Attending your first dog show

Lady in a brown jacket walking along with her dog on green carpet at Crufts
Yulia Titovets / The Kennel Club ©

Once you are ready to begin dog showing, the first step is to fill out a entry form from a schedule. 

Find out more information below.

Schedule

A schedule is a small booklet of information detailing the show’s information and it includes the entry form. The schedule will list all the breeds and classes that are available, as well as the judges, the secretary’s information, the class definitions, the venue address and much more. These can be obtained free of charge from the show secretary, at your local ringcraft club or by going to an online entry database such as Higham Press or Fosse Data.

Entry form

To enter a show, find the right part of the schedule which has the entry form. From there you will need to select which class(es) you would like to enter. The schedule will always offer detailed definitions of each class. You are not limited to just one class, you can enter as many classes as your dog is eligible for and that you wish to compete in. However, if you are new to showing, you might consider just entering one or two classes, so you can get used to the ring and not overdo showing your dog.

Signing the entry form is important, as it forms the contract between yourself and the show society. If the dog is jointly owned, both owners should sign the entry form unless one of the parties has the written permission of the other to sign on their behalf. By signing, you are declaring that your dog is fit and healthy to take part in the show, and that you will abide by The Kennel Club's rules and regulations.

Making payments

Payment for all dog shows must be made in advance of the show, except for companion shows where payment will be made on the day. There will be a closing date for entries stated on the front of the schedule. Most shows allow for postal entries and online; these tend to have two different closing dates. Closing dates are very strict and it should be noted that late entries will not be accepted.

What is a proof of posting?

A proof of posting is evidence that you have posted the item declared on the certificate into the Royal Mail network. The certificate of posting needs to be date stamped and signed at a Post Office® window as having been accepted into the network. This is only needed for an entry that is made via post. If for any reason your entry does not reach the show secretary, you may be asked to produce the certificate. If this occurs, you will still be permitted to show your dog, but will be required to fill out some paperwork and provide evidence of having made an entry.

For entries made online, a copy of your entry may be sent to your email address or some online entry processors will have them available to download. You will need to retain this, just in case your entry does not reach the show secretary.

In these circumstances, we will contact exhibitors who have not provided proof of posting or proof of online entry following the show. It is a good idea to staple your proof of posting to the schedule to avoid mislaying it.

What are the different types of classes I can enter?

When entering a show, you will have a number of different classes to choose from. These are all found in the schedule. The definitions are usually based on either the age of your dog, or on your dog’s wins at previous shows. Below is guidance on the typical classes you will find at a show:

  • Minor puppy - for dogs of 6 months and not exceeding 9 calendar months of age on the first day of the show
  • Puppy - for dogs of 6 months and not exceeding 12 calendar months of age on the first day of the show
  • Junior - for dogs of 6 months and not exceeding 18 calendar months of age on the first day of the show
  • Yearling - for dogs of 12 months and not exceeding 24 calendar months of age on the first day of the show
  • Novice - for dogs which have not won a Challenge Certificate/CACIB/CAC/green star or three or more 1st prizes at open and championship shows (minor puppy, special minor puppy, puppy and special puppy classes excepted, whether restricted or not)
  • Post-graduate - for dogs which have not won a Challenge Certificate/CACIB/CAC/green star or five or more 1st prizes at championship shows in post-graduate, minor limit, mid limit, limit and open classes, whether restricted or not, where Challenge Certificates were offered for the breed
  • Limit - for dogs which have not become Show Champions under The Kennel Club regulations or under the rules of any governing body recognised by The Kennel Club, won three or more CACIB/CAC/green stars or won seven or more 1st prizes in all, at championship shows in limit or open classes, confined to the breed, whether restricted or not, at shows where Challenge Certificates were offered for the breed
  • Open - for all dogs of the breed for which the class is provided and eligible for entry at the show
  • Any variety not separately classified - for breeds of dog for which no separate breed classes are scheduled

Please note: when entering a show, please check to see if you are eligible for the class you have entered into by checking the schedule or the F Regulations. If you are overqualified or underqualified, you may end up having your awards disqualified or a £50-£300 fine imposed upon you. Full details of class types and required eligibility can be found in the F Regulations under regulation F(A).

Before you attend your first show

Before you arrive at your first show, there are a number of things you should remember to do.

