Dog shows are divided into benched and unbenched events involving one or more breeds, groups, and classes of purebred dogs. At benched shows, prior to and after judging, the dogs, except puppies, are displayed to the public on benches or platforms set up in individual stalls. At unbenched shows the dogs are exhibited in judging rings and around the grounds of the event. In all dog shows, the breeds are divided into seven groups—sporting, hound, working, herding, terrier, toy, and nonsporting. The regular classes within each breed are puppy, novice, bred by exhibitor, American bred, and open.
The standards for judging the entries differ with each breed. Typical criteria include shape of head, placement of ears, color, gait, and texture of coat. Dogs entered in a particular class are taken into the judging ring by their owners or handlers. After the dogs have been gaited, or walked at different speeds, and examined by the judge, they are placed in classes. The dogs placed first in each of the classes compete for winners, who receive points toward their championship based on the number of dogs in their particular breed that have been in competition at the show. To become an official AKC show champion, a dog must accumulate 15 championship points under at least three different judges, and these points must include two major wins, meaning 3-, 4-, or 5-point wins. Dogs that attain their championships are entitled to have the abbreviation “Ch.” carried before their name.
Following the judging of the winners classes, dogs that already have won their championship compete, along with the winners for best of breed and best of opposite sex. Each best of breed competes in its respective group, and the dog placed first in each of the seven groups competes for the award “best in show,” which is the final judging at any all-breed dog show.