Intelligent Choice of the Right Pet Dog (A Case Study)
THE SPORT OF DOGS
THOUSANDS OF COMPETITIVE EVENTS ARE HELD ANNUALLY UNDER AMERICAN Kennel Club rules. These events are divided into three realms: dog shows, companion events, and performance events. In each category, there are formal, licensed events (shows or trials at which points are awarded toward championships or titles) and informal events (match shows or practice events at which no points or titles are earned). Dogs can compete for titles, which are then officially recorded in the dog’s permanent AKC record.
The signature event held under AKC rules is the dog show, or conformation event. After being examined by a judge, dogs are placed according to how well (in the judge’s opinion) they measure up to their breed standard.
To be eligible to enter, an AKC-registered dog must be at least six months old on the day of the show and be of a breed for which classes are offered in the premium list (the list of breeds being shown, obtained from the show secretary of the club sponsoring the show, or from the show superintendent). Spayed or neutered dogs are ineligible, as are those with disqualifying faults as described in their breed standard.
There are three types of dog shows: specialty, group, and all-breed. Specialty shows are limited to dogs of one breed and group shows are limited to a particular AKC group. All-breed shows, as the name indicates, are for all AKC breeds.
Most show dogs are competing for points toward their championship. To become an official AKC champion of record, a dog must earn a total of 15 points. These points are awarded based on the number of dogs in actual competition—the more dogs, the more points. The number of dogs required for points varies with the breed, sex, and geographical location of the show. The AKC makes up a schedule of points each year to help equalize competition from breed to breed and area to area.
Dogs can earn from 1 to 5 points at a show. A win of 3, 4, or 5 points is called a major. The 15 points required for a championship must be won under at least three different judges, and must include two majors won under different judges.
There are six regular classes in which dogs seeking points may compete. (Dogs competing for points are frequently referred to as class dogs.) These classes are Puppy Dog (frequently subdivided into 6-to-9 Months and 9-to-12 Months); 12-to-18 Months; Novice (dogs that have no points toward their championship and have not won three first prizes in the Novice class or a first prize in any but the Puppy classes); Bred by Exhibitor (the dog must be owned or co-owned by any one of the breeders of record or a spouse and must be shown by one of the breeders or a member of their immediate family); American Bred; and Open.
There is no intersex competition in these classes; dogs compete against other dogs, and bitches against other bitches. Only one male (dog) and one female (bitch) of each breed can win points at a show.
Judging in every breed proceeds along the same lines. The judge begins with the Puppy Dog class. In each class the dogs are evaluated and placements are made for first, second, third, and fourth. Only the first-place winner in each class remains in competition; the others are eliminated.
After the judge has completed the Puppy Dogs, 12-to-18 Month Dogs, Novice Dogs, Bred-by-Exhibitor Dogs, American-Bred Dogs, and Open Dogs, the first-place winners from each class are brought back to compete against one another. This is called the Winners class. The dog selected best is the Winners Dog. He is the male who receives the points at the show. Next, the dog that placed second to the Winners Dog in his original class is brought into the ring to compete with the other class winners for Reserve Winners Dog. The Reserve Winners Dog will receive the points if for any reason the Winners Dog is disallowed by the AKC.
The same process is repeated in bitches, resulting in a Winners Bitch (the only bitch of the breed to receive points at the show) and a Reserve Winners Bitch.
Next, the Best of Breed class is judged. All the dogs and bitches that are already champions enter in the ring for this class, joined by the Winners Dog and the Winners Bitch. The judge examines all the entries and selects one Best of Breed. Then, between the Winners Dog and Winners Bitch, the judge selects a Best of Winners. If either the Winners Dog or the Winners Bitch is selected Best of Breed, it automatically becomes Best of Winners. (The Best of Winners gets the higher number of points, too. If the points at the show for the defeated Winner were higher than those of the Best of Winners, the Best now gets the same higher total.) The judge finishes the breed judging by selecting a Best of Opposite Sex to the Best of Breed.
