What to Expect at an AKC Dog Show

| CJ Silvasi

Want to attend an AKC Dog Show, but not show how to prepare? Here's a breakdown of how events are organized and judged, as well as best practices for visitors.


Dog Shows, or Conformations, are events dating back to 1859 where trainers and breeders showcase their purebred dogs. The shows are hosted by kennel clubs, and participants must register through the host club.

The American Kennel Club (AKC) was established in 1884 to maintain purebred dog records in the U.S., and they currently recognize 200 breeds of dogs, making them the largest purebred dog registry in the world. Because of the scope of the AKC, there is probably an AKC dog show happening near you. Whether or not you’re entering a dog in the competition, you can attend an event and enjoy the company of fellow dog lovers.

How Are AKC Dog Shows Organized?

When you first walk into the show, you may see what can best be described as “organized chaos,” because there are so many things going on at once. Much like a festival, there will be sections for each event, shopping, food, and more depending on the venue and location. Each AKC Dog Show will feature the breed Conformation show, but many also host other competitions like Scent Work, Agility, Rally, Obedience, and Fast CAT simultaneously. 

The main event, the all-breed Conformation, operates in a bracket style. Each dog must first compete in smaller breed-specific events to find “Best of Breed,” and the winners advance to their designated group events where they will be judged against other breed winners. The final event is the “Best of Show,” where the top dogs in each AKC group compete to be show champion. Prior to the Conformation, you can find the schedule of events on their website, so you can pick and choose what is most exciting for you and your family.

If there’s a lull before the next event you’d like to observe, you can check out pet-centric vendors from across the region and nation. So, take a break, walk the aisles, and shop for pet supplies, handmade items, and more. Each booth caters specifically to pet-lovers, so you’re sure to find something you love.

How Is an AKC Dog Show Judged?

The AKC has done research into every breed they register, so they hold a list of traits for each individual breed that include size, colorings, temperament, body shape, and more. The judges are experts not only in dogs, but the AKC’s breed requirements. They are registered through the AKC and constantly learning and keeping up with breed standards for hundreds of dog breeds, so making their way to the show floor is a daunting task.

While dogs of the same breed are compared to one another and chosen as victors based on which best meets the breed’s standards, that is not the same for the rest of the Conformation. For example, if a judge is evaluating dogs within the Working Group Conformation, they would not compare the Boxer to the Bullmastiff, despite them competing against one another. Instead, the Boxer will be compared to its own breed standards set by the AKC, so the judge has an image of the perfect Boxer in their head and is comparing the competitor to that. The dog that has is the closest to the standards for their individual breed is named champion.

Best Practices for Visitors

If you’re planning on going to an AKC Dog Show as a spectator, there are a few things you’ll want to keep in mind to make your trip as fun as possible:

Don’t Bring Your Dog

Dog shows will be filled with dogs, and they will be hard at work. These dogs are highly trained to be accustomed to the stimulus around them, so they are comfortable in the setting. But, regardless of training, pets who are not participating in an event are not allowed at the dog show, so leave your dogs at home.

Bring a Chair

Each event space is unique, so the layout will vary by location, but many are in large, open event spaces and do not have built-in seating or stands. So, bring a comfy folding chair that’s easy to carry with you throughout the day, or be prepared to stand for most events.

Plan Your Day

Do you have a particular breed or event that you want to see? Plan ahead and check your local show’s website for their schedule to make sure you arrive in time to see everything you want. Don’t forget to leave some open time for exploring because there’s something exciting going on in every corner of an AKC event.

Despite being organized and judged in the same way by the AKC judges, you’ll find that each Conformation is unique. Make the most of your day by exploring, taking photos, and chatting with owners and trainers to learn more about the dogs. Most importantly: have fun. These events are fun for the dogs and the spectators, so enjoy your time surrounded by pups!

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CJ Silvasi

CJ has always wanted to be a writer. She even threatened to drop out after her first day of kindergarten when they weren’t immediately going to teach her to read and write. Fortunately, she stayed in school, earned her degree in Creative Writing from Christopher Newport University, and now gets to live her best life with her husband, 3 Japanese Chins, and cat writing for AKC Pet Insurance.


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