Time spent learning a new activity with your dog is an excellent relationship-builder and provides needed mental and physical stimulation. Many of these activities provide structure that helps people learn to better communicate with their dogs. The dogs learn good manners and is a mental boost for owners and their best friends!

The American Kennel Club and the Virginia Kennel Club has provided you with information to get you and your dog started!

Conformation - Learn the basics

First things first: The official term for dog shows is conformation — as in, the act of conforming or producing conformity. While a dog show may look like a beauty pageant, it’s not: Dogs are not being compared to each other; they’re being measured by how closely they conform to the standard of their particular breed. Why? Because the closer a dog’s appearance is to the breed’s standard, the better that dog’s ability will be to produce puppies that meet the standard. It’s also the reason why mixed breeds and spayed or neutered purebreds are ineligible to compete.


  • Six months or older on the day of the show
  • Recognized breed by the AKC
  • Registered with the AKC
  • NOT spayed or neutered
  • No disqualifying faults, as stated by their breed’s parent organization.
  • In sound health and up-to-date on vaccinations.

The size of conformation events range from large all-breed shows, with over 3,000 dogs entered, to small local specialty club shows that feature only one breed. Each dog is exhibited (“handled”) by its owner, breeder or hired professional (“handler”). Most dogs compete for points toward their AKC championships. It takes 15 points to become an AKC “Champion of Record.” The maximum number of points awarded at an event is five. Males and females compete separately within their respective breeds.

Lastly, make sure to review the AKC Code of Sportsmanship to learn more about the core values of participants in AKC Sports and Events.

Attend a Show in Person

We can’t stress enough how important it is for you to get familiar with what actually happens at a conformation event. Go to a show, or several, and familiarize yourself with what happens in the show ring, and to experience the energy and camaraderie between the spectators in the stands and the competitors (also called “exhibitors”). It’ll also give you an idea of whether you want to show your dog yourself, or hire a professional (“handler”).

Join an AKC Club Near You

We encourage newcomers to get involved with their local AKC Club. Not only do they offer invaluable resources and training classes, you’ll meet new people with similar interests who are more than willing to share their knowledge and lend a hand.

Prep Your Dog – and Yourself

A conformation class will prepare you and your dog for your first experience – and for your best chances at winning. Classes are often conveniently held on weeknights and focus on how to handle your dog in the show ring. Contact a local AKC Club to ask about training opportunities.

In addition, your dog should know basic behavior like how to walk on a leash on your left side and how to stack. He should also be very comfortable around other dogs. On top of taking classes, we encourage you to visit dog parks to practice his socialization skills. Finally, before your first show, your pet should be well-groomed—think trimmed nails, tangle-free fur, and no dirt.

Try a Match Show

Wish you could have a practice run before going into a real show? That’s what Match Shows are for. Here, you and your dog socialize in an informal, educational show environment, meet other dog show enthusiasts, and swap stories. Another bonus? Seasoned handlers, judges, and fellow dog owners will provide guidance and feedback you’ll want to have before actually getting into the ring.

While it might seem a like a lot to learn, don’t forget that the goal here is for you and your dog to have fun together! A competitive spirit doesn’t hurt either.