A Class Act – Showing Young Prospects

Handler showing a young dog at a show


It does not matter if you are a long-time breeder, exhibitor, or just a first-time owner—watching your young hopefuls mature is an exciting time. You feed, care, train, and nurture the young prospects with visions of success as they develop in preparation for their ring debut.

When the time approaches that you feel the prospect is ready to hit the ring, you have many choices to make in your effort to make the debut a great experience for both you and your youngster. You will review the premium list for upcoming shows to evaluate the site (determine if the show is indoors or outdoors), the judge, and all the other factors to consider for that premier event.

Once you have decided on the show or circuit, it is time to fill out the entry and start the process.

When you sit down to enter the show, you must decide in which class you will participate. Depending upon the breed, there can be numerous options based upon age, size, color, the experience of the exhibitor, and a multitude of options for you to consider.

First, it should be pointed out that Winners Dog or Winner Bitch can come out of any class. The AKC only requires clubs to offer the American-Bred and the Open Classes at all shows. However, in almost all cases, there are seven regular classes at a conformation dog show—with a few variations.

Most youngsters are initially entered into the Puppy Classes.

The Puppy Class is for dogs at least six months of age and under 12 months of age. These classes may or may not be further divided by age into two classes: 6-9 Months and 9-12 Months.

There may also be 12 months to 18 months of age class offered. This class may also be further divided (just as the Puppy Class) into 12-15 Months or 15-18 Months.

One note of caution is to be sure when entering the Puppy Class or the 12-18 Months Class that you have the birth date and proper class. There have been numerous occasions when the exhibit won the points only to lose them because they were declared ineligible for that class. In most cases, they may have been a day or two older or younger than the class in which they were entered.

The Novice Class is for those dogs that have not previously won three first places in the Novice Class, first place in Amateur-Owner-Handler, Bred-by-Exhibitor, American-Bred or the Open Class, as well as those that have not earned one or more points toward their championship.

Amateur-Owner-Handler is a class in which the dog is being handled by the registered owner of the dog who has not, at any point, been an AKC-approved conformation judge, a professional dog handler or employed as an assistant to a professional handler.

In the world of dog shows, there is probably no single class that carries the significance of the Bred-by-Exhibitor Class. Many may wonder why someone would say that “Bred-By” is more important or significant than the Best of Breed or Group and Best in Show awards of any dog show.

When I think about the Bred-By class, the first thing that comes to mind is that the exhibitor has bred this dog and is very proud of it. It signifies the hard work and planning that, hopefully, went into producing the exhibit. Anyone who has been breeding for any length of time knows all about the work, research, and dedication that go into planning and producing high-quality animals; working toward perfection of the breed standard.

Being a well-respected breeder is not achieved without a lot of blood, sweat, and tears. Anyone can simply mate a male and female, produce a litter, and call themselves a “breeder.” However, the true breeder has dedicated him or herself toward the improvement of the breed not only in their quest for perfection, but also for perfection in health
and temperament.

When we enter the results of our efforts in the Bred-By class we are telling the judge—and everyone else—that we are excited and proud to present this representative of our breed. The Bred-by-Exhibitor Class should NEVER be used as a filler class for any entry. In theory, it should always be one of the strongest classes at any show.

The American Kennel Club awards a special Bred-By Exhibitor Medallion to those exhibitors who complete all points required for their conformation championship title by advancing to the winners’ competition from the Bred-by-Exhibitor Class. Also, those breeders who finish numerous dogs from this class can be awarded silver or gold medallions as special recognition for their dedication to
the sport.

As a judge, breeder, and exhibitor, I know how proud most breeders are to receive the Bred-By Medallion for finishing their dogs from the Bred-By class. This can be made more difficult when the younger dogs under the age of 18 months compete in the class against older, more mature competitors. I know when judging this class, I often ask my steward for the date of birth of any exhibit that I am considering, but also wondering what age it is.

If you follow the Board Meeting Minutes and Secretary’s Page of the AKC, you may have noticed that there is a proposal to add “Bred-by-Exhibitor Puppy” classes for clubs to offer. This, in my opinion, is a fantastic idea and one that I look forward to seeing in the ring soon. By offering these classes, I believe many more exhibitors will work toward earning their championships via the “Bred-By” class.

The American-Bred Class is for those dogs whose sire and dam were mated in America, and the dog was born in the US. This is one of the two classes that are required to be offered by
show-giving clubs.

Last, but not least, is the Open Class. This is also one of the two classes required to be offered at all shows. This class may be entered by any registered eligible dog and is also the only regular class in which champions are eligible to compete.

It should also be mentioned that, in some breeds, the above classes may be further divided by color, coat, size or weight.

As you can see, as an exhibitor, you have many options when it comes to entering your class animals in a competition. Some exhibitors want to finish their youngsters from the Puppy Classes, and many breeders want to earn the prestigious Bred-by-Exhibitor Medallion. In any case, all exhibitors are proud of their dogs and covet that title “Champion.” For those who achieve that goal, some will proceed with a career, looking for a higher ranking within the Breed or Group. Others will seek the title of “Grand Champion” and the various levels that can be achieved under that program.

Showing our dogs is a testament to our great breeders and our goals toward achieving perfection in our breeds. No matter which class—or which path—you choose to achieve your personal goals for that young and promising hopeful, remember first and foremost that no matter the outcome you will still go home with the unconditional love of one of man’s best friends.

Happy Showing!


Featured Photo Courtesy of Terri Hirsch Photography


A Class Act – Showing Young Prospects – Showsight Magazine November 2020 Issue


  • Walter Sommerfelt of Lenoir City, TN has been involved in the sport of purebred dogs since acquiring his first Old English Sheepdog in 1972. He is a former professional handler as well as a breeder, and exhibitor of breeds in all seven groups, most notably Vizslas, OES, Pointers, Bearded Collies and Weimaraners. Judging since 1985 he is approved for All Sporting, Working, and Herding breeds and groups, Junior Showmanship and Best in Show and has had the honor of judging on four different continents. Mr. Sommerfelt has judged many of the most prestigious shows in the United States including the herding group at the 2014 Westminster Dog Show in New York City where he has judged on three separate occasions. Mr. Sommerfelt was the founder and chairman for the St. Jude Showcase of Dogs from 1993 until 2009, a unique event showcasing the world of purebred dogs. This special event was the largest collection of various dog events in one location, featuring an AKC all Breed Dog Show, AKC Obedience and Rally Trials, AKC Agility trials, (prior to AKC adding agility NADAC trials ) One of the largest Fly ball tournaments in the U.S.A., Herding and go to ground demonstrations, A main stage featuring performances by Canines from Television and the Movies, Freestyle, Demos by drug and various therapy dogs, A full room of booths for meet the breeds, over 50 AKC judges seminars annually, Lure coursing, A fun Zone for Children, and other dog related fun activities for the general public and their dogs. Over the years the event not only raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for the world-renowned St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, TN, but also raised awareness of the many activities for people with their dogs as well establishing a voice for dog people in the Memphis area with regard to legislation. Many aspects of today’s AKC Royal Canin show can be traced back to the St. Jude event. Along with Carol his wife of 36 years they have bred well over 90 AKC Champions including Group, Best in Show and Specialty Winners, dual Champions and multiple performance titled dogs. During the past 40 years Mr. Sommerfelt has been active in a number of dog clubs and is currently the President of the Tennessee Valley Kennel Club. He is recipient of the AKC outstanding Sportsmanship Award and is also a career agent and financial planning specialist with Nationwide Insurance. The Sommerfelts’ have two grown children, both former Junior Handlers and they are still active breeders and exhibitors of the Vizsla breed.

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