At all-breed shows, this process of elimination takes place in every breed. Each Best of Breed winner then competes against other Best of Breed winners within its breed group (Hound, Sporting, etc.). In the group judging, the judge’s job is to pick the dog that most embodies the standard for its breed. Four placements are awarded in each group, but only the first-place winner remains in competition. Finally, the seven group winners are brought into the ring and a Best in Show winner is selected. At the largest all-breed shows, more than 3,000 contestants are narrowed down to a single Best in Show winner.
Competing in shows is great fun for you and your dog. If you are interested in attending a show, you may find information in your local newspaper, at shops catering to pet owners, or at akc.org. A complete listing of nationwide shows is published each month in the AKC EVENTS CALENDAR, which accompanies a subscription to the AKC GAZETTE.
For advice on how to get your dog and yourself ready to show, the best place to turn is a dog club. Clubs that give shows often offer classes which teach the basics of handling show dogs. Many fine books on the subject are also available at bookstores or libraries. Some people prefer to have their dog shown by a professional handler, sometimes called an agent. Before you hire a professional handler, talk to several, evaluate their rate schedules, visit their facilities, and ask for references. Observe them both in and out of the ring. A professional handler is entrusted with your dog’s care, so make sure you are entirely comfortable with the arrangement. (To find an AKC registered handler in your area, visit akc.org.)
AKC Junior Showmanship classes offer youngsters aged nine to eighteen the opportunity to develop their handling skills, practice good sportsmanship, and learn about dogs and dog shows.
Juniors are judged on their ability to present and handle their dogs within the same format and guidelines as those who compete in the conformation ring. The quality of the presentation, not the quality of the dog, is judged. Juniors are encouraged to develop their handling abilities, dress appropriately, conduct themselves in a proper manner, and present their dog in a well-groomed condition.
Junior Showmanship competitions are divided into Novice and Open classes. Novice classes are for juniors who have not won three first-place awards in a Novice class. It gives beginners a chance to gain experience and confidence. Open classes are for juniors with three or more first-place wins. Classes may also be subdivided by age.
Even though the dogs are not being judged, they must be eligible to compete in dog shows or companion events. The dog must be owned or co-owned by the junior, or a member of the junior’s immediate family or household.
Junior Showmanship is not limited to conformation showing. More than ever before, young dog enthusiasts are competing in the full range of companion and performance events. By signing up for a free subscription to the e-newsletter “AKC Jr. News” at akc.org, you can learn more about juniors and their involvement in virtually every realm of AKC activity.
Obedience trials test a dog’s ability to perform a set of exercises that are scored by a judge. Conformation is not a factor here; in fact, obedience trials are open to dogs that would be disqualified from the show ring, and spayed bitches and neutered dogs are welcome.
Any purebred dog over the age of six months and registered with the AKC can enter an obedience trial. Obedience is also open to breeds in the Miscellaneous class and dogs with an Indefinite Listing Privilege (ILP) number—purebred dogs without registered parents that, nevertheless, meet certain criteria. (For more information about ILP numbers, call the AKC at 919-233-9767 or visit akc.org.)
Training for obedience, or simply for a well-behaved companion dog, should begin early. For puppies two to five months old, puppy kindergarten classes that focus on basic skills are very useful. There are also basic training classes for five- to six-month-old dogs. Although many people begin training with very young puppies, it’s never too late to start.
Once you’ve gained some experience, you can test your skills at informal obedience matches. Although you won’t earn points toward your title, you will get a sense of the competition. Next, observe the participants at real trials and meet some people with valuable experience in the sport.
Competition in the obedience ring is divided into three levels, each more difficult than the previous one. At each level a competitor is working for an AKC Obedience title. The following are the three levels and titles:
Novice—Companion Dog (CD)
Open—Companion Dog Excellent (CDX)
Utility—Utility Dog (UD)
To receive an obedience title, a dog must earn three legs in competition. To achieve a leg, a dog must score at least 170 points out of a possible 200 and get more than half the points available for each exercise. The exercises vary for each title.
Work at the Novice level includes the basic training that all dogs should receive to be good companions. Dogs need to demonstrate heeling both on and off lead at different speeds, coming when called, staying with a group of other dogs when instructed to do so, and standing for a simple physical examination.
