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Dog Show Terms

Learn All the Words and Phrases You'll Hear at Westminster

I recently chatted with dog breeder/handler/owner Brenda Algar, who has spent years in the dog business, about what to expect in a dog show, and as she went on, I realized there was a lot that I didn't know about dog shows. One of the first things to jump out at me was all the terminology. I had no idea what it meant to campaign a dog or what a ringside pickup was. So here you go, everyone, a helpful guide to all the terminology you might hear in reference to the upcoming Westminster show (and any other dog show).

  • Benched show: These are the shows that are designed for the public. The dogs must be kept in a benching area that is designated for them and viewable to the public. This way, people can walk around the benching area and see the dogs and talk to owners and handlers.
  • Best in show judging: The seven winners from the group judging compete against each other for the title of best in show, which is the top honor of a dog show.
  • B*tch: Simply a female dog. No bad connotations with this word in the dog world. It is used very commonly.
  • Breeder: In the dog show world, these are the people who ethically mate dogs to create more show dogs. Sometimes breeders show their own dogs at shows, but not always.
  • Breed judging: This is exactly what it sounds like. It's when all the dogs in each particular breed are judged against each other to pick the best of the breed to send to group judging.
  • Call name: When dogs are registered, they can sometimes have some pretty interesting names, like Cragsmoor Good Time Charlie, the best in show winner at the 2015 National Dog Show Presented by Purina. Thus, dogs are given call names for handlers to use in the ring that are a little easier understood. Cragsmoor Good Time Charlie's call name is simply Charlie.
  • Campaigning a dog: This means that a dog is entered into many shows so as to beat as many other dogs as possible to become nationally ranked.
  • "CH" in front of a dog's name: If this is in front of a dog's registered name, it means he is a champion of record. That means that he has a total of 15 points at licensed AKC shows, and at least six points must be from major wins.
  • Group judging: Each of the best of breed winners then moves on to group judging. There are seven groups: herding, hound, sporting, nonsporting, terrier, toy, and working. One winner is selected from each group to move on to best in show.
  • Handler: These are the people who bring the show dogs into the ring for judging. Sometimes handlers own the dogs they're showing, but not always. Handlers and the dogs they show have a very close relationship, because it's important for the handler to know the dog very well in order to show him to a judge.
  • Lead: Unlike a leash, a lead is a very thin piece of leather or cord used to guide the dog around the show ring.
  • Owner: These are the people who actually own the show dogs. They might just own them on paper but have a handler who takes care of their day-to-day needs and everything at shows. Sometimes owners will show their own dogs at shows, but not always.
  • Points: When dogs win breed judging at shows, they're awarded points. In the US, when a dog reaches 15 points, six of them being from two different judges in major wins, it is considered a champion.
  • Ringside pickup: Sometimes, for one reason or another, a dog will not have a handler for a show and one needs to be substituted in last minute. It's called a ringside pickup because a handler, who doesn't actually know the dog, will step in before judging and show the dog.
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