Judging Dogs: A Learning Experience

Even though I have spent many years helping to put on dog events of all kinds, from puppy matches to large shows, I recently got my first opportunity to judge at a dog show.

It all looks so easy, at least when you are sitting ringside. But judges don’t just go by the eye, they get their hands on the dogs and, for my Cairn Terrier breed, feel what’s under that shaggy coat. Is that topline really flat? Is the chest round or oval?

The first lesson here is this: Never leave a dog club meeting early.

That’s how all this started. I left a quarterly meeting of my breed club, the Cairn Terrier Club of Southern California, for a pressing engagement. Later I learned I had been railroaded – I mean voted – into judging a specialty event at Christmas time.

Hey, this will be fun, I told myself. And a piece of cake. After all, I have been watching my breed for years and years. But just to be safe, I decided it would be good to do a practice run with some friends who are serious Cairn people. Karen Smith, Lisa Tuttle and Dennis Broderick, longtime Cairn breeders and occasional judges, put me through my paces.

More than anything, the experience gave me a newfound appreciation for what judges do, and also how they do it. Assessing proportion, how a dog moves, how it is put together. It was a great learning experience, and I now see dogs in a very different way.

The attached video shows the newbie judge in action. 

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