Introduction to Conformation
This article is by Patty Mead and first appeared in the May-June 1996 issue of the VCNC Newsletter. This is meant to be a general introduction to the conformation process with a focus on Vizslas. If you find any inaccuracies here we welcome correction!
Types of Shows
Although there are many sponsored dog shows, we are focusing on the USA's American Kennel Club's (AKC) approved show where CONFORMATION -- or the Vizslas overall conformation to the standard appearance, structure, and movement -- are the judges' main considerations.
There are four kinds of dog shows. The SPECIALTY is a show (or a portion of the show) where the dogs are limited to a specific breed or grouping of breeds. Usually these shows attract many dog owners of that breed. So, if you want to see a larger number of Vizslas, go to the specialty events. (In addition, these specialty shows can provide the winners with a larger number of points to be applied toward the AKC recognized CHAMPION title -- but more on that later.) The other type of show is the ALL-BREED SHOW which is open to all AKC recognized dogs, usually the number of Vizslas at these shows is more limited. Then there is the BENCHED show which is similar to the shows above except that the dogs are benched. This means all the dogs (and owners) must be in a particular and fixed place for the duration of the show and may only leave the bench area to exercise the dog or when they are called into the ring. Finally, there are the MATCH shows. These are real-life practice shows where you can win ribbons but none of the wins count toward the title of champion.
All of these shows have JUDGES (the person(s) making the decisions of who wins), RING STEWARDS (the person who coordinates the rings activities), and the EXHIBITOR (the person showing the dog). While the judges are certified by the AKC as qualified experts in the breed they are judging, neither the ring stewards nor exhibitors are required to have special license. For exhibitors, the only requirement is that they must have pre-entered, and must be showing AKC registered dogs. And, of course, there are the DOGS/BITCHES. However, what must remain clear is that it is the exhibitors that are competing, the dogs are there because we want them to be there.
There are two types of Vizslas competing: non-champions and champions. The non- champions are entered into the CLASSES (or competition categories): puppy (6-9 months, 9-12 months), 12 - 18 month old puppy, bred by exhibitor, novice, American bred, and open. The classes are divided by gender. The champions enter starting with the Best of Breed competition.
Judges examine the Vizslas in each class and PLACES (first, second, third, and fourth places receive ribbons) them in accordance of how closely each dog compares with their personal opinion of what the perfect Vizsla looks, acts, and moves like. The judges opinion should be based on the Vizsla standard as described in the AKC's official documents.
Sometimes you will hear an exhibitor or bystander say that the particular judge likes a certain type of dog. This means that the judge has interpreted the standard in such a way as to focus on a specific item in the standard and rate that item higher than other items. Thus, judges are said to ģlike little dogsī, or ģfocus on movementī, or like the lighter colored dogsī, etc.
The standard against which the dogs are to be compared describe the structure, temperament, and movement, as well as the outright disqualification, for the perfect Vizsla DOG (male) and BITCH (female). Examples of outright DISQUALIFICATIONķS for the Vizsla include a black nose, white hair anywhere except for the forechest, height limits (which differ by gender), etc. Consult the Vizsla standard for further details. The judges evaluate these characteristics by individual physical examination of each dog. They check teeth, muscles, bones, coat texture, and other such evidence. They look at the dogs in profile to judge the general appearance and balance. They watch the dogs move to see how well the dog gaits (which can help in judging the dogs structure).
As was stated above, the exhibitors of the Vizslas in the ring are competing for points toward the dogs championship; 15 points are required. As part of the 15 points, the dog must have at least 2 MAJORS, which are wins worth 3 to 5 points, in order to receive their title. These wins must occur under at least 3 different judges. Points are given only to the winners and the number of points to be won, and whether or not a show is a ģmajorī depend upon the number of Vizslas entered in the competition and the location of the show. Some states require a larger number of entrants before a show can be considered a ģmajorī win. When the dog achieves its championship, it may put a ģCh.ī in front of its name.
If you read the above carefully, you will see that it is possible to have many points and not be a champion; without the Majors, a championship is not possible. Thus you may meet dogs with plenty of points who are wonderful examples of a Vizsla, but if there are few dogs showing, they may have a more difficult time earning their title.
When you are at the show, you will see exhibitors and dogs entering the ring at various times competing against different dogs. That is because this competition is a matter of elimination -- just like in any playoffs.
There are six classes that people can enter: puppy, 12 to 18 month old, Novice, Bred by Exhibitor, American-Bred, and Open. The classes are divided by gender with the males competing first. Each class is judged separately. After the classes are all judged, the first place dogs from each class will re-enter the ring to compete.
From these first place winners, a WINNERS DOG and WINNERS BITCH are chosen and they each receive ribbons and championship points. A RESERVE WINNER ribbon is given to the male and female ģrunner-ups.ī Although the Reserve Winner does not receive points, it is automatically elevated to Winner should something occur that disqualifies the Winners Dog or Bitch.
Then the Winners Dog and Winners Bitch compete with the Champions for the BEST OF BREED title; once a dog has a champion title it can enter this competition without having to win in the other classes. The Champions are called into the ring and the Winners Dog and Winners Bitch move to the end of the line of Champions. The BEST OF BREED is given to the winner in this competition while a BEST OF OPPOSITE SEX is given to the best dog that is opposite to the sex of the dog chosen as Best of Breed.
The BEST OF WINNERS is given to the best dog chosen between the Winners Dog and Winners Bitch.
The Best of Breed winners from all breeds advance to compete in GROUP competition. There are seven AKC recognized Groups; Vizslas are in the Sporting Group. Four placements are awarded in Group competition and the first place winner advances to the BEST IN SHOW competition. The Best in Show has the winners of the seven Groups competing. The winner is given the Best in Show award.
Frankly, Vizslas are rarely given a Best in Show award. One reason may be that the people judging at this level are just not familiar enough with the breed to adequately judge it relative to the other breeds. Thus, whenever a Vizsla wins a Best in Show award, it is a moment to celebrate.