Checklist of things to do
  • Request a schedule from the secretary or take a look at an online entry system to preview a schedule there and select the class(es) you wish to enter
  • Post your entry form together with your entry fee to the secretary before the closing date or enter your dog online via an online entry system
  • Record details of the show(s) and class(es) entered, you may need this information in readiness for completing other award paperwork, such as the junior warrant
  • If your dog had an operation that alters its natural conformation, you must write to us to seek permission to continue to show your dog before entering any more shows. In addition, you will need to include a report from the vet in question confirming the surgery undertaken. This will then be placed before the relevant committee for consideration at the next available meeting and you will be informed of the outcome shortly thereafter. If you have any questions, please email our health team
  • Decide on your outfit, such as a pair of trousers and a jacket. When showing you should dress smartly to complement your dog. Make sure your shoes are comfortable
  • If your dog is showing any signs of illness, do not take it to the show
  • Groom and prepare your dog
  • Prepare a show bag containing your grooming kit, leads, water bowls, poop scoop and bags etc.
  • Remember to take your show passes (if appropriate)
  • If you have made a friend at ringcraft or know someone who has exhibited before, ask them to attend your first show with you, so you can ask them any questions you may have
Things to take to the show
  • Water bowl and water
  • Food for yourself and your dog
  • Any treats you may wish to use in the ring with your dog, this is often referred to as bait. Bait is food which entices your dog to respond. This should be used sparingly and should be kept in your pocket or a small bag
  • Bedding, benching chain or a cage. A bench is a place where your dog is able to rest throughout the show whilst not in the show ring. The schedule will state if the show is benched or not benched. Their bench should be comfortable and the dog should be secure. Your bedding or cage should be able to fit within the bench. An average size for a bench is 24” (62 cm). If you decide to use bedding, you will need to make sure your dog is secured on the bench with a benching chain. A benching chain is a long chain which has a clip on each end. One clip will be clipped to the bench and the other will be clipped to the dogs collar. These can be purchased at most championship shows
  • Show lead and walking lead
  • Cleaning/grooming equipment
  • Waterproof clothing (if the show is to be held outdoors)
  • Clothes for the day
  • Money
  • A fold-up chair; not all shows will have chairs available and if you are on your feet all day you may become tired
  • Proof of posting (if you posted your entry) or a printed copy of the confirmation email received from the online entry that was made
  • Car park pass, if applicable
  • Entry ticket and pass - please be aware that not all shows issue tickets or passes, so you will need to check the schedule to find out
  • Removal pass - this is to allow your dog to leave the show. Not all shows will have these, so you will need to check the schedule to find out
  • Make sure you have made a note of what classes you have entered so you are prepared on the day

What to expect at the show

So you can make the most of the day, here is what you can expect when you arrive at your first dog show.

When at the show, what do I do?
  • Arrive at the venue in plenty of time for you and your dog(s) to relax
  • Remember to have your car park pass available, if the society requests one
  • Purchase a catalogue (this can be prepaid on your entry form). By having a catalogue, you can identify all the dogs that are entered at the show. You can also follow the classes and see information such as who bred the dog, who the father (sire) and mother (dam) are and who the owner is
  • If you are at a championship show, find your bench, ring number and show ring. Once you have found these, allow time for your dog(s) to settle and relax
  • At an open show your ring number will be given to you by the ring steward
  • Finish off grooming your dog
  • Sometimes your breed might be scheduled after another breed. On other occasions, changes of rings can also take place. Keep an eye on the judging and make sure you do not miss your class!
  • Look around the show - you will find that there is so much to discover and learn
  • Always clean up after your dog
  • Always leave showgrounds and venues clean and tidy
When in the ring, what should I expect?
  • At some shows you will find your ‘ring number’ on the bench. However, at others you may be given it in the ring. Your ring number will be a piece of card which will have a number printed on it. Before going into the ring, be sure to know which number you are, as this will save time searching with the steward once in the ring
  • To hold your ring number in place, you can use a safety pin or purchase a ring clip. These are available at most championship shows
  • The judge and steward will tell you what to do once in the ring. The usual process will be to stand your dog with the others in the class. You will then have the opportunity for the dog to be examined individually. You will then move your dog before the judge selects the winners. The process will become clear in the class and the judge/steward will explain everything along the way. It is good to watch one or two classes before your own, to get an idea of what the judge is asking the exhibitors to do
  • There are usually five placings, which are made from 1st to 3rd followed by reserve and very highly commended (VHC). Placings are never made in reverse order. Sometimes a judge will select more than five and not place them, this is called a ‘shortlist’ or a ‘cut’. After this the judge may move the dogs again before placing the final five. If you are not lucky enough to be selected, you should leave the ring quietly
  • The Kennel Club expects all exhibitors/competitors taking part in its licensed events to conduct themselves in a sportsmanlike manner. You should never interfere with another dog in competition, or try to distract a dog, or otherwise impede it from giving its best
  • You should never handle your dog harshly or use punitive correction. The Kennel Club advocates positive training methods at all times
  • Your dog should be kept on a lead and under control at all times within the showground. Again, safety is paramount, and all responsible dog owners want to enjoy a good day out without problems of loose or unruly dogs
When moving my dog, what type of patterns could I be asked for?

