What Is Dog Conformation?

This catwalk is for the dogs! Dog conformation is all about the look. First rule: There are no fixed rules.

What is dog conformation?

A coworker was telling me about her new show dog and how perfect his conformation appears.

As we were talking, someone nearby overheard us and asked about dog conformation. She didn’t know what it was, and I offered an explanation.

Dog shows are competitions where people showcase their pets in particular categories or as a member of a specific breed. The conformation part of the judging relates to the dog’s physical appearance and how close that appearance meets the expectations for the breed.

These characteristics can include color, structure, length, size, proportion, bone angle, temperament and movement. Dogs are usually judged on their conformation and not against other dogs.

A Greyhound would be expected to stand tall, have a lean body and have a particular shape to its head while a Chihuahua has short legs and a round head. Judges look at each feature to see how close it matches to the breed’s expectations, and there are other attributes they may review as well.

In the conformation ring, dogs are put on display for inspection by judges. Dogs are trained to be confident and competitive for attention from a young age. The most competitive dogs with happy and confident handlers seem to score better in conformation judging and even more so when the dogs can stack (pose) themselves with little to no direction from their handlers.

A perfect conformation does not ensure the dog’s level of temperament, health or ability to be trained. Serious deficiencies in these areas may cause a dog not to be bred or shown.

If they are lacking in one of these areas, it is possible for that deficiency to overshadow the conformation. Imagine a Pomeranian constantly barking or a Great Dane trying to pull away from its handler. The judge won’t be able to make a proper assessment of the dog’s quality with these distractions diverting their attention.

There are no fixed rules with dog conformation, and the level of judging may depend on the individual’s experience and assessment ability. The official standards for each breed are maintained and updated by the American Kennel Club.

I hope I pass!

There are also different types of shows, and conformation usually plays a part in most. An all-breed show would allow all breeds to attend and be judged based on the conformation to their specific breeds. Specialty shows limit the eligible dogs based on breed, size or other factors, such as a service dog or toy size category.

Junior Showmanship shows are a great way for handlers 10-18 years old to practice and improve their skills as handlers. The handlers are able to compete and have their handling judged, and sometimes they are given feedback and tips for improvement.

This is also a good way for a young adult to experience the show process and determine if it is something they would like to pursue. They are usually judged on how they stack their dog, move the dog in patterns and may be questioned on their knowledge of the dog and its breed.

Some handlers are owners and some are hired people that work in this capacity as their main profession. They might have been a young adult starting in Junior Showmanship shows or an owner with a love of showing off their pet, and it is a great way to introduce your family or children to another facet of the world of dogs.

Besides adding additional training and composure to your pet, there are sometimes awards and prize money given at the shows. Any dog owner is always encouraged to attend a dog show and observe the operation to determine if they are willing to get involved. You just might have the next best in show ribbon!

Photos: carterse/Flickr