How I Met My Dog

Dog Show 101 – Viewers Guide to watching the National Dog Show

Here at How I Met My Dog we dive deep and like to find out more about a dog’s individual personality. Tailoring your training and lifestyle to meet your dog’s individual needs and specific learning style will leave both you and your dog feeling at ease and happy in your relationship (we call this ComPETibility). While we don’t like to focus too much on breed, it’s undeniable that there are certain breed characteristics that run through our dog’s DNA and they are part of what make them unique! Learning more about the characteristics of your dog’s breed DNA is a fun way to get to know what makes your dog tick. Watching a dog show is an entertaining way to learn about all different types of dog breeds.

The National Dog show presented by Purina will air on Thanksgiving Day following the Macy’s Day Parade on NBC. If you’ve never watched a dog show before, you should give it a try! They can be super informative and a lot of fun to watch. If you have watched a dog show before, you know that the categories can be a bit confusing. Whether you’re an avid dog show watcher, or are watching for the first time, these tips will help you enjoy watching the National Dog Show!


There are 7 main breed group categories to understand.

1. Sporting

Sporting dogs are dogs that have been bred to hunt game on land and in the water. Sporting dogs are usually high energy, intensely focused and very fit. When watching this category you’ll see Pointers, Retrievers, Setters and Spaniels.

2. Hound

Hounds were also bred for hunting. They typically rely on sight and scent to track game. Hounds are typically very vocal, energetic, smart and fearless. When watching this category you’ll see Beagles, Bassets, Dachshunds and Greyhounds.

3. Working

Working dogs were bred for guarding and labor. Pulling carts and search and rescue are activities that these breeds typically excel in. Working dogs are smart, brave and very loyal. When watching this category you’ll see dogs like the Boxer and St.Bernard.  

4. Terrier

Terriers were bred to catch vermin and chase unwanted pests off of people’s property. They are smart, quick and energetic. In this category you can expect to see dogs like the Scottish Terrier, Jack Russel and Airedale Terrier.

5. Toy

Toy dogs were bred to be companions. They are small, loyal and loving. Favorites like the Chihuahua, Pomeranian and Pug will make an appearance in this category.

6. Non-Sporting

This is a diverse category full of different dogs. Don’t be confused by the name of this category. Non-sporting dogs are often energetic, smart and focused. You’ll see dogs like the Dalmatian, Chow, Bulldog and Poodle in this category.

7. Herding

Herding dogs were bred to herd livestock like sheep on working farms. Herding dogs are fast, smart, responsive and loyal. You can expect to see dogs like the German Shephard, Collie and Old English Sheepdog.

How they Got Here

In order to make it the Best in Show finale, a dog must win their breed category. In order to be selected to compete in your breed category you must win various other titles in your that category at a lot of other shows. Basically, these dogs and handlers have worked really hard to make it to this level of competition!


Judges are choosing a winner based on what dog they believe best exhibits the standard characteristics of their breed. They take into consideration things like size, shape, teeth, joints, disposition and overall pizazz. In order to emphasize their dog’s look, handlers and owners work hard to groom their dog to perfection and practice a lot in order to desensitize their dog to the lights, sounds and excitements of the show ring. You want your dog to clearly be happy to be in the ring but not so excited that they seem distracted or unruly. Being a master of the show ring takes time, consistency and often a bit of natural born talent. If your dog has the personality to be in the ring, no matter what breed category they fit into, they will shine and most likely catch the judge’s eye!

Some Terms to Know

Stacking – Stacking is when a handler poses their dog’s legs and body to create a neat, visually appealing stance.

Pedigree – A dog’s family tree stretching at least three generations.

Handler – The person who takes a dog into the show ring.

Gait – A dog’s movement or step which is often a good indicator of body structure, fitness and overall health.

Baiting – Using a delicious treat to get a dog’s attention and keep them looking alert and excited.

No matter what breed (or mixed breed) of dog you have, watching a dog show can be both informative and entertaining!

Back to Blog