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Specialties, Supported Entries and Sweepstakes at AKC Dog Shows

What are these? What are the differences between them? Why hold them in conjunction with an all-breed or group dog show? Read on for the answers to these questions.

Maryland Sporting Dog Association (MSDA) holds two of the largest AKC sporting dog group shows in the country, attracting hundreds of entries per day for a three-day weekend each spring that includes dog shows, obedience & rally trials, bird instinct clinics and other activities. At conformation events, i.e., dog shows, winners earn points toward championship titles. More points are awarded when more dogs are competing, so it’s desirable to attract as many competitors as possible. Increasing the number of entries often depends on the cooperation of many more dog clubs than just the sponsoring organization. In particular, there are individual breed clubs that will elect to hold a supported entry or a specialty associated with, or as a part of, an all-breed or group show such as MSDA’s. Sweepstakes are another popular means for expanding entries at an event (although these don’t award points).


Like all-breed or group shows, specialties are point shows, but they are limited to one breed. A specialty requires AKC approval and, unlike parent (national) breed clubs, regional clubs (e.g., the Potomac Irish Setter Club, or the Potomac Valley Golden Retriever Club) may be awarded only two specialties each year.

Specialties generally fall into one of three varieties: independent, concurrent, and designated.

Independent Specialty:
Independent specialties are standalone events. They may be held as the only event that day/weekend at a location, or may be held on the same grounds but on a different day from other dog shows. MSDA’s “Spring Event” weekend has long included an independent specialty on Friday by the Potomac Valley Golden Retriever Club (PVGRC). That specialty show is only for Golden Retrievers and is independent of the MSDA sporting group shows that happen on Saturday and Sunday of the same weekend.

The Friday specialty shows at MSDA’s Spring Event are organized by the breed clubs, which are responsible for obtaining permission from the AKC, arranging for judges and trophies, publishing their own premium list and show catalog, and contracting with the show superintendent.

However, it benefits both the specialty club and MSDA to coordinate their efforts. In the case of Spring Event, MSDA contracts with the venue for the site rental and related parking and security services and then essentially subcontracts a portion of the site to the specialty club for the hours of their show. Also, the same superintendent is used for all events of the weekend, simplifying setup. Food services (for judges and volunteers) may be shared or subcontracted. The clubs also may coordinate on selection of judges so that a judge working at the specialty might also judge at MSDA’s group show, if they have additional breeds that can be assigned.

This coordination saves the specialty club time, effort and potentially expense. If a judge can be used for all three days of MSDA’s Spring Event, for example, both MSDA and the specialty club may share that judge’s travel expenses, somewhat reducing the burden on both clubs.

The major benefit to both the all-breed or group club and the specialty club is that entrants will find it more worthwhile to attend if they can enter, for example, three dog shows instead of just one or two on a given weekend. This will tend to increase entries for both clubs’ shows. More entries generally translate into more points for the winners as well as more revenues and potentially an improved reputation for the clubs.

Recognizing the benefits of attracting more dogs, the club hosting the all-breed or group show(s) may offer some incentives for specialty clubs to schedule their event. For MSDA’s Spring Event, the specialty club’s subcontracted price for the venue may be significantly less than what it would have to pay for an entirely standalone event. The specialty club’s entrants also are able to take part in ancillary activities such as MSDA’s bird instinct clinic or a barn hunt “try-it”, which might be more difficult to organize for events attracting a smaller number of dogs. MSDA benefits by having more dogs stay to enter its weekend shows, and also gains revenue from parking and other fees such as those charged for the bird instinct clinics.

The downside of coordination, of course, is that compromises are necessary. Neither club will have as much flexibility to do what they want, when and where they want as they would have had if they were putting on an event entirely on their own.

Concurrent Specialty:
This is a separate specialty show held on the same grounds as a group or all-breed show on the same day. Like an independent specialty, the breed club must obtain permission from the AKC and make their own show-related arrangements. A concurrent specialty may offer great value to breeds who can do a second show on the same day since both club and exhibitor expense is spread over two events on a single day, while still providing an additional opportunity for earning points. The AKC limits concurrent specialties, and the breed judging at the host club’s event (e.g., to 100 entries per judge per ring for concurrent specialties at an all-breed show), and considerable coordination with (and permission from) the host club is required. Despite everyone’s best effort in scheduling, there is a possibility of running into a conflict with the judging at the host show on the same day. If this happens, an exhibitor who has paid to enter two events may have to decide, for example, if they prefer to stay in the breed competition of the concurrent specialty or compete in the group judging of the host show.

Designated Specialty:
This type of specialty is the most tightly integrated with the host show and occurs when classes at an all-breed or group show are “designated” as a specialty. Since it occurs entirely within the framework of a bigger show, casual observers watching the judging may not even realize that they are seeing a breed specialty. Although the breed club must obtain AKC approval for the specialty and will provide trophies, judges are assigned by the host club and specialty information is included in the host club’s premium list and catalog.

