For each breed of dog there is a ‘blueprint’ or ‘word picture’ called a breed standard. This describes in detail every aspect of the ideal specimen of the breed. It is these standards to which judges compare the dogs at a dog show, the winners being those which, in the opinion of the judge, come nearest to the standard. Clearly, to win, breeders should aim to produce dogs which, in terms of appearance and temperament, are as close as possible to their breed’s standard.

There are five levels of show: companion, match, limited, open and championship. These will be explained briefly in turn.

Companion shows are staged entirely to raise money for charity. They may include both pedigree and non-pedigree dogs. In general they are regarded as ‘fun’ shows, where winning or losing is of little significance.

Match meetings are knockout tournaments for pedigree dogs registered with the Kennel Club. Up to 64 entered dogs are drawn out of a hat and matched in pairs, each winner going on to meet other winners until a final winner if found. So dogs may compete with dogs of any other breed. These meetings are fun and good experience for all concerned.

The other three levels of show are the serious end of showing and of course are restricted to pedigree dogs registered with the Kennel Club. They may be ‘general’ (catering for dogs belonging to more than one group), ‘group’ (restricted to dogs belonging to one group only - Terriers for example), or single breed shows. The latter are run by breed clubs - there are twleve clubs for Bull Terriers in the UK.

Limited shows can only be entered by the members of the organising club or association. The dogs which may be entered are also limited - to those which have not won any award counting towards the title of champion. The organisers are free to invite anyone to judge. These shows are very useful training grounds for both inexperienced dogs and judges.

Open shows are open to anyone who wishes to enter their dog. The breeds to be exhibited must be judged by ‘approved’ judges - those who appear on at least the B list of a breed club for that breed - except when the number of classes is very few (up to three for Bull Terriers). Competition at a breed club show is often very stiff, and winning dogs may be awarded trophies, sometimes silver ones of significant value - which have to be returned ready for the next show.

Championship shows may only be judged by a person who is approved to judge at this level by the Kennel Club. At these shows dogs compete for ‘Challenge Certificates.’ Three of the latter (won under three different judges at least one after the dog becomes adult) are required for a dog to become entitled to the title ‘Champion.’

Starting showing with your first dog is made easier if you can find a local ring craft class. Here, dogs and handlers learn to show. Experienced handlers find them useful to get their new dogs accustomed to mixing with lots of strange dogs and learning what is expected of them in the ring. Novice owners will find their local ring craft class and breed club are the ideal places to begin a hobby of showing dogs.