Judging the Dog on the Day

The structure of a dog does not change from one show to the other, which is why it is hard to understand the merit of the phrase "judging the dog on the day."

By Bill Stebbins | Posted: December 17, 2014 11 a.m. PST

Golden Retriever Lineup
Dogs show better on some days than they do others, so judges should follow the rule of "judging the dog on the day." Photo by Cassandra Radcliff.

How often have you heard a judge use the phrase, "judging the dog on the day”? The meaning is basically that dogs show better on some days than they do others. Before I started judging, I considered this comment to be a cop-out by a judge who might have "missed” the best dog that day and this was as good a rationale as any. However, as I approach a quarter century of judging, I have found that there is merit to this statement. Over the years, I have had many top-ranked dogs in my ring. Some days they win; other days they don’t. However, the structure of the dog has not changed from one show to the other. So, why the apparent discrepancy or lack of consistency in the decision-making process?

The classic example I can offer is from a Great Dane specialty that I judged a few years ago. There was a large entry (4 or 5 points for both sexes). I awarded Winners Dog to a lovely brindle. The next day was an all-breed show that I attended as a spectator. A friend of mine (also a breeder-judge) was officiating. At the time the AKC still had an in-ring observer program. An observer was in the ring with my friend. Just as judging began, a woman came up to me and said I had been pointed out to her and wondered if I would mind doing some ringside mentoring with her. She had tried to be in the ring with the judge, but only one observer was allowed. I gladly agreed to give her my opinions. When we got to WD, the ring had exactly the same dogs as I had selected on the previous day (funny how breeder-judges often agree). I told the lady that yesterday I had given the brindle WD, but if I were judging today, I would award WD to the Open fawn and give the brindle RWD. A few minutes later that was exactly what happened. From one day to the next the showmanship and demeanor of the brindle had weakened, whereas the fawn looked better.

Obviously this is a matter of ring presence rather than structure, but I do believe that great ring presence is essential for a dog to really stand out. At different times and in different areas of the country, we can have some pretty intense competition. We have any number of owners and handlers who are gifted in the presentation of a dog. Listen to the commentators at Westminster or any of the other televised shows. You often hear them say things like, "He’s really putting on a show tonight,” "It’s who wants it the most,” "The judge can’t help but consider him,” etc.

Of course a superior dog should not lose to a far lesser specimen simply on the merits of showmanship. I, however, have always believed that a dog show is for show dogs. On a personal note, I will tell you that one of the best dogs I ever bred had absolutely no ring presence. We always prided ourselves on the showmanship of our dogs, but this guy had to be checked for a pulse. The very essence of the Great Dane is the great majesty it exhibits in the ring. Without this factor, they are missing one of the core traits of this magnificent breed.

So if your dog wins points on one day and doesn’t get out of the classes the next, it sometimes is not the "idiot judge” (however, sometimes it is).


From the December 2014 issue of Dogs in Review magazine. Subscribe to receive 12 months of Dogs in Review magazine, or call 1-888-738-2665 to purchase a single copy.


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Ronald   Elk Grove, California

5/20/2015 11:45:18 AM

Yes, I heard from a reliable source that Ch. Salilyn and Erin's Shameless, Samantha an English Springer bitch that won BIS at Westminster in 2000 had a litter sister that was a better specimen than her but who had no interest in showing. Queen of the sofa! So the whole package is required.

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Mary   Canton, Ohio

5/15/2015 12:17:18 PM

Good article. I think the temperament of a dog is as important as the conformation. I want a dog that is confident and shows it in the ring. I had one very nice dog but as the handler said, he was like dragging a log around the ring. So if I am looking for something to breed to it is a dogs with a good conformation and great attitude. as the author of this article says "superior dog should not lose to a far lesser specimen simply on the merits of showmanship". And I totally agree. But if it comes down to two nice dogs and one shows well and the other doesnt' on that particular day I would go with the one that shows well. I could tell when one of my specials was "off". When he really strutted his stuff he won, when he wasn't quite into it he didn't. My opinion.

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Melissa   Osteen, Florida

5/15/2015 9:11:38 AM

I literally just finished reading an article discussing how judgs should be picking the better dog - despite handling and/or showmanship. I would much rather a judge pick the best dog then the dog who had the best ring presence. It is about evaluating breeding stock, not who looks the most flashy. Disappointing for sure. I get the Danes should look regal, I do - but flash is not substance IMO.

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Melian and Tiny   Etna, CA

1/17/2015 11:38:40 PM

Interesting. However I wonder about having a perfect specimen of a breed that doesn't show well so no one wants offspring from it. That seems to go against for what dog shows were originally intended, i.e. promoting the best dogs for keeping the breed in excellence.

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