How Dog Show Judges Pick the Winner  

Posted by — Kim in , , , , , , ,

Here's a great article that I thought I would pass on...hope you find it interesting! –Kim

What's the Deciding Factor at Dog Shows?

By Sharon L. Peters, Special for USA TODAY

It's all so very hushed and elegant.

Perfectly groomed, perfectly behaved dogs and humans striding, gliding and prancing their way around the show ring. The audience riveted, silent.

Then someone in a beaded gown or tuxedo suddenly commands all attention. He or she issues a few requests, approaches a dog to study a turn of its ear, or does something mysterious with hands around flanks or other body parts, and in a heartbeat there's one winner and a several who are, well, not winners.

That instant decision-making by the judge after he or she has conducted a few explorations and commanded an extra trot around the ring has always bewildered me. Just what are they investigating or hoping to find? And is three seconds long enough to make that discovery?

I turned to veteran judge Desmond J. Murphy of Monroe, N.Y., a third-generation dog man who grew up among Whippets and Greyhounds and terriers at his family's breeding kennels, has been an AKC judge since 1976, and is now approved to judge 110 breeds. Murphy judged afghan hounds, Cavalier King Charles spaniels and English toy spaniels at the AKC/Eukanuba National Championship in Long Beach a few weeks back that airs Saturday on Animal Planet and Discovery Channel.

He graciously walked me through the basics.

First: Is it as easy as it looks for a judge to eye those incredibly wonderful specimens that compete in crème de la crème competitions and then, in just minutes, do that point-and-nod action that declares winners? Not at all, he acknowledges. It's usually fairly easy to quickly sort out which are the "top six or eight" in any class, he says. But then "it's like splitting hairs." You're considering the breed standards — the qualities like carriage and color and conformation the animals are bred to achieve. "Your mind is racing overtime," he says, adding "three of the greatest experts judging a particular class might conceivably all agree on the top three," but could disagree on which comes in first, second and third. "One might give more priority to the shape of the eye," for example.

So what's the final decider? It often boils down to a particular dog's "performance on a given day," he says. The judge is watching things like extension when the dog runs, its show-ring presence and its attitude — "there's an old expression, for example, about afghans, that an afghan should act like it owns the ground it walks on" — and things like that are always running through judges' heads, as well as hard-earned knowledge of the somewhat more subtle qualities prized in each breed. And in the end, some of the very best dogs sometimes just have a bad day. "Some go to 200 shows a year. A dog can't be at its peak each and every time."

Is it true that some dogs actually seem to know it's time to show off a little? "Dogs really figure it out," he says. "The best of them know 'this is a show for which I've got to give a little extra.'"

Sometimes a judge approaches a dog and seems to make a noise to get the dog's attention. What's that about? "The way a dog looks at you" is very important, he says. Some breeds should have "a soft, melting, pleasing expression"; some should have an "extremely alert, hard-bitten expression"; and an afghan, a sight hound, should have "what's called the look of eagles — the dog is looking straight through you."

Why do judges look into dogs' mouths? "Each breed should have a kind of teeth and a type of bite," he says. Also, if there's a tooth missing, it's a fault.

And what's that hand action, where judges seem to be squaring-up the dog or patting it down? In heavily coated dogs, some things are not obvious to the eye, he says, and the judge may be checking muscle tone or confirming that the proportions — from, say, the last rib to the hip — meet the breed standard.

And then the final question. I wondered whether Murphy carries in pocket or pouch some instant-action items for the removal of unexpected doggie mung, fly-away hair or paw prints. As soon as my words fell out, I realized the ludicrousness of them.

These are animals that have been shampooed and blow-dried, combed and dabbed at for hours before greeting Murphy in the ring. The notion of their spreading around the kind of dog snorffle that smears the windows of my SUV and jeans or flinging around the oddly attracted-to-clothing wads of hair Jasper sets loose every spring is ridiculous beyond words.

"Well. I usually carry a handkerchief," he offered, politely.

Copyright © 2009 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, February 17, 2010 at Wednesday, February 17, 2010 and is filed under , , , , , , , . You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments feed .


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