Conformation is what most people think of as the traditional "dog show".
Some persons' awareness may be limited to watching the annual Westminster Show on television, but dog shows are held in almost every region of the country almost every weekend -- and some weekdays too. They often are not published in your local newspaper, but they are there.
Conformation shows screen each breed for those animals that "conform" to their respective Breed Standard. The Breed Standard for each dog breed recognized by the American Kennel Club (AKC) is prescribed and owned by an AKC member breed club.
The AKC is a club of clubs, with its member clubs being composed of several hundred regional "All-breed" dog clubs, plus one parent club for each recognized breed. The American Belgian Tervuren Club (ABTC) is an AKC member parent club. At present, the AKC recognizes 158 breeds and varieties of dogs. In the entire world, over 400 breeds are recognized by various kennel clubs in the many countries, so many more breeds exist than are recognized by the AKC. The Belgian Tervuren has been recognized by the AKC as a separate breed only since 1959. Lee Giles published an excellent article describing the History of the Belgian Shepherd Dogs in the AKC Gazette. In the USA, the Tervuren also is recognized by the much smaller United Kennel Club (UKC) as a variety of Belgian Sheepdog. Most non-US kennel clubs also treat the Tervuren as a variety of the Chien de Berger Belge, as it was called originally by the French-speaking Belgians.
Appearance is not the only subject of the Belgian Tervuren Breed Standard. The Standard also addresses temperament, bone and muscle structure, jaw alignment, and dentition; as well as those attributes that are visible from ring side, including movement, size, color, and contours. As a result, spectators sometimes wonder why one dog was selected over another, but they couldn't observe what the judge could feel with his hands or could see inside the mouth.
Dogs that are selected by several expert judges, and are found to better conform to their Breed Standard than several competitors, may attain the title "Champion," which entitles the dog to carry the abbreviation "Ch." before its registered name. Almost all Tervuren that are used for breeding have attained their championship. As a consequence, success in conformation shows substantially determines what the future of the breed will look like.
Conformation shows don't stop at awarding championships. For the best dogs, a championship is only the beginning. Existing champions in each breed may skip their breed's preliminary "class" competition, and directly compete for "Best-of-breed or variety." "Variety" in the US applies to some breeds other than Belgian Tervuren, so for Tervs the competition is simply "Best-of-breed" (BOB). A runner-up is awarded "Best of opposite sex to best of breed or variety" (BOS).
BOB is a highly respected prize that also entitles the winner to proceed to further competition against the other best-of-breed or variety winners in the Herding Group. The herding group consists of 18 breeds and varieties of dog whose original purpose was to herd sheep, cattle, or other livestock.
The first-place winner of each of the seven groups compete for Best-in-Show (BIS). The BIS dog will have to prevail over hundreds, or even thousands, of dogs that may attend a show. See the Perpetual achievements list of BIS Tervuren.
Group placings (second through fourth place), group first places, and show wins all are widely publicized and win respect for the dog, owner, handler, breeder, and the dog's entire breeding line. Dogs that achieve these often are sought after for breeding of future generations.
The ABTC also conducts its National Specialty Show where only Belgian Tervuren may be shown, and they attend in the hundreds. At the National Specialty, exceptionally meritorious dogs in conformation also may earn the coveted Select award. See for forthcoming ABTC-sponsored National, regional, and supported shows, and visit the National Specialty Information website for information about past, current, and future National Specialty shows.
Any AKC registered purebred dog over six months of age may enter an AKC licensed conformation show. Anyone may exhibit their dog, including the very young, very old, and persons with handicaps. Profession handlers are available for those who prefer. Because of the Tervuren's special attachment to "its people," most Tervs are owner handled.
To attend or enter your purebred dog in a show, ask your breeder, or visit the AKC's "Getting Started in Conformation".