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Judging the Norwich Terrier – A Breeder’s Perspective

Side photo of a Norwich Terrier.


Judging the Norwich Terrier – A Breeder’s Perspective

My perspective of judging Norwich Terriers is that of a breeder. I’m not an AKC licensed judge. From inside the ring, my experience is limited to judging two Norwich Sweepstakes and a couple of matches; just enough to appreciate how difficult judging can be. That said, from outside the ring, I’ve spent hundreds of hours judging Norwich. Through the lens of a breeder, I view the purpose of dog shows as being to facilitate evaluation of future breeding stock.

Judging Norwich Terriers

Although the smallest of the terriers, Norwich should have substance—never fine-boned or toy-ish.

Whether inside or outside the ring, my approach is to evaluate the overall dog first. I make my “first cut” on type. I’m looking for a hardy little hunt terrier who appears capable of dispatching small vermin. He is fearless and never shy. Although the smallest of the terriers, Norwich should have substance—never fine-boned or toy-ish. He is a sturdy dog in a small package and surprisingly heavy when lifted.

First, I like to watch a Norwich moving. He should cover the ground efficiently. His neck should be of sufficient length and not stuffy, blending into well-laid-back shoulders to enable good reach. His height is achieved from depth of body, not length of leg. His body is short-coupled, with good spring of ribs and just a little distance from the last rib to the tail. His should have short, strong hocks and sufficient angulation to propel him forward, with his topline remaining level. In keeping with his working origin, the Norwich tail is medium-docked and of sufficient length to grasp. It is set high at 12 o’clock. All the pieces should fit together to give a pleasing picture of a small, sturdy, spirited dog who moves with confidence and purpose. He should not appear long-cast or too stuffy.

Heads are important for correct breed type. The wedge-shaped muzzle is strong and slightly tapering. The Norwich Breed Standard says a “slightly foxy expression.” That doesn’t mean a fox-shaped muzzle. Rather, it means that his expression is alert, keen, and interested. The skull is broad and slightly domed. His eyes are dark and a medium oval size. Round eyes look toy-ish and spoil the expression. His small prick ears should be set well apart and not too high on his head. He has a pronounced stop, and his muzzle is neither too long nor too short. The proportion of the head is approximately two-fifths muzzle and three-fifths backskull. The Standard says, “Tight-lipped with large teeth. A scissor bite.” It is silent about missing teeth.

Having first evaluated the side view, I watch him coming and going to evaluate soundness. Going away, he should neither move too close nor too wide. His elbows should not stick out coming towards you and he should not paddle. Ideally, his hind legs follow in the track of the front legs, converging slightly with speed, but some Norwich move a bit wide in front due to their full rib spring and short legs. I don’t mind this if the movement is true.

Judging Norwich Terriers
From Illustrated Guide to the Standard of Norwich Terriers
The Norwich Club of America. Used with permission.

At this point, I have a sense of the dog’s virtues and weak points. Now I will examine him more closely on the table, looking at details. His front legs are supposed to be straight and must be felt. Clever grooming can cover up crooked legs. His toes may turn out just slightly; however, his feet are small, and ideally, he stands on well-arched toes pointed forward, with thick pads. I feel the neck and shoulder placement with my hands. While he should have good lay-back, because he has short legs and is supposed to have good spring of rib, the chest will have some width. Also, I check the topline and tailset with my hands because clever grooming can cover up rolls and topline dips.

The official Standard describes the traits of the ideal Norwich. Some details are very specific, but I believe that excessive focus on details tends to result in fault judging. Fault judging is less productive when evaluating breeding stock. I first look for correct Norwich type and expression, and forgive small faults (such as a slightly gay tail, missing tooth, even a softer coat). The judge who understands the more subtle qualities prized in a Norwich will not reward a dog who is simply sound and lacks breed type.

While I believe that the dog show competition should focus on conformation, showmanship in the ring is important to the extent that it displays the dog’s temperament. Show-ring presence reveals the dog’s attitude. In the ring, Norwich look best if left alone to stack themselves. Some judges will spar Norwich. I don’t mind the judge who brings them to the center to stand on their own, but they are pack dogs and should not be sparred nose to nose.

You don’t want a Norwich showing aggression. Also, when judging Norwich, do not favor one color over another. Coat color is least important. All shades of red, wheaten, black and tan, or grizzle are equally acceptable colors. The coat texture is to be hard, wiry, and straight. It is a nearly weatherproof, double coat that should blend and appear as one piece on the body. The trim should be neat and not overly shaped. The coat should be healthy and not open or blown.

The Norwich Standard has remained relatively unchanged since the first English Standard in 1932. It is my hope that the attributes that so endeared the founding Norwich breeders will continue to be upheld.