Congratulations! You have purchased an AKC registered purebred dog, an addition to your family that has brought a new dimension to your life. But aside from being your best friend, he is quite a handsome animal. You’ve attended dog shows and it looks like something you and your dog would both enjoy. If you’d like to give it a try here’s what to do.


Who can participate
Any dog registered with the American Kennel Club that is 6 months or older on the day of the show and of a breed for which classes are offered in the premium list is eligible to be entered at a dog show.

Spayed or neutered dogs are not eligible to compete in conformation classes at a dog show, nor are dogs with disqualifying faults as per their breed’s standard.

It is always best to discuss your interest in dog showing with your breeder, prior to acquiring a puppy – structure and a “show” personality are critical to success in the breed ring.

What you can do
If you’ve attended a dog show, you’ve already taken an important step in getting involved in the sport of showing your dog. If you haven’t yet attended a show make an effort to do so.

To find out about AKC dog events in your area, you can check the Event Calendar, where you can search by date and by type of event.

You can also use the AKC’s online Club Search to find out about any dog clubs in your area. Local clubs host dog events and typically offer guidance and resources for interested dog owners. Many offer weekly classes in dog training and handling and can provide information about a variety of dog sports.

Learning to show your dog
While visiting the show, inquire at the club table or club tent about breed handling or conformation handling (showing a dog in the show ring). Classes are sponsored by the club. The classes are usually held on weeknights and will teach you the basics of handling your dog. It would also be to your benefit to ask how you may go about joining the club as you are new to the sport and would like to get involved. A list of clubs nationwide is available from the AKC.

Dog clubs are involved in many activities besides putting on a dog show and they all welcome new members who want to lend a hand. You’ll meet new people and share their knowledge and experiences. The club may also have information about match shows in your area. These are fun shows that are used for practice and training of both dogs and novice exhibitors. While these shows award no points toward an AKC title, they are a great place to “get your feet wet” before entering a real show.

Hiring a professional
If you don’t wish to handle your dog yourself, you may contact a professional handler to show your dog. Professional handlers charge a fee for showing dogs, so before hiring a handler make sure you obtain a schedule of the fee. Talk to several handlers, get copies of their rate schedules and visit their facilities. Observe them both in and out of the ring before making up your mind which handler to choose. You will be entrusting them with your dog’s care, so make sure you are entirely comfortable before doing so. If there is something you don’t understand, make sure the prospective handler answers all of your questions before entering into any agreement.

So now you’re on your way. You are entering a sport that will bring many hours of enjoyment and education to every member of your family. You will make many friends in the sport, and will enjoy your dog and your new hobby to the fullest extent. Good luck!


Training and Mental Preparation
Be prepared to develop your own skills; all events will require you to do this. This will take time and patience.

Are you in condition to physically participate? You and your dog will be working as a team, both of you need to have reasonable physical ability.

Do you have the mental ability to train and “know” your dog and what makes him tick?

People of diverse backgrounds and skills compete in all venues. Do you enjoy meeting others, even in a competitive situation?

Be observant of the Top Handlers and competitors. Their actions offer great learning opportunities.

Be prepared that not every dog can be successful in every event; sometimes a change of careers is necessary. The “show puppy” may not like the show ring, but may love retrieving ducks. The obedience prospect may prefer the agility ring. You both need to be flexible.

What are the available areas of conformation competition for my Golden Retriever?

  • Conformation:
  • 4 to 6 month puppy:
  • Owner-Handled Series:
  • Junior Showmanship:
  • Sweepstakes (Puppy &/or Veteran. Offered at Golden Retriever Specialties)
  • CCA – GRCA’s Certificate of Conformation Assessment

How Do I Get Started?
Look for local training classes and matches where you can practice with your Golden companion. Attend Shows, Trials, Matches, and any event you can!

Attend seminars, read books, watch videos on your chosen venue. And talk, talk, talk to people in the sport. Don’t be afraid to ask questions: everyone was once a beginner.

Know the Rules
Get a rulebook and read it before entering. Most Rules are available through web sites of the parent organization at no cost.

Premium Lists
A premium list is basically the announcement of a show or trial. It contains all the information about the date and time, the classes offered, the judges, the club committee members, and the trophies offered. (“Premium” is the old word for “prize”.) These are either printed or mailed by the show secretary or superintendent or, increasingly, are available electronically. Some events offer online registration. Others require it to be mailed. Do not wait until the last minute to enter an event. If there is a mistake, a last minute entry will not offer any time for correcting, prior to the closing date.

The most important part of a premium list is the Entry Form. But, read through the entire document. It can only help you be more prepared for the event.

Arriving at your first trial/show/test (What to expect)
For all events, there is a check-in procedure when you arrive. Conformation/Obedience/Rally all require you to check in at ringside. You will have a Judging Program provided t you by the Superintendent/Secretary to tell you what ring you will be in at these events. It is helpful if you know your ring number and armband number, which were sent with the judging schedule after the entries have closed. For field events, you can look up the running order on the Internet through the entry service you have used.

The purpose of Conformation competition is to present your dog to a qualified judge at which time you are asking for that judge’s opinion as it relates to how well (in the judge’s assessment) your dog conforms to the Golden Retriever Breed Standard. The judge’s job is to consider all of the dogs presented and determine which he/she believes at this point in time which best fits the breed standard – that is the dog awarded Best of Breed for that event.

Conformation Events:

Championship Shows
These are licensed completions where dogs are competing for points and placements towards a Championship or Group Placements and National Rankings.

Matches (A B, C, show-n-go, rent a ring)
These are practice events, where handlers and dogs can practice in a “show-like” atmosphere. Each type of Match has various levels of training allowances, which you should verify before entering the ring.

Specialties and National Specialties.
These are shows that are limited to Golden Retrievers only.

These events are often available at Specialty shows for Puppy Classes and Veteran Classes. Occasionally there may be additional Sweepstakes Classes offered. This information will be listed in the Premium List for the event. See the Sweepstakes Regulations for the GRCA National Specialty and any GRCA Regional Specialties. They are recommended but not required for local Golden Retriever Clubs.

Owner/Handler Series
The AKC National Owner-Handled Series celebrates the dedication and enthusiasm of owner-handler exhibitors and allows them to compete head-to-head against one another in the conformation ring.

Certificate of Conformation Assessment
Noncompetitive Conformation Assessment Program. Hosted by GRCA Member Clubs for purposes of evaluation and education. 

Junior Showmanship
Most AKC Titling Events now have special recognition for Juniors (exhibitors under the age of 18 years). Check Premium Lists for any special entry fees and recognitions that may be available to Juniors. Junior Showmanship in AKC Conformation Events is divided by age and experience. Top Juniors can compete at Westminster and other National Events for Top Honors, and Scholarships 4-H. Many local communities have very active 4-H programs. Check with your local County Extension office for contact information.

Regardless of titles earned, the true reward in participating in Canine Sports is working with your dog. Together you will form an unbreakable bond and the time you spend together will give you great satisfaction and lasting memories.