Helpful Hints For New Toy Judges

Papillon on white background

Judges of Toy breeds learn Breed Standards in-depth and get to know the ins and outs of examining the dogs they judge. But judges from other Groups who venture into Toy Breed rings for the first time for Sweepstakes, NOHS, Non-Regular Group or even BIS judging may sometimes encounter situations that surprise or puzzle them. So, it might be helpful to go over some of these beforehand.


Take, for example, the Papillon. The vast majority of Papillons absolutely love people and are extremely agile. As they are also a table breed, the judge stands quite close to the little butterfly as the examination begins. It is advisable for the judge to limit his enthusiasm and keep sweet talk to a minimum or else the uber-friendly Papillon on the table might just leap into his arms and lick his face. I’ve seen some close calls with “flying” Papillons and it is something to consider when judging this breed. This is one reason judges are asked to evaluate expression on the ground at the end of the down and back.

It is advisable for the judge to limit his enthusiasm and keep sweet talk to a minimum or else the uber-friendly Papillon on the table might just leap into his arms and lick his face.


Complete pigmentation of the lips, nose, and eye rims is required by the Havanese Breed Standard. So, even though a scissors bite is specified, exhibitors will sometimes show the judge the sides of the mouth as well as the front. This facilitates the examination of the lips and is highly appreciated, as this may involve a disqualification. This is also a good time to examine the nose and the pigment surrounding the almond eyes.

Havanese gaiting in the dog show ring

Biewer Terriers

The Biewer Terrier Breed Standard has pigment and color disqualifications which require the judge to check the pads of the feet as well as the eye rims, nose, and lips; the belly, chest, legs, feet, and tip of tail must also be examined. An easy way to check these is to wait until the exhibitor picks up the dog to remove it from the table and have him show the pads and the underside of the body at that time.

Biewer Terrier standing outside on the grass


The Pekingese has a unique examination which involves the judge gently picking up the front of the dog while on the table. This technique is very specific to the Pekingese and does not involve hoisting the unsuspecting Peke into the air. This is something which should be practiced by every aspiring Pekingese judge. An illustrative video may be viewed at the AKC’s Conformation Judges Resource Center.


Size and Color

As might be expected while judging the Toy breeds, size is a very important part of breed type. Eight Toy breeds reinforce this message with disqualifications (DQs) for height and/or weight. Please review these Standards before entering the ring, and be prepared to call for the wicket or the scale if need be. Your exhibitors will appreciate this.

The following breeds have DQs for height and/or weight:
  • Chihuahuas
  • Havanese
  • Miniature Pinschers
  • Papillons
  • Pekingese
  • Toy Poodles
  • Russian Toys
  • Toy Fox Terriers

Beautifully and uniquely colored Toy breeds come in a wide variety of colors and patterns. This aspect of breed type is so important that a full 15 breeds out of the 23 breeds in the Group have DQs for color, pigment, or eye color. Please be sure to honor the work of dedicated breeders through the ages by carefully examining the dogs in the ring for breed-specific color and pigmentation.

These are the 15 breeds with color and/or pigmentation DQs:
  • Biewer Terriers
  • Brussels Griffons
  • Cavalier King Charles Spaniels
  • Havanese
  • Italian Greyhounds
  • Japanese Chins
  • Manchester Terriers
  • Miniature Pinschers
  • Papillons
  • Pomeranians
  • Toy Poodles
  • Pugs
  • Russian Toys
  • Toy Fox Terriers
  • Yorkshire Terriers

The Thumb Exam

The Toy Group is the only Group where a judge examines the bite on some undershot breeds by using the “thumb exam.” Tooth and jaw alignments are determined by gently placing the flat of one’s thumb outside of the top lip or inside the lips. A complete description of this technique may be found in the AKC’s instructive guideline, “Conducting Oral Exams.” Breeds which use the thumb exam are the Brussels Griffon, English Toy Spaniel, Japanese Chin, Pekingese, and Pug. Parent Clubs of these breeds are happy to offer guidance on the proper execution of the thumb exam.

Toy breeds can, and often do, have outsized personalities. Some have been bred down from larger breeds and retain their ancestral temperaments, while others take full advantage of their diminutive size to maximize the love and attention bestowed upon them by their doting owners. But it goes without saying that even the boldest individuals appreciate a judge’s soft hands and gentle touch. All Toy breeds are “table breeds,” and judges are encouraged to remember the old maxim: “Examine on the table and judge on the ground.”

  • Marianne Klinkowski has been an AKC judge for more than 25 years and judges the Toy and Hound Groups. She lives in Northern California and is currently studying the Non-Sporting breeds.

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