In 2020 and 2022, the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever Club (USA) held designated specialties as part of MSDA’s Saturday sporting group dog show.

Supported Entries:

The designation of supported entry means that a specialty breed club (say, Irish Water Spaniels) has decided to encourage their members to support an all-breed or group show by entering. This encouragement often takes the specific form of sponsored trophies and input on judge(s) who the breed club thinks will draw exhibitors.

There is no AKC requirement for paperwork to accomplish this and it generally results in shows gaining a 10%-20% increase in entries for the particular breed. Supporting entry clubs are recognized in the host club’s premium list and catalog. There are no limits to the number of supported entries per club per year. Eventually, if the supported entry gets large enough, supported entries may turn into specialties.


Sweepstakes are in the “fun” or “learning” event category, and may occur in specialties, and/or all-breed and group dog shows with or without supporting entries. They typically involve Puppies or Veterans, as well as other classes like Gun Dog, Field Retriever, etc.

Sweepstakes classes are judged using the same standard as a regular conformation class. However, the judge is not necessarily an approved AKC judge for that breed. In many cases they are long-time breeders or people who would like to become an approved judge for the breed. The prizes are typically a cash award based on a percentage of the entry fee. Many exhibitors use this as a starter for puppies and an additional class to acclimate youngsters to being in a show. Sweepstake classes are typically (but not always) run before regular classes.

Comparison of Benefits:

When putting on a conformation show the objective is to award championship points. A non-supported or non-specialty regular class at an all-breed or group show may have points, but a supported entry likely will have more entrants, and a specialty generally will have the greatest number of entries and, consequently have the greatest amount of points that can be earned by a dog. (However, there is no guarantee.)

As noted earlier, more entries also typically mean more direct (i.e., entry fee) and indirect (e.g., parking, other activities) revenue for the host club, so there is an economic incentive to increase entries. Specialties, supported entries and sweepstakes help to achieve this.

Holding specialties at the same location and general timeframe as a group or all-breed show can also benefit both the clubs and exhibitors by sharing or limiting expenses.


Running a dog show of any size is a complex undertaking. For example, dog show judges may be selected up to three years in advance, and typically a panel is well developed a year in advance. The key to any show is its judging panel. For example, using someone local who is frequently seen 3-4 times a year in a region is problematic as most people will have seen the judge, and if he or she didn’t like your exhibited dog in January they probably won’t like it in April or July. So, assembling a quality judging panel that will attract entries is generally important and, when dealing with specialties and supported entries, the judge selection is even more critical. Obtaining input for this and the myriad other decisions involved in organizing a dog show, and doing all this with the involvement of not just the host club, but perhaps multiple specialty and supporting entry clubs, and within a limited timeframe, is even more challenging.

Some host clubs now have what is called an Offer Sheet. These documents spell out timelines in addition to roles and responsibilities relating to specialties and supporting entries, with the goal of reducing ambiguity and aligning expectations. The Offer Sheet provides clarity and structure that generally results in a beneficial outcome for all involved, as long as the timelines are adhered to. An example of an Offer Sheet (not from MSDA) is available here as a PDF.

This article was prepared with the assistance of MSDA member William (Bill) Burland. Bill is both a breeder and a handler, and has served as Show Chair for the Kennel Club of Philadelphia (2004-2013) and the Bucks County Kennel Club (2015-2018). He currently is very active with the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever Club (USA).

Legislative Issues Discussion Group

MSDA has started an e-mail based discussion group using The purpose of the group is to share information, on a timely basis, about local and federal legislation and other regulations directly affecting dogs, especially sporting dogs, and their owners and breeders.

MSDA’s Legislative Issues Advisor is Darin Cox. You may contact him directly via , but really, if you have something to say, you should join the group!

Or visit the group’s home page at

To join the discussion, if you’re new to, you will need to provide your email address, create a password, and respond to a confirmation email sent to you.

Opinions expressed in this group are those of the individual participants and not of MSDA as an organization.

This is a “private” group. Messages posted to the group will not be publicly available at So, the group will not be listed in the public directory of groups on, and the message archive will be viewable only by group members. Also, message content will not be discoverable by web search engines. However, messages will be shared with other group participants and MSDA cannot control what anyone does with the content that lands in their own email inbox.

Currently, you do not need to be an MSDA member to join this group. However, the group’s size is limited to 100 participants. If it begins to fill up, we may give priority to club members.

Choosing and Using a Dog Whistle

At MSDA, we often receive inquiries about whether or not a whistle has to be used in training, which whistle is best for training, and do different sporting dog breeds need different whistles?

