Cockers in Conformation...
The purpose of the conformation competition is to prove the quality of a breeding animal. That does not mean that those of us crazy enough to compete are not allowed to enjoy it as the wonderful hobby that it is.
Conformation shows are not meant to show which dog is the prettiest, but rather to show which dog most closely conforms to the written standard for the breed to which it belongs. The standard is decided by the parent club of that breed, which for AKC registered Cocker Spaniels is the American Spaniel Club.
The written standard states exactly what each part of the dog should look and feel like. It also states how the dog moves (gaits) and what the temperament should be, and the original purpose of the breed.
When a dog is being shown, each dog is observed stacked and moving, and physically examined by the judge in the class in which it is entered, then compared to others in the same class. The winners of each class are compared and Winners Dog or Bitch is chosen. Winners Dog, Winners Bitch, and any Champions of the Variety, in the case of Cockers, are then compared to choose Best of Breed or Variety. The Best of Variety is then judged against others of the same Group, in our case, the Sporting Group. The Best in Group then competes against the winners of all of the other groups for Best In Show.
In order to become a champion, a dog must earn 15 points, including two major wins under two different judges. A major, determined by the number of dogs defeated in any given breed, is three or more points won at one show.
A dog must be six months of age or older in order to be eligible to earn points. Match shows are a good way to train your dog before it is old enough to be shown for points. They are less expensive to enter, more relaxed, and a good way for both you and your puppy to learn. Also, in most areas of the country, kennel clubs will offer what are called "handling classes". An experienced show person will hold weekly classes, offering advise and an opportunity for both you and your dog to practice the skills necessary to win in a real show.
Once your dog has won enough points to complete its championship, it may be shown as a champion, called "specialing". This is done for a couple of reasons. Points are earned each year a "special" is shown for "rankings", or where the dog ranks with the other specials being shown that year. It's also a good way to show your dog to other members of the fancy who may wish to breed to him, or in the case of a female, purchase a puppy from her or from your lines. A dog can be specialed for as long as the owner, or the dog wish. There are special classes at most specialty shows for veterans, the older dogs. Dog shows are a sport that both professionals and amateur owner/handlers can compete against each other. Usually, but not always, a newcomer to showing must "pay their dues", meaning lose a lot while learning the ropes. Some people are naturals, and have the knack of showing their dogs almost from the beginning. This is rare, but it does happen. It's a great hobby and you can show your dog as much or as little as you want or can afford. Even kids can compete. There are classes for Junior handlers at most shows for kids eight years or older. There are no age limitations in the regular classes, and children as young as four or five have taken dogs into the ring, and sometimes win the points. Parents must, of course, use common sense when allowing a child to show a dog, making sure that the child is able to control the dog at all times, but there are no rules against a youngster showing in regular conformation classes at any age. You can order booklets with all the rules from AKC, and should definitely do so before entering a show. You should be familiar with all rules before showing.