Pattern work is where exhibitors are asked to do one of the patterns below to show off the dog’s movement. It will always be the judge’s preference when it comes to asking for pattern work. Below is a list of patterns that are commonly used in the show ring.

The triangle

This is the most common shape used in the ring as it shows rear, side and front movement of your dog. Start with your dog in front of the judge with your dog’s lead in your left hand, make sure your dog is in line with where you are going, move off in a straight diagonal line towards the right-hand corner of the ring, when you reach the corner turn neatly left and follow the back edge of the ring straight along. When moving your dog, do not stop at the corner, but slow down to create a flowing sharp turn, always encourage your dog with voice commands. When you reach the left-hand corner of the ring, turn left again and create the last diagonal straight line back to the judge.

The straight up and down

This is another commonly used pattern. Position your dog in front of the judge’s feet and you will be just to the right, with your dog’s lead in your left hand. Look directly in front of you and fix your eyes on something to head for in order to create the perfect straight line. Move in a straight line to the end of the ring, turn around and move straight back towards the judge.

The circle

This can be asked for by the judge at any point during the class but is mainly used at the beginning or the end of a class to compare dogs. Move off to the right (anti-clockwise around the ring) with your dog’s lead in your left hand and follow the ring all the way around the edge and stop once you reach your place in the ring again. You may be asked to complete more than one circuit, so listen to what the judge is asking for. If you are asked to move around the ring with other dogs, do not go too close to the dog in front - keep a distance that is comfortable so you can move your dog at the correct speed.

When placed, what do I do next?

The judge will write a critique on the first two placed in every class and at some shows will go down to third.

The stewards will let you know when handing out the place cards if you are required to stay for a critique. Critiques will be published in the Our Dogs newspaper.

If I am not placed, and/or I disagree with the judge's decision, what do I do next?

You should never question the decision of the judge. You have entered the show to get that judge’s opinion and if he/she does not place your dog, remember that you may have better luck on another day. Always stay in line until you are asked to leave or wait until the final dog has received its placement card before leaving the ring. It is always nice when you win a placing, so say 'well done' to those around you.

Remember to treat those around you the same way as you would wish to be treated.

How do I compete for Best in Show at general championship shows?

At championship and breed club shows, dogs and bitches have the same classification but are sometimes judged separately. When the judge has completed all the dog classes, each unbeaten class winner will then compete for best dog. The same procedure then takes place for the bitches, after which the judge chooses Best of Breed from the Best Dog and the Best Bitch.

There are seven groups – working, pastoral, utility, hound, toy, terrier and gundog. At the end of each day, after the completion of the breed judging, all best of breed winners in their relevant groups compete in the group ring. Here, a different judge chooses the best exhibit, which is known as the group winner. In each group, the dogs are placed 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th.

Once all groups have been judged, all seven group winners compete in the best in show ring under yet another judge, who after a final assessment, chooses the Best in Show winner and the Reserve Best in Show winner.

How do I compete for Best in Show at open shows (excluding breed club shows)?

At open shows there are two different types of judging which will enable you to compete in Best in Show. These are referred to as ‘on the group system’ and ‘not on the group system’.

On the group system

This will work in the same way as competing for Best in Show at a general championship show. The only difference being one is licensed as an open and the other as a championship show.

Not on the group system

This is where all Best of Breed winners across all of the seven groups (if there are all seven classified) will compete for Best in Show. There will be no group competition and therefore the process is, 1st in your class, Best of Sex (if they have separate classes for dogs bitches) and Best of Breed, Best in Show.

Once home, what should I do?

Some days you may be disappointed in the result you achieved, but always remember that there are plenty more opportunities for you to do better next time.

Social media is a great tool to share your results but always remember that it can be upsetting and hurtful to other exhibitors/judges if your views are negative.

Please note: If your dog has had an operation that alters its natural conformation, you must write to The Kennel Club to seek permission to continue to show your dog before entering any more shows. In order to preserve the integrity of our register of purebred dogs, we need to know that the dogs being exhibited at shows are the best examples of the breed and have not been surgically altered to improve their chances of winning. If in doubt, check with us.

Next steps - competing in dog shows

Once you have attended your first show, you will now become an exhibitor. Learn more about competing in dog shows.