In this article, I would like to discuss what judges like and dislike about dog show exhibitors.
In general, the negative traits seem to fall into one of two categories. The first category is due to nervousness/inexperience (very common, not too serious), and the second is rudeness/unsportsmanlike behavior (not common, much more serious).
Examples of the former include moving the dog at an inappropriate speed, getting in the way of the judge during the individual exam, not doing the correct gaiting pattern, etc. The latter include things like throwing bait and not picking it up (obviously a hot button for me), running dogs up on dogs in front, deliberately holding up judging by not being at ringside when needed, etc.
Other behaviors like rudeness in the ring to judges, throwing the ribbon on the floor, etc., are subject to bench committee action and not necessary to discuss here.
The Ideal Exhibitor
Perhaps it might be more instructive to describe the ideal exhibitor.
This person is ready at ringside when the class is called, has the correct armband on, shows it to the judge when entering the ring and stops the dog a reasonable distance from dogs in front and behind. Mr./Ms. Ideal has a clean, well-trained, well-conditioned and, best of all, quality specimen of the breed to show to me. This person has observed previous classes and knows the ring procedure.
If she is the first one in the ring at 8 a.m., she listens to the judge’s instructions and is not intimidated by the judge. If she doesn’t understand or can’t hear the judge, she asks appropriate questions. He moves the dog around the ring at an appropriate speed for the dog without running up on the dog in front (this does not impress judges, believe me!). He stops his dog and allows the dog to relax until the dog in front of him is being examined and gaited. During this waiting time, she watches the pattern and knows what to expect.
When her dog is to be examined, she sets the dog up and gets out of the way. That is, stand beside the head of the dog while the judge is examining the head (be prepared to show the bite properly if asked). Then move to the front of the dog when the judge is examining the body. Then, gait the dog in the correct pattern, stopping just far enough away for the judge to see the dog stand naturally, showing its correct temperament and animation.
The dog must be judge-able. That is, it is trained to stand still for examination and can move in a straight line without leaping. The handler also need to know how to move in a straight line! It’s frustrating for judges to have a dog they think is a quality animal but that they cannot examine or cannot see gait properly.
Don’t Make These Dog Show Mistakes
One of the primary mistakes novice/inexperienced/nervous handlers make is to show off the flaws while trying to hide them.
If your dog has a poor topline, don’t continually fluff the coat in a vain attempt to conceal it. Contrary to popular thought, judges didn’t just fall off the turnip truck into the center of the ring. We can find the flaws all too easily.
Also, contrary to popular thought, most judges (not all, sadly) are trying to reward virtues, not penalize flaws. So — show me your dog’s virtues! Show me that gorgeous head and forget the low tailset. Show me the wonderful front by free-stacking your dog when I approach. Don’t fuss with the dog.
Depending on breed, please try to keep brushing and maintenance to a minimum in the ring.
The ideal exhibitor is invisible. The dog is the center of attention. Teach your dog to animate with a minimum of baiting and swooshing of hand movements. One handler I know used the same bait for several shows. The dog knew he had it and all the handler did was touch his pocket or put his hand behind his back. The dog never did get fed in the ring. But the dog knew he would get something, sometime. And he did. He got a BB ribbon!
I know it’s difficult to relax and feel confident in the ring. But try to convey that impression and your dog will perform better and judging will proceed better. Exhibitors whose nervousness affects their behavior in the ring such that they do an incorrect gaiting pattern or interfere with the individual exam waste a judge’s time. This can make judges testy!
Judges usually must examine 25 dogs per hour, which includes getting dogs in/out of the ring, awarding ribbons, marking the book, and grabbing a quick drink of coffee or soda. This means that you get about 2 minutes of the judge’s time. Don’t waste it by being unprepared. Do be ready at ringside. If you place 2nd, regardless of class, be available to compete for reserve. The open dog is not always the winner, so if you have 2nd place in 6-9 puppy, be close by ringside.
Even puppies can be trained to be examined, even if not rock-solid. Puppies are delightful and judges don’t mind a little bit of wiggle. But a dog with only one foot on the ground at any one time cannot be successfully examined. This wastes your money and the judge’s time. It goes without saying that no dog who is overly shy or aggressive should enter the ring.
Judges get quite bored with hot-shot handlers who try to impress them with a recitation of the dog’s record while showing the dog.
I really don’t care how your dog did in the group yesterday; today is another day. I might (probably would) be interested if you tell me after judging is over (even if I don’t give you an award). There’s never a guarantee that any judge is going to agree with anyone else. Today your dog looks/acts differently, the competition is different, etc. So don’t think you can impress/intimidate me with a record.
On the other hand, I myself enjoy seeing photos of wins. Some judges don’t care one way or the other; others think they are being “shmoozed.” Sometimes that’s true. I ignore it when judging.
So, while I haven’t covered all cases of what irritates judges, keep in mind that if you have a clean, trained, quality dog and you listen, pay attention, don’t disrupt other exhibitors and behave graciously, judges will look forward to seeing your shiny face in the ring.
It isn’t possible to specify all cases of behavior that could irritate judges. If you imitate the ideal exhibitor, you will not be irritating the judge.