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Dog shows may appear odd and confusing to an outsider, but there are specific rules and procedures governing this enduring competition. According to the American Kennel Club, more than 3 million dogs are entered in shows every year, competing in events that include agility, herding, obedience and physical characteristics. Judges are responsible for evaluating dogs and following guidelines to determine which dogs win awards. The ultimate prize, of course, is Best in Show.
Dog show judges are responsible for individually examining and observing each dog that he's assigned during a competition. Some subjectivity is involved since each judge has a different idea of what comprises a great dog. However, judges must observe the breed standards for each dog they evaluate. For example, a doberman will have a different breed standard than a poodle, because of differences in physiology and general temperament.
Each judge checks her assigned ring to ensure that there are no unsafe conditions that could potentially harm the competing dogs. Some common things they look for are holes or deep indentations in the ground and sturdiness of examination tables. On hot days, judges look for ways to increase shade or find a cooler place to conduct their work. Judges must also advise the dogs' owners how they will be called in to compete. Some judges call owners in a group and some call owners individually. Breeds are judged separately and judging begins when the dog and handler are inside the ring.
A judge will "gait" a dog, which means asking its owner or handler to walk the dog in a manner he wants to observe. Gait patterns include the diagonal, an "L" pattern and a triangle. Gaiting always occurs in the judging ring and is evaluated according to the size of the dog and the breeding standard. Though standards differ, judges typically look for a steady, controlled trot, as well as obedience to the handler's commands. After the gait portion is finished, the judge examines the dog's "stand after gait," to evaluate if the dog is properly "stacked" or posed. This refers to the dog's legs being aligned and its head level. Judges often determine whether a dog is stacked correctly by observing it in profile.
Dog show judges must examine each dog in competition; this is usually conducted on a table. When examining a dog, judges look for conformation to breed standards. Though judges will not handle a dog excessively, they will open the dog's mouth to check the condition of its teeth, feel its haunches to evaluate muscle and bone density and run their hands through the dog's fur to assess its texture and cleanliness. Male dogs are inspected to confirm both testicles exist.