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Dorsetdog - How to judge a novelty dog show

When you walk your dog around the show ring, the judge is comparing your dog to the Breed standard. That is to say how well you dog compares to the description for the dog’s breed. The judge will physically inspect your dog with his hands, so it is important that your dog is used to being handled.

The judge looks at

  • Balance: overall appropriate proportions in size
  • Weight
  • Size
  • Eyes: colour, size, shape
  • Ears: shape, length, position
  • Head: shape
  • Muzzle: shape, length
  • Whiskers: thickness
  • Teeth: kind of bite (e.g. level or scissors bites)
  • Tail: how it arches and sets (e.g. how high or low)
  • Shoulders: bone, muscle
  • Legs: muscles, stance, proportionality
  • Coat: texture, length
  • Colour: accepted breed colours

So, Have you been asked to judge a novelty or fun dog show at a church fete or local show?

Below are a few tips to help you on your first time as a judge

The number one rule of judging any dog show. Do not ask the entrants to walk their dogs around the ring in continuous circles. Dogs get bored (as do the contestants) of continuously treading the same ground. A bored dog does not "show" well in the ring. and you risk upsetting the entrants.

Ask the organiser to ensure that the grass is short for the show. Whilst some shows are held on recreation areas that are regularly cut, some are held on fields that have recently had a crop harvested, so have hard stubble sticking up. It is important that the grass is of a short length so that small breeds of dogs can comfortably walk whilst you judge their movement - and you can't if they are jumping over hard agricultural stubble.

You should see the dog move at a good speed for that size of dog. The ring Steward should separate the dogs by size - with small dogs at the front of the line and larger dogs at the back of the line. Let the small dogs walk round first at a speed that is right for that breed, then let the larger dogs walk so that they can move at a faster speed. If the ring is big enough then you can set the larger dogs off before the smaller ones have completed the circuit.

Where a class has a high number of entrants for the size of ring, the option is to either

  1. Split the class into two, hold 2 heats and then bring the best 6 from both heats into the final class
    or
  2. Ask the Steward to line the dogs up from largest to smallest. Split the class into half, and then ask the small half to walk around the ring whilst the large dogs stay at the edge of the ring. Pick out dogs that you confidentially would not chose and ask those to leave the ring. Then ask the larger dogs to come forward whilst the remaining smaller dogs stay at the edge of the ring. Again, pick out dogs that you confidentially would not chose and ask those to leave the ring.
    You should now have a class size that is appropriate for the size of ring that you are being asked to work in.

Please do not let the dogs walk round and round the ring whilst you make your mind up. Walk them around once, and then ask individual ones to walk directly across the ring and back as you select your finalists.


Best Rescue

Best rescue should be chosen by more than just the look of the dog.

Best rescue is judged on the condition of the dog, the background story of why it was put out to rescue, along with the rescue/healing process by the new owner. But the Judge must also consider how quickly the new owner turned the dog into a socialised pet dog as much as the background story and condition.

Handler Classes

  • Junior handler – under 16 years of age
  • Adult handler – over 16 years of age

    Junior handler can be further split into

  • Junior handler – 11 years and under
  • Junior handler -12 to 16 years

All these classes are where the Judge is supposed to judge the person handling the dog, and the persons relationship with the handled dog - and not the dog itself.

Does the dog flow well with the Handler, or is the handler yanking the dog in different directions.


Best Veteran Class

The veteran class should not be judged solely by the age of the dog, with the oldest dog instantly winning.
Also consider two special rosettes for the veteran class. Give the Special rosettes to the oldest dog and oldest bitch in the class.


There are two main criteria you are looking for when judging pedigree classes:

1. Conformation and movement

Is the dog well balanced while standing and on the move? You want to see a dog that flows effortlessly round the ring with a nice reach of neck, good top line (no humps, bumps or dips in its back), nicely laid back shoulders, good turn of stifle (knee joints) and well let down hocks which all contribute to good, sound movement. To a discerning eye any deviation from these points becomes apparent the moment the dog sets off at a relaxed trot round the ring. For example, upright shoulders make the dog's front end appear stiff and lack of turn of stifle on its rear legs give it a 'chopstick' back end movement. The emphasis is on 'flow' from the tip of its nose to the end of its tail.

There are, of course, exceptions to this rule with some breeds, e.g. Pekingese who are supposed to have a 'rolling gait' or Greyhound/Whippet type breeds whose top line is not level to the tail, but slopes down to its tail from the pin bones (hips).

The dog's general condition should also be taken into account, e.g. is the dog too fat/thin; is it well-muscled / flabby; is its coat in good condition/dull AND does it have a nice temperament? (These factors should also apply in Novelty classes.)

The Kennel Club sell a very informative dvd on the subject, which covers details one couldn't possibly do without going into reams of description.


2. Breed type

This takes a lot longer to master than general conformation. Each breed has a certain look which differentiates it from another breed (obvious examples - a German Shepherd does not have a short muzzle like a Pug, Dachshunds do not have the same leg length as Border Terriers) and each breed has a standard to which it supposed to conform as closely as possible. There are over 180 breeds recognised by the Kennel Club and all have specific desirable features. Obviously, it's impossible to remember all the finer details but if you want to judge the dogs entered under you with some competence it is advisable to do a bit of homework, at least on the more popular breeds, before your judging appointment. An excellent reference is The Kennel Club's book “Illustrated Breed Standards”

When judging the Novelty section most class descriptions are self-explanatory. However, if there is a 'Best Rescue/Re-homed' class it is nice to ask each exhibitor for a short synopsis of the circumstances which led to its rescue/re-homing. And try to make each class fun!


A few DOs and DON'Ts when judging:

DO arrive at the venue in plenty of time to discuss the ring layout with your Steward. It's important to ensure the table is not placed in such a way that the sun shines directly into your or the dogs' eyes.

DO give each dog the same time and consideration when judging them. Even though they may be the ugliest specimen you've seen on four legs, they are still probably their owners much-loved pet.

DO be gentle when handling the dogs and examining their teeth for correct scissor bite dentition (especially young puppies). NB. It is not considered necessary to examine the teeth of undershot breeds, e.g. boxers, bulldogs, pugs.

DO be courteous to each exhibitor.

DON'T give Fido a place in his class just because he belongs to the show organizer's great granddaughter or your best friend.

DON'T hang around chatting to your steward or people by the ringside once the class you're judging has entered the ring with their dogs standing waiting for you to begin, especially on a hot day.

DON'T ask entrants to continuously walk around the ring whilst you make your mind up!

Lastly, DO relax and enjoy your day and try to ensure exhibitors and their dogs do too!


(Please note these tips are for general guidance only. Many excellent books have been written by experienced judges on the subject which cover the art of judging in much greater detail.)


Kennel Club Guide for Judges and Stewards

Guide to judging a novelty dog show

Or you can view the Kennel Club's own Guide for Judges and Stewards by clicking on the book







dorsetdog.com for tips on what to do in the show dog ring