In answering these questions, this article assumes:

  • That the reader has already decided to use a whistle in field training, hunting, hunt tests and/or field trials, and they need to make a preliminary decision about which whistle to use.
  • That the reader will not use a whistle as a command or while handling until after the dog has already learned that command without a whistle.

A sporting dog’s ability to hear
There is a hearing difference among dog breeds – those with floppy ears covered with hair won’t be able to hear as well as those with erect ears. But there is no material difference in the hearing between any of the sporting dog breeds.

Humans can hear a frequency range between 20 and 20,000 Hz; dogs can hear 40 to 60,000 Hz. The smaller the number the lower the sound; the higher the number the higher the pitch. This explains why a dog can hear a silent whistle, which emits a sound above 20,000 Hz, yet the sound is inaudible to most humans.

People need to train their dogs before incorporating a whistle
There are many dog owners who have exceedingly high expectations of a dog whistle. A toot on a whistle has no inbred meaning for a dog. A dog may be interested the first few times he hears a whistle’s distinct and/or unusual sound. The dog may even approach you to investigate, but the effect is typically temporary. Over time, the dog will lose interest in the whistle unless he begins to associate the sound with something that he has been already taught to do.

Do you need a whistle to train a sporting dog?
Strictly speaking, the answer is “no”. You can teach any dog a command with voice alone. Once a command is learned, you can add hand signals to help a dog understand the command at a distance. But, out in the field, a dog may not be able to hear your voice or see your hand signal. During hunting, a hunt test or a field trail, using a whistle will be appreciated by fellow hunters, handlers and judges, and is much more dignified than yelling at your dog from the top of your lungs.

A whistle for sporting dog training is helpful for three primary reasons.

  • A whistle is easier to hear – the human voice does not carry as effectively as a whistle over distance, especially on a windy day.
  • A whistle is clear and unambiguous – the human voice is variable in pitch and easily distorted by environmental factors. A good quality whistle will not alter in pitch when you are angry or tired.
  • A whistle is less disturbing to most wildlife – the human voice is very disturbing to wild game, and sporting dog work should be carried out with a quiet hunt whenever possible.

A whistle is not always the answer in every situation. Sometimes, you may want to work a dog in almost complete silence; for example, in close quarters a hand signal, or whisper voice, may be more appropriate.

In practice, most sporting dog handlers should first teach voice commands and then add whistles and hand signals as training progresses and the dog has already learned the voice command.

Choosing a whistle
A whistle choice often comes down to the handler’s preference as the specific pitch doesn’t make any difference to the dog. Once you have bought your first whistle, you are likely to use that whistle “type” for the rest of your life. However, no two dogs are exactly alike which can make it more difficult to choose the perfect whistle from the beginning.

Most people have to experiment to see which whistle is just right. Some handlers will buy a half-dozen or more of the same whistles at a time to test each one for the exact sound they want. Other handlers, even if they have been around for a long time may switch whistle preference with some regularity.

Whistles for sporting dogs
The breed of sporting dog and the type of training can impact which whistle you may choose. Spaniels tend to work closely and you may not need to use a whistle with a large sound radius even if cover is thick. A pointer will spend a lot of their time air scenting at a distance, but once on game, they will get into the undergrowth; you may benefit from a whistle which can cut through thick groundcover at a distance. And, retrievers work over long distances so you need a loud whistle for giving instruction and a reliable recall.

Additionally, if you have a retriever that runs in retriever hunt tests as well as spaniel hunt tests, or a spaniel or a pointer that runs in retriever hunt tests as well as spaniel or pointer tests, it’s nearly impossible to pick one whistle that works well in two different test types. Just because a dog has learned to recall on three toots on one type whistle, does not mean they will recall well with three toots on a different whistle type. There are some combination dog whistles (aka dual-tone whistles), but they still yield different tones on different frequencies as if you were using two different whistles.

Many of the dog whistles have a “pea,” a small cork ball inside the whistle shell. A pea allows you to “trill” the whistle and make different combinations of sounds. However, the pea in a whistle can freeze in cold weather from your saliva. For cold weather training and other reasons, many handlers use a pealess whistle which are also better at making quick blasts. And a metal whistle that works well in most seasons, can freeze to your lip in below freezing temperatures.

Making the final decision
Even though some whistles are better suited for different situations, in the end, it’s your choice. No matter what whistle you choose, to get the most out of it you must know how to blow it and be consistent with your tones.

