All in a Day’s Judging

A dog show judge reveals candid observations

I readily admit to being old, but I don’t mind. I can still walk the woods trail with the dogs, run around the show ring and stand long enough to judge. Life is good.

I am also old fashioned … in spite of some texting, using a computer (somewhat) and a cell phone. Along with classical music, I even listen to Michael Jackson, Billy Joel and Gloria Gaynor. Bopping down the road is a good way to make the miles fly. That said, what happened to decorum, respect and modesty? When did it become OK for young girls to put their boobs on display? If I wanted to see boobs and butts, I’d go to a night club, beach or strip joint.

When did it become OK for underwear to be worn on the outside? When did it become OK for a black bra to be worn under a skin-tight white tube top? When did it become OK for heavy ladies to wear clothing tight enough to display every bulge, lump and jiggle, not to mention boobs that are nearer the waist than the chest?

Judging Junior Showmanship recently, there were several young ladies who were in danger of falling out of everything when they bent over their exhibits. Perhaps they are so delighted with their mammaries they want to show them off, but this is definitely not appropriate in the show ring.

In the Novice Junior class, almost every child had a dog twice what they could properly manage, and every dog was clearly more interested in leaving the ring than being handled. Each time I tried to get one youngster to set up her dog, I was presented with a view of the rectum. Not the most attractive aspect of any dog. Another exhibit investigated every possibility of an exit, dragging its handler along. I didn’t excuse them because the dog was clearly interested in leaving, not in other dogs.

Then there was the youngster who was barely a head taller than his full-grown Newf. He did a magnificent job although he could barely reach the hindquarters for stacking. With every request, his dog rolled its eyes and complied with a wave of the tail. This youngster even had the Newf gaiting briskly around the ring, no mean feat. Who could watch this without a big smile and in fact it made me laugh out loud. Their bond was evident.

One young man set his Pug on the table and I asked him to show me the bite. Smoothly, gently and perfectly, he slid his thumb along the teeth. Wow. Another youngster with a Pug, when asked to show the bite, politely said, “In the standard it says the judge should run his finger along the teeth,” another great response. I said “Yes, and I’d like to see you do that.” He did it perfectly.

The Open classes are always loaded with talent. Many have given up judging Juniors because separating 1st from 4th can be overwhelming. One young lady was as close to perfection as I have ever seen. Not only did she have great hands on her dog, but placing her hands on him to lift him to the table, she hesitated a split second making sure he knew what was coming. Rather than paste a meaningless grin (and stare) on her face, she was all about THE DOG, only glancing at me often enough to catch my signals. 

In the regular classes, a sharp contrast between some of the dog handlers was interesting. One let the English lead drape on the bitch’s shoulders and just let her stand, waving her tail, looking wonderful and very typical for the breed. Another dog handler was such continuous motion, the dog was lost to view along with whatever quality he had. I thought of telling the handler to chill out, but as a pro wouldn’t you think he’d be able to figure that out? Of course the bitch won.

Years ago, Sporting dogs were actually “presented” to the judge, one hand supporting the head and the other hand supporting the tail. Now it seems to be an exercise in handler aerobics — throw the bait, yank up the head, kneel down, throw grass, lean back, swing the arms in huge circles and pull the tail up even on a breed that should have it straight off the back.

Racing around the ring is another issue. Do the dog handlers really think judges are so stupid they don’t realize what’s going on? If a handler is told to go at a moderate speed and then goes 90 mph, don’t they know it is assumed the dog handler is trying to hide gait faults? The top handlers (pro or amateur) are well dressed, well mannered, follow instructions and let the ribbons fall where they may.

Then there are the intimidators. In one of the breeds I did not award a Select Bitch. I didn’t feel there was sufficient quality. The handler approached the ring steward claiming that the award was forgotten. The ring steward said, not forgotten, just not awarded. In the book it was noted N/A. The handler simply could not believe it. Hello! Have you taken a look at your bitch lately? Interesting that the dog handler didn’t bother to approach me.

Any complaints are still outweighed by the really wonderful moments: A dog that walks in the ring and makes you think “Be still my heart” or “I want to take that one home.” Watching dogs float around the ring, moving perfectly for their breed. The dog handlers who reflect the love and respect they have for their exhibit. The dog that is not enamored with the show ring but displays its willingness to go along with the game. The Junior who is consistently patient with a dog obviously having a bad day. The exhibitor who says they could follow your thoughts and placements. Visiting with people you haven’t seen for ages. A dog show is a really good thing and a wonderful way to spend the day.

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