Honing Our Skills: Spotting a good judge; practice makes (almost) perfect and more

From the July 2019 Issue of Showight. Click to subscribe.

We’re all taught if we work hard our efforts will be rewarded…which may be true in many aspects of life but not necessarily in conformation dog shows.

No matter how much you work with a dog that barely resembles the breed standard you will never make it a top winning dog.

If you want your hard work to pay dividends then you have to start with a quality dog.

We all love our dogs but we need to learn to put that aside and honestly evaluate them. If you can’t do that then find someone who will give you an objective, honest evaluation—if they happen to tell you that your dog isn’t the world beater you think it is please don’t take it as a personal affront. Ask questions, learn—keep learning, grow, and never stop asking questions! 

Stay curious!

If your first “show” dog doesn’t make the grade please don’t give up. Poor examples of the breed can still be great dogs to learn on—they can teach you a lot—and you will be that much more experienced when you’re ready for a dog that’s closer to the breed standard that you can win with.

Many of us spent years working to perfect our trims and handling skills before we started to see any big wins with our own dogs—then we wanted to achieve those wins with our own home bred dog and that opens a whole new world for us.

Some perspective on judging.

Judges have approximately two minutes to evaluate each dog. We’re on a schedule and if we’re too slow we will be reprimanded by the governing body. Those two minutes encompass the physical examination, gaiting the dog to evaluate its soundness coming and going and its side gait. Then, once all of the dogs have been gone over and moved, we have to find our first to fourth placements—in a large class that may mean further gaiting and/or a re-examination of their heads or some other body part to make our determination. Again, all of this is done at a rate of approximately two minutes per dog. Our job is made easier when the dogs come into the ring trained to stand for examination, to have their bite/mouth examined, to be properly gaited, clean and trimmed (as allowed by their breed standard) to show off their positive attributes.

Having to wrestle with a dog to see its bite or find its testicles can be annoying for a judge and may make it a rather miserable experience for the dog. Having to gait a dog down and back a couple of extra times because it’s not actually trained to walk on a lead just wastes time. We all have good and bad days—I get that—but, everyone has the same two minutes to show the judge that they have the best dog in the ring. Don’t waste your two minutes with an untrained dog. Do your homework, train your dog, up your game.


A lot of people are saying there’s just no place to take their dogs for handling classes or for them to get ring experience. I judged for the Arnprior Canine Association this past weekend, near Ottawa, Ontario. They had plenty of room in the arena where the dog show was held so they set up a “practice ring” that was available all day for exhibitors to train their dogs. There always seemed to be exhibitors and dogs using it. Not all shows will have the extra space to do so but I think it’s a great idea and wanted to get the word out there.

I had an interesting experience at the show this past weekend. I was judging with Honey Glendinning at the Fort St. John & District KC, in BC. Honey offered to give a handling class after judging and kindly accepted my offer to help. She structured the class to not only give lessons on properly stacking and gaiting their dogs but to also give some insight into what a judge is looking for in their breed. We divided the participants into two rings—one for big dogs and one for table/ramp breeds—and we each spent time working with each group. I thought it was a great experience, thoroughly enjoyed myself, and really enjoyed answering questions and working with the dogs. It was a unique experience that I hope the exhibitors enjoyed!

Honey Glendinning elaborates: “This is the second time I have done it. At out of the way limited shows I prefer to judge the first day. That way I can do a learning training session for new and non professional presenters. It lasts about two hours and we do breed specific, table, floor presentation and moving elements. Then have the class watch from not only the point of view but from where the judge actually stands. Doing this the first night, they then can go back in the next two days with more confidence and an attitude they too can do this. Fun for all!”

There are many ways in which we can—without too much effort—improve the lives of dogs and people in our sport, or at least help them get totally comfortable with the world they want to join. This was one example. I welcome news of others! Just remember: we need these new people very, very badly!


After watching a situation at the dog show today we obviously need a primer on what to do when there’s a dog fight.

Step 1—REMAIN CALM! I know it’s traumatic but you must remain calm—screaming and becoming hysterical just ramps up the situation and will make matters worse. Breathe and calm yourself before you attempt to break them apart.

Step 2—I’m assuming there is a person for each dog so each person should lift their dog’s hind legs (as high up as you can—ideally in the hip area, where the leg and body meet) and pull each dog away from the other. Throw water on them or throw a blanket or coat over their heads—either may startle or disorient them and all you need is a brief moment for them to release and you can separate them. DO NOT GO NEAR THEIR HEADS! DO NOT TRY TO PRY THEIR MOUTHS OPEN! THEY WILL BITE YOU—I GUARANTEE IT!

Fanciers responded:

Diane P: Of course prevention is key, be conscious while walking around other dogs, your dog may be fine going up to lick another one in the face, but that dog may not like it. [Use} Short leads and pay attention to what your dog is doing.

Celeste B: It’s amazing how many dog people don’t know how to break up a dog fight properly. I see so many people reach for mouths right away, horrifies me.