Open, the second level, is similar to Novice but requires the dog to perform only off lead and for longer periods. There are also jumping and retrieving tasks. The final level, Utility, adds still more difficult exercises, and the dog must also perform scent-discrimination tests.
The best of the best may go on to earn more titles. A Utility Dog that earns qualifying scores in both the Open B and Utility B classes at ten different events becomes a Utility Dog Excellent (UDX). Utility Dogs that place first or second in Open B or Utility classes can earn points toward an Obedience Trial Champion (OTCH) title. (B classes are for experienced handlers; A classes are for beginners whose dogs have never received a title.)
Tracking tests allow dogs to demonstrate their natural ability to recognize and follow human scent. This vigorous outdoor activity is great for canine athletes of all sizes. Unlike obedience trials that require a dog to qualify three times, a dog must complete only one track successfully to earn a title.
As in obedience, there are three levels of competition. A dog earns a Tracking Dog (TD) title by following a complex track laid by a person 30 minutes to two hours before the event. To earn a Tracking Dog Excellent (TDX) title, a dog must successfully follow a track that is older, longer, and less direct, while overcoming physical and scenting obstacles. Finally, a dog that can track through urban settings as well as through wilderness can earn a Variable Surface Tracking (VST) title. VST dogs demonstrate this ability by following a three- to five-hour-old track over a variety of surfaces, such as down a street, through a building, and across a lot. A dog that achieves all three titles TD/TDX/VST becomes a Champion Tracker (CT).
Agility is open to all breeds. Dogs must be at least one year old to participate. The trials allow a dog to demonstrate the ability to negotiate a complex obstacle course that includes walking over a bridge, weaving in and out of a series of poles, jumping through and over objects, traversing tunnels, and pausing on command. There are different height categories for the jumps, so each dog can be tested fairly.
Agility is exciting for dogs, handlers, and spectators. Trials are held by AKC-LICENSED agility clubs, as well as many breed and obedience clubs. Many clubs also offer classes and less formal sanctioned trials for beginners. A list of clubs offering agility trials is available from the AKC Customer Service department or at akc.org.
There are three classes at an agility trial: Novice, Open, and Agility Excellent, with five different height divisions in each class. The course is the same for every class, but the scoring gets more and more demanding as you progress through the classes.
Credit toward AKC agility titles is earned only by qualifying in AKC-licensed and member club agility trials. In order to acquire a title, a dog must earn a qualifying score in its class at three different trials under two different judges. The maximum attainable score in any class is 100 points, and in order to earn a qualifying score a dog must receive 85 points or more and not be disqualified. The titles are Novice Agility (NA), Open Agility (OA), Agility Excellent (AX), and Master Agility Excellent (MX).
To earn the MX title, a dog must first have an AX, and then must receive qualifying scores in the Agility Excellent class at 10 licensed trials.
The AKC Rally program was launched on January 1, 2005, and was an immediate hit with novice dog-sport enthusiasts and seasoned obedience trainers alike. Rally is an exciting family activity that emphasizes fun for dogs, owners, and spectators.
In rally, a dog-and-handler team negotiate a course of exercises according to sequentially numbered signs, in a manner similar to rally auto racing. The team works at its own pace, with the dog heeling from sign to sign.
Each sign contains a pictograph that illustrates a particular exercise. There are fifty exercise signs that judges can choose from to design courses unique to each trial. The number of required exercises can increase with each level of competition:
In Novice, all exercises are performed on leash. The Rally Advanced and Rally Excellent classes offer exercises that are more challenging, and these classes require that all exercises be performed off leash.
After saying “Forward” to start the run, the judge steps back and allows the dogs and handlers to work through the course, one team at a time. Scoring is on a 100-point scale; the time of the run is used as a tiebreaker.
Rally differs from traditional obedience competition in several ways, the most noticeable being that a handler may use hand signals, verbal encouragement, and generous applications of body language to urge their dog through the course. AKC-registered dogs of any breed may participate, and spayed or neutered dogs are eligible. Children are especially welcome, and many clubs offer special prizes for their top juniors.
