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Each breed is divided into classes based on sex and age. Dogs (males) are judged first, in their age classes. Within one breed, there are puppies (dogs under a certain age), mature male dogs (subdivided by age into junior, limit (or intermediate) and open); bitches (female dogs) have corresponding classes. At some events, usually single-breed or novelty shows, there may be a baby puppy class (typically under three months old) which is usually contested after the adult classes as a ploy to keep spectators interested. Baby puppies are not eligible for Best of Breed and are judged largely on their ‘cuteness’ factor, as young puppies from many breeds look very much alike and their conformation to their breed's Standard is most likely not yet evident.
The winners of all classes in each sex compete for Challenge (best) Dog and Challenge Bitch; the individuals who will challenge each other for the accolade Best of Breed. The remaining class winners are joined by the runner-up from the class from which the challenge winner was selected and there are competitions for second place in each sex division, called Reserve Challenge Dog and Reserve Challenge Bitch. This is for fairness, as one class may contain a stronger field of specimens of the breed. If the judge believes that this is the case, the Challenge Dog and Reserve Challenge Dog, for example, may both be from the same class.
From the two finalists (Challenge Dog and Challenge Bitch) is selected Best of Breed. The runner-up is deemed Best of Opposite Sex. There is then a run-off in which the second best individual in the sex division of the winner (the Reserve Challenge from the same sex division as the BOB) is brought back to stand against the Best of Opposite Sex (the Challenge who did not win) for the title of Runner-up to Best of Breed. So, if for example the Best of Breed is the Challenge Bitch, the Runner-up to Best of Breed may be the Challenge Dog or the Reserve Challenge Bitch if, in the judge’s opinion, the competing bitches were superior to the competing dogs.
In some breeds, the males and females of the breed have decidedly different appearances, and it is often the males who have the quintessential look of the breed (females may be smaller, have less 'coat' and feminine or less pronounced features. The judge must set personal preference aside and decide objectively whether the bitch is a better example of the female of the breed than the dog is an example of the male.
In multi-breed and all-breed shows, the winners of all breeds within the kennel club's breed groups then compete for General Specials. So, for example, all the Terrier Group breed winners compete to determine Best Terrier (sometimes called Best in Group). The group winners (in some countries nicknamed "The Magnificent Seven") go on to compete for Best in Show. In large shows, there are so many competitors that General Specials must be held on a different day, for which the Best of Breed winners must return.
The value of titled dogs and their progeny increases greatly with the attainment of a title. Because of the subjective nature of judging and the politics involved in any judged competition, some breeders feel that it is next to impossible for dogs in their chosen breed to win Best in Group or Best in Show. For these reasons, Best of Breed is the often the most highly coveted title among fanciers.
Best of Breed is a common buzzword used in high-tech industries, where a product is claimed to be the best in its category.