Each ANKC recognised breed has a "breed standard" document which describes how the ideal dog of that breed should look. At a conformation show, dogs are examined to see how well they conform to that ideal, with the dog who, in the judge's opinion, is the most correct, taking out the Best of Breed award.
Dogs are able to be shown at almost any age, the only exception being puppies under the age of three months. They must however, be purebred and registered with the ANKC on the main register if they are entire, or the neuter register if they are desexed. The ANKC now allows neutered dogs to compete, however, they do not compete against entire dogs and have their own points system and titles. Baby puppies (those under the age of 6 months) are not eligible for title points so are judged separately from the older dogs.
In the show ring the dogs are grouped firstly by gender (males and females are judged separately) and then into classes, mostly based on their age or place of birth. They are then judged against the breed standard and a 1st and 2nd place winner is chosen from each class. The 1st place winners from all the classes then brought into the ring together to run off to find the best male (Dog Challenge Certificate "DCC") and best female (Bitch Challenge Certificate "BCC"). The dog/bitch who was awarded the 2nd place in the class the DCC or BCC winner came from is then brought into the ring to run against the 1st place winners from the other classes to find the Reserve Dog (RDCC) and Reserve Bitch (RBCC) winner. It is not uncommon for the DCC/BCC winner and RDCC/RBCC winner to come from the same class.
The DCC and BCC winner are then run off against one another to find the Best of Breed (BOB). If the DCC winner takes BOB, the RDCC winner is then brought into the ring to compete against the BCC winner and vice versa to find the Runner Up To Best Of Breed (RUBOB) winner.
6 title points are awarded to the DCC and BCC winners, as well as 1 point for every dog or bitch they beat. The BOB winner also recieves 1 point for every dog of the opposite sex they beat, up to a maximum of 25 points. The neuter points system works in a similar way, however, it is still uncommon for shows to offer multiple neuter classes, instead running only an open neuter class for dogs and for bitches, and then running the winner of these classes off for the Best Neuter Of Breed winner. The same idea applies, with the best neuter dog and best neuter bitch being awarded 6 points, plus one point for every dog/bitch they beat. The best neuter of breed is also awarded the points for the opposite sex.
To make matters more confusing, the ANKC recognises 7 distinct groups of dogs. The different breeds are organised into these groups according to the breeds' original purpose. The groups in order are:
- Toys: small breeds that are primarily kept as companions and pets.
- Terriers: terrier breeds that were bred to hunt vermin.
- Gundogs: hunting dogs primarily used to hunt birds in a variety of settings.
- Hounds: hunting dogs primarily used for scenting or running down quarry.
- Working: herding breeds.
- Utility: working dogs who do not herd or hunt. These include large livestock guardian type dogs, large spitz breeds as well as guard, rescue and messenger dogs.
- Non-Sporting: dogs which cannot be definined by the other 6 groups. This includes dogs with multiple jobs (like the keeshond which is both a barge dog and general farm dog) and dogs whose jobs do not necessarily fall under the other categories, for example, the dalmatian which was originally a carriage dog.
Once all breeds in a group have found their Best of Breed winner, those dogs are then brought into the ring to compete against the other Best of Breed winners to find the Best in Group winner. Once that dog has been found, the RUBOB from that breed comes in to be judges against the BOB winners from the other breeds to find the Runner Up To Best In Group (RUBIG).
Finally, the best in group winners are taken into the ring to compete for the coveted Best in Show (BIS) award. Once the BIS winner has been found, the RUBIG winner from the group the BIS winner came from is brought in to run against the BIG winners from the other 6 groups to find the Runner Up To Best In Show (RUBIS) winner.
The neuter in group and neuter in show awards as well as class in group and class in show awards are organised under the same system.