Carol P: It can and will happen if you are around long enough. It is lucky, if same Incident, things did not go worse. Some breeds can be worse than others.

Susan Q: If all else falls, stick your finger up their rectum. Will give them something else to think about.

Nancy L: I saw two Boston Terriers go after each other and lock up in a ring next to me. People were panicking and doing all kind of stuff to try and break them up. An experienced handler ran in the ring and somehow grabbed one by their butt and bit its foot and it released! It was the craziest thing I ever saw.

Marilyn B: And…just like in public, just because your dog is friendly doesn’t mean others are? Just because you know a dog of that breed that is friendly does not mean they all are.

Sue I: First of all if there is a fight, ensure that all all other dogs are removed from the area.

Let the owners/handlers deal with their own dogs—too many people just get in the way.

Do not lift the rear legs up and never pull dogs apart—you can rip veins/muscles .

Instead grab the rear legs and twist the dog to the right ( both dogs will be therefore twisted in opposite directions ) the dogs will be disoriented as will not expect the sidewise twist and will be over on their backs into a submissive position. Only when they have released their hold, stop twisting/rolling them over and pull quickly away and remove immediately from the site.

Do not fuss.

Do not baby.

Do not pick up but leave dog on ground.

Do not speak .

Walk swiftly away from the scene with the dog (obviously only if able to walk—if not, cover completely with a blanket to calm whilst seeking vet advice). Remove yourself and dog. Avoid all other dogs/people, ensuring that you are in control and keep calm.

Never scold or hit or scream/shout at the offending dogs after the fight but walk it off, striding out with control and purpose.

Take your time and only return to crate when both you and the dog have calmed down.

Do not try to examine the dog until you are both calmed down—Administer Rescue Remedy if necessary or seek vet advice.

Do not then go and pick a fight with the owner/handler of the dog! You will just make matters worse! We all make mistakes and no one is perfect—dogs are dogs—if your dog started it, wait until both owners/handlers are calmed down, take responsibility, apologize and offer to pay expenses.

Abbe H: On the rare occasions mine have gotten into it crashing stainless steel food bowls over their heads usually gets their attention so you can pull them apart.

Lesa C: With animals, pressure creates resistance, so pulling dogs apart in any fashion will result in a more determined lock and more determination to engage the other dog—not to bring up a horrid practice, but dog fighting is a perfect example of what pressure does to a dogs brain—eyes are locked, the intent is there, those handlers intentionally hold the dogs back from one another to build the intensity between them before letting go. Pulling dogs apart rarely works as prescribed, a more effective method is to throw the dogs brain and body off balance by twisting them in opposite directions then getting a firm hold and once they’ve disengaged, moving them apart quickly while ideally covering both of their heads with a towel, coat, whatever is handy, to block the eye, nose and brain and then removing them from the area immediately.

If you consider the simple task of walking a dog who pulls on a leash this will make sense to you—the more resistance to pull away the stronger the pull.

With that said, it would be super cool if people at dog shows paid more attention to the dogs on the end of their lead rather than chatting it up with the people near them. I know some think I’m unfriendly at dog shows, nothing could be further from the truth and I love the socialization aspect of them, but there is a time and place for it and when I’m with my dog, that is where 100% of my focus is as we prepare, as a team, to enter the ring, when we’re exiting, when we’re toileting, etc. etc. etc.—if I have a dog with me, that time is about me and the dog. Even walking the narrow and often crowded isles to or from a ring, I’m feeling my dog while watching every dog around to the degree I rarely even notice people.

I showed my male SFT to his Championship, a breed that was often spared in the ring, and I never once had a negative encounter because I was prepared for both my dogs possible reaction to another male as well as the way too many around me that weren’t paying the least bit of attention to the dog at the end of their lead. 


I thank my readers for these (and many more!) helpful suggestions. We all need to keep this information in our heads. Unfortunately this isn’t a situation you can practice for—but you can know how to respond.

If you have a reactive breed please learn body language and don’t put your dog in an unfavourable situation.


I received this the other day and thought I’d share it with you:

“Michelle you always ask such great questions!!! I have one for you: What makes a judge a good judge?”

Thanks for the compliment! I’m assuming you just mean in the ring? But I’m going to take it a step further because I help hire judges for a couple of shows and I can tell you what I look for. I, obviously, want to hire good judges—so, I’m looking for judges that are knowledgeable about the breeds they are going to evaluate and actually try to apply that knowledge in the ring. I want judges that are conscientious of the needs of the dogs, exhibitors and the kennel clubs. I want them to enjoy the sport and the people in it. That’s it! It’s a short list but it covers a lot of ground!

Again, many of us spent years working to perfect our trims and handling skills before we started to see any big wins with our own dogs—then we wanted to achieve those wins with our own home bred dog and that opens a whole new world for us.

The sport of dogs encourages long term involvement, where young and old can participate, so we can provide fun for everybody! I hope to see you at the shows.

—Michelle Scott

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