Becoming a Dog Show Judge

Judging dogs is by no means all glamour and getting to spend time playing with dogs. We’ve compiled everything you need to know about becoming a dog show judge in this article.

Photo courtesty Ernie Slone, Bowtie IncWhat Is a Dog Show Judge?

Dog show judges evaluate dogs in the conformation ring. Judges must know the breed standard for each dog breed that they judge, and they must determine which dog most closely meets the breed standard on that particular day. Dog show judges are licensed by the American Kennel Club after meeting a number of qualifications, including a minimum number of years showing and breeding dogs.

Dog show judges are also needed for dog sports such as agility, obedience, and rally. Like conformation judges, they must meet strict requirements regarding experience, knowledge of procedures, and ethics. And while conformation shows and obedience trials have a relatively straightforward routine, agility and rally trials call for judges who can design appropriate courses for each level of competition.

Conformation Judges
A conformation judge may spend two to five days preparing for a show. Besides reviewing the breed standards, the conformation judge must make reservations, pack, and travel to the show. Once there, the judge hopes the ring steward works efficiently as far as sending the dogs into the ring in a timely manner and having everything the conformation judge needs readily at hand, goes over the dogs in the ring, and faces the mental challenge of selecting the best dog.

To become a conformation judge, a person must have shown dogs for at least a dozen years and bred five litters on his or her own premises. In other words, you can’t just breed in partnership with someone else who does all the work. You must have hands-on experience with breeding, whelping, and raising a litter. In addition, prospective conformation judges must have produced four champions from those litters before they can apply for a license. Those are just the minimum requirements. Most would-be judges have much more experience. Be sure to document all your experience in writing.

Agility Judges
An agility judge has many more responsibilities than simply judging each dog’s performance. Before the trial, an agility judge must design a course and submit it to the show-giving club for approval. On the day of the show, the agility judge ensures that the course is built correctly and doesn’t have any safety hazards. Before competition begins, it’s the judge’s job to measure any dog whose height hasn’t been established to make sure they are entered in the correct height division. The agility judge decides and controls the procedures for entering and exiting the ring and running the course, verifies that scores, course yardages and standard course times are recorded accurately, and signs and initials the official catalog to certify it. Last but definitely not least, it is the agility judge’s job to instill an atmosphere of fun for dogs, handlers, and spectators.

Obedience Judges
Obedience judges have similar responsibilities. They set up the ring or instruct the ring steward on how this should be done, explain the procedures they want used when obedience teams enter and exit the ring, ensure that the ring size is correct, check the equipment to make sure it is in good condition, and decide the placement of the gate and the judge’s table. Obedience judges check to make sure ring conditions are acceptable with good footing and level ground and that an indoor ring is well-lit. If the obedience trial is held outdoors, the judge should make sure the sun won’t be in competitors’ eyes. The obedience judge is also responsible for designing a well-thought-out heeling pattern and measuring dogs to make sure jump heights are set correctly for each.         

Training and Experience

No particular degree is required, although most judges have a college degree or at least a high-school diploma. Depending on the sport you apply to judge, you must have three to six years of experience in competition. What judges need most, however, is experience in showing and breeding dogs or, for dog sports, training and putting advanced titles on dogs.

Other hurdles for conformation judges include passing open-book tests on anatomy and judging procedures, as well as passing tests and having an interview with an AKC executive field representative on each dog breed for which you are applying. Judging applicants must also have completed six stewarding assignments at AKC member or licensed shows in the three years prior to their application and six judging assignments at AKC-sanctioned matches (practice shows), specialty matches, sweepstakes, or futurities. Applicants must also attend an AKC basic judging institute.

As of 2009, there were 3,200 AKC judges and an average of five to six new applicants every month. They work some 1,500 all-breed shows, plus more than 2,200 specialty shows. A new judge who is pleasant, does a good job, and makes an effort to continue learning about breeds can gradually become in demand.

Judges may be paid per dog or may be given a fee plus expenses. Beginning judges are usually paid $3 to $4 per dog. Judges who are AKC delegates are not allowed to charge fees and are limited to expenses. Most judges who are approved for one or more Groups charge a fee plus expenses. The fee is based on the number of breeds they judge.

Do you think you have what it takes to become a dog show judge? A good dog show judge should have the following characteristics:

  • Integrity and impartiality
  • Knowledge of breed conformation, gait, and temperament
  • Knowledge of a sports’ rules and regulations
  • Good record-keeping skills
  • Experience in showing and breeding dogs or putting sports titles on dogs
  • Strength of character
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