How Dog Show Judges Choose Best of Show

All breed dog shows can be great fun to watch.

By the time the judging gets down to the best of show, you have all the top winners of the individual classes competing.

There could be a majestic Doberman Pinscher representing the Working Class. A silky Afghan Hound with its flowing coat representing the Hound Class. A proud Cairn Terrier shows his stuff as winner of the Terrier Class. A friendly black Labrador Retrieve with his bright eyes takes the trophy for the Sporting Class. A Puli, looking like a walking dust mop, has top honors for the herding class. A fluffy Chow-Chow struts his stuff as winner of the Nonsporting Class. And a tiny, nearly bald, Chinese Crested takes the prize for the Toy Class.

Taken breed by breed, most people understand how a champion can be chosen. There is a list of breed standards that the judge must take into account. Size, coat, color, how the ears are held, how the tail is held, general demeanor—all of these are things that must be compared to a breed standard to pick best of breed.

But how do judges compare the silky fur of an Afghan hound to the smooth coat of a Labrador or a Doberman? How do you judge a puffy Chow Chow to a dust mop Puli or nearly bald Chinese Crested?

The answer is: you can’t. You can’t judge an Afghan Hound again a Chinese Crested. But that’s not what the judges in a dog show do.

What do Judges Look for, then?

The bottom line for the judge is always which dog best matches his breed’s standard. Some judges have a mental image of what the perfect dog for each breed should look like, and choose the dogs that best match their image. Others look at the dogs from a breeding standpoint, and choose the dog they think would have puppies that most closely match the standard.

It goes beyond just looks, though. They watch how a dog moves. Does he hold his head in the right position? Does he hold his tail properly? If he has long fur, does it glide or bounce when the dog moves? If he has short fur, is the texture right? Can the judge see the dog’s muscles moving under his coat?

There are breed standards for temperaments as well. If the standard for a dog is to be aloof and superior, does the judge see that attitude in the dog’s demeanor? If a dog is known for being friendly, is that friendliness reflected back when the judge looks the dog in the eye?

So the next time you’re watching an all breed dog show on television and it’s down to picking the best of the show, try to put on your judge’s hat and look at each dog as a representative of his breed. Try to picture the perfect dog of each breed, and see how the individual dogs match up. It may make it easier for you to understand how the judge could compare a Chihuahua to a German Shepherd. And you’ll likely come out with a greater appreciation for the job dog show judges do.

Meet the Author: Pam Hair

Pam Hair is a pet industry copywriter with Fuzzy Friends Writer, where she combines her three passions: a love of animals, a strong desire to help other people, and the joy of writing. She has been a pet parent over the years to dogs, cats, and a variety of rodents. Currently she and her husband share their home with two guinea pigs.

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