certain about how long the beam has to be, but your dog has to be able to cross the entire beam. The teeter totter's self explanitory, though it's the hardest to train with if your dog doesn't like external motion. All he has to do with the teeter totter is climb up one side, make the thing tilt the other way, and climb down the other end. It sounds simple, but it can be a hassle.

Oh; you can't touch any of the equipment whlie he's running the course. He has to be able to do it on his own. You're just there to lead him along in the right direction.

Look at him jump those poles!
Look at him jump those poles!
A judge evaluates this beagle according to the breed's standards.
A judge evaluates this beagle according to the breed's standards.


There are scores for all four categories, which leads to your ultimate score. Some competitions have more categories, some have less. To get top marks, you must excell in at least three of the four categories, and get a pretty good score in that other category. For more information on dog shows, visit:


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    • profile image

      Dave 7 years ago

      What are red marks in a breed?

    • Eric Graudins profile image

      Eric Graudins 8 years ago from Australia

      Hi Kika Rose,

      You forgot about one of the main elements of dog shows - the people.

      I'm sure you've all seen the mums and dads who "encourage" (ie push and bully) their kids into doing junior sport, beauty pageants, etc.

      Well when their kids grow up, they take up showing dogs :-)

      Cheers, Eric G.