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Conformation Showing:
Learning to handle your dog in the ring.

by Robin Camken
(published with the permission of the author)

Most first time owners of Bernese Mountain Dogs are unfamiliar with dog shows or purebred dog competitions. Depending on the terms under which you purchased your Berner, obtaining a championship may be one of the requirements. Your breeder may think that your puppy has the potential to do well in the show ring and may ask if you are interested in having your dog shown. Once you learn what dog shows are all about, you may want to try your hand in the ring yourself, rather than have someone else do it for you. Showing your dog can be a fun and rewarding.

Left: Rose Tierney with Ch Tertzo's Jester
Right: Krista Rohrbach with MBIS, MBISS Can/Am Ch Bernina Bach Bruno v Lowenzehn

A few things before you start

Before you get started in conformation showing, ask the advice of your breeder as to whether or not your Bernese is suited for show ring competition. All Bernese have faults, some more than others. There is no point spending all the money it takes to show a dog, if they are not of good enough quality or temperament to be competitive.

To enter a dog show, your dog must be registered with the Canadian Kennel Club or another recognized foreign canine registry. The dog must also be intact, (not spayed or neutered). In Canada, your dog can be registered on a non-breeding contract and still enter a dog show. The dog must be six month of age or older to enter a Championship show.

Finally, obtaining a Championship does not mean your dog has the qualities necessary to become a candidate for breeding. Remember, a dog show is about a dog's outward physical appearance and not its ability to produce a quality litter. Obtaining a championship is just one of many steps that go into the deciding what makes a potential brood bitch or stud dog.

Junior Handlers at the 2001 Specialty Show



Training for a dog show is a little different than obedience training. You want your dog to pay attention to you, to trot in a straight line, stand when you stop, and allow a judge to examine them from head to toe. It is a good idea to take some show handling classes before you compete to learn the show ring routine and protocols. Instruction in show handling usually includes: ring patterns and gaiting, how to stack and present your dog, and how to use bait. It is also recommended that you try a few fun matches before entering a real show ring. Fun matches are an excellent way to test your skills and get feedback from the judge on how to correct any mistakes. Contact your local Kennel Club to find out when and where the next Correction Match or Sanction Match is going to be held.


Another aspect of showing is grooming. Grooming for the show involves accentuating the dog’s qualities primarily by improving the appearance of their coat. Fortunately for Bernese, there should be limited grooming involved. Their feet need to be trimmed, the hair on their ears tidied up, and a good bath and blow dry to improve the look of their coat. You may want to leave this task up to a professional groomer your first few times in the ring, but as you become more experienced, your grooming skills should also improve.

The Dog Show

The goal of a dog show is to choose the best dog from the best examples of the breed presented on that day. The judge's job is to compare the physical attributes of the dogs to the breed standard and to the other dogs in the ring. At the end of judging the best example of breed is chosen.

Chantal Therrien showing her boy Sierra (Ch Nevada)

The Breed Standard

The breed standard is a description of the ideal physical characteristics for a specific breed of dog. The standard illustrates in words the appearance and structure of the perfect Bernese Mountain Dog, if one existed.

Structure of a Canadian Dog Show

Conformation dog shows in Canada consist of three main stages: the breed competition, the group competition, and the best in show competition. The breed level starts with a competition between the dogs of various classes. Examples of the classes that can be entered are:

bulletJunior Puppy: dogs between 6 months & under 9 months on the
 day of the show.
bulletSenior Puppy: dogs between 9 months & under 12 months on the day of the show.
bulletCanadian Bred: dogs born in Canada.
bulletBred By Exhibitor: the handler of the dog is the breeder and owner.
bulletOpen: all dogs

Males and females are judged separately.

A Puppy Class at 2003 Specialty Show

The winners among the dogs in each class then compete for the best male (Winner’s Dog) and best female (Winner’s Bitch). The two “Winners” dogs are awarded a set number of points depending on the number of dogs entered in the competition. These points go towards a championship title.

Dogs Competing 1 2 3 to 5 6 to9 10 to 12  13 or more
Points Allocated 0 1 2 3 4 5

At this point in the breed competition another class of dogs enters the ring. These dogs are called “Specials” and are dogs that have already obtained a championship. The Winner’s Dog and Winner’s Bitch compete against the Specials for the Best of Breed ribbon. At the end of the breed competition ribbons or prizes are awarded for Best of Breed, Best of Opposite Sex, and Best of Winners. If you have a puppy, the puppies then go back into the ring to compete for Best Puppy in Breed.

A championship title is awarded when the dog has earned a total of 10 points under at least three different judges.

Most important: Don’t forget to have fun while you’re in the ring. If you’re happy, your dog will be too.


A great resource for finding upcoming shows and show results is Canuck Dogs website.

For a Schedule of upcoming Dog Show in Canada Championship Dog Shows see

Here’s a site that will answer all your questions about the strange dog show terminology.

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