By Francie Nelson
Each breed recognized for registration by the American Kennel Club has a written standard that describes the ideal appearance (conformation) of the breed, and that also describes the function of the breed. Correct conformation should support the breed's true purpose; for an English Springer Spaniel, this means that its structure and temperament contributes to its ability to do its work as a functional, working hunter.
The written breed standard describes correct structure and identifies serious faults. The breed standard is a "road map" for breeders, and for judges.
Dogs competing in conformation are evaluated by a judge, who determines how closely each Springer entered at a specialty show (competition limited to Springers) or an all breed show (competition for all AKC recognized breeds) "conforms" to the breed standard. Dogs do not compete against each other; rather, they are evaluated one at a time, according to the standard.
Many competitive classes are offered. The genders are divided. Springers who are not yet show champions compete against others of their gender. The genders are further divided by age groups (such as classes for puppies). Adult dogs compete in classes such as "Bred by Exhibitor," which showcases dogs owned and presented by breeders. Fully mature dogs ready to complete their championships often compete in the Open class.
The winners of each class, within each gender, come back into the ring to compete for an award called "Winners Dog" or "Winners Bitch." The winner in each gender is awarded championship points. Fifteen points are required for a Springer to become a show champion. The number of points that can be awarded (never more than five at any one show) is determined by the size of the entry in each gender, and the geographic location of the dog show (the country is divided into regions, for the purpose of calculating the points available in each recognized breed).
Springers that have completed their championship requirements compete for the coveted award of Best of Breed, or Best of Opposite Sex to Best of Breed. The Winners Dog and Winners Bitch are also eligible to compete for Best of Breed. The judge will select either the Winners Dog or Winners Bitch as "Best of Winners."
Judging of conformation competition is complex and subjective. Becoming a knowledgeable observer is fun and rewarding, and there are many dog shows and specialties throughout the United States at which you are always welcome to observe, and to learn. Our web site includes information about local clubs that host their own specialty shows. In addition, there is a once-a-year competition, the National Specialty Show, an official event of the English Springer Spaniel Field Trial Association. The "National" moves around the country and our web site includes a "link" to more information about this year's National. Join us there and see some great Springers, and meet some great Springer people!