Judging at Specialty Shows

Specialty shows allow judges to exercise their breed-specific knowledge.


While all judging assignments carry with them the expectation that the judge is highly knowledgeable about the breed and will fairly assess the qualities of each of the dogs presented to him in the ring, there is a difference between judging at an all-breed show and at a specialty show. In both cases, the quality of the judging can have an effect on the breed, but in the case of the specialty show, that influence is often multiplied. This is largely because specialty entries tend to be much greater, and as a result, wins at specialties carry considerably more prestige.

This is perhaps especially true in those breeds that traditionally do not have big entries at the all-breed shows.  For some breeds such as Golden Retrievers, an all-breed show entry of 40, 50 or even 60 or more dogs is not considered unusual. For those breeds whose registrations fall below the top 50 breeds, any entry at all might be unusual, and those necessary majors are hard to find. An entry of 50 or 60 comes only at a specialty show.

Whereas many breeds have local clubs that hold specialty shows, sometimes in conjunction with a field event as with Brittanys, many of the lower-registration breeds have few, if any, local clubs. For these breeds, the only specialty show is their national or regional specialty.  Specialty shows can be held independently, as part of a Group Show (such as the famous Montgomery County show held each October where many terrier breeds put on specialties in conjunction with the Group Show), or designate the classes at all-breed shows as their National because of their relatively small entry.

No matter the venue, it is at the specialty show that we usually see the largest entries of an individual breed. In the more popular breeds such as Golden Retrievers, German Shepherds and Poodles, the entries at the national specialty can easily exceed 1,000 dogs. On the opposite side of the popularity charts, national specialties for breeds such as English Foxhounds and Otterhounds might run as small as 30 to 50 dogs – still a tremendous entry for those breeds.

Whatever the breed, the specialty show – particularly a national specialty – can be counted on to bring much larger entries than an all-breed show, and wins at such a show carry great prestige for the breeder and the owner of a winning dog. This gives the judge both an unusual opportunity – to see significant numbers of the breed in the ring at the same time – and a larger-than-normal responsibility because wins at specialties are looked on by all as especially important.

One of the differences from the judge’s point of view can be the simple mechanics of handling classes with sometimes mammoth entries. The larger-entry breeds can see entries of more than 100 dogs in an individual class, and this requires special expertise just in handling such a large class. Most judges will opt to break down the really large class into smaller groups, say 10 to 20 dogs per group, to provide enough space in the ring to be able to assess each dog both standing and moving. Cuts will be made in each of the groups with perhaps four or five dogs kept from each brought back into the ring to be compared to each other after the first round of eliminations. Subsequently, further cuts may be made. Eventually, the judge will winnow the class to the four top placements. Imagine winning a class with an entry large enough to count for a five-point major! Even a placement in such a large class would almost always defeat enough dogs to count for a major at an ordinary show.

The judge will repeat this procedure for each class. Remember that at an independent specialty, AKC rules limit a judge to a maximum entry of 200 dogs per day; at a specialty held in conjunction with an all-breed show, the judge is limited to an entry maximum of 175 dogs. Thus, it might take more than one day to judge the regular classes at a large national specialty in some breeds.

Another difference between the specialty and the all-breed show is the classes that are offered. Typically, classes at the all-breed are limited to Puppy, 12 to 18 Month, Novice, Bred by Exhibitor, American Bred, and Open in each sex plus Best of Breed.

Occasionally, the puppy classes will be divided by age (6 months to 9 months and more than 9 months to 12 months), or in some breeds, a division by color, size or weight might be offered. Best of Breed in each breed, of course, goes on to compete in the breed’s respective Group competition.

At the specialty show, the judge is usually faced with adjudicating additional non-regular classes. Veterans classes, sometimes divided by age, are often hotly contested at major specialty shows, with the champions of yesteryear out to win once again. In addition, some breeds offer classes for Field Trial Dogs and Bitches, Hunting Retriever or Working Dog title holders, or similar special single-entry classes that vary from breed to breed. Winners of these classes are eligible for competition in the Best of Breed class but are not included in Winners competition. Wins in many of these classes have special bragging rights.

Finally, there are the classes involving multiple entries, two of which often carry special importance for a breed when offered at the breed’s national specialty. Winners of the Stud Dog and Brood Bitch classes carry extraordinary prestige at many specialties, and judging is based on the quality of the get (the offspring of the dogs or bitches entered in the class) according to the requirements of the breed standard, not the quality of the Stud Dog or Brood Bitch. The judging of these classes can place great responsibility on the judge as the winning dogs, in particular, are often used more frequently as stud dogs and thus can have great impact on a breed.

The Brace and Team classes are also judged according to different criteria than are regular classes. The Brace, involving a pair of dogs owned by the same person, and the Team, involving four dogs owned by the same owner, are judged on the similarity of the dogs to each other as well as their overall quality.

Judging at a specialty show gives judges the opportunity to exercise their breed-specific knowledge because with the greater number of dogs entered, knowledge of breed-specific nuances can make the difference in individual dogs’ placements or winning in a class. Relatively minor differences can decide between first and second in a large class, requiring the judge to have an excellent understanding of the fine points and requirements of each breed’s standard.

Yes, good judging at a specialty is a great responsibility for any judge.

Jeffrey G. Pepper is president of the Dog Judges Association of America and the PBGV Club of America. He judges the Sporting Group and some Hound and Toy breeds, and has been involved in dogs since the late 1960s. Send questions and comments to judgesperspective@bowtieinc.com.

Interested in reading more about dog shows and conformation judges? Go to www.dogworld.com to check out Dog World magazine's latest news.


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