Field Trials and Hunting Tests
Field trials and hunting tests are practical demonstrations of a dog’s ability to perform the functions for which it was bred. Field trials are open to registered pointing breeds, retrievers, spaniels, Beagles, Basset Hounds, and Dachshunds that are more than six months old. Pointers, retrievers, and spaniels, including those with ILP numbers, are eligible for hunting tests. The AKC licenses or sanctions individual clubs that sponsor hunting tests and field trials conducted under AKC rules and regulations.
In hunting tests, the dog’s ability to perform is judged against a standard of perfection established by the regulations. Dogs receiving qualifying scores at a number of tests achieve titles of Junior Hunter (JH), Senior Hunter (SH), and Master Hunter (MH). Each successive title requires greater skill. At field trials, dogs compete against one another for placements and points toward their championships. Successful dogs in the Sporting Group can earn a Field Championship (FC) or can earn an Amateur Field Championship (AFC). Basset Hounds and Dachshunds can earn only a Field Championship.
These field events are divided by type of dog (spaniels, retrievers, and so on) and sometimes are limited to specific breeds. Each type of event varies according to the breed’s function as a hunting dog.
Beagles may compete in three types of trials: Brace, in which groups of two or three dogs are judged primarily on their accuracy in trailing a rabbit; Small Pack Option, in which the dogs are divided into packs of seven to pursue rabbits; and Large Pack trials, in which dogs are turned loose to find and track hares.
Basset Hound and Dachshund field trials are held separately, although they are run in a similar fashion to the Beagle Brace trials. Hunting tests are not available for these three hound breeds.
Pointing-breed field trials and hunting tests are open to Brittanys, English Setters, German Shorthaired Pointers, German Wirehaired Pointers, Pointers, Gordon Setters, Irish Setters, Spinoni Italiani, Vizslas, Weimaraners, and Wirehaired Pointing Griffons. Run in pairs around a course on which birds are liberated, the dogs demonstrate their ability to find birds, point staunchly, and retrieve downed birds.
Retrievers are tested on their ability to remember (mark) the location of downed birds and return those birds to their handlers. The hunting tests and field trials have different levels of difficulty and require dogs to mark multiple birds and, at higher levels, find unmarked birds (called blind retrieves). The eligible breeds are the Chesapeake Bay Retriever, Curly-Coated Retriever, Flat-Coated Retriever, Golden Retriever, Labrador Retriever, Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever, and Irish Water Spaniel. Standard Poodles are eligible to participate in Retriever Hunting Tests.
Spaniels are judged on their natural and trained ability to hunt, flush, and retrieve game on both land and water. Clumber Spaniels, Cocker Spaniels, English Cocker Spaniels, English Springer Spaniels, Field Spaniels, Sussex Spaniels, and Welsh Springer Spaniels are eligible to compete. Field trials are available for Cocker Spaniels, English Cocker Spaniels, and English Springer Spaniels.
If you are interested in pursuing this type of competition, local dog clubs can lend support with training and advice. Once you’ve gotten started, you can try your hand at sanctioned events, which are practice events held by field or dog clubs. The next step would be to attend some actual tests and trials to observe and mingle with competitors.
Herding Tests and Trials
AKC herding tests and trials are open to dogs of any registered Herding Group breed that are at least nine months old. Samoyeds and Rottweilers are also eligible. These events are designed to allow dogs to demonstrate their ability to herd livestock (sheep, cattle, goats, or ducks) under the direction of a handler.
In the herding test section, dogs can earn the titles of Herding Tested Dog (HT) and Pre-Trial Tested Dog (PT). The first title is awarded to dogs that show an inherent herding ability and the capacity to be trained in herding. A PT title is earned by dogs with some training in herding that can herd a small group of livestock through a simple course.
Trials offer four titles; the first three are Herding Started (HS), Herding Intermediate (HI), and Herding Excellent (HX). After earning an HX, dogs can then accumulate the necessary 15 championship points for the Herding Championship (HC). Such a dog is proficient in herding and capable of controlling even the most difficult livestock in diverse situations. The trials are run on three distinct courses, which differ in both physical appearance and style of herding.
