“Conformation” is the official name for “dog shows.” While they may seem glamorous, the true purpose of conformation showing is to evaluate breeding stock. The dog’s conformation—his overall appearance and structure—is an indication of the dog’s ability to produce quality purebred puppies, and that is what is being judged in the ring. That’s why mixed-breeds and spayed or neutered purebreds are not eligible to compete. Many times a new exhibitor will get started in dog shows by finding a mentor, usually the breeder they acquired their puppy from.
How A Dog Show Works
Dog shows are basically a process of elimination, with one dog being named Best In Show at the end of the day. Along the way, some dogs accumulate points toward the title "AKC Champion” or “Grand Champion”. Younger dogs, or non-champions, compete in the classes to determine who is the best dog (Winners Dog) and the best bitch (Winners Bitch). These winners then compete against champions in each breed to see who is the Best of Breed. Only the Best of Breed winners advance to compete in the group competition. Each AKC-recognized breed falls into one of seven group classifications (Sporting, Hounds, Working, Terrier, Toy, Herding and Non-Sporting. Finally, the seven group winners are brought into the ring where they compete for BEST IN SHOW, the highest award at a dog show.
A humorous take on dog shows can be found at this link: http://www.canismajor.com/dog/conshow.html
AKC also publishes a Beginners Guide to Dog Shows that is very helpful: https://images.akc.org/pdf/events/conformation/GESHW1.pdf