Why Are Dog Shows are Only for Pure Bred Dogs?

On June 28, 1859 

— a bright summer day in the United Kingdom -- a committee of local hunters held the world's first official dog show in the town of Newcastle upon Tyne.

By Don Bullock

I get asked this question often. The people who ask are genuinely wondering why they don’t see shows for rescue dogs or mixed breeds. Some of the questions came about because of a TV show where they had a “dog show" for “rescue” dogs. Those who ask don’t understand the reason for dog shows and think they are like beauty contests and that the dogs have to be trained to perform. Dog shows are judged on the conformation of the dogs in relation to the ideal dog of their specific breed - the breed Standard. These are actual written standards for each individul breed. Basset hounds are judged based on the AKC Standard for Basset Hounds. There is a copy of this Standard on this website.

Dog shows came from agricultural shows where farmers showed their animals. The animals were judged by a panel of judges who selected those that they thought would produce the best offspring. At these shows dogs were shown alongside of cattle, hogs, chicken and any other farm animals that were included at the shows. You may have seen these types of shows at county and state fairs. Some still include events for dogs.

Eventually most dog shows were separated out from the other animals. The judges of these dog shows came from the ranks of respected breeders and people who used the dogs for the task for which they were bred. While hounds and some other breeds were bred for hunting or assisting somehow in a hunt others were bred for herding or doing some different forms of work while some, like toy dogs, were just bred for companionship.

As time went on some of those who were highly respected in their breeds wrote down what they expected in an exceptional example of their breed. While these descriptions were often written for magazines, as newspaper articles or just included in letters to a friend or another breeder some became well known and were used as a written description of the breed.

Eventually organizations like the American Kennel Club in the United States, the Kennel Club in the United Kingdom and groups in some in other countries started registering pure bred dogs and keeping track of their breeding. These organizations established stud books in which all the breedings of each registered breed were recorded. Since these registries had breeding records for pure bred dogs in their respective countries they started getting involved in dog shows which eventually led to them being used as the sanctioning body for the shows.

Today’s dog shows are sanctioned by one of the registries that is well respected in each individual country. In the United States for example while there are several registries for dogs only shows sanctioned by the American Kennel Club (AKC) are recognized internationally by the registries in most other countries. In the United Kingdom The Kennel Club is the registry that sanctions dog shows. Each individual country that has dog shows has its own sanctioning organization that is similar to the AKC.

Since these organizations sanction the dog shows the tradition of judging dogs on their potential to produce examples of their breed has continued. Today each breed has its own written standard that judges use to judge the dogs presented to them at dog shows. As happened in the past these standards describe what the ideal dog should be in each breed. While dogs need to be presented to judges so that they can be properly evaluated there is no special training or tricks that are required. Exhibitors do however spend time with their dogs to make sure that they can stand or “stack” properly for a judge. Exhibitors also work on moving or “gating” their dogs so that judges can evaluate their movement. 

Both the AKC and The Kennel Club have established Standards for the breeds they register. In the rest of Europe and in many other countries that have registries for pure bred dogs instead of using their own Standards for dogs they have decided to use the breed Standards of the Federation Cynologique Internationale (FCI) - (cynology is the branch of zoology that studies the dog).

Including non purebred dogs such as mixed breed dogs and dogs that are not registered with the organizations that sanction in dog shows would defeat their purpose. Unless a breeder knows the pedigree or history of a dog’s ancestors as contained in the stud books or pedigrees maintained by the dog registeries the show results would be meaningless. Responsible/reputable breeders use dog show results and the pedigrees of particular dogs to determine if they have a good match. It is only through the registration records or “stud books" that we can track a dog’s pedigree. Any owner or breeder of pure bred dogs has the ability to trace the ancestery of their pure bred dogs for many generations. When Pam and I bred litters I traced the sire and dam’s pedigree for at least ten generations and some I traced back even farther.

Our club has many who are actively involved in showing the dogs they have bread or ones they have acquired from breeders in AKC sanctioned dog shows. Those who breed use the results of the shows to help evaluate their breding stock or the dogs of others that they are considering for a breeding. Without dog shows it would be more difficult to determine the quality of the dogs we breed. Through the shows and their results breeders are getting evaluations from independent, licensed experts on how well a dog conforms to the AKC breed Standard.

There are, however, some other dog competitions that people with non-registered dogs and mixed breed dogs can get involved in. These competitions have become much more prevalent in recent years and can be a lot of fun for the dog and dog owners. In fact the only current AKC event that these dogs can’t be involved in is conformation dog shows.

The BHCSC has many members who are not involved on dog shows. The club encourages them to become active in other AKC events with their dogs. There is a lot of information on this website about those events. Join in the fun. We also invite all our members to our annual basset hound shows so that they can meet reputable/responsible breeders and see some outstanding examples of our breed. Perhaps some of them might want to start getting involved in dog shows too.