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Judges listen up! A reminder on how to attract puppies and novice handlers, boost entries, re-examine the approach, refresh your judging style and discover a winner.





E. Katie Gammill, AKC Judge, Exhibition Editor - March 2012


Some judges used handlers or have forgotten how we had to reassure a puppy frightened by an aggressive approach, or a clumsy, heavy-handled examination.


How to examine puppies is a judging skill exhibitors and young puppies will appreciate.  Table exam is critical to the puppy's future as a show dog.We judges are under pressure too but remembering how it was those many years ago can go a long way towards being a judge who attracts puppies like a magnet and earns the respect of handlers and owner-exhibitors.


Those who choose to become judges have gained stature and years, and they should be very aware of their body language when officiating in the ring. A judge’s behavior has a profound effect on a dog. Examination techniques and body language may determine which dogs move forward and which dogs or owners are forever ruined.


Consider this: Today’s judge is usually a “take charge” person, often rushed, and who having watched the previous pup move, may turn abruptly and appear aggressive as he or she approaches the next puppy. Taking a firm hold on the head, some judges will twist the head this way and that to view the stop, muzzle to backskull ratio and skull. This makes even the bravest puppy drop to the table or cringe. After it has been restacked, the bite examination can become a contest of will against fear.


When the examination goes wrong no amount of cajoling convinces the puppy the judge isn’t going to hurt it. There is NO show pose, NO ears, and NO confidence. All of the lead and table training, classes, and prior exposure to the show scene was for naught. The breeder or owner is back to square one and the dream of a Championship on a promising puppy may very well have vanished.


Judging is a privilege which requires professionalism and awareness. Judges who step forward into the dog’s space with hands on hips can easily “turn off” a promising prospect. Dogs read body language. To avoid this, consider how the dog you are examining views YOU.


How NOT To Judge or Examine A Puppy

(from the puppy’s point of view)

  1. I’m very sensitive to body language, especially if I’m trying to figure out a whole new world and learn quickly.  Quick movements look like threats. Speak to me before reaching for my head and use a light, confident touch.

  2. Do NOT cross your arms and make strong eye contact. That looks like a challenge to me so depending on my age and breed I’ll respond accordingly.

  3. Keep your arms down at your sides. SMILE AT ME! I recognize that.

  4. Strong perfume, jewelry, cigarette smoke, gum, or onions may offend me.

  5. I’m not used to big hats, scarves, or long dangly things on your ears.

  6. DO NOT use clickers or step forward with a buzzer to see my expression.

  7. Do not expect expression when I’m on the table. Judge me on the floor.

  8. Do NOT follow behind me when I do my gaiting pattern.

  9. NEVER approach me from the rear. Start at my head to examine me.

  10. Place yourself in my line of vision and move slowly. Keep one hand against the side of my head and use the other to examine me in a continuous motion.

  11. Don’t search for tonsils. Allow the exhibitor to show the bite if possible.

  12. Examine me according to MY breed standard.

  13. Don’t bend down and peer intently into my face to evaluate my expression. Your expression looks like a threat.

  14. Don’t pick up my feet to look at the pads. I only trust my owner with my feet.

Measuring a Dog

If there is a disqualification for size, call for the wicket. Ask the exhibitor‘s preference regarding table or floor measurement. Ask the superintendent for a flat surface if the ground is uneven. Carry a measuring tape. Set the wicket according to the required size in the standard (listed in back of judge’s book). Once set, measure it with your tape. Show the wicket to the exhibitor.


Judges can only touch a dog on the withers. Ask the exhibitor if they are ready. Come over the rear slowly and place the wicket on the highest point of the withers ONE TIME. If you aren’t happy, have the exhibitor reset the dog. If the exhibitor doesn't comply “excuse the dog and mark your book accordingly”. Ask your AKC rep to assist you regarding proper procedure. We do not want to disqualify a dog for weight or size unfairly so understand both procedures before you enter that ring.


If the animal twists away or shows fear, EXCUSE IT. Don’t make the examination or measuring an issue. If a dog is on edge, measuring may be the “final straw.”


Judging To The Standard, Courtesy, and The Clock

Judges should judge to standard. Exhibitors should be aware of faults and disqualifications of their breed. Judges must adhere to a time schedule, mark the book properly, and be courteous to each exhibitor while giving each dog the time allocated in the ring. A judge’s best friend is a good ring steward.


E. Katie Gammill, AKC Judge/Exhibition Editor, TheDogPlace.orgA judge’s responsibility is to make the exhibitor and dog as comfortable as possible in the ring. If you, as a judge, prefer NOT to judge a particular breed, tell the judge’s selection committee. They will assign another judge and the exhibitors will appreciate it. If problems arise, call the AKC rep.


Judging each dog to its advantage in the time allotted is a challenge. A judge’s day is long but very rewarding IF it goes smoothly. That is almost always up to you, not the dogs. The important thing is “A JUDGE SHOULD DO NO HARM” to the sport, the dog, or the exhibitor. I hope this has helped you see the examination and judging from the novice dog’s perspective. EST 1998 © 123165

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