Lure coursing is to sighthounds what field trials are to scenthounds and sporting breeds: the chance for dogs to prove themselves doing what they were originally bred to do. For sighthounds, this means running down fleet-footed prey, sometimes over great distances. An exciting, fast-paced event, lure coursing keeps sighthounds physically and mentally fit.
In an AKC-licensed lure coursing event, the dogs follow an artificial lure around a course on an open field. Entrants must be at least one year old and be a member of the sighthound family: Afghan Hounds, Basenjis, Borzoi, Greyhounds, Ibizan Hounds, Irish Wolfhounds, Italian Greyhounds, Pharaoh Hounds, Rhodesian Ridgebacks, Salukis, Scottish Deerhounds, and Whippets. Competitors must be free of breed disqualifications; check the breed standard or the lure coursing regulations for more information.
Coursing dogs are scored on speed, enthusiasm, agility, endurance, and ability to follow the lure (a set of plastic bags). They can earn the title of Junior Courser (JC), Senior Courser (SC), Field Champion (FC), and Master Courser (MC). Many AKC-affiliated clubs offer noncompetitive lure coursing clinics for novices; a list is provided in the EVENTS CALENDAR. For a list of clubs approved for lure coursing events, visit akc.org.
Earthdog tests are for dogs that were originally bred to pursue quarry in dens or tunnels, called going to ground. Dachshunds and the smaller terriers—Miniature Schnauzers, and Australian, Bedlington, Border, Cairn, Cesky, Dandie Dinmont, Fox (Smooth and Wire), Glen of Imaal, Parson Russell, Lakeland, Manchester, Miniature Bull, Norfolk, Norwich, Scottish, Sealyham, Silky, Skye, Welsh, and West Highland White terriers—are eligible. Dogs must be at least six months old to enter.
The object of an earthdog test is to provide an opportunity for the dog to display the ability to follow game and work quarry (show interest in the game by barking, digging, and scratching). The quarry is either live (two adult rats, caged for their protection) or artificial, in which case it is located behind a barrier, properly scented and capable of movement.
Tests are run at four different levels. In Introduction to Quarry, the dog does not receive any qualifications or titles, but simply gets a taste of what it’s like to be in a den and scent the prey. After passing this test, dogs advance gradually through the ranks. Titles are awarded for Junior Earthdog (JE), Senior Earthdog (SE), and Master Earthdog (ME). Each test requires a greater degree of skill in detecting and following a scent, gameness, and den savvy than the previous one. The distances from which a dog must locate the den, and the complexity of the tunnels it must maneuver in the dark, become increasingly more difficult.
For a list of clubs that are approved to hold earthdog tests, visit akc.org.
The six Coonhound breeds that participate in these events are Treeing Walker Coonhound, Black and Tan Coonhound, Plott, American English Coonhound, Bluetick Coonhound, and Redbone Coonhound. Coonhound clubs offer “nite” hunts, field trials, water races, and bench shows. A national championship is held each year.
CANINE GOOD CITIZEN
Administered by dog clubs and community-minded organizations throughout the United States, the AKC Canine Good Citizen® program is a fun, noncompetitive way to ensure that dogs are respected members of society. The program is based on ten tests, each designed to show that dogs can be well-behaved at home, in public, and around other dogs. All dogs, purebred and mixed-breed alike, are welcome to become AKC Canine Good Citizens.
It is not difficult to prepare for the Canine Good Citizen test. In brief, the first test demonstrates that the dog will accept a friendly stranger. The second test demonstrates sitting politely while being petted by a friendly stranger. In the third test, the dog will permit an inspection and brief grooming by the stranger. The fourth test demonstrates that the handler is in control of the dog while out for a walk on a loose leash. The fifth test shows that the dog can move politely through a crowd. In the sixth test, the dog remains in place on a sit or down when commanded by the handler. The seventh test demonstrates that the dog can be easily calmed following play or praise. The dog must demonstrate polite behavior around other dogs in the eighth test. In the ninth test, the dog must react confidently to distractions. Finally, in the tenth test, the dog shows that it can maintain good manners while left on its own. All of the tests are evaluated on a pass/fail basis.
For more information about the Canine Good Citizen test, call the AKC Customer Service department at 919-233-9767 or visit akc.org.