If you’re interested in learning more about choosing and using a whistle, the following links may be of interest to you:

A Dog Show Event’s Ambassador – The Steward

by Gregg G. Kantak

Perhaps like many of you, my first experience with showing dogs was in field tests.  My Silver Standard Poodles, all corded, were waiting for the judge to begin the water fowl retrieval tests and I would happily let them off-leash to dive into the lake or marsh and bring back the “quarry.”  Assisting the judge was a “runner” who took the Judge’s scorecard back to a desk for tabulation.  Little did I know, that “runner” was the Judge’s steward.  Later, when my Basset Hounds experienced hunt trials, and the Judge would check for packing ability, their “voice” and reaction to the gun-firing, I would either be whacking the bushes or yelling “Talley Ho!” when I saw the quarry while, again, this “runner” (Steward) would return to the desk with the Judge’s scorecard.  Then came conformation….

As you may know, in an AKC conformation show ring, the Judge actually is assessing “breeding stock.”  While all that is going on, however, the Judge requires an able assistant:  the Steward.  Since I am everything “dog-related” and enjoyed the energy of a dog show, I found stewarding a ring allowed me to participate when I was not actively showing one of my breeds.  Over the past fifteen years, I have actively stewarded AKC shows and served as Chief Steward (the ring leader) for several AKC shows, most notably for the past ten years as MSDA’s Chief Steward.

From my many years stewarding dog shows, I have discovered that the Steward is a show’s finest “Ambassador.”  Not only must the Steward ensure the Judge and ring are running smoothly, they, unlike any other show staff, have the greatest impact on the Exhibitor’s experience.  A Steward is the first person an exhibitor meets prior to showing.  The Steward marks them as present and provides them with their armband, calls them into the ring for their breed class and ensures the Judge maintains the schedule and accurately records the wins.

As an exhibitor, I can tell you that the most positive ring experiences have been when a Steward simply greets me, provides me with my armband, wishes me success, and eventually ushers me into the ring.  The Steward can make or break a show and their ambassadorial skills set the tone for any exhibitor’s experience during the show.

From a Judge’s perspective, I rely on my Steward to be just that… my ambassador.  The Steward maintains the ring’s order, ensures a table or ramp is accessible, pulls the ribbons for the classes, calls in the armband numbers, announces the winning armband numbers in each class, congratulates the winners, etc.  They serve as my liaison with exhibitors, handlers and the superintendent.  So, you see, stewards are integral to the success of the show.  Whether your interest is in conformation, obedience, rally, utility, field or hunt tests, ultimately you have relied upon a steward to ensure you knew what was to come.

I believe I join you in our love of dogs and our enjoyment at seeing them perform in any capacity.  Our sport becomes our social outlet, bonding experience and/or avocation.  Being a part of it, whether exhibiting, judging or stewarding is truly rewarding.  Stewarding, particularly, allows those who may have ended their “showing” years remain an active part of the show.  If given a choice, most of us would be spending more time with our dogs or being around dogs, and there is no better way to do that then to participate in a show, especially as a steward.

If you have interest in pursuing stewarding or if you are considering a future judging (there is a stewarding fulfillment requirement to obtain licensure), please contact me at  I would love to have you be an integral part of MSDA’s 2020 Show!

Acting as a steward at a dog show or obedience and rally trials is a great way to contribute to the sport, make friends, and get the inside scoop about these dog activities. However, we find many people are reluctant to participate because they think that they don’t know enough about what is involved. MSDA is organizing an introductory seminar for conformation and obedience/rally stewarding sometime during the weekend of August 17-18 (exact date, time, and location are to be determined). Check back to this website, contact Gregg, and/or sign up for our email list to find out more.

What Does “Unbenched” Mean?

Um, no, that’s not what we meant.

The MSDA dog shows, which are part of  our “Spring Event” each March, are “unbenched”, as are nearly all other U.S. dog shows. The Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show (New York City) and The National Dog Show (Philadelphia) are two benched shows. At a benched show, entered dogs are required to remain on-site throughout the show hours and be available in designated areas (“on benches”) unless they are in the show ring or taking a necessary break. Benched shows provide a great opportunity for spectators to meet and interact with many dogs and their owners.

A Washington Post gallery of photos from the March 2017 Crufts dog show in Birmingham, England includes many photos of dogs on their “benches”. Also, a couple pictures (especially #33) of humans sharing that space.

At unbenched shows, the dogs and owners/handlers are not required to stay once their judging is completed. However, even at an unbenched show, all the dogs don’t immediately run from the ring and head directly home. If you are interested in getting acquainted with different breeds, a dog show is a wonderful place to start. Do some breed research ahead of time, then check the published schedule for judging times for the breeds that interest you. Although owners and handlers will be busy preparing dogs for judging before their judging time, you can view the dogs in the show ring and then afterwards have a chance to ask questions and make friends with owners, handlers and the dogs themselves. Show dogs are, not surprisingly, very friendly and love attention. Similarly, owners, handlers and spectators know their breed very well and usually are happy to share their knowledge.

Here are some resources to get you started:

MSDA list of sporting dog breeds

AKC information for all recognized breeds

Search for upcoming AKC dog shows and other events