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how a conformation dog show works

On the surface, conformation dog shows can look a lot like a dog beauty contest.

(Especially when you have a ring full of impeccably groomed dogs, all carefully handled by people in neat tidy suits)

However, there is a lot more to it than meets the eyes.

These show dogs are ultimately responsible for preserving and protecting their breed by producing quality puppies that will be loved and cherished by the next generation of dog breed enthusiasts.

The Purpose Of Dog Shows

The original purpose of a dog show was to identify the best breeding stock.

The dogs that won, and the puppies they produced, would be best suited to help their owners do various jobs, depending on their breed.

Herding breeds that helped farmers move and manage livestock needed to be alert and physically capable.

Hound breeds that helped hunters hunt and track down prey needed to have a powerful sense of smell/sight and great stamina.

Terrier breeds that helped with rodent control needed to be fearless and compact — capable of fitting into tiny spaces to pursue rats.

As time has progressed, we often do not use our purebred dogs for their original purpose.

So, instead, modern-day dog shows are offered to help preserve the “essence” of the various historical dog breeds.

How A Dog Show Works

Under the trained eye of a conformation judge (breed expert), each dog is evaluated against the breed’s written standard.

The judge examines each dog and places them according to how closely each dog compares with the judge’s mental image of the perfect dog (as described in the breed’s official standard).

The main consideration is the dog’s overall appearance, temperament, and structure.

The judge is looking for characteristics that allow the dog to best perform the function for which his or her breed was bred.

Each dog’s conformational strengths and weaknesses are then carefully considered and the dog that is deemed to most closely conform to the breed standard is awarded points.

What is a Breed Standard?

A breed’s written standard is a description of what an ideal dog from that respective breed should look and act like.

More specifically, a breed standard describes the externally observable qualities of the breed such as structure, movement, and temperament. 

Each breed standard varies across countries and registries (be that AKC, CKC, or FCI), but is ultimately governed by each breed club and their respective members.

Breed standards are used to ensure the quality and integrity of the breed is maintained or, ideally, improved.

The primary purpose of breeding and showing purebred dogs is to preserve the breed as close to the written breed standard as possible.

corgi stacking conformation dog show

What Are Show Dog Judges Looking At?

In a conformation ring, dogs are judged on structure, movement, and temperament.

Judging Structure (Stacked)

Shortly after entering the ring, handlers will set up their dog’s stance in a way that best highlights their structure; this is commonly known as a “stack”.

In both breeds of Corgi, the Pembroke Welsh Corgi and the Cardigan Welsh Corgi, a four-point stack is primarily used to determine their stationary profile.

This style of stack is where all four paws are square and the front legs and back legs align with each other.

An ideal stack allows a judge to easily examine the size, proportions, and general appearance of the dog.

This initial standstill is what a judge typically uses to form the ever-important “first impression” of each dog.

Judging Movement (Gaiting)

After the dogs have been lined up, stacked, and evaluated, the judge will motion to the handlers to do a lap around the ring.

The handlers will then move their dogs into a trot.

While gaiting in a trot, the left legs come together and the right legs separate (and vice versa) as the dog moves forward.

Ideally, a dog’s rear feet should move directly behind their front feet — moving them forward in a perfectly straight line.

Dogs with incorrect structure will typically have to work harder to move around the ring, while dogs with correct structure will move freely and effortlessly. 

In herding breeds, like Corgis, free and easy movement is highly regarded.

“This is a herding dog which must have the agility, freedom of movement, and endurance to do the work for which he was developed”

The Official Pembroke Welsh Corgi Breed Standard, PWCCA
corgi gait for conformation dog show
Pembroke Welsh Corgi “Gaiting”

The Hands-On Examination

Most breeds also have a hands-on examination.

This allows the judge the opportunity to place their hands on the dog to examine, measure, and feel parts of the dog’s anatomy that are otherwise unable to be assessed visually. 

A judge will run their hands along the dog’s body to feel for a dog’s depth of chest, length of loin, structure of the dog’s topline, coat condition, and overall body condition (among other things).

The judge will also take this opportunity to examine the head of the dog.

When looking at the head, judges typically examine the bite, the eyes, and the overall shape or appearance of the head.

If the dog is a male, the judge will also check for two testicles. 

(remember, dog shows are intended to evaluate breeding stock)

Judging Temperament

During this whole process, the judge is watching how the dog reacts to their touch. 

An overly shy or reactive dog can be excused from the ring due to the severity of their temperament. 

Ideally, a dog stands still and enjoys getting looked over by the judge. They should not flinch, or shy away. 

However, no dog is perfect, and minor wiggles and movements are not counted against the dog.

dog gaiting forward conformation show
Cardigan Welsh Corgi “Gaiting”

Awarding Ribbons & Points

Once a judge has thoroughly examined each dog, they are given a final look-over and placed according to their overall conformance to the breed standard.

The dog who places first in the class is the dog that the judge felt came closest to the standard.


While conformation may not seem like the most exciting dog sport the world has to offer, it serves a crucial role in the preservation of historical dog breeds.

For every litter produced by a pair of champion show dogs, there are that many more quality purebred dogs for dog breed enthusiasts to love and cherish.

If you would like to learn more about conformation dog shows and the breed standard, follow the links below.

Pembroke Welsh Corgi and Cardigan Welsh Corgi Breed Standards: